Around empty Gulberg Society,Muslims,Hindus find a way to co-exist

In Gulberg Society,past is never far even as those looking at future have learnt to make peace with it.

Written by Syed Khalique Ahmed | Ahmedabad | Published:February 16, 2012 3:40 am

The name is etched in collective memory as a symbol of the Gujarat riots and,to many,of the administrative complicity behind it. In Gulberg Society,the past is never far even as those looking at the future have learnt to make peace with it. The empty shells of its 29 bungalows and 10 apartments now serve as godowns for neighbouring Muslim bakers,who supply their wares to Hindu shopkeepers next door.

The smell of these bakeries and shahi dawats once filled the society,a Muslim-dominated area that came up in 1965 in the predominantly Hindu Chamanpura. Targeted during the riots,they had all left. The owners of all eight bakeries are now back with their shops,though they stay 7km away in Muslim-dominated Rakhial.

Shamsul Haq Ansari’s Robin Bakery,adjoining Gulberg Society,was looted and torched. He suffered losses of lakhs and claims not to have received any compensation. He chose to return and rebuild from his savings,and said not only has his business taken off again but that he is doing better than before.

Ansari’s customers are all Hindus,including local provision stores,as there is no Muslim habitation around. For him or other bakers in the area,that hasn’t been a problem so far.

Mubarak Ansari,owner of Mubarak Bakery,said there was some tension immediately after the riots. “But with time,things have improved. My entire business depends on local Hindus and they support me wholeheartedly.”

However,none of them lives in the area. Haseemuddin,working with Ashiana Bakery,said the owners as well as the workers live in Rakhial — which has been the case since they migrated from Bijnore. He cited “cultural and social reasons” for this. As such,they did not lose any near ones during the Chamanpura riots.

Those who did have chosen not to continue in Gulberg Society,except Kasam Mansuri,62,who lost 12 members. After his sons relocated,Mansuri stayed back and makes a living selling mattresses outside the society. “This is my society,where will I go?” he said.

Looking at the garbage dumped outside Gulberg Society,the Hindus,on the other hand,feel it is time to break free from the past,if only to bring Gujarat’s famed development to the area. Said Bhavanlal Jain,a moneylender whose customers are mostly Muslims: “The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has been neglecting the locality since they do not want legal complications of property,etc.”

The Citizens for Justice and Peace has come up with the idea of turning the society into a “holocaust museum”. To people like Saed Khan,who moved to the Muslim-dominated Juhapura,that is better than selling the houses to strangers. “It would be like selling the graves of your beloved.”

While Mansuri gets angry at times that the survivors of Gulberg moved away and set up a new life,Khan said: “Gas cylinders were busted in homes; when these caught fire,they threw acid bulbs on people hiding. Women were pulled out and raped in public. No one wants to go back there.”

The bakers are the only remnants of a life that was. The mosque that was destroyed now holds five prayers a day for them. On Fridays,it also draws a number of Muslims working in nearby areas.

As days such as these become routine,Afroz Ansari,a salesman working with J-K Bakery,is hopeful. “The riots,” he said,“were an aberration.”

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