Development minus the sops
Godhra’s Muslims have benefited from the Gujarat growth story and want more
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.
GODHRA Mustafa Punawala at the Godhra Cooperative Bank