In the sensitive old city area of Vadodara, two hydraulic excavators Thursday continued to level the plot where Sulemani Chawl once stood, before it was razed by the civic authorities in June. The plot, which is also the location of Masjid-e-Raza, will host its first event — a nine-day garba celebration — since the demolition of around 300 clustered homes, a majority of which belonged to Muslim families.
Nod for the garba event by the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) has kicked up a storm after the civic body rejected the request from the displaced families from Sulemani Chawl — some of whom still await rehabilitation — to allow tazia processions during the Islamic month of Muharram on the same plot. Both Navratri and Muharram begin on October 1.
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In support of their decision, VMC officials said the request for allowing the plot for garba came first (on Monday), while the Muslims sought the ground for tazia on Thursday.
The Land and Estate Department of the VMC has granted permission to around 22 garba events on corporation land, including Sulemani Chawl. “We have granted permission to 22 garbas on open plots in the possession of the civic corporation, including the Sulemani Chawl plot at Panigate,” Land and Estate Officer (Acquisition-administration, Commercial) Mahesh Parnami told The Indian Express.
The garba on the Sulemani Chawl plot has been organised by BJP worker and advocate Vibhuti Vyas. “I am organising garba at the Sulemani Chawl plot and I am joined by like-minded friends from the Muslim community. This will be one-of-its-kind event in which the Hindus and the Muslims will participate together. The two communities have been living in harmony in this area for several years and this garba will symbolise their unity,” she said.
Vyas said the Muslims joining her in organising the event were “not exactly” the residents of the erstwhile chawl. “I have formed a group of Muslim women and they have joined the committee that will organise this event. They are not those people who have lived in Sulemani Chawl, but our garba is open to all. We welcome the Muslims to perform aarti with us,” she said.
However, former residents of now-demolished chawl were unhappy after the VMC declined their request to allow them the plot for observing the month-long mourning during Muharram. Nazir Shaikh, who used to live in Sulemani Chawl, said, “We had approached the VMC, seeking permission to hold Muharram rituals on the plot, beginning October 1. Since we have traditionally observed our rituals at the spot, we should be allowed to do so… our Masjid also stands inside the plot.
Shaikh said, “The officials told our representatives that the permission has already been granted for garba on a first-come, first-serve basis.”