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The Displaced of Ahmedabad

The Displaced of Ahmedabad

Elections draw near in Gujarat but the survivors of the 2002 pogrom continue to live a miserable life, belying the claims of a "Vibrant Gujarat" by chief minister Narendra Modi who has embarked upon a re-election campaign emphasising the future over the shameful past. The plight of the riot victims raises questions about the state of democracy in Gujarat.

COMMENTARY
The Displaced of Ahmedabad Neera Chandhoke, Praveen Priyadarshi, Silky Tyagi, Neha Khanna have been formulated and disseminated by Modi and his ilk for electoral purposes? In effect, Modi not only wants people to forget that the communal carnage of 2002 ever happened, he does not want to

Elections draw near in Gujarat but the survivors of the 2002 pogrom continue to live a miserable life, belying the claims of a “Vibrant Gujarat” by chief minister Narendra Modi who has embarked upon a re-election campaign emphasising the future over the shameful past. The plight of the riot victims raises questions about the state of democracy in Gujarat.

I
n his pre-election speeches, chief minister Narendra Modi repeatedly makes two firm statements. The first of these statements codes the suggestion that any comment or criticism, which conti nues to harp on the communal carnage that was visited upon the heads of the Muslim community in 2002 by members of his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and other allied organisations of the Hindutva brigade, should be abandoned. These comments/criticisms, alleges Modi, remain far too preoccupied with the past. Apparently the past, for Modi, is another country. Observers of the Gujarat scene, he pro poses, should rather look to the future, which promises to be a luminous one for an already “Vibrant Gujarat”, provided he is elected to power once again.

At stake here is a rather barefaced denial of history, particularly of the history of communalism in the state. This is simply bad politics, because as any first year student of political science knows, good politics is always constructed upon an awareness of history. Does Gujarat really want to hand over its future to a man who has such a lamentably short memory?

The second of Modi’s comments completely denies the existence of a rather deep Hindu-Muslim divide in the state. Modi insists that he himself speaks for, and represents all people in the state of Gujarat. However, “representation” happens to be a deeply problematic concept, and Modi who is in the business of politics, should be conscious of this. We as citizens of India, of which Gujarat is a part, must ask this question: can Modi even begin to represent the interests, or more precisely the pressing needs of that category of the population which his government has refused to recognise, or cater to – Muslim families who were displaced by communal violence in 2002? Are these interests fated to be unrepresented just because they do not fit into the self-representations that acknowledge that five years after the pogrom, the victims of violence still continue to suffer through the production and reproduction of different sorts of violence. Surely this is not the section of society that he represents, because if he was representing this section of society, as the chief minister of a state that ranks first in the country in terms of per capita income, he would have done something to ameliorate the terrible and inhuman conditions that these people live in.

Victims of Violence

Though a considerable amount of research has gone into documenting and analysing the communal carnage in Gujarat in 2002, little work has been done on what happened to the people who survived. Where did they go? How have they reconstructed their lives? With the help of which agency? What has the state done for them? These are some of the anxiety ridden questions that our research team has sought to address, through an investigation of the resettlement colonies of Ahmedabad into which the victims of the 2002 violence have been herded. The answer to the last question is easy to negotiate. The government of Gujarat has done practically nothing for the people who might have managed to survive the pogrom, but who lost their family members, livelihoods, hearths, and their homes in the process.

That the victims of violence were herded into poorly funded and grossly inadequate relief camps is well known. In a short time, these camps were rapidly wound up, and the inhabitants, after being given pathe tically inadequate funds as “compensation”; funds sometimes as low as Rs 1,200, were now on their own, thrown onto the mercy of a society that had proved complicit in the carnage, either actively or through studied silence. The state government, recognising neither the plight, nor the needs of the victims of communal violence, simply refused to

October 27, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly

COMMENTARY

take any action which would help these people to rebuild their shattered lives.

At this point a few civil society organisations, predominantly the Islamic relief committee, stepped in to help people relocate and resettle. Some land was acquired on the outskirts of the city, and the victims were resettled in four pockets – Juhapura, Ramol, Vatva and Dani Limda. All of these “colonies” are on the periphery of Ahmedabad, and are poorly connected to the city where most of the jobs are generated. The 729 households that have been relocated in 15 such colonies in Ahmedabad have been displaced mainly from eastern Ahmedabad, from areas such as Naroda Patia, Gomtipur, Daria Pur, Gomti Pur, Saraspur, Bapu Nagar Jamal Pur, Rakhial, and other inner city areas that have repeatedly suffered from periodic outbursts of communal violence right since 1969.

But the legal status of the land upon which these shanty towns have been constructed is contested, because much of it is agricultural land. This has instilled dread among the residents that they still live in temporary settlements, which can be easily mowed down by the bull dozers of the Ahmedabad municipal corporation (AMC). Not only are most resettlement colonies remotely located from the city where jobs are to be found; they are far away from schools and health clinics that are an indispensable prerequisite of living a life free of oppression. In sum these displaced Muslim families are fated to remain outside the reach of all the amenities that a vibrant Gujarat might perchance offer to those who form an integral part of society and the polity.

It is clear that for the present government these families just do not form an integral part of Gujarati society and politics; they have been expelled both spatially and socially to the margins of the city. In these bare, stark, inhospitable areas, civil society organisations constructed rickety one room tenements, without water supply, without electricity, without access to internal roads because there were none, and without sanitation and sewerage for families. And it is here, in these barren spaces, that the victims of the carnage in Ahmedabad have been settled, and expected to begin their life anew,

Economic & Political Weekly October 27, 2007

amidst even more deprivation that they faced in their original habitats.

Shabby Existence

Many of these families still own some land

– where once houses that were burnt down by the Hindutva goons stood – in their original habitats. But even as bitter memories of the brutal violence that was inflicted upon them and their families and community haunts collective psyches, people fear going back to their homes. They prefer to live in these desolate, ugly, and rundown one-room tenements, which house as many as five members of a family. But this is not the major problem that confronts refugees. Other and much more serious problems stalk the everyday life of the inhabitants of these settlements.

For instance, in the resettlement colony ironically called the “Citizens Nagar” in Dani Limda, families who once lived in the most communally hit area of Ahmedabad; Naroda Patia, have been resettled. This particular “citizen’s” colony has been built literally in the shadow of a massive mountain. The only problem is that this mountain has been constructed by human beings, out of the garbage collected from every part of Ahmedabad that is dumped here every morning. The mountain of garbage dominates the collective life of the inhabitants. The stench that emanates from this rubbish dump overwhelms both sense and sensibilities of people who live not only in the colony, but also in the surrounding areas. More critically, during the monsoons, the garbage overflows the mountain sized dump, runs through what passes for roads within the colony, and enters homes. The garbage, which is highly toxic, has penetrated the groundwater. Since the inhabitants of the colony do not have access to clean drinking water, they are forced to consume this contaminated groundwater. This yellow, grimy, and filthy water is so polluted that it cannot be but the harbinger of disease. Not surprisingly, gastronomical diseases are rampant in this locality.

Despite repeated representations, the AMC has made no attempt to look for an alternate site for the dumping of the garbage of the city. To make matters worse, residents complain that AMC often deposits carcasses of dead animals around the colonies, and the revolting odour makes the place simply unlivable. The plight of the residents who have been subjected to involuntary displacement does not end there. When the AMC begins to burn the garbage in the dump once in a while, the pollutant ridden smoke which manages to pervade every pore of the body leads to all kinds of health problems, particularly respiratory diseases. But the AMC, which is responsible for providing services to citizens, has refused to take notice of the deplorable condition of this colony, or of the appalling lives that the victims who live there, lead.

Dreadful Housing

Built as they were in a hurry, these so-called houses are in dreadful condition, water seeps into the rooms during the monsoons, and rubbish flows along what passes for internal roads. These houses have low roofs, no ventilation, and have been provided with temporary and unsafe electrical wiring. The land these houses are built in is generally low lying, and therefore water logging is common. The situation is worsened by the fact that there is absolutely no drainage system, no ‘pucca’ pavements, or street lighting in the so-called colony. Vulnerable and insecure as the families already are; the highly uncongenial and sorry surroundings in which they are forced to live, leads to deep feelings of helplessness and alienation. These feelings are exacerbated by the fact that no aid from the government to make these colonies habitable, to build schools, and health clinics, or provide for transportation to the city where people can work, is forthcoming.

The legitimacy of a democratically elected government rests upon its ability to take care of the worse off in society. In Ahmedabad as in the rest of the state, the government does not even acknowledge these responsibilities. Similar problems attend other resettlement colonies. Since most of these colonies are on the outskirts of the city, they are surrounded by industries spewing pollutants, all of which makes the areas hazardous for human habitation. In Sundaram Nagar in Bapu Nagar, for example, cotton dust emanating twice a day from the burning of industrial waste, makes breathing difficult

COMMENTARY

for the residents. The children and the adults that we met have developed lung related diseases.

The residents of most of these resettlement colonies eke out a bare existence without any basic amenities, be it drinking water, sanitation, drainage, healthcare, education for children, or approach roads and modes of transportation. Children have been forced to drop out of school and take to daily wage labour, because it is too expensive to hire rickshaws to take the children to school. A few colonies have now been given anganwadi centres more than five years after they were established, but no schools for children have been provided. Residents of Ekta Nagar complained that they have to pay Rs 12 daily to send their children to the nearest school, and since they cannot afford this, the children have dropped out of school. Most families are terrified of sending their daughters to school outside the neighbourhood, after the sexual violence that Muslim girls had been subjected to in 2002. Resultantly, an entire generation of children of Muslim families, who are less educated than their parents, is growing up in the city. Is this not a denial of the right of every child to education? Healthcare for the victims of the communal violence is equally deplorable. There are barely any healthcare facilities available for these colonies. There have been instances when due to absence of health facilities, patients have died on the way to remote hospitals, and babies have often been delivered on the road.

Decline in Income

One major consequence of the way in which resettlement has been carried out by private organisations in spatially isolated areas is that people have been forced to abandon their previous vocations and look for alternative employment. Most of them now work in informal and petty jobs, and are known as ‘chhuttak mazdoors’. Whereas most of the men work as auto and cycle rickshaw pullers, petty vendors, and casual workers in nearby neighbourhoods, women work mostly as domestic help. Consequently there has been a universal decline in income, which has dropped to less than half to what people used to earn before the violence and relocation. The drop in income has not only led to extreme pauperisation, the ramifications of poverty are seen in a new wave of child labour, and the growth of a generation of illiterate and unskilled youth.

State Apathy

The response of the state government to the needs, the grievances, and the woes of the victims of communal violence has been negligent at best and vicious at worst. Five years after the pogrom, many of the relocated families are still awaiting their voters’ identity cards and BPL ration cards. Earlier this year, after a large meeting of the internally displaced, the Election Commission has taken measures to ensure that the displaced are able to cast their votes in the forthcoming assembly elections, but the attitude of local state functionaries is that of sheer indifference. When it comes to below the poverty line (BPL) and Antyodaya

October 27, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly

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cards, the case is no different. Since these documents are crucial for citizens if they want to access ongoing social protection schemes, most of the victims living in these colonies are not able to do so. Ironically, residents of New Fazal Nagar, one of the relocated colonies, have been served a notice to pay Rs 8,000 as house tax; even though these houses simply lie outside the pale of the government, or of the corporation.

Role of NGOs

Since the state government continues to be in the denial mode, non-governmental and other civil society organisations have stepped in to support the victims of communal violence. Notably whereas a small group of such organisations has done a commendable job in resettling victims of communal violence, and it is because of their concerted effort that these people have been able to survive, a majority of civil society organisations have proved indifferent to the cause. The cloud of Hindutva obviously hangs heavily on civil society organisations. Post carnage, the relief work was carried out predominantly with the help of the resources of the Islamic Relief Committee (IRC) along with few more agencies such as Action Aid.

The role played by some of the civil society organisations has been highly commendable, and the victims are all praise for them. Organisations like Aman Biradri and Jan Vikas, for example, have waged a long battle against the indifferent attitude of the state agencies towards the victims of communal violence, and the issue of the relocation of these victims. The documentation carried out by some of these organisations has gone a long way in exposing the callous attitude of the state towards victims of violence, and in fixing responsibility. It is with the help of these organisations that displaced families have been able to press for their rights, and put their demands before the government at the local level. That the plight of these victims has not been subsumed completely in the state-sponsored din about “Vibrant Gujarat” and the benefits of globalisation is due entirely to these organisations.

For instance, on February 1, 2007, the Antarik Visthapit Haq Rakshak Samiti, Centre for Social Justice and ANHAD,

Economic & Political Weekly October 27, 2007

along with some other organisations conducted the “Convention of the Internally Displaced” in Gujarat. Thousands of internally displaced households gathered in the convention, and demanded “recognition, reparation and rehabilitation”. Discussions on several issues and problems such as livelihood of the internally displaced, discrimination, exclusion, and economic boycotts, police intimidation, the problems of the children, youth and women of this category highlighted several crucial issues. The convention was successful in exposing the lie of the state government’s claim that the rehabilitation of “riot” victims had been accomplished. The convention also provided the victims with a forum where they could share their troubles and come together to fight these predicaments. Apart from the demand for the provision of basic amenities and livelihood, the convention suggested forcefully that there should be a national policy for rehabilitation for people displaced due to communal violence.

One positive outcome of this convention was that the Election Commission recognised that the inhabitants of these colonies should get election cards even though they could not establish residence, simply because they have not been given the required documents by the agencies that have relocated them. The second positive outcome is that there is hope that these families will be given BPL ration cards, even though they cannot render proof of residence, such as sale deeds, rental receipts or electricity bills.

No Substitute

However, private initiatives in resettling such massive numbers of the displaced cannot substitute for state action. For one, given the limited resources at the disposal of these agencies, relocation has been partial and insufficient, and falls well short of the requirements of the residents. Neither the poorly constructed houses, nor the pathetic state of facilities and services, can give the victims a sense of security, or a feeling that they are being compensated for a major lapse of justice. Secondly, since the colonies are a product of initiatives by non-governmental organisations, they are obviously not in accordance with the “city plan”. The victims of communal violence continue to pay for the sins committed by others in 2002, because the status of these colonies as unplanned or unauthorised, gives the civic agency a pretext to deny basic amenities to the inhabitants. Thirdly, the land on which colonies are constructed is privately bought, in most of the cases by the Islamic Relief Committee. This does not help either. According to city autho rities these lands are “not for residential purposes”, and purchase of this land for residential use is not legal. This breeds trepidation and uncertainty among people, who have lived amidst fear most of their lives.

Two more consequences should be noted here because these are of some import. One, the manner in which the victims of violence were relocated, and the nonresponse of the state when it came to the pressing problem of looking after citizens who have been rendered jobless and homeless for no fault of their own, has led to new kinds of conflicts and tensions within colonies. Bagh-e-Aman in Vatva area is witness to one such tension. Here 12 families were relocated from various parts of the city which had witnessed intense violence. Rehabilitation was accomplished through the collective efforts of the Islamic Relief Committee, private initiatives, and the people themselves. However, some people who belonged to this area had rebuilt their lives after the communal violence, mostly on their own, and without any external support. Now they face the odd problem of not being recognised as “relocated” in the same way as the 12 families, which have been rehabilitated with outside help. Even as the state agencies have been forced to take cognisance of the 12 relocated families because of litigation in various courts, they refuse to recognise other affected households as displaced. As a result about 100 households are deprived of government schemes or compensation. Consequently these households do not even have voter identity cards.

Troubling Development

Secondly, our research team discerned a rather troubling development in these colonies. Since the state has refused to step in to rehabilitate the displaced, Islamic organisations have provided the major chunk of resources for the purpose. For example, the land on which victims have

COMMENTARY

been relocated was mostly purchased by these Islamic organisations. But the land deeds remain with the IRC, even after families have started to live in these colonies. As no land entitlement has been given to the victims, people believe with good reason that they live in semi-permanent relief camps, that they are dependent upon other agencies, and that they have not really been rehabilitated. There have also been instances where the IRC has put its own set of conditionalities on people, if they want to live in these colonies.

Most of these problems emanate from the conflict of priorities of the victims and civil society organisations on the one hand, and the IRC on the other. Residents told us that the IRC prefers the construction of mosques to health clinics, madrasas to schools, and that the organisation insists on dress codes for women, read purdah. The residents, on the other hand, are more concerned about incomes, health, and education for their children. In general, there is some evidence that the IRC has been trying to influence people to abandon their traditional life practices, and follow rigid and doctrinaire versions of Islam. This is the natural outcome of state fundamentalism and neglect of religious minorities; for when religious civil society organisations step into the vacuum, they are likely to extort their own price for helping people. Fundamentalism always breeds counter-fundamentalism, and it is the lives and the futures of ordinary people that are at risk here.

Vibrant Gujarat, For Whom?

The plight of riot victims in Ahmedabad, and in Gujarat in general, raises some very critical questions about the state of democracy in Gujarat, and the capacity of the present leadership to represent the concerns of the ordinary people, irrespective of their religious denomination. As the state prepares for yet another assembly election, the pathetic condition of the majority of people who were hit by communal violence in 2002 begs many questions. For one, can Narendra Modi speak of a “Vibrant Gujarat” when a substantial numbers of its citizens live in want and despair? Secondly, why have political parties such as the Congress not taken up this issue? Is this due to the fear that they will lose the “Hindu” vote? Will the Congress Party that proclaims copyright over secularism really make common cause with BJP leaders who led the communally charged mobs in 2002? And if so where do people who have been wronged for no fault of their own, go? Do any of the political parties who are contending for power in Gujarat, but who are supremely indifferent to the plight of minorities, have an answer? It is election time in Gujarat, and elections are meant to hold the ruling classes accountable for their acts of omission. It is time that the electorate in the state judges the government for what it has not done for the marginal sections of society, and not what for it has done for the already privileged.

[This study forms part of the Cities Component of the Crisis States Programme of the London School of Economics and Political Science.]

Email: neera.chandhoke@gmail.com

October 27, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly

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