Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

March 2007
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Sidelights

School…. A Distant Dream
By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani
Ahmedabad


Nearly five years after the riots in Gujarat, safety concerns and lack of school facilities have kept Muslim kids away from education.


In Gujarat, riot-hit Muslims are still away from education. Most of them have lost the way. Nearly five years after the Gujarat riots, safety concerns and lack of facilities keep many children away from a decent education.


Meet Ruksana Banu, her life revolves around the monotonous routine of household chores. Every day, she washes clothes, cooks meals, cleans vessels and occasionally goes for sewing classes near her house.


She adores two Hindi tele-serials on television, ostensibly centred around women. Sometimes, she remembers the dreams she had before 2002 and then, the mountainous garbage dump that is heaped near her house in Citizen Nagar, Ahmedabad, which almost seems to represent the crash-landing of those cherished hopes.


She was a class VIII student in a school in Naroda, when the carnage happened. Her house was destroyed, and her neighbours were hacked and burnt alive. Rendered homeless, she and her family eventually secured a roof over their heads in Citizen Nagar, where a relief committee had constructed houses for the riot victims.


Today, her father who owns a push- cart finds it difficult to make a living in his new neighbourh-ood. There are no municipal schools in the area and the family cannot afford to send the children to private schools. Ruksana has a 14 year old brother. “We cannot pay the fees,” says Ruksana, “but I want to study and become a pilot”, she adds.


No one knows how many children dropped out of school in the aftermath of the riots almost five years ago. But the neighbourhoods in Ahmedabad are signposted with distressing reminders of discarded hopes.


On a clear noon, there are little girls sitting outside their homes rolling agarbattis. Adolescent girls wash vessels or clothes, drying them in the sun. Several of the boys are out working. Livelihood is difficult to find and as house budgets shrink, children’s education faces the first and almost always the fatal cut.


Many Muslim families migrated to places that they considered safe, like Juhapura, but the schools there were already overcrowded. It does not help that Muslim pockets have little or no civic and educational facilities.


In Bombay Hotel’s Danilmela area where there are no approach roads, sanitation or water, there are 10,000- 12,000 households, all belonging to Muslims and the only municipal school is located outside the area of habitation. The school has both Gujarati and Urdu mediums, but the Gujarati medium has only a couple of teachers.


The unfilled posts stand as stark reminders of State neglect. In fact, in several localities where Muslims are in the majority, such as Danilmela, Hindu managem-ents have shut down their schools, sold their school buildings or moved to areas that are Hindu dominated.


Haunted by the memories of the riots, Muslims parents believe even today that it is unsafe to send their children, especially girls to schools in Hindu-dominated areas. Human rights groups say that since it was the government’s apathetic attitude during the riots that led to the squalor, the government should now do something to stop dropout rates of Muslim students.


“There is every attempt by the government to ghettoize the Muslims into a few pockets and make their existence invisible,” said Gagan Sethi, member of a monitoring committee formed by the National Human RightS Commission.


Fenced in by an atmosphere of fear, the children like the elders in their families have little to do with their counter parts from other communities, and their opinions are all too often moulded by hearsay and biases.


“There is ghettoisation happening in schools” says Father Fernand Durai, Principal of St. Xavier’s High School. He said that the children will grow up with prejudices, they will believe what is fed to them without any personal experience with children of other communities. I can only say that it points to a pathetic future for our country, he added.


(The writer can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com)

Haunted by Hostility
Reported by Abdul Hafiz Lakhani


In the face of ‘hostile’ situations still prevailing in their native villages, Muslims forcibly displaced in the aftermath of the Godhra riots are still facing difficulties in returning to their original homes.


The situation in Gujarat is still grim. The riot-victims have not found any way by which they can go back their original villages. Hundreds of people had been forcibly displaced in the aftermath of the Godhra riots and are still facing tremendous difficulty in returning to their homes, especially in the face of ‘hostile’ situations still prevailing in their native villages.


Mohammed Shah Maqbool Shah Diwan loved communal harmony to the hilt. But he never thought that he would be asked one day to change his religion if he wanted to continue living in his own village.


The 68 year- old retired government school teacher who was forced to leave his ancestral Khadana village in Petlad Taluka of Anand district during the 2002 post-Godhra riots, is now being asked by his villagers to embrace “Hinduism”, if he wants to return to his village. The villagers, according to him, say he has to pay a `price’ if he wants to return to the village.


An anguished Diwan gave this emotional narration before a panel at a public hearing held recently in Ahmedabad. The public hearing was organised by the Committee for Protection of Rights of Displaced Persons to highlight its demand that those living in colonies be declared as “internally displaced people” and a compensation of Rs.4 lakh be paid to each family.


Diwan, who had taken shelter in a relief camp, was subsequently rehabilitated in a small house with his family in Detral village of Bharuch district, about 700 km. away from his village. Like Diwan, there was Mohiuddin Khokhar and 25 other Muslim families of Asa Dungiri village in Kwant Taluka of Vadodara district. They had been driven out of their village to take shelter in Munsif Nagar colony in nearby Chota Udepur town. Their shops, houses and land have been grabbed by local Adivasis, they say.


“We made an attempt to return to our village, but were threatened by the locals,” Khokhar told the panelists and alleged that the public were not taking any action. “In our villages, we used to employ people. And now we work for others. Are we not among the five crore Gujaratis?” he asked.


There was also an emotional Niyazben Sheikh from Ugalaj village, now accommodated in Yash complex in Juhapura in Ahmedabad. She said she was asked to change her religion or withdraw the riot-related cases if she wanted to return to the village. “Is it a crime to be a Muslim?” shouted the woman, at the hearing. Over 50 of 3,500 displaced persons who had come to the hearing, narrated their stories. There are about 5,000 such people living in 66 colonies in seven districts across Gujarat.


The panelists who heard the grievances included Planning Commission member Syeda Haamid, National Commission for Minorities member, Dileep Padgaonkar and former acting chief justice of Gujarat High Court R.A.Mehta. Activists Gagan Sethi and Farah Naqvi who played an important role in organising the displaced persons were also present.


However, the State government has maintained its stand that there are no displaced people and those staying in the colonies are doing that on their own.







Empower India Conference Muslim-Dalit Unity- Need of the Hour
Bangalore


The Popular Front of India which met in the city on February 15, 16 and 17th resolved to work for the unity of Muslims and Dalits in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. A resolution adopted on the last day of the conference says that: “it is high time that the Muslim and Dalit leaders came together and joined hands for the empowerment and progress of both communities and to prevent the communal forces from using the Dalits against Muslims.” Chairman of Popular Front of India, E. Aboobacker said that Muslims are being treated as second rate citizens. He was addressing the gathering at the “Empower India Conference” held at Palace grounds in Bangalore. “ It is a great tragedy that the basic principles of a democratic country of being indiscriminate towards its citizens has been systematically toppled, when the victims are Muslims,” he said.


On the sidelines of the Conference, was a Dialogue Session on Media Intervention. Editor of Milli Gazette, Delhi, Zafar-ul-Islam Khan stressed on the need for young Muslim journalists to acquire a sense of “mission” and work for Muslim media organisations. There were many voices raised in favour of an “alternate media.” While moderating the session, A.W. Sadathullah Khan, Editor, Islamic Voice spoke on being concrete in our plans, keeping our word, keeping our promises as journalists and sacrificing our lives for a cause. A senior journalist, Habib from Lucknow emphasized on the need to network with the mainstream media, rather than being isolated from them.