Tailor Jagdish Solanki (60) has been desperately trying to sell his ancestral home and move away from his Muslim neighbours in Mandaliya Fali area of Viramgam town of Ahmedabad district for the past six months. His plans to shift to a Hindu neighbourhood has got stuck after Viramgam was brought under the ambit of the Disturbed Areas (DA) Act, which restricts buying and selling of real-estate without a nod from the government.
“The government has locked the stable after the horses have bolted. If they wanted to bring in DA Act, they should have done it two years ago,” says Solanki whose house in Mandaliya Fali overlooks a Balaji temple that stands next to a Jumma Masjid. “It was then that Muslims had started purchasing houses in this locality. But it is too late now as 60 per cent of the houses in this 150-odd house Hindu neighbourhood have been bought by members of the Muslim community. In the past, Viramgam has been ruled by both the Mughals and the Marathas.
Solanki’s elder son has moved out of his ancestral property to the Hindu-dominated Ragunath Das Mohallah.
“My younger son still lives in Mandaliya Fali. But now he too wants to leave the locality. We do not have anything personal against our Muslim brothers. Just that their culture is different,” he says. His family decided to leave the neighbourhood as they could not stand the sight of his Muslim neighbour sacrificing goats during Bakri-id, he explained. “Our Muslim neighbours are good. They are aware of our sentiments and so they usually set up a ‘shamiyana’ before sacrificing the animals inside. They even clean the entire place. But still we know what happened and we cannot adjust,” Solanki says.
When asked if he would sell his shop located just 500 metres away from Mandaliya Fali too, he says, “I will not sell my shop, even though 90% of my customers are Muslims. You can see, I am doing well.”
Even Muslim residents have a problem with the newly-introduced law. Mohammed Aslam, a real-estate developer who bought a 1,100 square yard plot in the Hindu dominated Vishalpara nu Vas locality in Viramgam town two months ago, says, “This DA Act was unnecessary because it will alter the natural flow of markets and people in this town. This will only give rise to more corruption and red-tapism and those interested in selling or buying a property will end up greasing the palms of officials. It will not affect my recent purchase from a Hindu owner, as I had registered the plot well before the Act took effect.”
Before September 30, 2019, The Gujarat Prohibition of Transfer of Immovable Property and Provision for Protection of Tenants from Eviction from Premises in Disturbed areas Act, 1991, also known as the Disturbed Areas Act, covered only 700-odd residential societies in Ahmedabad city. The Gujarat government through a notification on September 30, extended it to 22 areas of Viramgam town too.
“This is the first time the Disturbed Areas Act is being extended beyond Ahmedabad city limits. Till now the act was in force in 700-odd residential colonies under different police stations in the city,” says Ahmedabad District collector Vikrant Pandey. The act was first introduced in 1986 in Ahmedabad as an ordinance and later converted into the DA Act in 1991. Currently, apart from Ahmedabad, the act is also applicable in Vadodara, Surat, Himmatnagar, Godhra, Kapadvanj and Bharuch.
According to the law, a “disturbed” area is where “public order in the said areas was disturbed for a substantial period by reason of riots or violence of mob”. However, neither the district collector nor the local administration in Viramgam could put a number to the riots or mob violence that took place in Viramgam after the 2002 riots when the town witnessed large-scale rioting, arson and a few murders. However, the town is tense. As late as March this year, it saw a communal clash over a trivial reason.
In 2016, the Gujarat High Court convicted seven persons for murder and for being part of a mob that tried to attack a Muslim locality in Viramgam in 2002 and demolish a dargah. Three persons were killed in the incident in the historic town that was once considered a key entry point to the Saurashtra peninsula.
Viramgam has been under Hindu and Muslim rulers in the past. Locals say that the Munsar lake in the town was built by Minaldevi, the mother of Jayasimha Siddharaja of Chalukya dyanasty and the Gagansagar lake built by the Muslim rulers. Once protected by a brick-and-stone wall flanked by towers, today only some of the five gates of this wall remain in Viramgam town where the population as per the 2011 census is about 56,000. Of this, an estimated 28 per cent are Muslims, 2.4 per cent are Jains and nine per cent are from the Scheduled Castes.
The DA Act will remain in force for a period of five years from October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2024. Gujarat government officials point out that once the DA Act is imposed in an area, it continues to be in force. For instance, in Ahmedabad city, the DA Act was last renewed in 2018 and will remain in force till 2023.
By the newest amendment, the DA act has been extended for the first time outside Ahmedabad city and was also criminalised. Its violation can lead to imprisonment. Now punishments can vary up to six years’ imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1 lakh or the jantri (ready reckoner of property prices fixed by the government) price, whichever is higher. As per the amendments, the Act also covers rentals and gifts,
“The move is based largely on requests that come to us stating that communal harmony can be disturbed if large-scale demographic changes happen. This is to see that there is no future adulteration in the demography of the town.” Pandey tells The Indian Express. “The decision by the government is taken based on reports from the local administration and the police department, and past incidents that have happened and the possibility of future disturbances. So certain pockets are declared disturbed… It is a well-thought step by the state government.”
Following this notification, any sale of property in the “disturbed area’ requires the permission of the district collector. In the application, the seller has to attach an affidavit stating that he/she has sold the property of their free volition and has got a fair market price. “Any transfer or right or title by way of sale, gift, exchange and lease will also be covered,” Pandey says.
Viramgam is also home to Congress leader Hardik Patel and his former colleague in the party Alpesh Thakor, who recently joined the BJP. It last got attention when both leaders plunged into politics after launching themselves as caste-based leaders from here.
It is not just Hindu-dominated areas such as Mandaliya Fali, Ambe Mata no Delo, Goyafali, Modh ni Sheth Fali, Parekh Timba Fali and Chanfali that have been included in the list of disturved areas. There are predominantly Muslim areas such as Mochi Bazar, Visal Parno Vas, Ram Mahel Mandir, Bhavsar Vado that too are part of the list. There is one Jain area Shravakani Moti and areas where the Dalit community lives, identified as Harijan Vas and Chamar Vas. “Mundva, Bhavsar Vado and Ram Mahel Mandir were earlier Hindu areas and now the demography has changed,” Baaudin Patan (60) who works as a peon in the sub-divisional magistrate office at Viramgam said.
Like Jagdish Solanki, 50-year-old Devendra Kansara has also moved out of Mandaliya Fali area but is not keen on selling the two houses and two shops he owns in the adjoining Kansara Bazar, which too has been brought under the DA Act. “Bringing in the DA Act is good. At least, there will be some control in the way houses were being bought by the Muslim community. The initial sale happened at high prices and when the number of Muslim families increase, the prices fall. And now we are not able to get buyers for our properties that would cost anywhere close to Rs 20 lakh,” says Kansara who moved to Desai Pol with his 14-member family about two decades ago. “We have kept both our houses intact. We come and live and do our poojas during festivals.We also do not intend to sell our shops,” Kansara added.
Viramgam’s Congress MLA Lakhabhai Bharwad is miffed about the developments. “There was no need for the imposition of the DA Act. It is nothing but labelling the town as communal,” he says. “There have been no communal riots in the town since the post-Godhra riots of 2002. Today, both Hindus and Muslims live side-by-side in harmony. In fact, this year when the Jagannath rath yatra was held, it went through Muslim areas where Muslim brothers welcomed it. Once you tag a town as communal, then developments and investments do not happen,” adds Bharwad, who defeated Congress turncoat Tejashreeben Patel who had switched over to the BJP before the 2017 state assembly elections.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines