Face to Face with Fascism

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published on: April 1, 2000
Forced ethnic segregation, calculated violence and the blatant misuse of government machinery  throttles democracy in Gujarat 

Muslims and  Dalits, masjids  and the  kachrapeti, (the  garbage dump)  are the symbols of  the clear communal and casteist segregation of space in urban Gujarat, be it in Ahmedabad, Mehsana, Surat, Rajkot or elsewhere. The Muslimvaas has now joined the Dalitvaas as a clearly defined area (residential) beyond which the community cannot move.

Even after 53 years of Independence, Dalits have remained confined to segregated areas; now Muslims and even Christians in some parts of Gujarat have been forced into similar segregation. While the slow and systematic ghettoisation in Gujarat can be traced back to 1989–90, accentuated by the euphoria over LK Advani’s rath yatra, the recent bomb attacks on the homes of Muslim families in the Paldi area of Ahmedabad (February 5, 2000) led by BJP corporators marks a first even for Ahmedabad and Gujarat. 

On Friday, February 5, in broad daylight, a mob of about 40 persons, led by two BJP corporators, attacked the newly–constructed Tulsi apartments within the Vishwakunj society, blasted the lift with detonators and also tried to blast the electric metres. The home of two Muslim families was vandalised. The police have made no arrests so far. The reaction of deputy commissioner of police, Bisht, to the media, is interesting: “This being a Hindu–dominated area, the locals got angry at the entry of two Muslim families. It’s as simple as that.” No comment on the legality or illegality of such actions!

Instead, the individual Muslim families and builders of Samay and Tulsi apartments in a housing complex in a pre–dominantly Jain locality have been threatened by VHP-BJP leaders to sell off property at one-fifth the market price and scam. The police have made no move to provide effective protection to the victims. Overnight, filthy graffiti targeting Muslims and other minorities appeared on the walls of buildings in the Paldi area, obviously aimed at provoking retaliation.

A writ petition filed before the Gujarat High Court on behalf of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), by senior advocate Haroobhai Mehta, has sought the intervention of the Court in protecting the fundamental rights of an Indian citizen that include the right to equality, right to settle and reside anywhere in India (Article 19(1)(d)) and the right to life which includes the right to shelter.

Naved Siddique, the young builder of one of the above mentioned apartment complexes is a shaken man. “What do they want to do with us? This kind of thing cannot be countered, not even with money. What do they want to push us into? Maybe I should just migrate.” A harsh choice for individuals, not for the entire community of Muslims in Gujarat who constitute around eleven per cent of the population.

On Saturday, February 19, thirty hit-men of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad vandalised the office of the mayor of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, a BJP corporator, Malini Atit, demanding the immediate reconstruction of a temple near Uttamnagar garden that had been demolished by it. 

Despite the fact that public property had been destroyed, the mayor refused to lodge any complaint with the police saying, “This was our internal matter, we do not need the police!”

On January 3, this year, after Gujarat chief minister, Keshubhai Patel, lifted the ban on government servants joining the RSS — a decision that he was compelled to revoke a month later, after the nation-wide outcry on the issue — the RSS held its massive sankalp shibir on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, at which 30,000 persons participated. Patel was flanked by union home minister, L.K. Advani, while eight state cabinet ministers participated and 5,000 government officials also attended. The 5-acre farm–plot was spruced up for the occasion with the state government providing free public amenities, including transport, water and electricity. The police were not allowed to enter the ground. Only on the insistence of some officers was a get–in–and–get–out “Z” security check allowed because of Advani’s scheduled presence.

“Gujarat today presents the most depressing picture with 40–45 per cent urbanisation and a most appalling backwardness,” Girishbhai Patel, senior advocate and the man behind the Lok Adhikar Manch told CC. “With 15 per cent tribal population, eight per cent SCs, 39 per cent