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One Side Of The Divide

An Outlook investigation finds ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ has left the state’s Muslims in an economic ghetto

One Side Of The Divide
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Medina Warsi’s ageing husband isn’t employed, and for want of any other job, keeps accounts at the tea stall she runs in ‘Bombay Hotel’, a sprawling slum on Ahmedabad’s outskirts. You walk to this area through refuse and rubble. Only Muslims live here, in dwellings bereft of municipal attention. His dubious sinecure keeps Mr Warsi busy for perhaps half an hour a day—the tea stall makes slim profits, Rs 250 on a good day. Yet, visiting neighbours openly gawk at the sum—they earn much less stitching nighties for Re 1 apiece, embroidering shirt collars or rolling bidis. The Warsis’ income, though, isn’t enough to fix the man’s unknown ailment, the one that keeps him unemployed.

Bombay Hotel is 25 minutes from the city’s upmarket western districts, dotted with thousands of atms, business centres and multiplexes, criss-crossed by the best metalled roads in the country. Originally built to house 20,000 people, it now accommodates 90,000 or more, swelling with the 2002 riot-affected and others who arrive looking for work. What they get though is denial. It took multiple years, petitions and court cases to get a primary school approved for the area. Residents wrote letters to authorities demanding a school. One was built, but too far for little children to walk to. Then it was demolished to build a new metro line. More petitions somehow got it rebuilt. There is still no bank or health clinic.


Data Source: Sachar Report, 2006. Data Source: NSSO, 61st round

Data Source: Likelihood of Muslim employment from multivariate analysis by Abusaleh Shariff, 2011

Data Sources: Abusaleh Shariff for IFPRI, 2010; Sachar Report, 2006

Data Source: IHDS survey, 2004-05. Data Source: RTIs filed in Gujarat; via JS Bandukwala

Meanwhile, not too far away, shopping malls, markets, modern housing, factory and office buildings are thriving on entrepreneurship, said to be innate to the Gujaratis. Jobs are in abundance in ‘Vibrant Gujarat’, prompting the likes of the BJP’s L.K. Advani to say that Muslims are partaking in the state’s prosperity. This view is endorsed by big business’s support for Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. Successful Muslims are highlighted by the state’s ruling BJP. Why, some Muslim leaders have given a clarion cry, “Forget and move on”. This has led to much recrimination among the community. As Outlook’s on-ground reportage on the state of Muslims in Gujarat reveals, a climate of fear, segregation and neglect has taken root.

Habib Mev, member of the municipal school board, Ahmedabad, lives half an hour from the Warsis in the ‘old city’. Here, Hindu and non-Hindu homes are strictly segregated. Nothing new, say locals, just set in stone post-2002. It’s the same in Juhapura, Ahmedabad’s other urban sprawl, home to 4,50,000 Muslims. It’s a place the Ahmedabadis openly describe as a “Muslim ghetto” or “mini-Pakistan”, a “dangerous place”. Mev is one of the people who helped Bombay Hotel get its first school.


“Hurt by refused visas and with an eye on national politics, Modi is projecting himself as minority-friendly. People know better.” Dr J.S. Bandukwala, Retired professor “There are beautiful malls, bridges and flyovers —happiness is everywhere, but not in Gomti Nagar, not in Juhapura.” Hanif Lakdawala, Director, Sanchetan

“Some say Muslims must move on, but what choice did they have? People accept their fate though they didn’t get justice.” Mallika Sarabhai, Danseuse, Theatre personality “Gujarat’s pseudo-religious sects are flourishing, industrial sops are snowballing and anti-Muslim sentiments spiralling.” Dr Sudarshan Iyengar, V-C, Gujarat Vidyapeeth

“Gujarati businessmen are not guided by religion. There’s a huge labour shortage, and all hands need to be on deck.” Dinesh Awasthi, Director, EDI “The economic and social life of Gujarati Muslims is worse than in some least developed states. The reason is discrimination.” Abusaleh Sharif, Chief economist, NCAER

After his other visitors leave, Mev says, “In Gujarat’s universities and schools, it is difficult to get Muslim children admitted.” Mev himself is educated, and appears successful. His office has a picture of him marching next to Sonia Gandhi at a rally. But he is agitated by suggestions that his success is a sign that Gujarat is coming to terms with its communal past and embracing all—Hindus, Muslims, Christians—in the path to development. Two years ago, he says, he brought a nephew to a reputed school for admission and was told, “Ladka hai, Musalman hai, nahin milega.” Children enrol in primary school only to drop out soon. State figures reveal that while few Hindus finish school (41 per cent) even fewer Muslims and SC/STs reach matriculation—just 26 per cent. Data can conceal as much as reveal: a February speech by governor Kamla Beniwal highlighted the high ‘literacy’ among Muslims. True, but drop-out rates are also the highest, the same numbers show.

Which makes one wonder, aren’t Muslims such as Mev an excellent foil to the squalor of Bombay Hotel or Juhapura? For a state growing at over 9 per cent, wouldn’t poorer Muslims naturally move up and out of poverty? Mev pulls out piles of documents from an almirah and displays his struggle—and eventual failure—to get a bank loan for a two-wheeler. “I purchased a scooter by borrowing from family and friends. This is how most non-Hindus get by, without state support,” he says.

Across Ahmedabad, college girls and boys own demat accounts, living up to the famed dhando-mindedness of Gujaratis. Scores of cafes line roads, upmarket housing and business locations are ambitiously named ‘New York Trade Tower’, ‘Springdale Residency’, ‘Pacifica Companies’. Yet, many fear that despite the obvious successes—good road connectivity, near 100 per cent electrification, high economic growth, interested investors—Gujarat’s government has been picking low-hanging fruit, simply riding historical trends of high economic growth at the cost of the poor.

Says Dr Sudarshan Iyengar, economist and vice-chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapeeth, one of the state’s oldest universities, run along Gandhian principles, “There is marginalisation, lack of equity...we are enjoying today at the cost of tomorrow.” It’s a contrast all too common across India: non-Hindus tend to live in relative deprivation; the poorer a state, the more pronounced is this trend. But in Gujarat, a wealthy state, the inconsistency is all the more baffling. Overall levels of hunger are on par with Bihar and Orissa (between 0.57-0.74 on the 0-1 Hunger Index). For Muslims, doubly deprived, the situation is worse. Urban poverty in Gujarat is 800 per cent higher among them than high-caste Hindus, and 50 per cent higher than among OBCs. Sure, Gujarat’s Muslims have higher income per head than many others in India, but it’s the wide gap between them and non-Muslims within the state that needs attention, say experts.

Hanif Lakdawala, whose NGO Sanchetana runs community health programmes, says the state’s ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ propaganda has made things worse. Development isn’t being equally distributed, and self-congratulation has dulled the weapons needed to deal with discrimination—like state intervention to support education, nutrition and employment. For instance, a scheme for minorities that would sponsor the education of around 60,000 minority students every year (including Christians, Sikhs and Parsis) has been turned down by the state government for three years now.


Chained in A Muslim cycle shop in the Jamalpur area of Ahmedabad. (Photograph by Siddharaj)

The issue is serious because Muslims clearly note events like Ahmedabad’s new rapid transport system bypassing Juhapura. They resent having to rely on interstate buses and the lack of schools or hospitals (though there are several police stations). It’s also serious because of how Gujarat’s economy works. While Hindu businessmen, for example, tend to be entrepreneurs, responsible for marketing their wares, Muslims tend to work as skilled or unskilled employees for them. Non-Muslims mostly work in higher-value-added industries—foundries, textile units etc. Muslims businesses tend to be home-based—making kites, brooms, bidis, agarbattis, rakhis, embroidery, zari work, apart from skilled work in manufacturing, rickshaw-pulling.

It forms a pattern. “Across the state, to find work, Muslims have to step out of ‘their’ areas into Hindu settlements, but Hindus rarely need to go where the Muslims live. The social isolation implies an ultimate breakdown in business relations,” says Dr Shakeel Ahmad, general secretary, Forum for Democracy and Communal Amity (Gujarat).

Some warn against an overly negative view of Gujarat’s development. The Gujarati penchant for success means he’s always short of workers in factories, foundries, farms and offices. “There is no caste, community or religion to the Gujarati business interests,” says Dinesh Awasthi, who heads EDI, Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India, located at Bhat in Gandhinagar, a 30-minute highway zip from Ahmedabad. After the 2011 ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ exposition, Modi announced MoUs worth $450 billion with global investors. Says Awasthi, “We expect a shortfall of 45 lakh workers if the current planned investments come to anything. Where is the room for ostracising non-Hindus in a state desperate for a skilled workforce?”

But in a recent study, Dr Abusaleh Shariff, chief economist at ncaer in Delhi, also identified a less attractive change in employment patterns across the state. Fewer Muslims are working in manufacturing and organised industry—exactly the opposite of several other large states. “Gujarati Muslims are involved in informal trade or they are self-employed—running food stalls etc, or they pull rickshaws, do manual labour. What other than active discrimination explains this trend in a state that signs MoUs worth billions for modern industrial projects? The rich-poor disparity is, relatively speaking, far greater here,” says Dr Shariff.

In Baroda, a two-and-a-half hour drive from Ahmedabad, Dr J.S. Bandukwala says the idea that Muslims will prosper through Gujarat’s industrial development is a myth—“high-end industries rarely employ poor, lesser-educated people”. Bandukwala belongs to a prominent Muslim community of Gujarat: the one-million-strong Bohras are scattered across the globe and are highly educated and well-to-do. The Bohras, Khojas and Memons are among the Muslims who have always done well in business and education in Gujarat. There is a high degree of acceptance for these entrepreneurs in Gujarat. But, says Bandukwala, that’s because Gujarat’s successful Muslims have typically remained apolitical and supported whatever ruling class that happens to be in the lead in the state. For 50 years, Gujarat has employed a high percentage of Muslims in government. In his report, Dr Shariff stresses that public records of more recent jobs haven’t been released.

EDI’s local contact in Baroda introduces this reporter to a few businessmen in the city, working out of the 2,000-unit Makarpura industrial belt. Dhaval Patel seems anxious and concerned about our search for Muslim workers and entrepreneurs, but he locates several with relative ease considering the few units open on Saturdays. Vijay Electroplaters employs Lalu, a 19-year-old who never went to school, and did “nothing” until he got this job. He spends eight hours a day churning tiny metal parts in a barrel-like mixer, adding chemicals and keeping an eye on the progress.

A wave of mechanisation and modernisation is sweeping through Gujarat’s industrial belts, transforming the traditional crafts—cotton mills, zari weaving—as well as introducing modern industries in electronics, software, petroleum and shipping. EDI assists the smaller units across the state in modernising. Several of the factory owners Outlook spoke to say they couldn’t care less about the religion or caste of workers—they just want the job to get done.

But Dr Shariff’s research clearly points to a reverse trend. The likelihood of Muslims being employed in regular wage jobs is diminishing as fast as is statistically possible. Chances of work as agricultural labour are also low—less, in fact, than for SC/STs or OBCs. Self-employment and non-agricultural work (which are the most low-paying and least upwardly-mobile) are decidedly more open to Muslims.

Some of this truth emerges in Surat, a textile hub reeling under a worker shortage. Raja, 21, and Imtiaz, 20, took the same train to Surat from Dhanbad, and their labour contractor deposited them at a textile factory owned by a Hindu, where a dozen other Muslims already work. They’re keen to bring their friends over, but with NREGA coming to Jharkhand, fewer Rajas and Imtiazes are available to move cross-country, exacerbating the shortage of hands.

Dr Bandukwala feels living conditions of immigrant workers are enough of a management crisis for Gujarat already. Few of the companies interviewed seemed to follow a standard wage rate. Healthcare or living conditions are not their concern either. To top it, mechanisation in industries such as ‘artificial’ zari and hand-embroidery replaced by machines have all but obliterated the need for the traditional Muslim artisan. Why, with these changes coming in, the state government has among the lowest spendings on NREGA is hard to explain.

These events add up to become part of what Dr Shariff describes as the unprotected drift of non-Hindus towards ‘self-employment’, and which Dr Iyengar says amounts to “making the poor pay for the cost of development”. Mallika Sarabhai, the noted theatre person, says residents who seem never free of fear pay the other price of development, Gujarat-style. They will not live near Muslims, or give them homes or offices to rent. “In this climate, what does it mean when people are asked to ‘move on’?” Sarabhai asks. “Is it that they should forget that there is a Constitution and rights?” While the camps build up for and against “forgetting”, all the Gujarati Muslim wants is for Modi to apologise for 2002. Of course, that could amount to the government also “moving on” along with its entire people.

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