The Muslim community, discriminated against and pushed to the fringes of society in Gujarat, points to the dangers of having Narendra Modi at the helm of the country. By ANUPAMA KATAKAM

GUJARAT CHIEF MINISTER NARENDRA MODI’S SPIN doctors have been portraying him as the new messiah of the country. In their enthusiasm to project him as the next Prime Minister, they even claim that he has appeased the minorities (read Muslims), and that they have apparently begun to accept him as a leader worth reckoning.

But the ground reality is something else. “If he becomes the Prime Minister, he will turn the country into another Gujarat. He is the country’s biggest enemy. He does not believe in democracy, peace, communal harmony or anything that India stands for. He has brought so much suspicion and distrust in Gujarat that he will ruin the country,” says Yusuf Pathan, a survivor of the 2002 communal riots in Mehsana district. “Modi is no messiah. Whatever development is seen in Gujarat has come from the Central government. He is fooling everyone by making them believe it is he who is taking Gujarat forward.”

The majority of Muslims across Gujarat will concur with Pathan’s views. Frontline travelled to several parts of the State to understand the condition of the minority communities, particularly Muslims, who are perhaps the most persecuted community in Gujarat, and check the veracity of the development claims.

Whether it is access to housing, employment and education or the exercise of fundamental rights, Muslims, who constitute about 9 per cent of the population, are marginalised or treated as second-class citizens. The injustices done to them are so blatant that it is hard to believe that Modi has any desire to appease these sections.

There are plenty of indicators to prove that Gujarat under Modi has no place for minorities. Several recent reports and analyses show that the Muslims of Gujarat are among the poorest and most discriminated against community in the country. Additionally, the employment of tactics such as amending laws to suppress the community establishes Modi’s agenda.

The Chief Minister sought to curb the freedom of choice of religion by passing the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Law, 2003. This law stipulates that anyone wanting to convert to another religion must take the state’s permission. In 2009, he introduced an amendment to the Gujarat Prohibition of Transfer of Immovable Property and Provisions for Protection of Tenants from Eviction from Premises in Disturbed Areas Act, 1991, purportedly to check illegal transfer of property in the communally sensitive areas of Ahmedabad and Vadodara.

The law essentially requires people from one religion to take permission from the state to sell their property if the buyer is from another religion. Modi has ensured that Muslims and other minorities do not benefit from the various Central government schemes. He sought to prevent the implementation of the Centre’s pre-matriculation scholarship scheme for students from minority communities. The scholarships were not disbursed in Gujarat because Modi felt it would be discriminatory against other religions. Gujarat has been allotted 55,000 scholarships of which 53,000 are for deserving Muslim students. On February 15, the Gujarat High Court, hearing a bunch of public interest petitions, ruled in favour of the scheme.

The danger of having Modi at the helm is that he will divide and rule, because that is the only language he knows, people belonging to the minority community say.

Pathan lost 11 of his family members in the post-Godhra riots at Dipda Darwaza in Mehsana district. This was one of the nine cases into which a further probe was conducted by the Special Investigation Team (SIT). In July 2012, a special court convicted 21 people for rioting and attempt to murder in the Dipda Darwaza case. Pathan earns a living by running a paan shop in Visnagar in Mehsana district. Several riot-affected families have been provided some manner of housing by the relief committees. But, relief and employment and education opportunities are still not available for the victims.

“Though they have been given houses, there are no amenities. There are open sewers and water stagnates in them. One tap has been provided for running water, but it is defunct,” Pathan says. The majority of Muslims in this area are poor. They work as farmhands or as manual labourers at construction sites. Some of them take up odd jobs in small industrial units.

“Whoever wants Modi to become the Prime Minister wants the country to be ruined,” says Abid Khan, who works in a timber yard and also drives an autorickshaw. “Modi does not listen to the poor. He only listens to the rich Muslims who only have their business interests in mind.”

“What has Modi done in the name of development? The human development index of Gujarat is declining,” says Iqbal Sheikh, who is also a complainant in the Dipda Darwaza case.

An hour’s drive from Visagar is Himmatnagar in Sabarkantha district where families of victims in the Sardarpura massacre have been provided protected housing. This small colony, tucked away from the main highway, has 22 families. Here again there is no sanitation or regular electricity or water supply. About 10 people live in each 10x10 feet room. This small lane of houses borders the Dalit colony on the fringes of the village, and those familiar with the caste system will realise that this is nothing but social exclusion.

“You have visited us before. Nothing has changed since then,” says Basheera Bibi, who lost her husband in the riots. “There is still no public health clinic in the vicinity. The only school, which has up to class VIII, is located far away. We work in the fields. But this year, the agriculture season has been very bad.”

Abdul Khan, a 40-year-old labourer from Himmatnagar, says, since the area is affected by drought there is no work throughout the year. Our rozi roti [daily bread] depends on daily wage employment. For this we have to travel quite far. If I am lucky I earn Rs.50 a day.”

Discriminated by the state

A report by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), authored by Abusaleh Shariff in 2011, sums up the discrimination best. The report explores “the relative development of Gujarat, followed by the socio-religious differentials in the standard of living in the State”. Shariff, who has drawn data from the National Sample Survey Organisation, the Sachar Committee report and the Reserve Bank of India, provides some crucial and telling statistics that testify to the fact that Muslims in Gujarat are marginalised largely because of state policies.

Says the report: “Poverty amongst the urban Muslims is eight times (800 per cent) higher than high-caste Hindus, about 50 per cent more than the Hindu-Other Backward Classes and the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes [S.Cs/S.Ts]. Note that over 60 per cent of all Gujarati Muslims live in urban areas and they are the most deprived social group in Gujarat. On the other hand, rural poverty amongst the Muslims is two times (200 per cent) more than high-caste Hindus.”

He observes that educationally, Muslims are the most deprived community in Gujarat. A mere 26 per cent reach the level of matriculation, whereas the proportion for others, except the S.Cs/S.Ts, is 41 per cent. A large number of Muslim pupils drop out around class V. A disturbing trend was noticed in respect of higher education. Muslims who had the same level of education as other categories in the past are left behind compared with even S.Cs/S.Ts. A startling fact revealed by the study is that upper-caste Hindus have benefited the most from the public provisioning of higher education in recent years.

On the employment front, it found that a larger number of Muslims in Gujarat are self-employed or do petty trade. Self-employment and petty trade have shown only a marginal income growth in the past two decades in comparison with other sectors of the economy. In Gujarat, foreign direct investments and public investments are channelled into the organised sector where Muslims do not find employment.

Shariff says it must be noted that Muslims generally have better employment opportunities in State public sector enterprises across India, whereas in Gujarat they do not have access to organised and public sector employment.

“There exists deep-rooted poverty and income inequality in Gujarat. Putting the Muslim situation in this larger framework, the empirical evidence suggests that relative to other States and relative to other communities, Muslims in Gujarat are facing high levels of discrimination and deprivation,” he says.

Sophia Khan, a women’s rights activist in Ahmedabad, says, “All the challenges remain the same. Just because there is no visible violence on the streets does not mean that we are not targeted.” She says the issue is about internally displaced people. Severe polarisation has happened during Modi’s tenure and this will continue because he has ensured distrust between communities.

There are few options by way of leadership for Gujarat’s Muslims. Sophia Khan says it is unfortunate that the community cannot mobilise itself, find a voice and provide some able leaders. She says it is inaccurate to say that Muslims are voting the BJP. Where they are a minority, they have no option, mostly because there is no alternative. However, she says, Juhapura, which has three lakh Muslims, is a case in point. The area, which was a ghetto providing refuge to riot-affected people, has become a suburb of Ahmedabad and looks after the needs of the city’s Muslims, who, over a period of time, have literally been hounded out of “Hindu areas”.

She says the BJP fielded a retired Muslim Indian Police Service officer from Juhapura in the Assembly elections, but he lost. “This shows that we will not vote the BJP even if they put up a Muslim candidate. Modi will soon realise the country does not consist of only Gujarati middle class. He does not understand or follow the Constitution. How can he become the Prime Minister?”

In fact, in Modi’s Gujarat, even Christians, Dalits and S.Ts are not spared. For instance, Gujarat’s Christian population is 0.53 per cent. Even that is a threat to the Chief Minister.

The human rights activist Father Cedric Prakash told Frontline: “Christians in Gujarat [especially those who are from the tribal communities or belong to the backward classes] are subject to intimidation and harassment. Recently, the police visited one of our spiritual centres demanding to see the baptism register. This does not happen anywhere else in the country.”

On Easter Sunday, a huge right-wing Hindu rally demanding that Gujarat be declared a Hindu state by 2015 was held in Maninagar, Modi’s constituency, he said.

The plight of the minorities in the State never seems to improve.