Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Gujarat authorities "encouraged" communal segregation while resettling Sabarmati riverfront oustees

An initial SNAM campaign for communal unity 
By Rajiv Shah
Gujarat's powerful officialdom is learnt to have encouraged Hindu-Muslim divide as a deliberate policy while resettling Ahmedabad’s around 10,000 slum-dwellers, affected by the Sabarmati riverfront project, begun being implemented in 2005 to “beautify” the city. Bringing this to light in her latest research paper, “Municipal Politics, Court Sympathy and Housing Rights: A Post-Mortem of Displacement and Resettlement under the Sabarmati Riverfront Project, Ahmedabad” (May 2014), Renu Desai of the CEPT University has said, the “policy” was instrumental in resettling Hindu and Muslim slum-dwellers in segregated localities, far from the city.
Quoting official documents to prove her point, Desai suggests this came to light in reply to a query under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Thus, minutes of the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Corporation Ltd’s (SRDCL’s) resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) consultants, dated January 25, 2010 specifically say that “communal safety, social clusters and appropriate area should be taken into consideration in the process of allotment” of alternative living apartments to the slum dwellers.
“Subsequently, Hindus and Muslims were largely resettled in localities dominated by their religious community, thus segregating them entirely even in instances where they had been living in the same riverfront neighbourhood”, Desai says, regretting, the consultants decided in favour of the segregation following a request, around that time, from the Sabarmati Nagrik Adhikar Manch (SNAM), asking the authorities “that Hindu and Muslim families affected by the Riverfront project be resettled with people from their own samuday (community) so that ‘the project affected families can live without fear’” (January 23, 2010).
The decision, to have localities for Hindus and Muslims, was taken, says Desai, as part of the negotiations between SNAM, which included not just NGOs but also local politicians of all hues, and the authorities, following the “demand for communal segregation in resettlement”. She comments, “In the context of a communally polarized and segregated city and in the context of resettlement having moved away from the riverfront to unfamiliar areas due to municipal politics, it was not surprising that many, if not all, slum residents saw religious segregation in resettlement as necessary for safety.”
Slogans in slum area critiquing political
parties' communal politics
In fact, according to Desai, “SNAM left behind its early discourse of communal unity and turned to a demand for religious segregation”, adding, “It is worth noting that for the SNAM leaders, this demand was, in fact, not necessarily a failure of communal unity.” She quotes Kishorebhai, a Hindu leader of the SNAM, to explain that the fact that the leaders had been able to demand religious segregation from officials in the way they had was, in fact, evidence of their community unity”!
Desai says, “While I was perplexed at this interpretation of community unity, he went on to further explain this: ‘There was tension between Hindus and Muslims anyway. Today due to the politics there is toofan (referring to communal riots of 2002), and we are fed up. We have shown our strength that we too can work on communal unity. That we can lead our lives in peace in our own areas, that is the communal unity we have shown. We were fed up of seeing the fights between Khanpur (a Muslim area on the riverfront) and Shankar Bhuvan (a Hindu area on the riverfront). This should not happen…”
Not that all were happy with this segregation. Desai quotes Naseerbhai, a local leader from the Kagdiwad riverfront slum who had initially wanted Kagdiwad’s Hindus and Muslims to be resettled together: “I had put across a demand to keep Hindus and Muslims together. But they listened to only those six persons (referring to the six members of the association). People here used to tell me that we have lived here together for so many years.... Then the allotment draw sent people to different resettlement locations.”
Desai comments, “Moving the resettlement away from the riverfront to unfamiliar areas of a communally polarised and segregated city made religious segregation in resettlement inevitable. Since piecemeal and fragmentary resettlement led to each resettlement site comprising of residents from different riverfront slums, religious segregation in resettlement became even more inevitable.”
She adds, “With resettlement having been moved away from the riverfront to unfamiliar areas of the city, and each resettlement site comprising of residents from different slums, religious segregation in resettlement became inevitable given the communal politics in Ahmedabad. While there had certainly been tensions and even violence between Hindus and Muslims living in the same riverfront slum, these were often episodic. There were also many periods of peace, interaction and engagement between the two communities on an everyday basis.”

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