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August 2009
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Ramadan Rights and Wrongs
By M. Hanif Lakdawala
Hawkers of food taking up illegal spaces on roads with Muslims supporting them, and gorging on goodies at iftar time breaks the spirit of Ramadan in metros.

The holy month of Ramadan brings Almighty Allah's bounties to the believers. In Ramadan, traffic in the evenings is jammed in most metros and Mumbai is not an exception. Hawkers with various kinds of food dominate the lanes, by-lanes and even footpaths of Mumbai. This causes inconvenience to the public and also the hawkers break laws and occupy places which lawfully do not belong to them.

Abbas Shaikh, a social worker in south Mumbai supporting the cause of hawkers, says that it is a question of the survival of thousands of poor hawkers' family. “Why are you against poor hawkers who want to earn halal income to support their families? These hawkers are in a way doing a favour to society by making food available to Muslims at affordable prices,”? he says.

Many believe that hawkers belong to the poorest of poor strata of society. It's far from truth. Take the example of Muslim majority Saifee Jubilee Street in south Mumbai. This street is well known for the variety of food offered by the hawkers, and people from across Mumbai visit the area to taste the food. In Ramadan, the Saifee Jubilee Street is jam packed with Muslims buying food items for Iftar.

Six months ago, the local Muslims lodged a complaint against the nuisance committed by these hawkers. The local authorities and police cracked down on the hawkers and cleaned the road. Within three months, most of the hawkers purchased the shops and re-started the business.
A hawker selling sandwiches bought a shop spending around Rs 21 lakhs. Another hawker selling Chana batata has purchased at least three shops. He is most famous in the area, but still sells Chana batata on road. Another hawker selling fruits has purchased a shop in the vicinity paying Rs 28 lakhs. They are not poor.

Taking the case of Minara Masjid area, not a single hawker peddling his ware on the road can be termed as poor. In fact during Ramadan most of these hawkers give their road space rent as high as Rs 60,000 to Rs 80,000.

The nexus of hawkers and local anti -social elements is so strong that no local dares to lodge a complaint against them.

Ramadan is the month of restraint, not celebration and over consumption of food. These hawkers not only disturb the peace which is the right of every Muslim who is fasting, but also impairs the spirit of fasting by openly selling their food stuff.

What is the solution? The solution is simple. First the footpaths and roads should be free of hawkers. These hawkers should be accom-modated in open spaces such as grounds, maidans, halls etc charging them nominal fees. Infact they can be provided with the basic infrastructure during Ramadan so that they can improve the quality of food. Also the buyers will be comfortable and safe as there will be no traffic.

Another important aspect which is neglected in Ramadan is health. Since many hawkers sell sub-standard food items, it affects the health of Muslims. There is a need to launch an awareness campaign targeting Muslims to keep their neighborhood clean and well maintained. Muslim youth should be roped in to educate the Muslim masses about the Prophet's (Pbuh) teachings with respect to cleanliness and hygiene, and Ramadan is the perfect time to do so. (The writer can be reached at [email protected])