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Muslims in India: live together to survive
By Kaleem Kawaja

In recent weeks as many Muslim refugees in refugee camps in Gujarat tried to return to their Hindu-majority villages and townships, from which they had to escape due to the anti-Muslim carnage, the VHP activists prevented them from returning to their homes, and threatened them with violence. In the village of Delol, in Panchmahal district, when a Hindu-majority NRI communal harmony delegation visited there and suggested that Muslims should be allowed to return to their homes, they too were threatened with violence and chased out. The Gujarat VHP leaders, and Ashok Singhal, the national general secretary of VHP proclaimed that these townships/villages have been ‘cleansed of Muslims’. They also proclaimed that this was a successful experiment that they intend implementing elsewhere in India. And both Gujarat state government and the Indian government declined to help Muslims in any way. In townships in Gujarat where Muslims are a very small minority, they are very afraid of returning home since the government and police is not making any arrangement to protect them.

A look at the demographic map of Gujarat shows that in Gujarat, where Muslims comprise 9 % of the overall population, they are less than 10% of the population in 12 districts, namely: Valsad, Panchmahals, Gandhinagar, Sabarkantha, Amreli, Sundernagar, Mahsena, Bhavnagar, Bansa Kantha, Vadodra, Surat, Rajkot. Except for Rajkot and Surat, in all other of these districts, Muslims faced major violence and harassment. Districts where Muslims comprise 10% or more of the population are: Junagadh, Kheda, Ahmedabad, Jamnagar, Bharuch, Kucch. Of these districts, significant anti-Muslim violence occurred only in townships in Kheda and Ahmedabad where the Muslims’ are less than 10%. In all other such districts Muslims did not suffer much violence.

The history of 55 years of grievous anti-Muslim violence in India shows that in townships and villages, where Muslims are 20% or more of the population, not much harm happens to them in communal riots. In such townships all across India, Muslims were always able to defend their lives and properties and beat back the attacks of fascist Hindu marauders. In the horrible 1992/93 anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai, Muslims were safe in Muslim pocket localities like Mahim, Bandra, Mohammad Ali Road, Bhindi Bazaar, but over a thousand Muslims were killed in localities where their population was sparse. Similarly in the other cities in Maharashtra, UP and Bihar, where many anti-Muslim riots have occurred over the years, Muslims suffered losses of life and property in those localities where they were under 10% of the population, while they were safe in localities where their population was 20% or more.

To live in pockets where Muslims are 20% or more of the population, does not mean that those localities become ghettos. For instance in New Delhi such Muslim pockets exist in localities like Okhla, Jamia Nagar, Zakir Bagh. These are nice areas with clean residential and business operations. In such localities in New Delhi, Mumbai and other cities, Muslims have built high quality educational, medical, civic institutions and business enterprises. And all of them have remained safe in the many large-scale anti-Muslim riots in these cities.

For 55 years an overwhelming majority of enlightened Muslims in countless cities in India have tried their best to integrate with the Hindus. To do that, all those Muslims who could afford the price tags of houses in new suburbs, moved out of Muslim majority localities and settled down in localities where their numbers were very small. But as we saw recently in the gory violence in the Gulmohar society in Ahmedabad, where former member of parliament Ahsan Jafri and his family were burnt alive, Muslims’ taking such high level personal risks for the sake of integration, has brought doom to them. In the recent anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat, even several distinguished Muslim citizens like high court judges, senior IAS and police officers, senior officials of top corporations, top class businessmen etc came face to face with brutal organized violence and in many instances suffered heavy losses. Even their repeated personal appeals to senior government officials did not bring them any protection.

In this respect the facts of organized anti-Muslim violence in many cities in India for 55 years shows that, while Gujarat may be an extreme case, it is true that Muslims living in localities where their population is low, even if they are nice suburbs, are always under extreme threat of violence to their lives and properties.

In the background of the above horrible experience, and considering their future security prospects, other than a population shifts within the cities where they live, to form pockets of 20% or more Muslim population, Muslims have very little choice. In fact the assurance of physical security that such Muslim pockets can provide, can also make Muslims become more friendly and communal harmony oriented towards Hindus, and get them motivated to become more active in the mainstream in the various walks of life. 

This population shift can begin in Gujarat in right earnest. Muslims who were made homeless in the recent carnage should not return to their former localities, villages, townships. Instead with the help of Muslim and non-Muslim NGOs, and the government, they should move to areas where they can form such secure Muslim pockets. While it is true that a large number of Hindu friends of the Muslims are trying hard to restore Muslims to their former homes, localities, villages, it behooves that Muslims think of their own future, bite the bullet, absorb the economic hardship, and shift to Muslim pockets. In the current situation, communal riot prone states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, UP, Bihar seem appropriate for this population shift strategy.

If Ahsan Jafri was living in a significant Muslim population locality in Ahmedabad, like Juhapura, he and his family would still be alive. And he could continue to work for communal harmony and help the people of Gujarat. But he was an idealist who chose to live in an overwhelming Hindu majority area, that became the jaws of death for him when the chips were down. Better be alive than be an esoteric idealist and get burned alive. Harmony between Muslims and Hindus is the only way out for Muslims in India. But a dead man or a man whose house has been burnt down cannot practice harmony.

The writer is a prominent Indian community activist in Washington DC.

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