The Juhapura model

A ghetto takes shape when members of an ascriptive group gather together in one place irrespective of class and other social factors. A ghetto takes shape when members of an ascriptive group gather together in one place irrespective of class and other social factors.

Revisiting a Muslim ghetto in a Gujarat city in poll time.

Hindus and Muslims have traditionally lived next to each other instead of in the same building or even the same lane. Their lifestyles, including their food habits, accounted for this separation. There was an element of self-segregation in this ancestral arrangement — which, however, did not preclude interaction. In the old cities, Hindu and Muslim elites cohabited, whereas the poor — whether Hindu or Muslim — lived outside the walled space. In Ahmedabad, for instance, the Jain pols (residential lanes) lay next to the Patel pols and the Pathan pols. This kind of mosaic — there were hundreds of pols in the walled city — was somewhat replicated in the industrial belt after Ahmedabad became the “Manchester of India” during the Raj. The Dalit and Muslim workers did not live together but next to each other in the chawls that the textile mill owners had built for them. Similarly, when bridges permitted the rich to flee the increasingly congested old city, cross the Sabarmati to west Ahmedabad, the elite groups built housing societies that were similar but stood side by side. That was the time when Hindus could hear the muezzin’s call for prayer and Muslims the bells of temples.

In Ahmedabad, this arrangement started to erode during the Raj, and even more so because of communal conflicts after Independence. In 1969, the city experienced the most deadly riot of post-Partition India. Some Muslim workers left the industrial area, one of the epicentres of the violence, and migrated to Juhapura, a faraway locality where flood victims had been rehabilitated by the government a few years earlier. Such relocation to Juhapura was bound to grow because of the recurrence of violence. The caste clashes of the 1980s, related to the issue of reservation, took a communal turn, resulting in the massacre of 1985. Then, in 1992, the demolition of the Babri Masjid resulted in another wave of riots, after victory processions were perceived by the Muslim minority as a form of provocation. But the most significant development was still to come: in 2002, in addition to the traditional battlegrounds — the old city and the industrial belt — west Ahmedabad, including Paldi, was also affected. Middle class Muslims — including former MP Ehsan Jafri who was killed in the most horrible manner — were at the receiving end for the first time.

These episodes of extreme violence have been the root cause of the ghettoisation process. Juhapura would probably have become a slum if only poor workers had gone to live there. But more affluent members of the community — including Bohras — also migrated there for …continued »