Ahmedabad, Gujarat: The road to Citizen Nagar gets bumpy as one gets closer to the slum. Walking past the foothills of Ahmedabad’s infamous 75-feet high Pirana garbage dumps (there is no traversable road), there is a strong stench, open sewage flowing and smoke from the adjoining chemical factory as one approaches the relief colony where victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots have been living for the last 14 years.
The Gujarat government’s promised development doesn’t find a place in the ghettos where Muslims displaced in the riots have been living. In areas such as Juhapura, Siddique Nagar and Citizen Nagar – where there are no basic amenities like drinking water, schools, primary health centres, sanitation facilities or roads available – government apathy is palpable.
Nadeembhai Saiyyed, 42, used to be a carpenter. With around 40 other families, he came to live in Citizen Nagar in 2003. In the riots of 2002, his house and carpentry shop in Naroda Patiya were burnt down.
“With my family of five I came to live in this one room that was given to us. But my kids have grown now. My sons are married. We are a family of nine now and it’s not possible to live in a room anymore,” says Saiyyed.
A slum of 40 houses, Citizen Nagar, popularly known as Bombay hotel area, was donated by the Kerala Muslim League Relief Committee then headed by E. Ahmed, MP from Malappuram who passed away in early February this year. Like all the relief colonies spread across Gujarat, Citizen Nagar was set up as a temporary camp but has burgeoned into a permanent slum.
“If this is going to be the permanent shelter, the people ought to have ownership rights to the houses they have been living in for 14 years now. But these organisations refuse to hand over the ownership rights,” says Kalim Siddque, a social worker who recently filed a PIL in the Gujarat high court seeking closure of the Pirana garbage dump.
“The apathy of these Muslim organisations who donated houses in the relief colonies is no less (than the government). After this colony was built by a local builder Sharif Khan, the trust of the Kerala Muslim League has the ownership rights of the houses,” adds Siddique. “In November last year, some of the residents of Citizen Nagar wrote to the Kerala Muslim League on the issue. However, they were asked to travel to Kerala to hold a talk instead. Most residents here are daily-wage earners who can’t afford to travel so far. Hence the issue has been in limbo.”
Close to two lakh people were displaced in the 2002 riots. These people remained displaced for more than a year. Then some Muslim relief organisations, along with a few local NGOs, settled 16,087 people in 83 relief colonies spread across Gujarat. Fifteen of them are situated in Muslim-majority areas of Ahmedabad.
“Out of 83 colonies, only in 17 are the houses in the name of the residents. Most of these people face issues in getting a PAN card, Aadhaar, passport or even a loan because of the situation,” says Hozefa Ujjaini, a social worker associated with the human rights organisation Jan Vikas that had conducted a survey on living condition in these colonies.
Most Muslim organisations are reluctant to give away ownership rights because they think the residents might sell the houses.
“Whoever is asking for ownership rights wants to ultimately sell the house. Even if the residents had ownership rights and wanted to sell, it would be a lengthy process,” says Khan, an Ahmedabad-based builder who built the houses in Citizen Nagar.
Mohammed Ali Thangal was the president of the Kerala Muslim League when the houses were donated. He was succeeded by his son Munnawar Thangal after his death.
“I have just taken over the post so won’t know much. However, the houses, as far as I know, was meant for the riot displaced and should remain so. If the houses are sold, it will be a waste of charity. However, we will see what can be done on the matter,” Munnawar echoes the words of the builder.
The land on which the relief colonies have been built belong to private parties. In some cases, as in Citizen Nagar, the state government in 14 years has not categorised the land as non-agricultural nor has the organisation attempted to have the legal procedures conducted.
“Even if the residents get the ownership rights of the houses, the land on which they are constructed will never be the theirs, because most of this land does not have clear ownership deeds nor are they cleared as non-agricultural land,” says Shamshad Pathan, an advocate and human rights activist.
“These colonies were meant to be temporary settlements. Yet these people have spent 15 long years in these slums. Of about two lakh displaced, 16,087 were settled in these colonies. The government has neither traced nor kept an account of the rest. There are still about 5,000 people living in these slums as of now. It isn’t a Herculean task for a state government to rehabilitate 5,000 internally displaced people, if it wants to,” adds Pathan.
The issue of ownership rights of the houses is, however, not the only issue these people have been facing over the years. Most of these colonies lack any basic amenities.
Juhapura, which is the biggest Muslim ghetto in the city, has no water supply. The pipeline of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) ends in the adjoining Hindu-dominated ward, Jodhpur. A PIL was filed on the matter in March last year, stating that the town planning scheme has been properly implemented in the Hindu-dominated adjoining area and not in Juhapura. Those who cannot afford to buy water have collected money and dug a borewell.
In another case, in response to an RTI filed by Siddique on March 5, 2016 inquiring into the number of primary health centres in a 10-km radius of Citizen Nagar, AMC listed the private clinics in the area, including the clinic of one S.R. Fakkruddin, a ‘Nurani hakim’.
“My son did not get proper education and works as a labourer now. My husband used to work as a daily-wage earner. There would be days that went without any income. Last year he came down with a respiratory problem and then passed away two months ago,” Rehana Bano shares.
“I borrowed Rs 50,000 and still could not save my husband. I wish I had more money,” Rehana Bano breaks down as she points to the shabby one-room where she has been living for 14 years, which she will be vacating in a week. “I cannot repay the loan. The person whom I owe asked me to vacate the room so that he can put it on rent till the loan is repaid.”
“People advise us to forget and move on. Believe me, nobody has tried that more than us,” Sheikh Khatun Bibi says. “But I cannot move past the fact that the future of our children was destroyed. Most of them are daily-wage earners now, we could not give them an education. And that is our biggest loss in this chaos.”