Fifteen years after bloody riots, Indian Muslims struggling to escape Gujarat ghettos

An Indian woman looking at the riot's aftermath. (AFP)
Updated 24 July 2017

Fifteen years after bloody riots, Indian Muslims struggling to escape Gujarat ghettos

INDIA: S hahjahan Bano was a young boy in February 2002, selling vegetables with his mother in a market in Ahmedabad in the western Indian state of Gujarat, when some of the worst communal riots in the country’s history broke out.
For days mobs rampaged the city, burning houses, looting shops, raping women and killing men, women and children. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the violence.
Bano and his mother, who hid in the market the first night, were taken to a relief camp the next day where other Muslims huddled, awaiting news of their families and homes.
It was a month before Bano was reunited with other family members — and eight months before they could leave the camp.
They moved into what they thought would be a temporary home in Citizen Nagar, an enclave of 116 modest homes, built quickly by a Muslim charity for some of the displaced families.
Fifteen years on, Bano and his family still live there, spilling out of their two-room home in a fly-infested neighborhood flanked by a large, smoking landfill.
“We lost everything in the riots,” said Bano, 23, a lanky young man, staring into the distance.
“We are very grateful for this house, but we die a little everyday here: the smoke, the smell, the rubbish, the lack of facilities. We have thought about moving, but where can we go?“
The riots displaced about 200,000 people in the state, mostly Muslims. Some returned to their homes, while others found new accommodation in mainly Muslim neighborhoods.
Muslim charities resettled about 17,000 people in 80 colonies across Gujarat, among India’s wealthiest states.
Fifteen of these colonies are in Ahmedabad. Every family in these colonies lost family, homes, possessions or businesses in the riots, which led to greater segregation and marginalization.
“The state has done very little to resettle the victims,” said Shamshad Pathan, a lawyer who has represented some victims in their fight for more compensation from the government.
“Today, Ahmedabad is a segregated city: you will not find many buildings or neighborhoods where Hindus and Muslims live together. Muslims are forced to live in ghettos, excluded from the development of the rest of the city and state,” he said.

STATE SANCTIONED
Nearly 800,000 people have been displaced by conflict and violence in India, according to the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. The data is not specific to communal violence.
Muslims displaced by communal violence are often too fearful to return to their homes, and have asked the government to relocate them.
But government officials say that would promote division rather than unity between Muslims and Hindus, who make up about 80 percent of India’s population.
But informal rules and deep-rooted biases are eroding the multi-cultural nature of India’s cities and dividing communities into ghettos, analysts say.
Horrific as the Gujarat riots were, they were not solely responsible for the segregation in the state.
A property law unique to Gujarat, the birthplace of India’s founding father Mahatma Gandhi, helped create ghettos and a sense of apartheid in its urban areas well before 2002.
The “Disturbed Areas Act” (1991), a law that restricts Muslims and Hindus from selling property to each other in “sensitive” areas, was meant to avert an exodus or distress sales in neighborhoods hit by inter-religious unrest.
The state, headed at the time by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, amended the law in 2009 to give local officials more power in property sales.
It also extended the reach of the law, saying it was doing so to protect Muslims, who make up about 10 percent of the state’s 63 million people.
But critics say the act’s enforcement and the addition of new districts under it — about 40 percent of Ahmedabad is governed by the law — means it is being applied as a tool of social engineering.
“It is state sanctioned segregation,” said Pathan.
“As a result, Muslims are confined to the filthiest corners, with no hope of upliftment. Development and progress are for everyone else in the state, but not for Muslims,” he said.

’LITTLE PAKISTAN’
The division is so marked that Juhapura, a teeming township in Ahmedabad of about 400,000 people, many who moved there after the 2002 riots, is referred to by local Hindus as “Little Pakistan.”
Conditions there and in other Muslim settlements in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, are similar: residents lack proper roads, streetlights, adequate drinking water, sewage pipes, and access to public clinics and schools.
They also do not own the small homes they live in, whose title deeds are with the charities that built them.
“They don’t own their homes, they can’t live anywhere else; they are just forgotten here,” said Rasidaben Abdul Sheikh of the Adhikar Prapti Kendra charity that works with riot victims.
“After 15 years, their difficulties are no less. Maybe they feel a bit more secure because they are living with their own people, but in many ways they are worse off,” she said.
Elsewhere in Gujarat, which has among the most slums in the country, officials are backing residents as they upgrade and redevelop their settlements, but not here.
Calls to the state social welfare department were not returned.
The federal government, in response to petitions, said it has given Gujarat about 4.3 billion rupees ($6.7 million) to compensate victims, including for residential and commercial losses.
Victims say the compensation was not enough to buy new homes.
There’s little evidence of that money in Mehtab Colony, another Muslim settlement of 16 houses for riot victims. Piles of rubbish lie in the open courtyard where stray dogs scavenge.
“We used to live in a neighborhood with Hindus, but we never went back to our home,” said Razia Aseembhai Kedawala, standing outside her one-room home.
“This is where we have lived for 15 years. Perhaps we will live here always; we have nowhere else to go.”
($1 = 64.2524 rupees)


Afghan president vows to crush Daesh after deadly Kabul wedding strike

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani attends a state ceremony for the Afghan Independence Day in Kabul on Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 20 August 2019

Afghan president vows to crush Daesh after deadly Kabul wedding strike

  • ‘We have collapsed from the inside,’ says attack survivor

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani vowed to wipe out Daesh, after a deadly attack on a wedding party in Kabul killed more than 60 people. The suicide bombing also injured 200 others late on Saturday evening.
Ghani, whose government is facing intense criticism for failing to deter attacks by sympathizers of Daesh and the Taliban, also announced the postponement of 100th anniversary celebrations of the country’s independence from Britain that were due to take place.
“We will eliminate Daesh hideouts all around the country … the fight against Daesh will be intensified,” Ghani said during a brief state ceremony to mark independence, even though formal festivities were put on hold.
The government had allocated millions of dollars and set aside two years for planning the event. “We postponed celebrations to honor the victims, but we will take the revenge of our people,” he added.
Daesh claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack, which happened while guests and family members of the bride and groom were in segregated halls for men and women.
Most of the victims were Shiite and ethnic Hazaras. Daesh considers them to be heretics and has targeted them in recent years.
“I think many of us are merely alive by appearance and physically. Mentally, we are all dead. We have collapsed from the inside,” Zaman Shah, a 25-year-old survivor who lost three brothers in the attack, told Arab News.
The bomber blew himself up in the men’s hall. The groom was with the bride in the women’s section and survived, but both lost at least 25 family members.
Six children from one family perished. Other families lost loved ones too.
“I lost two of my brothers and four nephews, life has no meaning for me anymore,” Ahmad Fawad told reporters. “Postponing the independence anniversary will not cure our grief, this government is weak and useless and cannot protect people.”
Hasmat Hussien, another survivor, lost eight close members of his family and relatives in the attack. “We do not know why this calamity has befallen us. You cannot understand or comprehend our grief, misery and pain. We have not managed to sleep or eat for nearly two days now,” he said.
Amir Mohammad a 50-year-old man whose son died and had two others wounded in the attack, said: “Life has become meaningless for my family. These people who were targeted were poor, ordinary civilians, not government authorities or generals.”
The suicide bombing took place even as the US and the Taliban near a peace deal that could eventually lead to the complete withdrawal of foreign troops and end decades of conflict.
The Taliban, for its part, has pledged not to allow any group to use Afghanistan for attacks against any country.
“The US is making a peace deal with the Taliban, but we fear Daesh will be the next group that will expand its activities and there will be fighting for an uncertain future,” Kabul shopkeeper Rahim Dad said. “There will be peace with one group, but war with another. That means we won’t have peace, even if America and the Taliban make peace,” he added.
Ghani blamed the Taliban for the attack, saying it had given rise to extremist networks such as Daesh.
The Taliban, whose fighters have battled Daesh in some parts of the country, condemned the attack and showed sympathy with the victims.
US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has led the US side in peace talks with the Taliban since last year, tweeted Sunday that it was time to step up efforts to end fighting.
But the peace talks have faltered, mostly because the Taliban refuses to engage with Ghani’s government.
“We condemn Daesh (Daesh) and yesterday’s heinous attack on a Kabul wedding hall that killed scores of innocent Afghan families,” Khalilzad tweeted. “We must accelerate the #AfghanPeaceProcess including intra-Afghan negotiations. Success here will put Afghans in a much stronger position to defeat Daesh.”
There was tight security in major cities as thousands of Afghans poured onto the streets to mark the 100th independence anniversary.
But blasts in the eastern city of Jalalabad disrupted the day. Officials said at least 50 people were wounded. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts in the city, parts of which have been a Daesh bastion.