History of Muslims in Gujarat is older than the idea of Gujarat itself, then how is it that Muslims now find themselves at the edge (both figuratively and literally) of the present day Gujarati society?
In the aftermath of partition when most of north India was burning, Gujarat remained peaceful. The first major post-independence Hindu-Muslim violence took place in Ahmedabad in 1969. But if we go back in history, from 1714 to 1969 there were only two incidents of communal violence – 1941 and 1946. The violence of 1969, in which more than 1100 people were killed, was the beginning of separation of Hindus and Muslims but it was 1985 riots that sealed Muslims’ fate in the state for years to come.
Erasing Muslims: Fatema Masjid, the only mosque on Ahmadabad-Gandhinagar highway was bulldozed in Dec. 2010
Since the formation of the state in 1960, Gujarat remained a politically unstable state. Between 1960 and 1990, Gujarat had eight assemblies, nine chief ministers, and 20 ministries. Only one, Madhavsinh Solanki was able to complete his term as chief mister. This was also a time of many political mobilizations and rioting.
In 1950s Mahgujarat movement led to the formation of the state of Gujarat. 1970s saw the anti-corruption Navnirman movement led by socialists and joined by Sangh Parivar, giving Sanghis their first lessons in mass mobilization. This came in handy during 1980s anti-reservation movement when it was hijacked by Sangh activists and turned into anti-Muslim violence. Ram janmbhoomi movement of 1990s and the genocide of 2002 was the pay off for the Sangh Parivar’s work of spreading hate over three decades.
Dr. Ornit Shani of University of Haifa has studied the communal violence of 1985 in details. She marks 1985 as an important point in the marginalization of Muslims in Gujarat. She writes in her book, Communalism, Caste and Hindu Nationalism:
“In the 1985 riots, conflicts around the reservation of places in educational and government institutions for backward-caste Hindus transmogrified into communal violence even though there was no prior religious tension between Hindus and Muslims, and local Muslims had no part in the reservation dispute between forward- and backward-caste Hindus. These riots marked the beginnings of the shift from several decades of Congress dominance to the triumph of the Hindu nationalist BJP in Gujarat as well as in Indian national politics.”
The violence of 1985 came just days after Congress rode back to power with a thumping majority under the leadership of Madhavsinh Solanki. Successful social engineering of KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Ahir, and Muslim) alliance returned Congress MLAs in 149 seats with a vote share of 55.5% which still remains a record. A week after the formation of the new government, on March 18th, 1985, a Gujarat bandh was called by organizations opposed to the reservation policy. Muslims had remained aloof from the anti-reservation movement as it neither harmed nor benefitted them.
On the night of March 18th, while savarna Hindus were busy in sounding a death-knell to reservation as part of the day’s bandh, a stone hit a Muslim boy in Naginapol area of Ahmadabad. Soon, this turned into a major violence between Hindus and Muslims. Army was called in the next day and the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi paid a visit on March 23rd. Violence continued for next four months.
Amarsinh Choudhry replaced Solanki as chief minister on July 6th and soon after he agreed to the demands of the anti-reservationists. Reservation increase was rolled back and all those detained for violence released. From February to July of 1985, 220 people lost their lives. Only in Ahmadabad 662 anti-reservation and 743 communal incidents were recorded. Muslims were the main victims of the riots with 2,500 houses damaged, 1500 shops burnt, about 100 killed and hundreds severely injured.
Die was cast for Muslims, Hindus who have continued to live close to Muslims in old areas of Ahmadabad began to move out, forming a segregated city that continue to widen the gulf between Hindus and Muslims. “Physical separation between middle and upper middle classes grew to the point where young Ahmedabadis would be unlikely to encounter a Muslim. Few Indian cities have managed such a systematic separation based on caste, class and community,” writes Prof. Arvind Rajagopal.
Another image of Gujarat: grave of Wali Gujarati was razed in 2002 and road built over-night, it is yet to be restored. [Photo by Nasiruddin Haider Khan]
That physical separation was necessary for things to come in 1990s and especially the genocide of 2002. While the world watched with horror the violence unleashed in Gujarat in 2002, the man who presided the genocide was none other than Narendra Modi.
It was no accident that Narendara Modi was at the helm of affairs. Modi a life-long member of RSS was a key organizer of Gujarat BJP in 1980s and early 1990s. He was the man behind Nyay Yatra in 1987, Lok Shaki Yatra (1989), Gujarat leg of Advani’s Somnath to Ayodhya Yatra (1989), and Ekta Yatra (1991). Gujarat was among the state that sent highest number of karsevaks for demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. All these yatras and mobilization helped make Muslims as the “other” or the “enemy” in Gujarat.
Muslims, according to Sangh Parivar, have no right to exist, are not part of Gujarat, have no history worth remembering or contribution in making of Gujarat. Perhaps, this is best symbolized by the grave of Vali Gujarati which was destroyed during the violence of 2002, overnight a road built over it and a decade later the road still exists over a poet’s grave who sang high praises of Gujarat’s plural society.
Vahan sakin hain itne ahle mazhab
ke ginne mein na aawe unke mazhab
Agarche voh hai sab ibn-e adam
vale binish mein ranga rang aalam
[there live people of different religion, it is impossible to count them all
Although all are sons of Adam, they appear in all colors of the world]
The new Gujarat doesn’t believe in pluralism and it is better if a poet who sang about Gujarat and celebrated its pluralism and diversity remain buried in the ground and forgotten.
Arvind Rajagopal, Special political zone: urban planning, spatial segregation and the infrastructure of violence in Ahmedabad. South Asian History and Culture, 1947-2501, Volume 1, Issue 4, 01 October 2010, Pages 529 – 556.