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 the sake of security, after they realised that Muslims living in small pockets like Gulberg Society and Naroda Patiya had been targeted in 2002.
A ghetto takes shape when members of an ascriptive group gather together in one place, irrespective of class and other social factors. In Juhapura, former judges, retired IAS and IPS officers and other middle-class representatives have ended up living in the same locality as individuals in much more precarious circumstances. But a ghetto is also defined by the absence of public facilities. Indeed, in Juhapura, the state has not developed roads, schools or public hospitals the way it has elsewhere — in spite of the fact that this locality has a population of more than four lakh, and has, at long last, been included in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation’s jurisdiction. A third variable needs to be factored in when defining a ghetto: it is insulated. Not only in cultural terms but also physically. Indeed, bus connections are so bad that those who live in Juhapura often have to go to Ahmedabad by rickshaw — or lose their jobs if they can’t afford to. More importantly, perhaps, the number of “frontiers” have multiplied — either because of the building of walls or because of the mental geography of Juhapura’s inhabitants as well as of those who casually refer to it as “Little Pakistan”.
The ghettoisation process has had a paradoxical effect after 2005, when the rich, who until then thought that Juhapura was a temporary stop, realised that they would not return to the city, where some of them still had homes. The richest fraction of Juhapura has started to set up private schools and hospitals. They were not necessarily meant for the poor. But the poor’s hunger for education — the only way out, in their view — is such that they have tried hard to benefit from these new facilities, even if at a price. As a result, in spite of the state’s absence, Juhapura has developed — except for the roads, which are not pucca. In the process, the local notables who patronised the development work have started to exert an authority, which constitutes a rather personalised and authoritarian substitute to state power. This para-state arrangement runs along sectarian lines as Muslims in Juhapura are not more homogenous than elsewhere, as has been well shown by Zahir Janmohamed, a scholar living in and working on a book on Juhapura.
The trajectory described so far had become clear by 2010, as shown in the chapter I wrote with Charlotte Thomas (“Facing ghettoisation in ‘riot-city’: Old Ahmedabad and Juhapura between victimisation and self-help” in Muslims in Indian Cities: Trajectories of Marginalisation, edited by L. Gayer and C. Jaffrelot). But my recent visit to the area suggested that this community-based development has possibly peaked. Socio-economic differentiation is increasing in such a way that the rich can now form posh enclaves. In some places, land costs so much (Rs 20,000 per square yard on average, but it can go up to Rs 70,000) that the poor cannot live there. They have to go to nearby localities like Narol instead, from where they come to work in Juhapura, as domestic workers, for instance.
Prices have increased so much because the expansion of Juhapura has been contained, not only by walls but also by the building of Hindu colonies — including a police colony — at the periphery of the locality. (Incidentally, even if the state does not provide water or electricity and has not built roads, its existence is marked by a large police presence.) But there is probably another reason for the price rise as well: Juhapura has continued to attract people, in spite of the fact that there’s been no communal mass violence since 2002. Besides safety, Juhapura now offers some facilities to the Muslim middle class (including schools). It’s a full-fledged Muslim city in the making. It has a critical mass that minimises Hindu influence and reinforces the traditional sense of self-segregation that minorities tend to develop.
The developers who have initiated rather ambitious projects may be disappointed because there are probably not enough rich Muslims to occupy the posh apartments of their luxurious enclaves. But Juhapura may become the first new “Muslim city” of India anyway. It may also be influenced more by the Gulf countries than by India. While the new schools of Juhapura were all resolutely modern till now, the Tablighi Jama’at is currently building the first girls-only school, apparently with money coming from the Gulf and the UK. Only hardcore ideologues can ignore the implications of such changes for national cohesion and the need to help minorities in general to remain part of the mainstream.
The writer is senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/ CNRS, Paris, professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at King’s India Institute, London, Princeton Global Scholar and non-resident scholar at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace