Volume 15-01 No:181
Jaipur: A reign of terror unleashed by tribals in South Rajasthan with the backing of Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad (VKP), which is an offshoot of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), has created panic in the small segment of the Muslim population in Udaipur district, and compelled the Muslim residents to migrate from a tiny village, Juda. The tribal belt is witnessing a dangerous trend as social ties between Muslims and the rest of population are deliberately being disturbed.
The VKP was launched by VHP during the late 1980s with the objective of bringing the tribals into the mainstream of Hinduism. Tribals, according to the VHP, are an important segment of the Hindu society who are “Vansvasi”, the inhabitants of forests. The VKP has been active in the tribal-dominated districts of Udaipur, Sirohi, Dungarpur and Banswara in South Rajasthan.
The VKP, functioning as a Sangh Parivar outfit in the region, has succeeded in driving a wedge in the once peaceful society. Its strategies have always been provocative in nature – instigating the tribals to abuse Muslims, blowing small quarrels out of proportion and provoking tribals to take revenge. The results have been horrific. Tribals have adopted violence as a cult and brazenly turned communal.
In a total population of about 2 lakh in Kotda tehsil of Udaipur district, the Muslim households barely number 500. Muslims live mainly in Kotda, Juda and Bikarni. Tension between tribals and Muslims had been rising over the last two years when roadside scuffles and lootings were reported regularly. This was earlier thought to be the manifestation of criminal tendencies among tribals, as they were traditionally identified with crimes.
The gruesome murder of two Muslims during the last six months for no perceptible reason brought to light the extent of hatred against the Muslim community inculcated among tribals by the VKP activists. While a youth, Yaqub Khan, was murdered ostensibly due to personal enmity, the killing of a small-time shopkeeper, Habib Khan, on the outskirts of Juda, at midnight in the last week of September was clearly a case of revenge over a petty quarrel. Habib Khan was deliberately targeted despite having no connection with the quarrel.
“The murder of Habib Khan was a turning point in the relations between tribals and Muslims”, says Dr. Mohammed Sattar, an RMP doctor practising in Juda. A BJP leader from Kotda led a group of VKP activists on September 26th, and toured the area around Juda in a jeep to drum up support for a calculated attack. Following the beating of drums, hundreds of tribals gathered around the hills and resolved to take revenge for an incident in which a tribal youth was injured in a scuffle with Muslims.
Since Habib Khan’s kirana shop was situated on the outskirts of Juda and the VKP activists knew that he used to sleep alone in the shop during night, he was identified as the target for attack. The 50-year-old man was brutally murdered with swords and arrows. After that, the tribals dispersed under the cover of darkness. Five persons were later arrested in connection with the murder.
The story of the tribal fury did not end with the cold-blooded murder. Even as the incident instilled a feeling of terror and insecurity among the Muslim residents of Juda, it was followed by open threats and abuses by tribals. Consequently, the atmosphere of fear compelled as many as 80 Muslim families to abandon their houses and migrate to nearby towns where their relatives stay. These families have not returned to Juda as yet and an uneasy silence pervades the huts left behind by them. Muslims who are still staying in the village have sent their valuable household goods to other places.
The atmosphere of terror had a palpable impact on Hindus as well. Hindus in the village initially tried to stop Muslims from migrating, but the tribals’ ferocity led to a few of them also migrating from Juda. The lone mosque in the village today lies abandoned and its Imam too has left. An elderly Muslim leader of Kotda town, Abdul Aziz Khan, points out that the VKP was actively promoted during the eight-year-long BJP rule in Rajasthan. In a bid to provide legitimacy to the Sangh Parivar outfit, the previous BJP government had allocated a number of projects under the tuberculosis control programme, Siksha Karmi Yojana (an education scheme), and Viyalaya Viheen Ikaai (units outside schools) to the VKP for popularising among the tribals.
So the VKP got a pretext to work among tribals and moulded their opinion in support of the communal ideology. Ironically, it is continuing with these government-sponsored schemes even during the present Congress(I) regime. Imaginary tales of Muslims exploiting tribals have been doing the rounds in the region. The stories of Pathan moneylenders, who had settled down in Kotda when the British rulers established their cantonment there, harassing tribals long ago are blown out of proportion to provoke the tribal population. Similarly, unsubstantiated allegations about Muslims forcibly taking away tribal girls are made wildly.
The tribals went to the extent of desecrating the Idgah in Kotda for two consecutive years before the Id prayers. Similarly, the incidents of tribals quarrelling with Muslims for no reason are common. However, despite the disturbing trend, the Muslim community seems to have maintained tremendous restraint. It is evident that the social fabric in which the tribals and others had good relations with each other is disintegrating.
This systematic instigation of tribals against Muslims has political shades as well. The BJP has made all attempts to exploit the situation for its political benefit, especially during the trouble in Juda. The deputy leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly and former minister, Gulab Chand Kataria, and a former BJP MLA from nearby Gogunda, were the first to rush to Juda to extend their support to tribals after Habib Khan’s murder.
The analysts here are worried about the tribals turning communal. The VKP seems to have taken up the responsibility for changing the original culture of the tribals. Tribals who had their own beliefs, deities and practices are being brought to the mainstream Hinduism, and in the process they have found Muslims as the new target of their vengeance. VKP has its permanent office in Kotda, where it also runs a school and a hostel for the tribal children.
The atmosphere prevailing in the tribal belt has thrown up a serious challenge to the secular forces. If the right to live as equal citizens, free from intimidation, has been guaranteed by the Constitution, the State government must take urgent steps to protect this right of the small population of Muslims inhabiting the tribal belt.
"In Mumbai, during the month of Ramadan, there seems to be a war of sorts between the posters, soliciting Zakat from a slew of organisations, with each poster screaming louder than the other to attract attention of the Muslims. A poster by AICMEUS claims that the organisation deserves zakat as it offers an organised Baitus Zakat network which would finance many community projects. Islamic organisations, madrassas, educational and welfare societies and individual projects all claim that they deserve the zakat. But the question remains who deserves the zakat in the contemporary Indian Muslim society?
"A random survey conducted by Islamic Voice in Mumbai revealed that 75 per cent of zakat of the respondents goes to the following: Habitual zakat seeker, though eligible for zakat-14 per cent.
"Educational institutions and welfare organisations giving financial assistance to needy students and the poor- 19 per cent. Madrassas and allied institutions- 17 per cent.
"Islamic or Muslim organisations- 18 per cent. Community projects- 7 per cent.The total number of respondents were 117, which included individual zakat payers, Muslim corporate companies, businessmen, service or salaried class and common Muslims. A substantial zakat also goes into relief work, that is 11 per cent. Ironically and sadly, two most important categories who deserve zakat are not only neglected, but it seems they have been forgotten by zakat payers. The first is the poor Muslims of rural areas-these people live in the country’s hinterland. Very few individuals and organisations take the trouble of even conducting a survey or identifying poor Muslims of rural areas who wage a daily battle to win a war of survival to keep body and soul together.
"Those who pay the zakat are usually from the business class or salaried class who are quite busy to make that extra effort of identifying the poor rural Muslims. Muslim organisations who collect zakat have their own agenda and have no interest or inclination to take up the cause of these poor Muslims. So a large chunk of Muslims in India are deprived of the zakat funds which they duly deserve. In a way, madrassas cater to the poorest of the poor as they provide education and food to them. But that is not sufficient. The second category is the non-Muslims. Under the zakat categories out of nine sections of the society to whom zakat can be given, one category is of those non-Muslims to whom zakat can be given if it helps in softening their hearts towards Islam. (under the Molaf Moullifatul Kulub category).
" The Ulema and the Muslim intelligensia should ponder over this category and arrive at directions to the common zakat payer among Muslims.Yusuf Mulla, a timber merchant intended to sponsor 50 poor non-Muslim students and pay their fees for their education. He infact offered the zakat fund to a Muslim’s student organisation, but they insisted on giving the scholarship only to Muslim students. “ In my opinion, by giving scholarship to poor non-Muslim students, their hearts will soften towards Islam and when they attain important and crucial posts in their career, at least they will not nurture anti-Muslim attitudes,” says Mulla.
"Even Muslims are quite confused and apprehensive whether they should take the help of NGOs working in the social sector and can zakat be disbursed to Muslims who are being supported by these NGOs. There are a slew of NGO’s involved in sincere work in the rural areas. A partnership or alliance with them will go a long way in disbursing zakat to rural Muslims.
"ShabanaWarne, Maharashtra coordinator with Child Relief and You (CRY) says that Muslims in general are not aware of the various NGOs and in fact rely only on Muslim welfare organisations for disbursing zakat. “ We can provide support in identifying poor Muslims in various small towns and mofussil areas, but nobody approaches us,” she says. In the interiors of Maharashtra, a large chunk of Muslim students drop out of education due to financial constraints and the immediate need is to identify them, motivate them and provide them with financial assistance which will go a long way in helping these youngsters build their future.
"It is always preferable to give zakat to close relatives who deserve it, but a vast majority of Muslim zakat payers neglect their own poor relatives or give them only a small token amount which is of practically no use to them. Safi Merchant of RAHAT, a Muslim NGO says: “Many poor families we help have rich businessmen as relatives, when we ask them why they do not approach them, they say that either these businessmen are not in touch with them or they have received a meagre amount not sufficient to fulfill their basic needs.”
"Hamid Davawala distributes a large chunk of his zakat fund among his poor relatives and he says that even if close relatives may seem apparently well-off, if provided with financial assistance, they also become economically stable and in turn become zakat payers themselves. “ “I distribute my zakat to my relatives in such a way that it helps them create a steady source of income and makes them economically independent,” says Hamid. Shezad Patel, a garment exporter has atleast 20 widows, orphans and poor families on his zakat list. He makes provision for ration every month for these families and he manages three subsidised ration shops in the slums of Dharavi. “ Through these shops, we cater to the deprived and impoverished Muslims providing ration and vegetables at 50 per cent of the market rate,” says Patel.
"As the new generation takes over, the zakat payers’ preference has started changing gradually. Madrassas may find the going very tough as this new generation believes in ‘value for money’. They are not easily convinced about the utility of financing an obscure madrassa in a remote village.
"Rehan Namakwala, a pharmaceutical wholesaler has stopped giving zakat to most of the madrassas located in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. His father used to donate huge amounts to them. But Rehan argues, “ if I had to give zakat to madrassas, I would prefer those who run madrassas or Islamic educational institutions in Maharashtra as I can monitor their activities and from this academic year, I have decided to sponsor at least 100 poor and needy students.”
"As the trend changes, Islamic organisations need to change with the time. They must improve their methodology and efficiency as the new generation zakat payers demand result and transparency.