Mehboob Makrani balances himself precariously on a rickety wooden cot that has a half-broken leg. He invites you to sit on the cot, assuring you it will not keel over. But he can't give the same assurance about his own life. His house and grocery shop in Khadpa village, Panchmahals district, were torched during the March 2002 riots. Like many in his community, Makrani continues to suffer social and economic boycott from the Hindu community and is unable to start afresh.
Communalism Combat and Sahmat, two organizations working against communalism in the country, recently claimed that Muslims are being socially and economically boycotted in at least 10 of the 24 districts in Gujarat.
After the riots, Makrani has often been reminded of his secondary status. Recently, he was delighted when the village head of Chalali village invited him for a family marriage. He thought this gesture was a harbinger of the good old days when the Hindu and Muslim communities shared a special bond. But when he reached the wedding venue, a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), also a guest, screamed, "What are you doing here, you miya (miya literally means man but in Gujarat it is used pejoratively for Muslim men)! You have no business to be here, just get lost." Makrani says the BJP
leader also pulled up the hosts for inviting him. Makrani knows the BJP leader's name but is too scared to divulge it.
Shafi Mansuri, a resident of Derol village, suffered similar humiliation when he, along with his neighbors, went to the District Collector's office for some work. "A local BJP leader shouted 'who allowed you to come here, get out before I tell someone to throw you out'."
When Mansuri said they had work there, the BJP leader retorted, "What work? Who are you to have work with the government? You have no right." Mansuri returned with his neighbors and soon all the 36 Muslim families left Derol village for other towns.
In the past one year, the social boycott has forced many Muslim villages to leave their homes, shops, land, and camp in Godhra, the district headquarters where over 50 people were torched in a train. Muslims across Gujarat suffered large-scale violence in the aftermath of the Godhra train attack. "The male members of our families go to the village during the day to check our land and houses. Everyone returns to Godhra before 6 pm. Some of us have shifted our women and children to far-off towns in and outside the state," says Makrani. Prominent Muslims and local journalists claim over 8,500 families from various Panchmahals towns and villages have taken refuge in Godhra.
According to political scientist Dinesh Shukla, though a year has passed, the wounds of most riot victims are still fresh. "Attempts by communities to come closer are often thwarted. The government is callous towards rehabilitating the people. The healing process has simply not begun in Gujarat."
He says it is a worrying social trend that an entire community is being continuously pushed to the wall, the options for them slowly being closed. Even in Ahmedabad, there is a silent but strong discrimination practiced against the Muslims. Contractors are not willing to hire them as labor,
moneylenders refuse to give them loans, and schools are reluctant to admit Muslim children.
"They are constantly being made to feel that they are unwelcome. They feel that suddenly all of them have become suspects. They are discriminated against in jobs. There is also a sense of injustice among the victims who see the perpetrators still moving around freely," says Hanif Lakdawala of
Some have also sought shelter in the towns of Haalol and Kaalol. Irfan Mansuri, from Delol village, has moved to Kaalol town. He lives in a dingy one-room rented accommodation with six of his 11-member family. He has sent the women to relatives in Ratlam in the bordering state of Madhya Pradesh. Mansuri is tearful when he says he used to have more Hindu than Muslim friends. "Today, I can't live with them." He and his family were forced to leave their large two-storey house in Delol while they were having dinner. The villagers told them to quit the place immediately.
Today, Mansuri has opened a cycle repair shop in a wooden cabin in Kaalol. His two brothers, who stay with him, run a photography studio and a utensil shop. "We had to borrow from relatives to start the shops. Our earnings are less than half now," he says.
Unable to recover from their trauma during the riots, none of the 55 Muslim families of Delol have returned to their village. "On the face of it, nothing will happen if we go back. My family and that of Abdul Ansari's went back and stayed for a couple of months. But one day, there was a blast in the village that killed three persons. Some villagers came and told us to leave in case the blast was linked to us. We left everything and ran. Our houses and shops were looted for the second time. We later learnt that the police recorded the villagers' statements and we were not named," says Irfan. Ansari claims that the blast took place on the day several Muslim families were planning to return to the village.
Ahmedbhai Khalpabhai from Kharsaliya village considered himself fortunate that his ration shop, repaired after it was torched, was allowed to open in the village. But only for a few days. "One day, while returning to my shop from Godhra, I was threatened and told never to go back to the shop. My
shop is now run by the henchman of a senior district-level BJP leader's son."
What is most disturbing - and difficult for activists and social organizations - is that the communal virus is now repeatedly showing up in the villages. This indicates the extent to which right-wing forces targeted rural areas in last year's carnage, says Congress MP Madhusudan Mistry.
(Names of some persons have been changed to protect their identity.)