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No business, no work, Gujarat Muslims left to their fate
By S Ubaidur Rahman (recently in Ahmadabad and Godhra)

IS Gujarat turning into a Rwanda? Seems exaggerated, but the way things are turning it may not be far when the same fate will be reflected on the streets of Vadodra, Surat, Ahmadabad and Godhra. Human rights organisations at home and abroad and even the European Union and UK have taken note of this aspect of the carnage in Gujarat. It keeps erupting after a lull. The main culprit has been confirmed in his job and the home minister is conspicuous by his silence and leaders of the mobocracy he unleashed by his rath yatra are threatening to extend the war zone to all parts of India.

Mayhem and curfew have completed two months now. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims inside relief camps and outside are on the verge of starvation. The daily wage-earners are already starving for lack of work. They cannot venture out and find work in the dangerous environment outside Muslim localities. Thousands of such people have almost no contact with the outside world.

Muhammad Muslim who lives in Juhapura locality in Ahmadabad, the biggest Muslim concentration area in the state capital, says that he has not been able to earn even a single penny since 28 February, when the riots erupted. His six member family mostly goes hungry. He says that he can manage somehow without food, but how he can see his six-months old grandson wail as he is unable to get milk for him.

Islam is not a unique case. Hundreds of Islams are living miserably in localities like Gomtipur, Juhapura, Rakhel, Shapur and other areas where curfew continues on and off since the outbreak of riots. This is not confined to the daily wage-earners. Thousands of people, who owned shops and businesses, have been overnight made penniless. Their businesses have been completely destroyed. 

People living in multistory housing complexes too are suffering. Several people whom I met in Juhapura and Rakhel besides numerous other places said that it is becoming harder and harder for them to manage two times meal a day in the absence of work. Not to speak about those who have lost their businesses. Their life is doubly miserable. These people have not only lost businesses but also hope as they do not hope that they will ever be able to reclaim their old businesses, shops and factories.

Shafi Madani, chairman of Islami Relief Committee-Gujarat (IRCG) which has been involved in the relief work ever since the outbreak of the riots, says that the magnitude of the problem cannot be gauged by his people. He adds that they have already distributed ration kits to more than eight thousand families in Juhapura area alone. His office in Juhapura is always cramped with ever-increasing numbers of affected people. Thousands are now forced to starve in Muslim areas, confirms Madani. He adds that though his people are trying to reach out to as many people as they can, what they have at their disposal can hardly match the needs of the affected people. 

We can provide food to five thousand people or can anyhow manage ten thousand people, but here the whole Muslim localities are facing similar situation, adds one of his aides. If you promise these people two kilo of flour and you ask them to stand in queues for the whole day, they will happily oblige, says Iqbal Mirza, a relief worker in Juhapura area.

Anwar Khan, a relief worker at Rakhyal, says that a large number of people who are starving contact them for food supplies, but there are thousands others who will never ask for any help. He says that people who come from better- off families and who have lost their businesses will never ask for any help. He says that he knows many such families who are starving but are reluctant to reach relief centres while relief organizations think that they do not need help. Even people who have money in their bank accounts are suffering from the same fate. Despite having money in their accounts they cannot venture out to those [Hindu] areas where banks are located. I cannot go to my bank as it is situated on Ashram Road, says Anwar. He says that though he goes out for relief work with his friends, he still cannot dare to move alone even now. Nobody will allow any member of his family to go out to bank and get killed there, he adds.

With almost total business destruction, prosperous Muslim families have been financially crippled all of a sudden. Looking at the number of insurance claims when the trouble is still continuing, it seems that Muslims’ economic backbone has been broken. Value of claims in the smallest insurance company in the country, National Insurance Company, has reached Rs 540 million. The company has received 1205 claims so far. The New India Assurance Company has received 1058 claims worth Rs 340 million and the United India Assurance Company has so far received the largest number of claims at 1300 which are worth Rs 400 million. The Oriental Insurance Company received 973 claims worth Rs 290 million. This is only the tip of the iceberg of Muslim economic losses since most Muslims did not insure their businesses and houses out of religious considerations.

We are still receiving claims and it seems that the number of claims will increase when the tension recedes, says RM Kaul, regional manager of the National Insurance Company in Ahmadabad. 

Small and big businesses alike have suffered during these riots. Arsonists have selectively targeted all the Muslim hotels (restaurants). Indu Kumar Jani, a social activist in Ahmadabad, says that he was not aware of the fact that Tulsi, a chain of restaurants all over Gujarat belonged to Muslims. He adds that most of the customers were Hindus and he believes that hardly anyone knew that it was owned by Muslims. Same is the case with Sarvodya ‘pure vegetarian’ restaurant. Not even Muslims knew that these eateries were owned by members of their own community. Kaul says that a large number of Muslim restaurants were insured by his company. As many as 38 of them were gutted in the initial days of the riots in Ahmedabad alone. It is the number of restaurants insured by only one company. Many others have been burnt and figures are trickling in.

Now those people who owned big businesses just two months ago have joined in poverty and starvation with others living in Muslim ghettos. Fatima Bibi who has now taken shelter in Shah Alam Dargah camp after the rioters set afire her husband’s warehouse in one of the worst affected areas of Ahmadabad, Naroda Patia, says that the loss of business has left her husband almost insane. He has stopped talking and rarely eats anything being given to him by the relief camp volunteers. And to add to Muslim woes the VHP and Bajrang Dal are asking Hindus not to go to Muslim shops and resturants, not to employ Muslims or use their services in any way. This is further aggravating problems and will lead to total ghettoisation.

Husain Umarji, who is running a relief camp in Godhra city, told this correspondent that the business loss is taking its toll on people. He says that not only it becomes harder for us to console those from whom we used to receive large amounts as grants for our schools and societies but also to assist them in this time of need. He says scores of men have been mentally affected due to loss of business and the helplessness it has created in their minds. He adds that prior to riots, the transport business was dominated by Muslims in Panchmahal district in which Godhra falls, but now the whole business has been destroyed. There are reports that more than one thousand trucks belonging to Muslims were burnt in Godhra city alone.

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