Ahead of the Polls, Gujarat's Muslims Have a Wish List For Political Parties

From an atrocity prevention law to political representation, Muslims in the state are asking to have their basic rights restored in the face of successful communal polarisation.

Over the last two decades, Hindutva forces have succeeded in achieving communal polarisation in the laboratory of Gujarat.

As the Lok Sabha polls approach, Muslims in the state have been making an effort to ensure their safety and livelihood, while seeking rights that are constitutionally granted to them.

Over the last few days, various groups and organisations have released charters and manifestos containing demands which specify what Muslims in the state seek from various political parties.

One such demand is the enactment of an atrocity prevention law along the lines of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, that make crimes against the community a non-bailable offence. This demand has been vociferously aired by the Minority Coordination Committee (MCC) Gujarat as well as the Alpsankhyak Adhikar Manch.

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“Muslims have been facing organised violence for several years. The community is targeted for the way its members dress and the food they eat. Things have come to such a pass that they are not seen as a part of society, but are treated as untouchables,” says Mujahid Nafees of the MCC, a loose-structured platform set up in December 2016 to advocate issues concerning the minorities.

The prime concern remains security, given the fact that communal rioting has continued in the state at regular intervals.

It is for this reason that a law against communal violence, a ban on the demonstration, training and distribution of arms, besides the setting up of a judicial commission to probe police encounters are being demanded.

Children play in a home in Mehtab Colony, which houses Muslim victims of communal riots in 2002, in Ahmedabad, India. June 20, 2017. Credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Rina Chandran

“Threat perception and fear continues to dot the life of community members. We have been telling representatives of various parties that they would immediately get the support of 70% of the community if they ensure security. The threat arises not only from Hindutva forces, but also from state agencies. There is always the fear of being picked up,” said Shamshad Pathan, a lawyer from Alpsankhyak Adhikar Manch.

For Ikram Mirza of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, who also represents Association of Protection of Civil Rights, safety and security remain the biggest concern as “discrimination has reached new heights”.

“For example, just look at the incident that took place at a Semeradi village in Amreli district a few weeks ago. When the police had gone to nab an alleged criminal, a constable was injured in a scuffle. The police then retaliated by targeting the entire village, which has 45 Muslim families. Twenty eight vehicles carrying policemen ransacked houses, breaking things and even destroying their stores of water. It is plain harassment in the name of law and order,” he said.

He further said, “It is not only security. We are being denied our other rights as well – education, health and hygiene. It is a well known fact that around 80% women in the community are malnourished and suffer from diseases like tuberculosis. There need to be good hospitals and schools in Muslim ghettoes that have come up in inhuman conditions. Our children are denied education in private schools run by other communities and we face great difficulty in renting halls and other venues for political or social programmes.”

It is in this context that the demand for the establishment of an Equal Opportunities Commission to address the concerns that were highlighted by the Sachar Committee in its report has arisen.

Also read: Inside Ahmedabad’s Juhapura: What It’s Like for Muslims to Live in a Ghetto

The MCC is further seeking an amendment to the National Minorities Commission Act, 1992 so that the Commission is given a constitutional status. It has also asked that the establishment of State Minority Commissions be made mandatory across the country. Gujarat is one such state which has no State Minority Commission.

Along similar lines, Alpsankhyak Adhikar Manch has sought that a minority affairs ministry be launched in the state to work on matters of infrastructure, education, employment and security in minority populated areas. The group says that 11.5% of Gujarat’s population is deprived of opportunities.

Another important concern that the community wants addressed is the issue of inter-religious and inter-caste marriages. Since such couple are under the constant threat of being harassed, the community has been seeking a law to that “will end the immunity of social entities running a parallel law and wedging violence against those who break the segregations in the name of religion caste or gender”.

A lane in Juhapura. Credit: Facebook/Welfare Association of Youth

Muslims have also borne severe losses over the years – from lives to housing, and property and livelihood. It is pertinent to make a policy at the central level to address concerns regarding protection, rehabilitation and compensation for riot victims and the same ought be implemented at state level, the organisations have said.

Other demands being aired are for the socio-economic upliftment of the community – like a special component plan for minorities to ensure allocation in state budget and proper implementation along with expansion of Prime Minister’s new 15-point program.

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The organisations also want the minority finance and development corporation to be strengthened to enable small loans and assistance when required.

More so, claiming that they have become victims of political untouchability, the community is seeking a law to ensure its representation in the political sphere along with other marginalised communities.

Whether political parties in the state at the Centre take up their demands remains to be seen, but it is clear that even implementing the smallest of measures would go a long way for the beleaguered Muslims of Gujarat.

Rajeev Khanna has been a reporter for the last 23 years, with a special interest in Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat politics, and has worked in print, radio, TV and online media.