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Seeing Pakistan from Juhapura: Zahir Janmohamed

December 28, 2012

Guest post by ZAHIR JANMOHAMED

Since I started conducting research in March 2011 about the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots, I have learned that the worst way to begin a conversation with a Muslim here in Ahmedabad is to ask about the 2002 riots. I was an eye-witness to the riots in 2002 and I thought my experiences might make some Muslims in Gujarat feel more comfortable speaking with me. I was wrong.

Sometimes I had to interview a person four or five times before they felt comfortable speaking about the 2002 riots. The reasons are varied. Some feel there is no use speaking about the riots as they know justice will never come under Narendra Modi’s watch. Others feel exploited by NGOs and Islamic groups who have used their stories to raise funds for their organizations abroad. And others, as one rape survivor told me, do not want to “relive the trauma.”

But if you ask Muslims in Ahmedabad about Pakistan, chances are you will walk home with a notebook full of comments. Earlier this week I went around my neighborhood of Juhapura—an area pejoratively known as “mini Pakistan”—and asked residents for their comments on Pakistan. The answers are telling.

One 24 year old named Arastu, who was forced to flee his home in the 1992 and 2002 riots and ran a tutoring program for children of riot victims in Juhapura, had this to say:

Growing up in Gujarat, even if a Muslim has nothing to do with Pakistan, he or she will often be expected to prove their patriotism to India and ‘thus’ hatred for Pakistan, the most visible examples of which can be felt during an India v/s Pakistan cricket encounter. As a result of these enforced emotions, my view on Pakistan is a bit like my view on Muslims. I am very critical of them myself but don’t feel the best when someone else criticises them because I am known as one myself.

However when I think about Pakistan disconnecting myself from past experiences, I am fascinated by stories of their music, films, royalty and kind treatment to Indians but besides these, I don’t have much of an opinion on them. Just another country.

The Hindu-Muslim 'border' near Juhapura

The Hindu-Muslim ‘border’ near Juhapura

Another Juhapura resident, currently posted abroad with an NGO, sent me this comment:

The country never even comes to my mind unless of course when these bunch of rightwing jokers rabidly ask Muslims to go to Pakistan.

But most people I interviewed told me they are exhausted at being called a Pakistani.

Even if I like the way Shahid Afridi plays, will I tell you? Maybe I will tell you because you are Muslim. But I will not tell others (ie Hindus) because then they will say, “See you love Pakistan more!” But this is not fair. What if we just like his bowling?

One store owner told me that he has cousins in Pakistan and that he is tired of being told he should hate Pakistan.

Because of Facebook we can chat and see pictures of each other’s kids. I love Pakistan. Why not? Some of my family lives there and I love my family. But I will not say this in public. People already say Muslims do not belong in Gujarat. Can I not love India and Pakistan both?

Perhaps the biggest change people in Juhapura tell me is that they no longer tolerate Muslims who cheer for Pakistan. From an NGO head:

Earlier, an odd Muslim or would light crackers when Pakistan won. We tell them they are stupid. Do not do such things. It will only harm all of us.

One of my most memorable interviews was with Guddu bhai, my local paan wala, who I tried to decipher as he spoke with a mouth full of supari. I think he had this to say:

People say I should hate Pakistan. Why? They are people. For me the only country we should hate as Muslims is Israel.

A young Juhapura resident I spoke with said that he hates Pakistan. He has been called “Pakistani” so many times that he hates hearing that word. But if any of his Hindu friends bash Pakistan, he says he feels the need to defend Pakistan. When I asked him why he does his, he shrugged his shoulders. “I am not sure. It is like that only.”

For Shia Muslims residents in Juhapura, Pakistan is a place to fear, given the rise of anti-Shia violence there. One Shia business owner told me:

There is no comparison. In Juhapura no one bothers me for being Shia. In Pakistan I think they will kill me. So India is better. Obviously.

An apartment wall at the Hindu-Muslim 'border'

An apartment wall at the Hindu-Muslim ‘border’

Another business owner whose store is near what is known as the Hindu Muslim “border,” told me that he gets nervous when an India-Pakistan match takes place. He remembers as a child when people teased him for being “Pakistani” if India lost to Pakistan. So he learned to be the loudest to cheer for India.

It used to bother him, but now he just regards it as an inconvenience. Outside his business is a sign on the main road welcoming people to Juhapura. It reads:

Saare Jahaan se Achha Hindustan Hamara (Of all the countries, India is the best)
Juhapura: Aap nu hardik swagat kare chhe (Juhapura welcomes you graciously)

The first line is from an Urdu verse by Allama Iqbal. The second line is in Gujarati. There are few other greater symbols of what the Gujarati Muslim identity means than this sign. But residents in Juhapura have been called “Pakistani” so many times that they do not believe the sign will make any difference.

Indeed I heard these comments myself when I registered my apartment with the police station. “Be careful,” a very kind Hindu police officer told me as he handed me my apartment permit. “The area (Juhapura) you are living is called ‘mini-Pakistan.’ There are many anti-social people there. Many ISI people are staying there.”

I had explained to him earlier that I came to India from California to learn about my roots and my family’s history in India. But that still did not stop him from asking if I was Pakistani.

As one person in Juhapura told me this week, “We say we love India and we will keep saying it. We believe it. But will others?”

(Zahir Janmohamed is a freelance writer living in and writing about Juhapura, the Muslim neighbourhood of Ahmedabad. He previously served as the Advocacy Director for Amnesty International and Senior Foreign Policy Aide in the U.S. Congress. He tweets as @ZahirJ.)

From Kafila archives:

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Chowdhury Zaman Haider permalink
    December 28, 2012 9:22 PM

    riot is a part of life in India. I was born ,educated in India, I had a very narrow escape in Jamshedpur in 1964 and after that I felt that muslims can live in India only as second class citizens.czh

    • January 4, 2013 1:53 PM

      Thats 49 years ago. But India is not such a bad place for those you think are second class citizen. Some of them has been Foreign Minister, Chief Justice of Suprem Court, Chief of Information Bureau, Chief Election Commissioner and commissioned rank in Indian Army.
      But more importantly a Owaisi has as much freedom to peddle his communal fare as, say a Togadia or a Modi has.

  2. Ramesh Narendrarai Desai permalink
    December 28, 2012 9:35 PM

    Indeed the situation is intriguing. When one has to prove being a patriot, it is indeed a bad situation. A muslim friend of mine stayed for a day with me. When we were passing by a temple, he did a pranam as some Hindus do. I asked him why he did so. He said, his mother was a Moreslam, a community, I am told, that follows both Islam and Hinduism. He therefore automatically pays his obeisance while passing by the shrines of either religion. Being an agnostic, I do not do so. There are all kinds of people in the world. Let us learn to respect each other. Why label someone as a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian ?

  3. G Shah permalink
    December 28, 2012 10:21 PM

    Dear Zahir

    As a recent migrant to Gujarat, a Muslim by chance and a fellow resident of Juhapura who hasn’t seen a riot. I have also felt a variety of emotions here.

    I guess, I have come to hate myself being a Muslim. I make every effort to discard and hide that identity. Instinctively I keep on emphasizing the proof of my Indian identity including criticizing Pakistan and any Islamic heritage. Everyday conversations with my colleagues are stressful, all stress on my part to keep it neutral, emphasizing the “moving on” part and stressing on the “development” here. Not very different from a “self hating jew”.

    Rare frank conversations with fellow Juhapura residents / Gujarati Muslims are equally depressing. The recurring question – “what have we done?”

    Depressing to realize what this Gujarat experiment is doing to Muslims.

  4. Akash Bhattacharya permalink
    January 4, 2013 8:02 AM

    Dear Zahir,

    I am a JNU student who recently visited Ahmedabad and went to see Juhapura. I had read that it is a ghetto and that it is. I had also read that the area is discriminated against, and there are even lack of basic amenities. However I felt a bit unsure about that after visiting the place. if one compares this with Muslim ghettos in Kolkata, Delhi, and many other places, Juhapura appears quite well-off. In Kolkata or Delhi you barely get to see bungalows and well-built apartment blocks. Now that has left me a bit confused. Have my eyes missed some part of the picture? Or is it that there is some affluence but its severely lacking when compared to the Hindu residential areas in Ahmedabad? And how true is the story that Muslims from Juhapura have prospered in business, including real estate, in the last 5-7 years, like never before? This has been told to me by a friend who belongs to the BJP so I don’t quite believe him.

  5. Ramesh Narendrarai Desai permalink
    January 4, 2013 8:49 PM

    After reading others’ comments, I think that one views Juhapura according to one’s pre-disposition but the writer of this post appears to be much more balanced than the commentators.

  6. January 19, 2013 9:09 AM

    Not sure what is really expected here. I dont feel home or any comfortable when I go inside those small gullies in old hyderabad where only muslims live.

    I think there lot about individuals and same set of people as group.

    It is about people mindset that need to change.

    Modi or sonia gandhi may not do everything.

  7. janashirkhan@gmail.com permalink
    April 28, 2014 4:29 PM

    In India, the governance, judiciary, police, and all authority is in the hands of the Hindus. Pakistanis come to India because the Hindus invite/allow them for matches, to make a career in bollywood, cultural programmes, etc. Indian cricket team goes to Pakistan, which is again allowed by Hindus or promoted by them. Muslims never invite Pakis to India so who loves Pakis? The Hindus are more in love with Pakis than Muslims of India. When Bilawal Bhutto came to India on a Hindu (government) invitee, he was treated like a Hollywood star. Who is more in love with Pakistan? I feel the Hindus should question their patriotism rather than questioning Muslims of India, who have nothing to do with an arrogant and idiotic neighboring state! I gave this pure fact to a Hindu who had got into an argument with me and ended it with the statement that next time you tell a Muslim to go to Pakistan, you should remember that it is you and not him, who should go to Pakistan!

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