Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Gujarat riot victims are told they're not true Muslims, hence they suffer: It's conspiracy to displace us again, they allege

Mir Khan
By Our Representative
Mir Khan, who lives in the Hussainabad resettlement colony off North Gujarat town Himmatnagar, feels like a Muhajir, the term "derogatorily" used for those Muslims in Pakistan who left India soon after partition in 1947. "We started living in the colony after we were forced to leave our residence following the communal violence that erupted 16 years ago, on February 28, 2002, little knowing that we too would treated like Muhajirs, outsiders", he said.
Speaking at a conference called by the minority rights body, Alpasankhyak Adhikar Manch, at Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad, Khan was one of the dozen persons who gave their testimony on how, on being "resettled" 16 years ago, there is little change in their sub-human conditions they were forced to accept. Worse, they insisted, they are now sought to be treated as aliens, and threats are coming from the very same people who gave them land to build shanties on after 2002 riots.
Majidbhai of Naroda Patiya
"Religious people come and tell us that we do not behave like Muslims, one reason why we suffered during the riots and it's aftermath", Khan said, even as a stunned Jignesh Mevani, MLA and Gujarat's Dalit face, sitting next to well-known human rights activist Gagan Sethi, listened to his emotional outburst. "We are told we have been participating in non-Muslim festivals, such as Navratri, the main reason for our suffering."
Suspecting that all this is part of the conspiracy to unsettle the displaced riot victims from their colonies, Shamshad Pathan, a Gujarat High Court advocate who has been fighting their cases, said, "One resettlement colony, constructed about 16 kilometres from Himmatnagar, was set up on a two acre land whose price in 2002 was Rs 2 lakh per acre. It's price today is Rs 4 crore. Houses were constructed with NGO money. Now the landowner wants the land back."
Gagan Sethi
Nearly all testimonies were on similar lines. While Idrisbhai from Bharuch said, those who had helped them initially with land want it, Anjumben from Nadiad added, since the houses are still not in their names, and all their efforts to bring no-objection certificate (NOC) from the landowners have failed, "We are unable to get any loan and the government refuses to provide us any basic amenities. Even the emergency medical van cannot reach our colony, as there are no approach  roads."
Majidbhai, who lost seven persons from his family in the worst communal carnage of Naroda Patiya in Ahmedabad, and currently lives in a resettlement colony, said, he is "totally frustrated" in his effort to legalize the 45 houses of their colony, as there is "no response from the officialdom". He added, "I not only lost my family members, even my earnings were razed to ashes. I do not want to live any longer."
Those who gave testimonies reported how even the application for cremation ground was not forwarded by the landowner for 10 years starting 2007, and they must go seven kilometres to bury the dead; how people are asked to go out of the colony in case they desired to celebrate a festival, even sing songs, as all this is dubbed "anti-Muslim"; and how the land pieces bought for setting up the colonies were "never regularized."
Jignesh Mevani
They also reported how threats are issued to bulldoze the shanties constructed after 2002; and how a person who had wanted to bring to light the racket of the owner of a colony was mysteriously murdered.
In all, out of 83 colonies, in which the riot victims live, 62 have "not been regularized at all", while the rest have been only partially regularized, the conference was told.
In one colony, in Anand district, the 165 residents got together and paid impact fee to regularize their houses. While houses are, thankfully, their name, landownership isn't.
Human rights activist Sethi told the conference that there was a need to bring about a fundamental change in the way the riot victims are seen. "In UN terminology, they are internally displaced persons (IDPs), something the previous and present and past governments have refused to admit in order to return to them all the benefits they previously enjoyed", he said.
Dalit leader Mevani exhorted to riot victims to reach streets for their rights, without which nobody would care. "I will not attend the meeting called by any of the Muslim bodies who organized colonies for riot victims colonies till they do not move to address ownership issues", he threatened.

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