De­vel­op­ment mi­nus the sops

Godhra’s Mus­lims have ben­e­fited from the Gu­jarat growth story and want more

India Today - - COVER STORY - by Uday Mahurkar Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter @UdayMahurkar

When jour­nal­ists de­scend on Polan bazaar, the main area of the Ghanchi Mus­lim com­mu­nity in Godhra, Bi­lal Shaikh, a small shop­keeper, doesn’t fail to drag them to a dirty nulla pass­ing through the mid­dle of the bazaar. Ven­dors stand all day on the road next to the nulla sell­ing fruits and veg­eta­bles. “Why does the lo­cal BJP- con­trolled mu­nic­i­pal­ity not clean this place? Is it be­cause we are Mus­lims? The lo­cal BJP lead­ers have re­peat­edly as­sured us that they will have the place cleaned up, but it never hap­pens,” he thun­ders. But oth­ers in the re­gion say that the prob­lem is not re­li­gion-cen­tric. The is­sues are sim­i­lar in other ar­eas of the city as well.

The Sachar Com­mit­tee re­port has painted a rel­a­tively good pic­ture of the con­di­tions of Mus­lims in Gu­jarat—bet­ter, say, than Ma­ha­rash­tra and West Ben­gal. With peace in the state since the 2002 Gu­jarat ri­ots, Chief Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s at­tempts to reach out to Mus­lims with his de­vel­op­ment prom­ise is im­prov­ing things fur­ther. Says An­war Kachaba, a home­o­pathic prac­ti­tioner: “There is a sense of ne­glect among Mus­lims at the hands of the rulers, but not alien­ation. The strides that our largely-il­lit­er­ate com­mu­nity has made in ed­u­ca­tion since 2002 is re­mark­able. Modi could take some credit be­cause his govern­ment has pro­vided a con­ducive at­mos­phere for it.”

The Godhra Ghan­chis, for one, have seen a marked im­prove­ment in ed­u­ca­tion over the last 12 years. A 30,000-strong com­mu­nity that had only a few arts and com­merce grad­u­ates till late 1990s and largely sub­sisted on daily labour, it now has 20 youths study­ing medicine, 75 study­ing home­opa­thy and al­most 500 study­ing en­gi­neer­ing.

But there is still a strong feel­ing that Ghanchi Mus­lims in Godhra are ha­rassed by law en­force­ment be­cause many of those who al­legedly set fire to the Sabar­mati Ex­press on Fe­bru­ary 27, 2002, were from this com­mu­nity. “The ha­rass­ment of Ghanchi Mus­lim youths is at times un­bear­able. The po­lice should not be­come a tool to ha­rass the in­no­cent,” says Ash­faque Kurkur, 22, a sec­ond-year arts stu­dent. “Modi has brought de­vel­op­ment to Gu­jarat and Mus­lims, too, have ben­e­fited from it. But he has to do more to win our con­fi­dence. He will have to walk the ex­tra mile to con­vince us that he will do full jus­tice to us.”

There are some, like Mustafa Pu­nawala, 42, a law grad­u­ate and a di­rec­tor in the Godhra Co­op­er­a­tive Bank run by mem­bers of the Da­woodi Bohra com­mu­nity, who have high hopes from Modi. “Po­lit­i­cal rulers have so far used Mus­lims for votes by giv­ing spe-

“There is a sense of ne­glect among Mus­lims at the hands of the rulers, but not alien­ation.” AN­WAR KACHABA Home­opath

cial prom­ises. Modi is the first who is promis­ing them a share in de­vel­op­ment but mi­nus the sops. He has shown ap­pre­cia­ble con­trol over law and or­der af­ter the 2002 ri­ots. I feel Modi will be good for In­dia and Mus­lims,” he says.

Dr Maza­hir Mithi­bor­wala, 39, a med­i­cal prac­ti­tioner in Godhra’s Vohrawad area, holds a dif­fer­ent view. “The choice be­fore Mus­lims is to choose be­tween evil and lesser evil. Congress never gave us de­vel­op­ment and used us as a vote bank,” he says. Modi is promis­ing them de­vel­op­ment. But the com­mu­nity is fear­ful that saf­fron forces like the VHP might take over once he comes to power. “He has to show more sen­si­tiv­ity to­wards us,” says Mithi­bor­wala.

Pho­to­graph by SHAILESH RAVAL

GODHRA Mustafa Pu­nawala at the Godhra Co­op­er­a­tive Bank

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