There are exactly four paved roads in Juhapura, Ahmedabad. The first is a national highway which cuts through the area, the second was constructed so trucks carrying solid waste could pass through the area, the third when the President of India visited a riot affected window house in the neighbourhood and the fourth was made after a Gujarat High Court intervention. Spread over 5 kilometers, the areas houses about 500,000 people. There are no sewage or water connections or a garbage management system.
It’s not a poor neighbourhood of Ahmedabad city. Judges, senior police and administrative officials, businessmen, small traders, working class people live cheek by jowl. No one in the rest of the city rents or sells them homes or commercial spaces.
There are no government buildings there – hospitals, secondary schools, ration shops. There is one government establishment – a police station. In 2011, a branch of a government bank opened here for the first time. Only because the central government came out with a rule that all minority areas must have banking facilities. Juhapura is a Muslim ghetto. It became one after the horrific 2002 riots. At that time the population of Juhapura was about 200,000. Within months it doubled.
It doesn’t matter that four feet of water enters homes during monsoon. Then the sanitary waste seeps into the borewells meant for drinking water. That people fall ill every year. It just means that here – hopefully there will be safety in numbers, that at least there would be a chance to survive.
After months of using all my contacts and sources, having unanswered emails, phone calls unreturned or phone banged down in fear, I have finally found someone who is willing to talk about what happened in 2002. And when I get there – he is afraid to talk on-camera.
He starts talking about the Toofan of 1985. Toofan? Riot. And the Toofan of 1992-93 and then 2002. In 1985, he and the Hindu boys used to play cricket together on a vast piece of empty land between the mixed neighbourhood of Juhapura and the nearby largely Hindu area, ironically called the Unity Ground. And after the riots, a small wall dividing the area started extending into the field. In 1992, it extended further and now post-2002 Juhapura is a walled city. He calls the wall – border. At first I am uncomfortable at the use of the terminology.
But when I see the wall I am taken aback. It is a 30 feet tall structure and has rolled barbed-wire on top of it. Structure-wise I have seen smaller India-Pakistan borders than that. He turns to look at me and says quietly, “the wall is not a physical structure anymore. It is now built into the hearts of the people.” We continue to traverse the edge of the border. Organized, shiny apartment blocks and CCTVs peek from behind the Hindu area. On this side – garbage and human waste flood the streets. Because the Municipal Corporation refuses to build anything. Symbolically, a rotting, rusty ‘Work in Progress’ sign stands near the boundary wall.
I am appalled and disgusted in turns.
I ask him, “Can you go to the other side?” In a resigned voice, he tells me, “Not from this neighbourhood.” And then he adds, “at least at the Wagah border there is a gate.” There are small children playing cricket in one corner. Aged 10 and below, they were born and raised here. Division along communal lines wasn’t taught to them but it pervades through everything around them. They have learnt quickly that they are second class citizens of this country. A boy looks at my notebook and our camera, and mockingly says, “Apparently you are now in Pakistan.”
Someone asks me, “How can you tell 25 crore citizens of this country that we don’t belong here? That this is not our land.” I don’t have any answers.
“Are you still afraid?” I ask.
They smile at me. Like I am naive to even ask that question. “One fears death. And we have seen everything.” The elderly, the women, the young – all know their life is cheap.
A man tells me how in the first three days of riots VHP and Bajrang Dal ‘activists’, accompanied by the police would enter the area. Wave after wave would shout, “Kato, kato, miya ko kato.” (Butcher, butcher, butcher the Muslims). I cannot verify if he is exaggerating the words but the others surrounding him nod in agreement of the language used in those days.
Next day, a little girl who lives in the middle of Juhapura is accompanying us to the border for the first time. Before reaching there I ask her how does she imagine the border to be. Innocently she tells me, “I think it will be like the desert in the Kutch.” She talks nineteen to a dozen on the way, telling me about her favourite subject in school and how she loves horses and dogs and cats. When we reach the border she is suddenly very quiet. If she didn’t feel like an ‘other’ before, I am afraid she feels she is one now. And I wonder if it is too soon.
When a riot survivor describes me about the horror of seeing his son being hacked to death by a mob, I can’t look him in the eye. Instead I scribble notes in my notebook. “Should Modi be the next Prime Minister of India?” I ask. “No.No.No…he can’t be. We already live in enough fear,” he answers alarmed at that thought.
And I wonder is this the man people are voting for? Is alienating a section of the society the ‘Gujarat Model of Development’?