28 Mar 2009, 0000 hrs IST
Seven years later, one cannot spot a veiled Muslim in any of the colonies built for the 2002 riot victims of Ahmedabad. Surely, this should have been the most likely spot for orthodoxy to take root. These people were so devastated by the violence that they would rather live in these ungainly tenements than return home. If burqas should be in evidence anywhere, it should be right here. But they are nowhere to be seen.
Add to this the fact that almost all such resettlement complexes in Ahmedabad have been built, either directly or indirectly, by Islamic institutions. The Jamaat-i-Islami, the Jamaat-i-Ulema-i-Hind, and the Tablighi Jamaat have done the most in this regard, and probably in that order. These faith-based organisations stood by terror-struck Muslims of Ahmedabad from the days when they sought refuge in the Shah Alam camp, and elsewhere. After the camps closed they helped the victims by repairing their homes or giving them shelter in their resettlement colonies. Though Ahmedabad's Muslims, especially the poor ones, are grateful to these religious bodies, they have not turned fundamentalist on that account.
Did the Jamaats, of one kind or the other, place conditions of a religious nature before they let people into these colonies? None, as far as the residents could recall. In fact, their laxity in religious observances has resulted in occasional disputes with some Islamic clerics. But nobody was tested for orthodoxy before they were allowed in. Their everyday life is largely free from any overt or covert subservience to the Jamaat-i-Islami or the Jamaat-i-Ulema-i-Hind.
Even the Tablighi Jamaat, which is punctilious about proper forms of worship, has left little impact on them. As one of the residents in the resettlement colony said, "These maulvis tell us about what is under the ground and above the ground, but not on the ground." In fact, many of them found it unreasonable when some mullahs insisted that they adhere to proper Sunni conduct and stop frequenting dargahs. After all, they argued, who gave them shelter in those terrible days of Hindutva violence? Did they not hide in the shadows of Shah Alam's dargah?
After Gujarat's 2002 violence against Muslims, it was widely believed that Islamic orthodoxy would be an obvious reaction. Many saw signs of this in the first few months following the carnage. This filled them with foreboding. But obviously a lot has changed since then.
Over time the reliance of Muslim victims on Islamic institutions has faded somewhat. This is natural for everyday issues gradually take a hold on one's life and other worldly ones begin to recede. These displaced Muslims need jobs, and they are not easy to come by. They were poor before the carnage, they are poorer now, but even low-paying opportunities are difficult to find. After 2002, many Hindu merchants shut their doors on Muslim artisans and haven't opened them yet. This has hurt Muslim home-based workers the most, particularly the women.
So the shine gradually dims. Time is a great eraser. The Jamaat-i-Islami and the Jamaat-i-Ulema-i-Hind want to help, but their capacities fall far short of what is needed. Along with other NGOs they have donated sewing machines, given petty loans, and helped victims get state compensation; but that is just not enough. Further, as these resettlement colonies are often outside the city, residents must travel long distances to work, even as a coolie. This adds to their hardship, but there is nothing more that faith-based organisations can do to steady them economically.
Are these poor Muslims not orthodox because Islamic organisations have not tried hard enough? The truth is that neither Jamaat-i-Islami nor Jamaat-i-Ulema-i-Hind is keen on advocating fundamentalist lifestyles. They have no interest in sponsoring madrasas that teach only Arabic and the Quran. Instead they have set up schools that provide secular education, and there is one such even in Naroda Patiya where Hindu violence was at its worst in 2002. These schools are not a ruse for Islamic organisations, or clerics, to pump religious fervour into Muslim kids.
On the contrary, these Muslim institutions are clear that they want the boys and girls in their care to learn secular sciences and skills and heave themselves out of parental poverty. The curricula in these schools are so designed that they conform to the requirements of the state education board. There would be some religious instructions in these institutions, but they would be on the side, and a minor matter.
Not surprisingly, several schools set up by Muslim trusts in Ahmedabad follow the same pattern. The accent is on turning out successful Muslims who can negotiate confidently in a secular world. Education is probably the only sphere where there is a great degree of concordance between clerics and the poor Muslims of Ahmedabad. The preference in these resettlement colonies is for Gujarati-medium schools, and this is also what the clerics want. It is most important that these children learn flawless Gujarati. Urdu is alright, but as a distant second language.
Where then is that fundamentalism that is supposedly breeding in the smouldering slums of Ahmedabad? In fact, if anything, it is just the reverse. Instead of Islamic terror becoming an election issue, why not this move among Muslims to develop and integrate? Is this not what they are beaming to us from Gujarat?
Source: The Times of India, New Delhi
The writer is a professor of sociology at JNU, New Delhi.