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Sunday, March 07, 2021

In ‘communally sensitive’ Tandalja, basic amenities key issue for many

Homes of people from Hindu and Muslim communities sharing a common wall, neighbours calling out to one another to share a cup of tea and joining in one voice to complain about the lack of amenities as the civic polls approach — all signs indicative of the ‘communal sensitivity’ of understanding.

Written by Aditi Raja | Vadodara |
Updated: February 21, 2021 1:12:21 am
Gujarat municipal elections VadodaraResidents of Tandalja village say that the tag of being a "communally sensitive" area has tarnished the image of the "harmonious" neighbourhood. (Express Photo by Bhupendra Rana)

Tandalja village has acquired an image of being “communally sensitive” in recent years. Buried in the bylanes behind the swanky, newly constructed buildings and complexes on the main road of Tandalja neighbourhood in Vadodara Municipal Corporation’s ward number 10, the village is among the oldest settlements here.

Last week, residents of the recently added area of Bhayli into the VMC limits threatened to boycott the civic body polls if their demand to include the area under Disturbed Areas Act (DA Act) was not met.

Earlier, in January, the Vadodara city police, in a reply to the Town Development Department of the VMC seeking opinion on closing a gate of the controversial Samarpan Housing Society in the neighbourhood said it was among the communally sensitive areas in Vadodara, which is “an extremely sensitive city in the state from the communal perspective”.

A walk into the narrow alleys of Tandalja village — close to a kilometre from Samarpan Society — on a regular evening has images in stark contrast to the police recommendation.

Homes of people from Hindu and Muslim communities sharing a common wall, neighbours calling out to one another to share a cup of tea and joining in one voice to complain about the lack of amenities as the civic polls approach — all signs indicative of the ‘communal sensitivity’ of understanding.

Jyoti Parmar, a resident of Rayan Khadki, who has lived in the neighbourhood for close to 50 years, says, “Every person living in Tandalja follows a custom. If there is an event in our homes, we first invite our Muslim neighbours and they extend the same hospitality towards us… We have not witnessed a single incident of stone-pelting here. We do not understand why the area has been branded communally sensitive.”

Sarita Parmar, 94, nods in agreement and says, “We are all suffering in the same boat due to politics and lethargic administration. We do not get an adequate water supply because of low pressure and our stormwater drains are not efficient to prevent waterlogging.”

The sentiment echoes in the Muslim neighbourhood of Karishma Park that is strategically located near the Vankar Vaas on the other side. Muslim neighbours recall anecdotes from the 2002 riots and say the area was untouched.

Local social activist Sagir Ahmed Ansari says, “When the riots broke out, ours was an area that was unaffected. We would share tea with our neighbours as we always did and still do because we felt safe with them. The harmony in the neighbourhood is a result of a joint effort.”

Ishwar Solanki, 60, who is among the original landowners here and even sold off multiple lands to developers before the DA Act came into force says, “I sold some of my lands to Muslim builders to construct homes many years ago. I have been living here since my birth and I have never seen any clashes. The whole issue of Samarpan housing society and almost all complaints of DA Act coming from there have only
tarnished the image of the area.”

Ahmed adds, “The common people are not the ones to bring up communal issues at a time when other important issues need to be addressed. There is a need to resolve the issue of waterlogging and since we have already made so many representations and not got any response, the residents have decided to gather money and find a solution ourselves.”

Drinking water is a common complaint of residents from all areas of the ward– in Tandalja village, women from both communities walk to a provision store a few meters away to fill their share of drinking water every day because the shop has a tap installed outside which sees the flow at “good pressure”.

Locals say that until Wednesday, no political leaders came by to seek votes although both Congress and the BJP carried out roadshows on Friday. The ward has been a BJP bastion despite having a large Muslim population.

“That is because the voting Muslim population only forms about 12%. Also, since Tandalja is essentially seen as a neighbourhood where Muslims can turn to for ‘refuge’ in case they are displaced from another place, a lot of the residents live on rent and may not be registered voters,” Ahmed says.

The ward, with a voter base of 88,539, has 45,236 male and 43,290 female voters. It comprises a major portion of the newly developed areas of Tandalja, Vasna and Bhayli– is a prominent real estate location. Thus, for areas that are “well-developed”, except for improved internal roads for societies and the monsoon flooding woes, the only issue seems to be DA Act.

While members of Samarpan Housing society refused to comment as the matter over the right to access a VMC road that the society has blocked, Drishti Panchal, a member of the women’s wing of the Bhayli awareness group, which has demanded DA Act to be implemented said, “The plans of the authorities to give government flats in our area to the minority community will raise the possibility of law and order disruption as we share proximity to the area of Tandalja because there is a pattern by which they buy homes at throwaway prices and then want to create a nuisance.”

Leaders from both parties denied stroking communal sentiments. A Congress leader said, “Our candidates are local leaders. They continue to serve people from all sections of the ward. Our agenda is definitely an improvement of civic amenities and we will continue to raise the issue with the VMC.”

A senior BJP leader said that the candidates have “covered’ all neighbourhoods in the area.

“The party is not trying to project the area as communally sensitive but the fact is that by being under the DA Act, the sale of properties has to adhere to the norms… If the residents say they want security for their properties from the existing laws like DA Act, it is the duty of the representatives to make their voice heard in front of the authorities.”

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