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Apartheid in Vadodara

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Muslim evictees from slums are being stopped from moving into their new housing units on the plea of bringing down the real estate value. This is ‘Pragatisheel’ (Progressive) Gujarat.

Abdul Hafiz Lakhani from Ahmedabad

Vadodara, known as cultural capital of Gujarat, is in news for wrong reasons. Hundred of Muslim families are being denied the permission to move into the houses constructed for them. The ‘Gatisheel’ (progressive) Gujarat Government and the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) are finding it tough to resist pressure from the extremist elements who have formed Hindu Hit Rakshak Samiti (Committee for Protection of Hindu Interests).
Some 2,500 Muslim families were evicted from Kalyannagar and Kamatipura slums near the Kamatibaug, a garden complex. The women there worked as maids while men did odd jobs while children attended the local schools. They were promised a new colony to live after their slum dwellings.

Away from School
In mid-November the local Municipality demolished the entire area. Around half the residents were offered housing units constructed by the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNRUM) under slum clearance programme about seven to eight kms from the site. It was middle of the academic year and children faced difficulty in attending the school. Social activist Prof. J. S. Bandukwala took up the cause and with a grant of Rs. five lakh from kind-hearted Supreme Court Lawyer Dushyant Dave to his Trust, he ran auto rickshaws to ferry the kids to school for six months.

Poor are the Apartheid
The other half to be rehabilitated, have just now been allotted housing units built out of Central funds in Sayajipura. The new academic year would begin from May end. But there is opposition to their taking up residence into the newly built units from BJP and the VHP who have organized the residents of local housing societies into Hindu Hit Rakshak Samiti. They have run a propaganda campaign brainwashing the local people that the new allottees are illegal Bangladesh immigrants. Moreover, they are being projected as ‘risk’ for the nearby Air Force station. Threat of ‘Love Jihad’ are being thrown in. Some even express fear that the real estate value of their colony would nosedive for ‘problem people’ being in the vicinity. Thus a whole new theory of Apartheid has been churned up.

Committed to be Peaceful
Aarif Pathan, leader of the residents of Kalyannagar says, “This is getting on our nerves now. Right from day one, we are peacefully negotiating with all the authorities, and this is what we get in return. We have written to almost all the authorities and we will keep fighting for our rights till we can. Not for a second will we get violent. We have applied to all the authorities here. Now the ultimate and supreme authority is in Delhi.”

Not in writing
On April 8, some of the BJP leaders held talks with the Muslim leaders and tried to convince them that if they let go of the Sayajipura, they will get them alternative location. But Aarif Pathan says, “We are now ready to let go of Sayajipura, but what assurance do we have that we will get houses elsewhere? We asked them to give it in writing and they were not ready for that. What they needed was only a part of the riverfront but they demolished all the houses. Either the authorities should bring about an amicable solution or rebuild our houses in Kalyannagar”.

Bogey of Bangladeshis
The Hit Rakshak Samiti in a memorandum to the District Collector Avantika Aulakh have alleged that the new housing colony for the slum dwellers is illegal, having violated the guidelines laid down by the State Government. Curiously, the Samiti has rechristened itself ‘Hindu Hit Rakshak Shanti Samiti’ recently. They also allege that they have not made a background check on the antecedents of the allottees who may be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They also intend to file a PIL if the district administration goes ahead with permission to the new allottees to move into the new houses.
The VMC is yet to hand over allotment letters to the 340 families whose names figured on the list of the draw put out by the department of the civic body’s JNNURM housing schemes. Official sources said that the civic body was finding itself in a tight spot with the ongoing agitation by local residents. “We do not want the situation to go out of hand. We are waiting to see if we can resolve this matter before handing over the allotment letters. Once the letters are handed over, the Kalyannagar families will begin to move to Sayajipura and it will result in a law and order problem.”

Search for New Location
Representatives of the Muslim families of Kalyannagar said they were preparing a list of residents who have been “left out” by the VMC in its draw last week. Shaukat Indori, a representative, said, “We have found about 182 families who are yet to be considered. The list will be given to the VMC. However, following the agitation of the residents there, families of Kalyannagar are very sceptical about moving into the area until the authorities step in and resolve the situation with a peace meeting between two communities.”The opposition on the ground has made the VMC look for other sites to relocate the Muslim families. On April 13, a closed-door meeting was held to explore “alternative relocation”.
For the Muslim families, the future is suddenly uncertain. Activist Prof. J. S. Bandukwala is pushing civic authorities to expedite the relocation. “It is unfortunate that Muslims are not welcome in these places as they are seen to lower the value of upcoming areas. The VMC does not even have one single Muslim representative in the elected wing. That says a lot,” he said.