Being a Muslim in ‘Vibrant Gujarat’

What has changed for the Gujarat’s Muslims between “Hum panch, humaare pachees” and “Sabka saath, sabka vikas”? For publicity purposes, a lot. But in reality, the situation is as grim as it was when Narendra Modi took charge of the state.

As the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002, Narendra Modi had made snide remarks about the state’s 4.5 million (Census, 2001) Muslim minority, taunting the community for its family planning ways. No sooner than he became the Prime Minister in 2014, the content of his parlance shifted to a secular note and inclusive development. He urged the Gujarati Muslims to forget the past and commingle themselves with the mainstream to benefit from his government’s developmental agenda.

Belonging to a minority community which has never been fully accepted by the majority as a part of its own is arduous. Muslims in Gujarat continue to suffer economic and social deprivations under the saffron rule. The skewed Gujarat developmental model of Modi has succeeded only in providing incentives to large capital houses and dominant social groups. The benefits of the economic development in the state have not percolated down to the poor and marginalised communities. The state performs poorly on human development indices, with Muslims at the receiving end.

Troubling statistics

National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) and National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) and information from the Sachar Committee report paint a grim picture of the situation of Muslims in Modi’s Gujarat.

Poverty levels among Gujarati Muslims are higher than other communities. Urban poverty among Muslims is eight times (800%) more than high-caste Hindus, about 50% more than the Hindu-OBCs and the SCs/STs (Poverty rate : Muslims-24%, SCs/STs-17%, OBCS-18%, Hindus-3%). Muslims in rural Gujarat are better off than their urban counterparts, with two times (200%) poorer than high caste Hindus. With over 60% of Gujarati Muslims living in urban areas, they are one of the most deprived social groups.

On the education front too, the situation isn’t sanguine. Not only does the Sachar Committee report point towards deplorable condition of education amongst the minority community, the findings by the NSSO show similar results. According to the data released by the organisation, attendance rate of Muslim children in educational institutions in Gujarat is one of the worst in India.

The age group 5-14 years had an attendance rate of 78.7 % amongst Muslim children in Gujarat, with only three of the BIMARU states performing poorer – Bihar (74.6 %), Rajasthan (73.2 %) and Uttar Pradesh (73.2 %). All-India average of Muslim attendance rate in the educational institutes in the same age group is 82.3%. The findings also pointed a drop in attendance rate of the state’s Muslim children as the age increased. Abu Saleh Shariff, who was member-secretary of the Sachar committee, points out that only 26% of Muslim children reached matriculation compared to 41% of the majority community.

The NSSO report also implied towards disparity in access to higher education among Muslim youth. To counter the low enrolment of Muslims in different levels of education, the UPA government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had launched a nationwide scholarship scheme for minorities in 2006.

While majority of states compiled, the Modi government in Gujarat delayed implementation of the program till a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by Congressman and Muslim social activist Adam Chaki for non-implementation of the minority scholarship scheme. After a long wait, the state government implemented the scheme and the scholarships were distributed in 2014.

Poor education, if not always, often leads to poor employability. As per the findings of the Sachar Committee, Gujarati Muslims have a 10% lower work participation rate than Hindus. For decades, Muslims dominated the state’s textile and diamond cutting and polishing industry. But as there has been widespread displacement after the innumerable communal riots, Muslims in Gujarat have lower participation in manufacturing and organized sector (13%) as compared to Muslims participation at an all-India level (21%).

Juhapura and life after 2002 riots

Recurring incidents of communal violence in the state over the years has eventuated in rising ghettoization and marginalization of the Muslim community. For thousands of riot victims living in relief colonies strewn across Gujarat, life is a story of deprivation full of government apathy. Keshubhai Patel’s government won international approbation for rehabilitating the Bhuj earthquake victims in 2000. However, his successor cannot claim any such praise. Fifteen years later, thousands of victims of Godhra riots are still languishing in ghettos.

Juhapura, Gujarat’s largest Muslim ghetto (near Ahmedabad) with a population of nearly 500,000 is home to affluent as well as those living below poverty line. The inhabitants are not only stripped off their right to work and pursue a livelihood but are also reeling under the economic losses they suffered 15 years ago after the Godhra massacre. Most houses lack access to potable water and sanitation facilities.  Except for a few Madrasas, there are no schools, only a few Anganwadis and primary schools run by local NGOs. The government secondary schools are usually near Hindu localities where Muslim girls fear going. Most Muslim girls in these ghettos do not study beyond primary level. As most of these relief colonies were set up on the outskirts of cities near landfill or waste collection sites, residents suffer from skin and digestive disorders, with healthcare facilities inaccessible to most.

Systemised separation of communities

Throughout India, mild separation of communities on religious basis is commonplace but nowhere is it as systemised as in Gujarat. Over the years following the 2002 riots, it has become increasingly difficult for Muslims to buy property in areas dominated by Hindus.

The “Disturbed Areas Act, 1991” which restricts Muslims and Hindus from selling property to each other in “sensitive” areas, is adding to segregation of the two communities. This is further alienating Muslims from mainstream development. Many social watchers believe that the Act’s continued enforcement is being used as a social engineering tool to create further divide between the two communities. As cities are growing, more and more urban spaces are forming which further widen the divide.

The only Muslims who have benefitted in Gujarat are the Muslim businessmen. Modi’s efforts in wooing big businesses to Gujarat has helped the state’s Muslim businessmen too. In the MSME sector (Medium and small businesses) Muslims run for 20-30% businesses. While the pro- business policies of the government have created many opportunities for the minority businessmen, negligible efforts have been made in uplifting the remaining non-business community.

It is rather unfortunate that the only time the Muslims were considered worthy for inclusion in mainstream was more than three decades ago when Congress crafted the KHAM strategy to bring the marginalised and the depressed classes on one platform. Both in 1980 and 1985, Congress had a spectacular wins. These elections showed the strength of the downtrodden. But the majoritarian wave soon overpowered the rise of minorities. The upper class Hindus, the Bhrahmins, Patidars and Banias, mobilised towards BJP. Since then, Muslims and other minorities in Gujarat have been rendered a subjugated existence.

Isolation of Muslims

The isolation of Muslims is nothing new in Gujarat. Noted Gujarati literary figure and tribal rights activist Ganesh Devy summarises the sentiments of the majority community towards the minority in just a few words, “You do not become a bad man in Gujarat if you hate Muslims, you are normal”.

The Gujarat model would be complete when the government functions not to appease the majority but for the welfare of one and all, strives for a job driven development, brings rule of law and security to society, follows the path of zero discrimination and keeps communal instigators at bay. Till then, the PM’s rhetoric of “sabka saath sabka vikas” will remain a paradox and the vibrant colours of his Gujarat will lack permanency and certitude.



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