New Delhi: Thirty-five-year-old Manisha, who is from Nepal, has been living with her family of six in the Jamia Nagar area of south Delhi since December 2017. She works in a house and her husband is a watchman in an apartment in Batla House. Their relatives from Nepal are engaged in the same profession.
She has five children – one son and four daughters. Four of them are enrolled in a school and the youngest daughter stays at home with her father.
Considering their financial situation, the family faces hardships throughout the year – except during the month of Ramzan, when she says they rarely have to worry about food and money.
People of Jamia Nagar are always friendly and kind to them, but Ramzan is their most cherished time because during the month, the children get to attend iftar feasts and enjoy the flavours of biryani.
“Each family in the apartment gives us Eidi, last year my children saved some money which they got on Eid,” she said.
Ramzan is going on and if one wishes to best experience the celebrations from sunrise to sunset, they should visit areas like Jamia Nagar.
The bustling streets of Batla House and Zakir Nagar speak of the flourishing business of merchants in this area. From a street vendor to a trader, everyone does well at this time. Heading straight from Batla House to Okhla main market, one will find hundreds of shops selling different items – 50 among which are owned by Hindu traders.
Shaina, who owns one such shop, says: “The month of Ramzan is the month of rahmat (mercy) for me. My business of tailoring does not double, but it grows ten times more than in normal days. I am up all night and day to sew dresses. I make a lot of money in this month.”
The demand for clay pots has declined drastically in both urban and rural areas, bringing down the business of pottery. Jamia Nagar has five to six families who are in this profession and have spent several decades in this locality. Fifty-year-old Parmeshwari, who has a shop on rent near the Batla House bus stand in Jamia Nagar, complains: “People know the significance of pottery, still they don’t want to spend money on it, there has been a tremendous loss in this business.”
When asked why she continue this business in Jamia Nagar, she says, “Beti, I spent my whole life in this area. I feel attached to this place because my forefathers lived here and ran the same business. This place is close to my heart. I can’t even imagine leaving this place. My children grew up here, they got educated, and I got my daughters married from here only.”
Parmeshwari then adds with a smile that while her business is slow in other months when only gullaks – piggybanks – are sold, during the holy month of Ramzan, people buy matkas, katoris and haandis for preserving things like milk, curd, kheer and sewai.
Eid is a special time for her because she is able to empty her stock.
On how she feels about the Muslims living nearby, she says that one should not start with the assumption that others are wrong. “Sometimes we have to look at ourselves. I have never quarrelled with them or acted in a wrong way, therefore no one has ever created any problem for us. We invite them on Holi and Diwali and they invite us on Eid. We join each other’s marriages too.”
Her daughter Geeta adds: “We spent our childhood with Muslims in this area. We never felt anything like Hindu-Muslim. We all are like family members. All my friends are Muslims and we share great bonding. They invite us on Iftar and Eid party. We support each other in every matter.”
“My father-in-law and his father’s family lived here but we have never come across any act of misbehaviour towards us by a single Muslim living in this area. My father-in-law and my son used to visit them and enjoy the seviyan and choley on Eid,” says Anarodevi, another potter in the same locality.
Bitta Devi, 58, has spent 45 years in Nai Basti, Jamia Nagar. She fries pakoras on the roadside and believes in self-employment with honesty. According to her, Muslims and Hindus share a beautiful relationship in this area. She is doing this business out of helplessness as her sons have stopped supporting her after her husband’s death.
Talking about the significance of this month, she says, “My business of pakoras flourishes in this month. People usually eat them at Iftar and almost every household in the locality enjoys my pakoras”.
Bhawna, 22, has been helping out at her mother’s small shop ever since her father died after a prolonged illness. According to her, her great grandfather stayed here and enjoyed his life to the fullest. She is enrolled in a graduate course at IGNOU and wants to study mass communication and become a radio jockey. She says that she has never experienced any communal tension in the area.
According to her, the old people never create such problems, her father and forefathers lived here peacefully with Muslims but today’s generation is a bit problematic, because they spend most of their time using internet and abusing each other.
According to Rajdulari, 47, who runs a shop, her children were brought up in the Muslim neighborhood of Jamia Nagar. “I never had to worry about them. They like the food of their Muslim aunts and the Muslim bachhe call me Maa; they love the food that I cook. Here I have spent my whole life, I experienced personal losses but every time the Muslims have stood by my family,” she says.
When asked if people have misbehaved with her or discourage her because is she running a shop despite being a woman, Rajdulari responds, “It has never ever happened with me here.”
According to the data collected from Jamia Nagar police station, Jamia Nagar is spread over 5-6 square km. The total population of area is about 12-14 lakhs – 98-99% of the population is Muslim. There are seven temples and 62 mosques in the area.
One of the specialties about the locality is that the Muslims support and cooperate with the Hindus in organising the Ramleela.
The Hindu population living near Nai Basti believes that they practice their religion without any constraints and during Navratra and Dussehra, celebrations in the area reaches their peak.
At a time when attempts are being made to create communal tensions in other parts of the country, Jamia Nagar has proved that the two communities can live together peacefully.
All photos by Afshan Khan.
Afshan Khan is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.