Friday, December 20, 2013

The Other Ahmedabad

Two weeks back I was driving home from the railway station. Alone. At 2 am.  A friend and his wife were in transit to Ahmedabad, and I picked them from airport at around 11:30 pm, we had a midnight snack at a hotel near the railway station, and I dropped them to the station.  Railway station is about 15 kms away from my house, and is situated in the "old city" (or 'city') as it is commonly called.  This 'city' falls on the other side of Sabarmati river, the river which divides Ahmedabad.  'City' side is the 'communally sensitive' area and other is the 'urban', 'developed' area.

I was driving on near empty roads, the names of which mostly appear in papers only during the communal riots.  After all, these are the very lanes where large populations of Hindu and Muslim families live.  These are the same roads which have not seen a riot in almost a decade. 

Over a decade back, these are the same roads which would see a curfew during Uttarayan because kite flown by a kid of one community was 'cut' by the kid of another community, and things would snowball rapidly.  And every year after the Rath Yatra and Moharram, newspapers would invariably note how the processions were carried out without any hiccups.  No, not technical, but communal.

This was even before Narendra Modi made his presence felt in Gujarat.  

I have never lived in that 'city'. 

I am a city girl.  I have lived in a gated community.  My house is opposite ISRO, and so, this area has usually had heightened security.  Before 2002, my only memory of riots are from newspapers.  I was too young in 1992/93 to remember what had happened.  But I'm sure it was equally bad.

I do not know the plight of those (Muslims *and* Hindus) displaced by the riots.  I have never lived under an assumed identity, to hide my religion, to save my life.  So maybe I could not understand those who have been through the same.  I have never been asked to shut up because I was vocal about giving an opinion on the current political scenario of the country.

Every once in a while a blog comes up talking about plight of Muslim ghettos in Ahmedabad - in Juhapura.  I have never been to Juhapura.

But I have been to the 'city'.  I have family who lives there.  My mother grew up in one of those 'pols' of the city.  These pols are spread like spider network, and are amazingly intricate.  I would completely get lost without someone to guide me through. 

One such pol I went to has a strong smell of overflowing gutter engulf you.  After a while, it grows on you and you stop getting bothered by it.  There are cows, dogs and pigs running lose, and children defecating on the roads.  Sometimes, you will not be sure if you stepped on an animal or a human excreta.  The houses are at least a century old.  The wood is the only material which is keeping the houses, which are all adjoined, up.  Cement, sand and other parts are falling off.  Streets are filled with rats and houses with cockroaches, because there is no place for them to go.  Drinking water is sometimes of grey colour.  I don't see how is this area any different from the ghetto of Juhapura people talk about.  Oh, wait.  The residents living here do not belong to the 'minority community'.  They are not suppressed.  They are living there out of choice. 

But you live under constant fear of living in a communally sensitive area, because you know, that the moment a riot sparks off in the city, your neighbourhood will be the first target.

This is the same place where during 2002 riots, many, many people were stabbed.  Some dead bodies were put on a lorry and the lorry was pushed through one lane such that it reaches an old temple.

Please note I am not mentioning which religion/community the people stabbed/killed/pushed on lorries belonged to.  Nor am I mentioning the religion/community of the people who killed.  There is absolutely NO justification for violence of any kind.

That night, at 2 am, when I was crossing these roads, I crossed 7 police vans/interceptors on my way to the "familiar" location.  There were no known riots in recent past, and none of the newspapers had mentioned any intelligence input on terror threat.  It maybe safe to assume it was precautionary measure to prevent any untoward incident.

Funny thing is, when I told this to a friend, who is a self proclaimed Modi hater, he said, "Modi must have put it.  Because he is now PM candidate, he does not want any more riots."

I am amazed at the cynicism around me.  It is like anything that happens in Gujarat, and lately India has Modi with an ulterior motive standing tall.

When I read blogs at NYTimes, like this one, I wonder how many people have so much to write about 2002 riots.  How most of these blogs have Muslim plight to show.  How most of these blogs talk about Modi and his divisive politics, but themselves create a divide of religion about their subject.  The above story, in its isolation, could it not have been written without bringing the religion? Is the author trying to imply that the residents of Juhapura are suffering because they are Muslims? As a neutral reader, I thought so.  And it made me angry.  It made me angry because there are a lot of people here who have issues of basic amenities, whether or not they are Muslims.

Honestly, I am tired of reading articles on 2002 riots and Modi.  Mostly because he is made a bigger hero and villain than he really deserves.  And if at all, you *have* to write articles on 2002 riots, please, please please try and keep religion away.  In 2002 riots, people were killed, irrespective of the religion.  For once, let the human life be more important than the religion/faith it followed.

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