Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine
Jamadiul-Awwal / Jamadiul-Akhir 1423 H
August 2002
Volume 15-08 No:188

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Investigation


Cheliyas face the Challenge!
Mayhem in Maharashtra


Cheliyas face the Challenge!

In the Gujarat carnage, among the hardest-hit Muslim establishments were those owned by a small, prosperous Muslim community called the Cheliyas. Over 147 hotels owned by the Cheliyas were reduced to ashes.
With no options left, they are now migrating to Rajasthan, Maharastra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka
to set-up business from the scratch

 

By M. Hanif Lakdawala

*  Mayur, Sarvottam, Bhagyoday, Signor, were a string of what are called "pure vegetarian" restaurants, establishments that cater to the most particular of Hindu vegetarians. All were reduced to ashes by the mob in the Gujarat carnage.

*  One was called Tulsi, the Hindi word for the holy basil used in Hindu ceremonies. Another was called Annapurna after a Hindu goddess. Even that failed to save them from mob fury.

Shall to whom I catch now?These hotels employed Hindu cooks, practised strict vegetarian norms and were very popular with those Gujarati Hindus who were vegetarians. The first impression after reading this is that there were Hindu establishments burnt by the Muslim mob. That is not true. All the above mentioned hotels were those owned by a small, prosperous Muslim community called the Cheliyas. In the Gujarat carnage, among the hardest-hit Muslim establishments were owned by Cheliyas. Hotels along the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway were the specific target.

According to the State Hotel Federation, police reports have been filed on behalf of 72 hotels and restaurants that were destroyed, all but one of them are owned by Muslims. Statewide, a total of 147 Muslim-owned hotels have been destroyed to date. Others have yet to file papers with the police, a Federation official said.

About 35 of the properties were owned by residents of a village in the Mehsana district, just northwest of Ahmedabad, which is home to the Cheliyas. Even today in the Hindu areas of the town, the most striking reminders of mayhem are the empty shells of the Cheliya hotels and restaurants. Thanks to "meticulous" planning, even restaurants which were located on the eighth or 10th floors of buildings and had secular names were picked out, looted and burnt, whether it was an entire building or part of a building. Even hotels with Hindu names could not escape, which is an indication of how well the research was done. Many people in Ahmedabad got aware that Muslims owned these hotels only after they were looted and burnt. The Cheliyas took pains not to stick out in the Hindu-majority parts of the city. No posters of Makkah and Madinah hung on their walls. The names of their restaurants contained no trace of Islamic identity. Exactly how their hotels and restaurants were identified as Muslim-owned businesses remains a mystery. Many of their patrons said they realised only after witnessing the charred remains, that their owners were Muslims. Muslim merchants suspect that the leaders of the rioters had done research on their targets some time ago. In recent days, fliers have circulated advising Hindus not to patronise Muslim-owned establishments or work with them. "It will be impossible for them to live in any corner of this nation," read one pamphlet, signed only by "a true Hindu patriot." According to Narendra Brahmbat, President of the Ahmedabad Hotel Owners' Association, the estimated loss through the looting and gutting of hotels and restaurants is to the tune of Rs. 150 crore." Khurshid Saiyed, an ex-counsellor of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and spokesman for the Samajwadi Party said that almost half of the hotels and restaurants in Gujarat are owned and run by Muslims who have a lot of expertise in the hotel business. The Momin Jamaat or the Cheliyas owned over 160 hotels and restaurants, out of 700 that were destroyed.

This prosperous community of Muslims hailing originally from the Palanpur region was earlier in farming and used to supply milch animals to Mumbai. They had initially put up many hotels in Mumbai, but over the years with the Shiv Sena's growth and the communal disturbances in Mumbai following the demolition of the Babri Masjid, they shifted to Gujarat.

The Cheliyas are a group, which believes in simple living; their saving rates are high, they have no extravagant tastes and very often people from the villages put together their savings to start a hotel or restaurant.

The Cheliya community is not as prosperous as other Muslim business community such as Memon, Bohras or Khojas. Most of them have humble beginnings. The loss suffered by the Cheliya community is back-breaking. Hence, quite a few have decided to shift to the neighbouring state of Rajasthan, Maharastra and some are even planning to shift to Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Yusuf Tadha, who has partnership in four hotels, is all set to shift to Rajasthan. "No doubt, I have to start from the scratch, but for me safety is the first priority. If life is there, one can recover the losses. We, partners have pulled in the finance from our respective sources and are confident to recover all our losses within the next 18 months,"said Yusuf confidently.

Hamid Samra, is still in a planning stage. His two hotels were torched in the riots. "We suffered extensive losses in the post -Babri Masjid riots in 92-93. But the losses we suffered in Gujarat riots are more severe. I have toured Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh for buying prospective properties there," said Hamid. "In both Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, language is the greatest barrier we might face, but we will overcome this as we are going to employ the local people unlike in Mumbai where we bring our natives to work". Azad Iqbal suffered losses both in Mumbai riots then and now in the Gujarat riots. "When my hotel in Mumbai was destroyed in the 1993 riots, I was emotionally totally broke. But my community stood by me and supported me once again," he said. "Even the losses suffered in Gujarat, I am confident will be covered in a short time". Azad has bought property in Hyderabad, but is keeping the options open to re-start his hotel that was already destroyed on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high way. No doubt, the challenge ahead for the Cheliya community is tough. But watching their enterprising skills in Mumbai and Gujarat, there is little doubt that they will succeed wherever they decide to shift their business for security reasons.

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Mayhem in Maharashtra

There have been 47 registered communal incidents across Maharashtra since October 26, last year.
All evidence points to the fact that certain organisations and politicians are deliberately creating
communal tension for their vested interests

By A Staff Writer

For the first time in nearly a decade, since the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition, communal tension has risen to a high level in Maharashtra. Nashik, Jalgaon and Dhule districts have a history of communal violence. What is alarming is that some towns and villages in the Marathwada and Vidharba regions that were not known to be communally sensitive, have now witnessed incidents of a communal nature.

According to figures obtained from the State Police headquarters in Mumbai, there have been 47 registered communal incidents across the State since October 26, last year. The police have arrested 1,400 people in the three northern districts in connection with instigating and causing communal tension.

Strangely, the genesis of the riots in most of the places sounds very similar. In the Marathwada-Nanded region, there were rumours that local Muslims contributed Rs.60 lakhs to the Taliban in Afghanistan. This caused tension. In Parli Beed, a statue of Shivaji was found chipped. “Fortunately, the police caught the culprits. They allegedly belonged to the Shiv Sena,” says an informed source. A case of communal violence was registered in Akola. Apparently, someone had smeared cow-dung on a tile that had the picture of a deity. Even in the communal clashes that rocked Jamner, a tehsil town in north Maharashtra’s Jalgaon district, a pig’s carcass was found in a mosque about a fortnight ago and while tension was brewing, there was another case of desecration in a temple.

As in Gujarat, the situation it seems was deliberately created. In all such instances, passion was aroused by the Hindutva brigade so that the mob gathered and the “hate-Muslim agenda” is implemented. So the mob gathered on the pretext of protecting the Hindu place of worship against the so-called threat from the Muslims.

In its recent report, the Maharashtra Minorities Commission said some political parties and organisations were behind the recent communal riots at various places in the state. “Rumours were deliberately spread to create communal tension, keeping an eye on elections to the Local Bodies”, a member of the state Minorities Commission, Munal Hakim, said. “People of all communities in the state want peace and harmony. But some communal political parties and organisations are creating tension to regain political power in the state”, says Hakim. Commission Chairman, Mohammad Amin Khandwani and his team visited the riot-affected districts to hear the grievances of the people, especially from the minority community, when it received about 150 complaints from all over the state. In the last two months, there have been a series of attacks on Muslims, their homes, businesses and places of worship, in small villages or qasbahs (small towns) where they are numerically small. Literature being distributed by the Maharashtra unit of the VHP in far-flung villages and districts indicates a systematic religious mobilisation of local communities around the issue of the commencement of the Ram Mandir construction. Malegaon, Nashik, Ichalkaranji, Buldana, Pune, Sangli, Nanded and Akola are some of the places, which witnessed communal clashes in the last 28 months.

The worst such rioting was in Malegaon in October last year when 15 were killed and property worth crores of rupees was destroyed. The immediate cause of the riots in this textile town was the rough treatment meted out by a SRP constable to a Muslim youngster who was distributing anti-U.S. pamphlets after the attack on Afghanistan. In March last year, there were incidents of arson and burning of buses at Pune following rumours of the Quran being burnt in retaliation for the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statue by the Taliban. Nashik witnessed riots in January 2000 when an enraged mob went on the rampage following the demolition by civic authorities of an illegal structure that resembled a mosque. The mob set fire to eight shops in the Shivaji market during curfew hours. Ichalkaranji, another textile town in Kolhapur district, witnessed arson on December 28, 2000.The-root cause of the riot was the dispute between the two communities over the ownership of the Idgaah maidan, where namaz is offered.

Recently three persons were left dead in Kalyan near Mumbai following a tiff between a rickshaw driver from the minority community and a passenger from the majority community, sparking off a night of violence and rioting. Before the riots in Kalyan, communal violence rocked Murbad in Thane district, where Bajrang Dal activists burnt the shops of Muslim traders in the main market on the day of the nationwide bandh organised by the VHP in protest against the carnage at Godhra. The most recent target of the Hindutva brigade was the textile town of Bhiwandi near Mumbai. Bhiwandi was nearly saved from the repeat of the horrific violence of 1972 and 1984 that left so many of them financially paralysed.

What saved Bhiwandi was the network of Mohalla committees and the administration’s tough posture. Why Bhiwandi was targeted? The reason is not far to seek. The town which has a large Muslim population, is just coming into its own, after nearly four years of protracted trouble with electricity supply, fights with the Maharashtra State Electricity Board and, of course, slackening demand.

But in the past two-three months, demand had been picking up as the other loom centres, Surat and Ahmedabad, witnessed communal violence. ‘’At a time like this, when orders are coming, it’s suicidal for the town,’’ says M.Y. Momin, president of the All India Powerloom Development and Export Promotion Council.

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