Rajab 1424 H
Volume 16-09 No : 201
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Muslims in post-riots Gujarat are increasingly facing ghettoisation. This should make us sit up and take notice. Ghettoisation mainly stems from physical and cultural insecurity and leads to alienation of the minorities. This could prove to be the ultimate nemesis of the community.
Ghettoisation would mean concentration of Muslims in specific areas, bar on physical expansion for a growing populace thereby increasing pressure on housing, degradation of civic conditions, ill-health, in-breeding, drastic reduction in opportunities for creative interaction with other people and consequent smothering of talents, creativity, innovative spirit. In the final analysis, ghettoisation renders communities poorer, weaker and less assertive. Jews broke this stranglehold of ghettoisation upon migration from Europe to the land of new opportunities in America during the middle phase of the 19th century and came to lead the civilization. Muslim regressed into ghettoes in the part of the sub-continent where they once ruled.
The situation has not come to this pass in Gujarat in post-Godhra phase alone. It is a result of both an internal quest for cultural purity as well as external (read official) threat to physical existence and needs to be tackled on both fronts. First the latter. The vicious cycle of anti-Muslim violence, hampering of judicial process to deny justice to victims, civic negligence of Muslim mohallas, discriminative attitude of officialdom, ‘they and us’ behaviour in social intercourse, media campaign to stigmatise the entire communities with deeds of individuals, all become factors that have helped the community to push deeper into its ghettoes from where there seems to be no way to break the mould of isolation.
But on another level, the quest of cultural purity too forces the community to separate itself from others. An average Gujarati Muslim finds solace in living amidst mosques and madrassas, in opportunities for its women to observe hijab without inviting derisive stares, where halal meat is available, where Urdu is lingua franca, where azans are heard, where noisy processions are not an everyday event, where kulcha and nihari are hawked at the drop of a hat; and where he has freedom to share his perceptions with people who share his own beliefs and cultural sensitivities.
The only way the Muslims in Gujarat could break this set mould is to aspire for mohallas where mosques co-exist besides temples; slaughtered animals are not hung in open in meat shops; entrails of the sacrificed animals on Idul Azha are disposed off in such a manner that their Hindu neighbours are not incensed; azans are not made jarring to the ears of those who are not concerned with it; Urdu is learnt alongside Gujarati in the same schools; hijab is observed by women without disallowing social interaction with women of other communities; jubilation over India’s victory on playground is equally shared by Muslims; and where Muslims contribute to the general society in a measure proportionate to their numbers or even more. Wherever it happens or appears to be happening, the social bonhomie rather than ghottoisation is the rule.
A Muslim leader engaged in relief work in Gujarat recently observed at a public meeting, that he found no names of Muslim donors on the marble plaque of a leading kidney hospital in Ahmedabad where over 25 per cent of patients are Muslims. To boot, he said, there is no dearth of Muslims who spend crores of rupees on grandiose buildings of mosques and madrassas in Gujarat. The observation is instructive in that, Muslim philanthropists are still guided by the traditional notions of piety and are generally insensitive towards the larger needs and concerns of the society in general.
It is here that Muslims in Gujarat in particular and India in general, need to make a difference in their mindset and attitude. Ghettoes would melt once the Muslims begin to stir out of their narrow confines; join hands in deeds of common good; begin to respect others’ cultural sensitivities in the same measure they expect others to show towards their own; restrain forces of cultural puritanism from Arabizing their own culture; modernize the madrassa syllabus to incorporate modern learnings, natural sciences and humanities etc. But of them all, it is important for them to avoid the sense of their being ‘chosen people of God’ which was once the dominant dictum in Jewish self-consciousness leading to its ghettoisation in medieval Europe.
The agenda is long, but the first step to implement it should begin soon. Indian experience shows that this land has been hospitable to all and has rejected extremism in all its forms.