Muslims, who used to live across Ahmedabad, are now increasingly flocking to ghettos, mostly along the city’s fringes
Sajid Row Houses in the Maqdoomnagar locality of eastern Ahmedabad’s Vatwa suburb is an unauthorised colony that has existed for nearly 15 years. And so does Dharmabhoomi Society, divided by a wall nearly 10 metres away. But the similarity ends there.
This is one of the very few mixed neighbourhoods left in communally divided Ahmedabad, with more ghettos coming up over the last decade. Muslims from many areas who used to be scattered across the city are now flocking together in ghettos like Vatwa, a disorganised, industrial suburb.
No isolated instance
And a staggering four lakh-plus of them from all walks of life have moved into Juhapura, considered to be the biggest Muslim ghetto in Asia. Before the 2002 communal riots, Juhapura had an estimated 2.5 lakh people.
Most ghettos have come up on the fringes of the city, away from the Hindu mainstream and lacking in basic amenities.
Sajid Row Houses, that has 150 houses, and Qutb-e-alamnagar with around 500 — in Maqdoomnagar — present a picture of filth, slush and puddles of dirty water. They swarm with flies and mosquitoes. There are no sewerage lines. A foul smell permeates the air. There is no water supply, and whatever is drawn is not always potable. The garbage van from the Bharatiya Janata Party-controlled Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) is erratic.
In contrast, if you are perched on the top floor of any house in the Sajid Row Houses and look over the wall on the other side, Dharmabhoomi Society looks quite different. It has almost all the facilities that this neighbourhood lacks.
This is not an isolated instance, and is the same story in other places too. “What more can explain the reality than the fact that ours is a Muslim colony and theirs is not?” quips Subedar Shaikh, a retired railway employee living in Sajid Row Houses.
They came to live here in 1998, “but out of the blue the AMC declared this reserved land for public purposes in 2004, and so our colony has now become unauthorised,” he says. The AMC would not even include the society under its impact fee scheme that envisages regularising unauthorised constructions for a fee, points out Shabbir Shaikh.
“We are ready with all legal procedures completed but they would just not listen to us.”
Wasim Ansari, a local BJP leader for the last 15 years, counters this. “This problem is not restricted to Maqdoomnagar. It exists in all illegal Muslim colonies in Ahmedabad because of the nexus between the Muslim builder mafia and Congress councillors.
“They set up illegal societies without providing any facilities and later leave the residents to fend for themselves. Look at the Hindu builders and the colonies they build. They are so well laid-out with all facilities. It is not right to blame the ruling party and give a communal angle to this,” he argues.
What Mr. Ansari says, however, is only the partial truth, what with illegal constructions having proliferated across the city over the years irrespective of which community built them. Senior Congress leader J.V. Momin points out: “By the AMC’s own admission, there are as many as five lakh unauthorised constructions in Ahmedabad alone and most are in so-called posh Hindu areas. Regularising many of them is easier than doing so with those in Muslim areas.”
“Illegal buildings cannot come up overnight without the connivance of officials and rulers of the AMC. What were they doing? And now this discrimination,” he says.
Come to Alifnagar in Vatwa, where people veritably live in the middle of garbage, slush and potholes full of turbid water.
“Forget gutter lines, water supply or garbage clearance. The AMC does not even conduct any fumigation in the area,” says Afsana Bano, who runs a small shop here. You need to perform some acrobatics to avoid stepping on the dirt to reach her shop. With no support from either the AMC or the small-time builder who set up the colony, people in the 54 houses in Nazar Park recently pooled small sums of money to lay an illegal drainage line.
Neglect & development
Cut to Juhapura on the western tip of Ahmedabad, which throws up not only all the woes that the smaller ghettos like Vatwa and others face, but also a worrying reality. This is that, if you are a Muslim in Gujarat you have no option but to head for a ghetto, irrespective of your economic and professional status.
This explains the emergence of two Juhapuras in the area. One that has economically well-off professionals living in plush apartment buildings and bungalows, not by choice but by force — for nobody would give them a house in Ahmedabad’s mainstream upmarket Hindu areas.
Tucked away behind these buildings on the main road that leads to a highway towards the Saurashtra region is the other Juhapura, where every colony resembles a huge slum. The civic infrastructure here — or the lack of it — has remained the same through the years, while the population has doubled because of an influx of riot victims and those scattered in other parts of the city.
The contrast between Muslim Juhapura and Hindu Vejalpur, neighbourhoods on either side of a road that is popularly known as Border, is as striking as it is between Sajid Row Houses and Dharmabhoomi Society in Vatwa. One is a story of neglect, another is one of development — split by just a road.