A week after the Gujarat election verdict, the overwhelming mood in the Muslim community is one of insecurity. But there are also strong signs of hope.
Vadodara’s Chhota Udepur region witnessed some of the worst communal violence earlier this year. Now, many Muslim families have returned to their homes. They say they have put the past behind them and want to move on with their lives.
‘Things are fine’
Nine months after his shop and home in Kanwath village in central Gujarat was looted and burnt, Behram bhai is back home. Kanwath, where the BJP swept the polls in the recent elections, saw some of the worst violence during the riots and Behram bhai, like other Muslim families here, was forced to flee.
But now he is back, hoping that the new government will bring an end to some of the bitterness and pain.
“They are telling is that they won’t harm us any more. They tell us that now that things are fine for them, they will be fine with us,” remarked Behram bhai.
Traditionally, the tribal-dominated villages in central Gujarat’s Chota Udepur region have witnessed close ties between the dominant Adivasi community and the economically powerful Bohra Muslims, who form 10 per cent of the population.
But the recent riots saw systematic targeting of Muslims, creating a huge divide between the two.
Both the communities were traditional Congress voters, but in recent elections the BJP swept the polls.
On the ground, in some areas, emotions still run high and the process of reconciliation could be slow.
The close ties built over the years have nearly broken down and there is very little intermingling between Hindus and Muslims.
Zaheeda ben, a resident of Kanwath village, said, “We used to celebrate festivals together. But this time they did not come to our homes during Id and we did not celebrate Diwali with them. Things have changed now.”
Abdul bhai, a resident of Kadwal village, said, “Unless they have to buy mutton, they don’t come to our shops. They prefer to go to shops owned by people of their own community.”
Shakira ben, a resident of Kadwal village echoed the sentiment: “They tell us things like we lost and they have won. We feel scared when we hear such things.”
While the violence may no longer be physical, they still have to put up with the occasional taunt made to people seen as marginal to the political process.
Despite this most families are determined to stay and move on with their lives. Sharifa ben, a resident of Kanwath village, said, “We see things that used to belong to us being used by other people in the village. But we haven’t asked for it and we don’t want them back. They are lost now. But we want the old times back.
But while incidents of violence may have gone down in villages closer to the urban areas, there are indications that parts of Gujarat are still on the edge. Take Vadodara city, for instance, where shops belonging to the Muslim community were burnt during victory processions after the election result.
Maujibhai, a local resident said, “We are not so worried about the BJP, but more about the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. We are afraid that they may not let things come back to normal. They started all the violence in the first place. But if the government does not want any violence to occur, it won’t.”
The mood within the Muslims is one of fear and sullen anger, especially towards their religious leaders for not providing a healing touch to people within the community.
Khurshid Syed, a social worker in Ahmedabad, said, “Having won the polls, the BJP now says it will work towards restoring peace to the tribal areas.”
Nalin Bhatt, BJP spokesperson, said, “There is no need to feel insecure or afraid. As the chief minister has said, the entire five crore population of Gujarat will be treated equally. He has given the message of abhay or living without fear to all the communities.”
As Narendra Modi takes charge after a resounding mandate in Gujarat, one of his biggest challenges will be not just to ensure peace and security, but also to live up to his promise to treat all citizens equally, which is the only way to restore gaurav (pride) in every sense of the term to this state.