A conversation that didn’t take place in Juhapura: Madhu Purnima Kishwar and Zahir Janmohamed
On 15 January, Kafila published an open letter to MADHU PURNIMA KISHWAR by ZAHIR JANMOHAMED. Three months later, Kishwar has sent us a response. Given below her response are comments by Zahir Janmohamed.
My apologies for the delay in responding to your “Open Letter” addressed to me through Kafila on January 11 2013.
Unlike most of those upset at my articles on Gujarat, you have been remarkably measured in your tone and tenor and also respectful in questioning my observations. However, the content of your letter annoyed me no end. I kept postponing my response in the hope that my annoyance at the absurdity of your chargesheet would subside over time. I honestly did not want to give you an angry or discourteous response so that the dialogic mode you established remained undisturbed.
However, as I began processing the enormous load of material I had gathered from Gujarat, my annoyance kept increasing at your jaundiced viewpoint. Therefore, I thought of letting the series of articles I am writing answer some of your questions. I had made it a point to ask all the questions you raised from Gujaratis I interviewed. At the end of my first series on Gujarat I would have written to ask you if you got your answers.
While you accepted my request for patience with grace, some of the self-appointed guardians of Secularistan kept needling me and made it out as if I was afraid to face your questions and therefore, avoided answering them.
So the following response is as much aimed at those who needled me on this issue than at you.
Let me clarify at the outset, the issue is not Narendra Modi. The real issue is the sinister distortion of political discourse in India by the Congress, by the Left and a range of NGOs claiming to be human rights activists but actually serving partisan interests of select political parties. Both Modi and BJP are being used as proverbial straw men to permanently polarize Indian polity on caste and religious lines with a view to keeping certain communities as captive vote banks. The Congress and Left have nothing concrete to offer to either Muslims or other marginalized groups they claim to have special fondness for. Their track record of governance is worse than dismal. Their main agenda is loot of public money and resources. They have calculated that the only way they can hold power is to convince people by hook or crook that there is no alternative to the Congress led UPA and that the BJP will exterminate religious minorities.
The entire “secular” paradigm has become a dangerous mask for the politics of divide and rule being practiced by the Congress party through tactics no better than what the British used, through lies worse than Goebbels could invent.
Why I Didn’t Want an Escorted tour of Muslim Bastis
As I have already explained on Twitter, I did not take on your offer of taking me around Juhapura and other Muslim settlements because I did not want a guided tour of Muslim settlements. I wanted to experience everything first hand, not through coloured prisms. Therefore, I went without using intermediaries. Not just you, I purposely avoided meeting all my old political activist friends in Ahmedabad because over the years I have heard and read them enough to know I will learn nothing new from them. Instead, I spent my time meeting unknown people and listening to them carefully and in detail. Almost all of my interviews are video recorded so that I don’t put words in other people’s mouths, even inadvertently. Fortunately, except for a couple of elite families of Juhapura– the kinds who live in palatial bungalows near the main road, no Muslim (or Hindu) was diffident or reluctant to talk to me.
I assure you I will visit all the places you wanted to take me to – Siddiqabad and Norol. I will also go and visit the building in Vastrapur were you say you were allowed to live only by hiding your Muslim identity. I will also meet Asif Bhai, the director of Crescent School in Juhapura, as well as your uncles Kiran and Himanshu, to hear their version of things. But I will talk to them by myself. All you have to do is to send me their phone numbers.
But before I take up the points raised by you, let me clear some of the misconceptions you have about me.
You say you were informed by your friends that I am deeply involved with the problems of uprooted Kashmiri Pandits. While I have engaged deeply with Kashmir and its diverse people, I have unfortunately failed to do justice to the grievances of Kashmiri Pandits. While I do believe that the Kashmir problem cannot be solved in a meaningful and enduring way without the safe return of the Kashmiri Pandits to their homeland in the Valley, I have engaged with them far less than I have with various Kashmiri Muslim groups and political parties. Most Kashmiri Pandits rightly hold it against me that I did not lend support to their cause in the way I engaged with Kashmiri separatists of all hues. I hope my actions will ultimately prove that my engagement with Kashmiri Muslims, including secessionists, was meant to bridge the politically engineered divide between Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir, and is therefore in the long term interest of all, including Kashmiri Pandits.
Your Questioning of the Gujarat Development Model
I don’t even want to respond to the figures and statistics you quote questioning the economic development of Gujarat under Modi or your allegations that the growth model is not inclusive for the following reasons:
The inclusiveness of Gujarat’s model has been endorsed by leading national and international experts. Everyone can’t be fooled for so long.
Gujarat has received the following awards among several others:
- United Nations Sasakawa Award in 2003 for outstanding work in the field of disaster management and risk reduction.
- Best Investment Environment and Most Economic Freedom Award by India Today in 2005.
- Best Bio State Award, 2007.
- Rajiv Gandhi Wildlife Conservation Award 2006, by Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India.
- E-governance award for the e-dhara project (aimed at computerization of land records).
- CAPAM Gold Award from Commonwealth Associations for Innovation in Governance.
- Asian Innovation Award in 2006 at Singapore from Wall Street Journal and the Financial Express for Chiranjeevi Yojana (initiative for reducing maternal and infant mortality rate)
- India Tech Excellence Award in 2009 by India Tech Foundation for Power sector reforms and initiatives.
- Nirmal Gram Award in 2010 to a village in Rajkot district in Gujarat by Government of India for sanitation facilities.
- ELITEX 2007- Best E-government State Award from Government of India
- Gujarat tops among 35 states of the country in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan
- Gujarat ranks 1st in the country in “Implementation of the 20 Point Programme” in 2010.
- UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award in 2005 for reconstruction of a Gurudwara damaged during the earthquake.
- Modi was voted No. 1 Chief Minister by the people, thrice consecutively in five years in the India Today-ORG MARG Survey (a unique recognition ever achieved by any CM in the country)
- Gujarat ranks No. 1 in The Economic Freedom Index instituted by Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in 2005. However, the then Director, Bibek Debroy was forced to resign from his post because the Congress High Command got enraged at an institution presided over by the Nehru Dynasty finding anything praiseworthy in Modi’s Gujarat.
- United Nation Public Service Award in 2010 for its role in transforming the delivery of public services and attention to grievances by application of technology.
- Innovation for India Award in 2010 in the public services category for “Jyotigram Yojana” for power and irrigation reform. The award was instituted by the Marico Innovation Foundation.
- Gujarat Power Corporation Ltd bagged an award in the category of “Best Renewable Energy Project in India and the World for 2012” for its 214 MW solar park, the largest solar farm in Asia.
- Award in “Top Investment and Infrastructure Excellent State in Energy and Power” category for 5 consecutive times since 2008 when the category was first introduced.
- Scope Award by Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, Government of India 2008
- National Award for Excellence in Cost Management in 2007 by the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants of India.
- National Award to Power Utilities of Gujarat in 2011 by Ministry of Power, Government of India.
- Award for Excellence in 2007 by Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India.
Incidentally, the Power Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia cancelled at the very last minute a ceremony organized by his own ministry to felicitate the top ranking distribution companies when he found out that four utilities from Gujarat emerged as the best among the 39 that were assessed. This shows the pettiness and absurdity to which the Congress party is stooping in trying to fix their bête noire because they don’t know how to fight him politically.
The vibrancy of Gujarat’s economy is visible on every street, on every road, in every city, town and village of the state. The sense of optimism and positive energy is palpable wherever one goes, including in Muslim settlements. If you choose not to see it, all I can say is that you have fallen in love with the image of tragic victimhood of your community. I have no cure for this malady.
Gujarat is the only state where agriculture is growing at over 10% per annum, where water table has risen in the last decade even though it is a drought prone state with large parts covered by desert. I will be telling that story in greater detail some point soon.
One earns the right to criticise only when one demonstrates the ability to recognize and appreciate the good in the person one is picking faults with. For you Gujarat has no redeeming features and Gujarati Muslims are the most wretched of this earth. You don’t like Gujarati Muslims who tell you they have never had it so good before. Even Shekhar Gupta–who is counted among Modi critics, not his fans–provided a graphic account of the visible signs of prosperity in rural Gujarat including tribal areas. Please do read these articles. (Conspiracy of the Lazy Faithful and Modi and the Art of the Sell)
In your obsession to paint everything in Gujarat in the darkest, most wretched colours, you can’t see one single positive thing in Gujarat. I am sure if I had said I had the best dhokla ever in Ahmedabad you would have protested saying that by supporting Modi, Gujaratis have lost the moral and culinary right to make good dhoklas.
You have taken exception to every single statement of mine on Twitter even though, in my view, I commented only on the most non-controversial issues and narrated facts as I saw them live before my eyes. Let us go over each one by one-just as you did.
Is the Rate of Crimes against Women in Gujarat Really Staggering?
You begin by objecting to my tweet: “North Indian friends in Ahmedabad took me for late night drive to see how safe Gujarat is for women-even on highways…photographs of young men and women on Ahmedabad streets well past midnight. Young men don’t have menacing presence.”
In response you fling National Crime Bureau figures at me saying, “The number of rapes [in Gujarat] increased from 408 cases in 2010 to 439 in 2011. When we look at other forms of domestic violence, this number becomes more staggering.” Then you go on to quote The Indian Express report of March 28, 2008 which says: “In a span of 12 years, more than 50,000 cases of violence against women have been reported from 12 districts of Gujarat. With 640 dowry deaths and 1,443 rape cases, the chart is topped by a staggering 14,998 cases of cruelty by husband and in-laws, followed by accidental deaths which are pegged at 14,631.”
At the end you casually add a rider “I recognize that these might be better than other states in India but the statistics show that violence against women in Gujarat is increasing.” If these are the kinds of facts and figures you are collecting by way of investigative reporting for your book on Gujarat, heaven help your readers!
Did anyone ever claim that Gujarat is crime free? Is any society in the world crime free? Whether a country or region is considered safe or unsafe, having low or high crime rate depends on how it compares with other places of comparable population size. Rape figures going up from 408 to 439 in one year is hardly an example of “staggering” crime rate or “staggering” increase in crime.
If you are so stagger-prone, I wonder what will happen to you when I tell you that Sweden is reported to have the highest rate of registered rape cases in Europe. It has been described as a world leader in this domain since according to BRA (a government agency tasked with preventing crimes) a total of 1091 rapes were reported during two summer months of June and July. Rape of children under the age of 15 has increased by 53%- from 192 cases recorded in June and July 2011 to 294 in the same two months of 2012. The Swedish police recorded the highest number of sexual offences in Europe – about 63 per 100,000 inhabitants. This was 3 times higher than the number of cases in neighbouring Norway and twice the rate in the Unites States and England. It was more than 30 times the number in India, which recorded about 2 offences per 100,000 people.
Do you need to be informed that countries with relatively better policing and a more responsive system of crime management register higher crime rates than those where the police are unaccountable and the judiciary so tardy that people dread walking into police stations or filing court cases? The same is true for states in India.
The state of law and order cannot be judged by crime figures alone because lower figures could mean under-reporting of crime. What really matters is public perception. For example, Delhi has come to be called the rape capital and one of the most unsafe cities of India, especially for women. It is rare to see young women take a post-dinner walk by themselves in Delhi. The fashionable elite may go out for late night parties to friends’ homes or visit fancy pubs and discotheques with male friends. But they are mostly in chauffer driven cars. You will not see them hanging out on the streets. The favourite hero of secularists, Nitish Kumar, is celebrated for making Bihar safe by bringing down crime. In Bihar, you will never see young people or families having fun on the streets after dark, leave alone past midnight.
In Gujarat, I saw numerous young women and families with children simply chatting on pavements or having chai, cold drinks or snacks. (For a detailed account read Nightlife in Ahmedabad)
Women of Gujarat: Depressed and suicidal?
You cite a report by an NGO that conducted research in 12 districts in Gujarat during 1995-2007. “As per this report, 7894 women committed suicide and 3006 women were abducted during this period.”
Is it your case that all these women committed suicide because of mal-governance of Narendra Modi? Are you not aware that women commit suicides mainly due to family tension–be it failed marriages or love affairs turned sour, an abusive husband, poverty, illness, death of a loved one, and a host of such reasons. Have female suicides stopped even in wealthy, well governed countries? The world over, the rate of male suicides is much higher than that of females. Does it mean men are far more oppressed than women?
The figure of 7894 women committing suicides in the 10 year period, meaning an average 789 per year can’t be considered abnormally high if you compare it to other states of India or others countries of the world. In the USA, 8087 females committed suicide in 2010 alone. In tiny England, 1493 females committed suicide in 2011. The suicide rate in Japan is 19.7 per 100,000 people. The figures are 13.8 in France, 17.3 in Finland, 14.3 in Switzerland, 10.2 in Canada, 10.5 in USA and 10.65 in Gujarat.
As for the 3006 women who you say were abducted from 1995-2007, the relevant questions to ask are:
How many cases pertain to post 2002 period and how many are from pre-Modi era?
Has the number of abductions increased in post Modi era or decreased?
In how many cases pertaining to post 2002 period did the police act responsibly in registering a complaint?
In how many cases of post 2002 abductions were the women recovered from their abductors?
How many of these were actually cases of elopements but registered by disapproving parents of the woman as cases of abduction?
Please don’t hurl figures at people without first processing them with a modicum of common sense.
Leniency in Punishing Rapists
My answer is similar when you fling rape figures of Gujarat. You quote a DNA news report which says that in Gujarat only 1 out of 5 got life term for rape and that in 50% of the case, the rapist had to serve only 6 to 10 years in prison. This figure would make any sense only if you compare it with what is happening in the other states of India and in other parts of the world.
If you were interested in real research, you would have investigated these cases and found out why 20% got life term for rape and the others got only 6-10 years. Please read the anti-rape legislation. You will then realize that 7 years was the maximum punishment for rape until the law was amended in 2013. A maximum of 10 year jail term was mandated only in cases of custodial rape. Please also find out the years of punishment in other countries of the world. The length of jail term is invariably determined by the severity of the crime. All rapes are not as brutal as that of Delhi’s Nirbhaya. Even in case of murder, these distinctions are made the world over.
If you stay stuck with this cut and paste variety of wisdom gathered from selective news clippings, you will not be taken seriously beyond the Hate Modi Club.
Are Women More “Unsafe” in Gujarat?
You also go on to describe a meeting sponsored by Apna Adda called “Rape and Me” at which female students from various universities in Ahmedabad said they no longer feel comfortable going out alone or with girls at night. To quote you, “One said she had faced so much sexual harassment in Gujarat that she is now advising girls to take self-defence classes.” Another woman reportedly told you that “At her college an elderly man flashed his genitals at her on three occasions. She said she rarely goes out past dark alone for fear of these incidents happening again.”
You say “parents [at Apna Adda]- many of whom were born and raised in Ahmedabad — said Gujarat was not always like this and that it is getting progressively worse.”
You tell me that in your two years of research you have met very few women in Gujarat who say they feel secure in Gujarat of today. I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this jaundiced statement because I heard a very different account from the numerous families and single women I talked to.
During my last visit I made it a point to be out on the streets well past midnight for 3 consecutive days. Over the weekend, I was out till 2:30 am. I saw countless young women and families with children out on the streets–not in discotheques or pubs. I also talked to women vendors doing brisk business at that late hour. I have provided photographs and snippets from those conversations in my article on the unique Nightlife in Ahmedabad.
Do you want me to disbelieve what I saw and heard on those two nights just because a few women you heard at a meeting on “Rape and Me” told you they feel nervous moving out alone? In my own neighbourhood, there are married women in their 50’s who will not step out alone after dark whereas I never think twice before going out alone– walking or driving– at all hours of the day or night. My confidence and ability to move in the city is as “factual” as the fear of those who feel nervous being out alone even at 7 pm. The only way to move beyond “he said” vs. “she said” approach, is to carry out a decent sized random sample survey of a large section of Gujarati society regarding their perceptions of safety and sense of security during Modi regime as compared to earlier regimes. Do they feel “more secure” or “less secure” now than earlier?
If Manushi had the financial resources to undertake such a survey, I would have commissioned it right away. If you can’t raise funds to commission an independent agency to do so, I will try to persuade those who can.
Cases of rape or sexual harassment take place in all societies, including those famed for efficient law and order machinery–such as Sweden, Canada, and Australia. You have lived abroad for so many years. Did you never come across a single case of rape, wife battering or murder of women in the US? Looks like you shut your eyes and ears when you are abroad and go there only to lecture about the wretched world of Muslims you have created as a nightmarish cocoon for yourself.
Was Gujarat more Safe for Women during Riot-Torn Decades?
Are you not aware that in the pre-2002 days Gujarat used to witness frequent riots which lasted weeks and sometimes months? Are you not aware that pre-2002 Gujarat used to have curfews for prolonged periods? Is it your case that women of Gujarat felt more secure during the riot torn decades? Are you not aware that Hindus and Muslims avoided going into each other’s neighbourhoods during the years when Gujarat was a tinderbox? Are you not aware that continuous history of riots involving murder, rapes, arson, loot create much greater insecurity and fear even among men, leave alone women? Mind you, it is not just Muslims who felt insecure in riot prone, mafia infested Gujarat of pre-Modi days. Hindus were no less insecure because there were as many politically patronised Muslim dons and mafiosi in Gujarat as there were Hindu mafias in the pre-Modi days. It is well known that Congress patronized Muslim dons while the BJP preferred Hindu dons. But the two collaborated closely when it came to riots. Therefore, retaliatory violence against Hindus was not unknown. Hindus were no less afraid of entering Muslim dominated areas like Godhra, Juhapura, Dariapur, Kalupur as the Muslims were of going into Hindu-only neighbourhoods.
Numerous well informed and credible people say this has changed because Modi’s politics needs neither Hindu dons nor Muslim mafiosi. That is why Keshubhai Patels and the Togadias are no less after his blood than the Congress sponsored secular brigade which have bestowed the halo of martyrdom on well-known mafia dons like Sohrabuddin and Prajapati.
Have you not noticed that Gujarat has been totally riot free in the last 11 years? Did you not feel relieved that even after the Pakistan inspired terrorist attack on Akshardham temple which led to the butchering of several Hindus, Narendra Modi government did not allow the tiniest bit of retaliatory violence? Likewise there was no retaliatory violence in Gujarat after serial blasts in Ahmedabad in 2008. The secular brigade insists on demonizing Modi and targeting him personally for 2002 riots even after the Supreme Court appointed SIT has exonerated him. Why not give him credit for riot free Gujarat for last 11 years — the longest ever in post-independence India?
All these incidents were easy to exploit had Modi been interested in fomenting hatred against Muslims. But the law and order machinery was kept under tight leash so that the Keshubhais, the Togadias and Zadaphias don’t get to exploit the situation.
Politics of Engineering Divides and Encashing Misery
If I were a Muslim, I would celebrate this resolve. Even as a Hindu, I feel elated when I hear Muslims of Gujarat tell me that they are happy at the way Modi has marginalised mischief mongers who instigate communal violence and keep the communities divided and polarized. As a Hindu who cares for the well-being of all Indians, including Muslims, I feel delighted that Muslims say they are prospering in Gujarat as never before because of social peace, good governance and inclusive development.
Why are you determined to cultivate a siege mentality among fellow Muslims? Any well-wisher of his community would be happy at the positive developments. Instead, you choose to write a book on how wretched the Muslims of Gujarat are and how things are “getting worse”.
I felt really angry and outraged when I read the following sentence in your “Open Letter”: “After I witnessed the Gujarat riots in 2002, I returned to the United States – where I was born and raised – and I gave lectures for six months about the violence I saw.” You inform me that since 2011 you are “conducting research”, collecting horror stories from the Muslim community. It would be instructive to know who is funding this research.
Tell me another country whose intellectuals start rushing to foreign shores to give lectures in American or European universities when there is trouble at home? If racial riots break out in the US, France, England, do intellectuals or human rights activists of those countries go globetrotting, holding conferences in foreign countries, asking governments of other countries to black list their own elected representatives and demonizing fellow citizens as mass murderers? Or do they work at home to help solve the problems, after careful examination of facts?
The campaign to have the US deny visa to Modi was unleashed at a time when George Bush was the President of America. Is his track record of human rights and dealing with Muslim countries so glorious that you guys petitioned his government to have Modi declared a criminal unfit to be allowed entry into any country? I don’t think I am being a nationalist jingoist when I say that no self-respecting Indian would appeal to an American President or a British Prime Minister to settle scores with a political opponent by having foreign governments certify him as a mass murderer- that too after he has been cleared by courts. This is all the more sinister since it all originates in American universities with the full backing of certain high placed American politicians. The latest fracas over Wharton is glaring only because an invite to Modi was cancelled following a vicious campaign by a handful of self-styled NRI leftists against the wishes of the student community which had initially invited him.
Is it conceivable that even the most diehard opponents of George Bush would ever force the hands of foreign governments to humiliate and demonise their elected president or even the governor of a state in order to settle scores with and stop his rise to power? The champions of Secularistan have not only hounded Modi but also demonised Gujaratis for having allegedly voted a “Hitlerian fascist” to power.
Even when Modi got invited to tiny Oman, the secular brigades ran a shrill campaign to have the invite cancelled. Have you guys even asked for visa bans on Saudi or Iranian dictators or Pakistani army generals and ISI chiefs who have unleashed mayhem not just in India but even in their own countries? Did you ever protest against the horrific track record of Omar Abdullah in Kashmir -whose government has killed innocents and locked up little boys under draconian law for protesting against his regime?
Asifa Khan, who left the Congress Party to join BJP echoed the sentiment of many when she said: “Even the Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab was given a fair trial by Indian courts though he was caught on cameras while on his killing spree. But Modi Bashers wanted him hanged before the courts had pronounced their verdict. Every time a court exonerates Modi, they cry foul. But when Congress men are indicted or jailed for their role in the 2002 riots, anti-Modi lobbies are quiet. What kind of “secular” human rights guardians are these?”
The hearts of India’s human rights community bleed very selectively. The latest riots under a Congress CM in Assam have uprooted lakhs of Muslims and Bodos who are living under inhuman conditions in refugee camps. No one’s heart is bleeding for them because a “secular” government presided over those massacres and uprootment by delaying the deployment of Army by almost 4 days. They are also not upset that Kamal Nath who played a foul role during the 1984 massacre of Sikhs is one of the most powerful central ministers of the Congress party. There is total amnesia that none of those who engineered communal killings in various cities of Gujarat in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s Meerut, Malliana, Bhagalpur, Jamshedpur, Hyderabad etc– all under the watchful eye of Congress chief ministers were even booked–leave alone punished.
Are Muslims Living Under Terror in Gujarat?
It is repeatedly alleged that Muslims are living under terror in Gujarat. Those Muslims who challenge this version even with a mild protest are hounded and forced to shut up as was Maulana Vastanvi. (Please read my detailed reports on Gujarat based on in-depth interviews with Muslims at www.manushi.in – just in case you have not done so thus far–to understand why this is happening.)
More important, hundreds of Muslims have won municipal, panchayat and zilaparishad elections on BJP ticket. Neither the Election Commission nor the media have found any evidence of bogus voting or booth capturing in Gujarat. This certainly merits a reconsideration of your views. If Muslims were living under terror, would the national media forever on the lookout for anti Modi stories have spared us details, considering they even cook up stories to defame Gujarat?
There has been mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits and other Hindus from Kashmir where there is real terror. Are you aware that there has been no exodus of Muslims of Gujarat? When did you last hear the secular brigade emote over the plight of Pandits? In the 1980s, the estimates for Kashmiri Pandits living in the Valley range from 100,000 to 300,000. Today, there are no more than 3000.
By contrast even those few families of Muslims who left Gujarat in the wake of 2002 riots to settle in more “secular” states run by the Congress or Left party regimes have returned to Gujarat. This includes Qutubuddin Ansari, the man who was made the iconic face of Gujarat riots. He went to live in Kolkata because he got sick of being advertised as the face of Muslim victimhood. As per his statements, that photo with folded hands was taken while he was being rescued by the police. Within a few months, he was back in Gujarat. He has recently filed a case against the repeated encashment of his photograph by certain NGOs despite his repeated protests.
In the 2001 census, Muslims accounted for 9.1% of the total population of Gujarat. As per the 2011 census, the figure has not declined one bit. Lakhs of Muslims from other states have come to Gujarat to avail of the growing economic opportunities in the state. Thus, the population of Muslims has increased, not decreased in Gujarat, if one were to include migrants who are not included in the census.
The Woes of Juhapura
As for your woes of Juhapura, let me tell you that when I walked through Juhapura, what I saw and heard from several unknown people I talked to does not match the picture you paint. I could see on the ground that Zafar Sareshwala’s account of the area and its politics is far more realistic that yours. Please read this account and look at the pictures I took of Juhapura in Modinama3. I want you to tell me concretely where that account is factually wrong.
Zafar’s account was further confirmed by a long interview with Abdullah Ibrahim Syed former Additional Director General of Police who lives in Juhapura after his retirement. By all accounts, he is a man of integrity and knows Juhapura intimately.
Instead of answering each complaint you have listed about Juhapura, I would like to pose the following questions to you:
Is it not true that parts of Juhapura are inhabited by wealthy Muslims with opulent bungalows? Is the infrastructure in these parts of Juhapura not far better than in sections inhabited by poorer Muslims?
Is it not true that in the last ten years new shopping and office complexes, private nursing homes etc. have come up in Juhapura? Are these signs of impoverishment of Muslims or new found prosperity?
Is it not true that property prices even in the relatively “poorer” sections of Juhapura are skyrocketing and the area is witnessing feverish new construction of middle class homes and even multi storey housing societies?
Is the difference in civic infra-structure between pockets inhabited by opulent Muslims and poorer Muslims not found in Hindu neighbourhoods?
What do you compare the poorer pockets of Juhapura to? Defence Colony or Shanti Niketan in Delhi or Pali Hill in Mumbai? Or do you compare them to Delhi’s Zakir Bagh and Seelampur?
Is it not true that many of Juhapura’s woes are on account of it being an unauthorized colony carved out by private builders without regard for municipal laws and regulations?
Is the state of affairs in unauthorized colonies inhabited by Hindus any better?
Most important of all, have the civic amenities in Juhapura improved or deteriorated in the last 10 years? Please ask people what was the state of affairs during Congress party rule, which you may not remember because you were away in America.
I would also like to remind you that all three municipal councillors elected in Juhapura are from the Congress party. I am sure you are aware that the local development work is under the charge of Municipal Corporation, not the chief minister. Juhapura has been cultivated for long as a Congress Party bastion. I was told by people in Juhapura that all three Congress councillors take very little interest in the development work of their constituency. Instead they are doing their best to pass the buck for their non-performance on to the BJP. Just as Shabnam Hashmi and Teesta Setalvad actively discourage Muslims from engaging with the BJP government to redress their grievances, so also these Congress Party councillors actively cultivate siege mentality among their community by depriving them of development work.
Gujarati Muslims tell me that the Congress Party systematically handpicks two kinds of Muslims: a) those who can act as rubber stamps and do not have it in them to stand up for their community’s well-being; b) Goonda elements who have made money from bootlegging and other illegal activities. For example, Samir Khan Pathan who won as the Congress Party candidate from Juhapura is the son of Wazir Khan, who made big money from bootlegging. And yet he has been appointed as the head of Minority Cell of the Congress Party.
You even challenged the fact that there is 24×7 power supply in all urban and rural households in Gujarat — a fact celebrated by every Gujarati I know– both rural and urban, rich and poor. When I mentioned to a Gujarat Government officer your complaint about power failure in your Juhapura apartment on the evening that you wrote your woe-filled ‘Open Letter’ to me, he asked me to check out the following with you:
Have the apartment owners in your building been paying their power bills on time? Was the power supply cut off due to non-payment of bills?
Was there a short circuit or some such technical fault in your building which led to power supply being disrupted?
If it was not due to either of the above two reasons, did you bother to phone or log on to the website of the power supply company and register your complaint? By all accounts, Gujarat Government has well-oiled machinery for responding to citizens’ grievances within a set time frame, including those pertaining to power supply.
As for your complaints regarding paucity of schools in Muslim settlements, please read what Zafar Sareshwala had to say about it at http://www.manushi.in/articles.php?articleId=1685. Since his family is engaged in providing quality education to Muslim children from poor families, and he is constantly helping his community build more schools, he is far better informed on the issue than you. This should provide you a reality check.
Zafar’s Account vs. Yours
The reason I trust Zafar Sareshwala’s account of Gujarat more than yours is precisely this: Zafar had a well-established business in London; he could well have stayed there and become a hero of the anti-Modi Brigade but he chose to return to India to serve his community at his own cost. He even surrendered his British Resident Permit. His two other brothers did the same– one returned from Canada and the other from Dubai. By contrast you went out on a lecture tour to the US right in the midst of disturbances. Even now you are not engaged in solving any problems. You want to convince the rest of the world that Muslims in India are a perpetually persecuted minority even if it means shutting your eyes to realities of life.
Sareshwala gets plenty of support from Hindus in his endeavours to solving the problems and internal challenges faced by his community. This is because he does not overstate or exaggerate the problems of his community. He also has the courage to tell them which of their problems are due to their self-harming ways and misguided politics which takes the community on the path of confrontation and self-destruction. That is why today he is one of the most respected figures in Gujarat– both among the Hindus and Muslims. For this he has not stopped picking up cudgels on behalf of wronged Muslims. Today, many Hindus also come to him to sort out issues.
Zafar is building effective bridges between the two communities; that is which is why he is hated by the champions of Secularistan who have created enough ill will among Hindus, Muslims and Christians in India by their irresponsible one-sided attacks demonising the Hindus and creating a siege mentality among Muslims and Christians. Their politics is as venal and divisive as that of Jinnah’s. His ideology led to a bloody Partition in 1947 because he managed to create a siege mentality among a section of Muslims and convinced them that they could not live in safety and dignity with Hindus in a secular democratic India. The Secularistanis are playing the same divisive game today with generous help from international donor agencies and even petro dollars. They have made India into the topmost target of Pakistani and other Islamic jihadis by creating a horrible myth that Indian Muslims are an endangered species.
Luckily, the Sikhs, Parsis, Jains, Bahais etc. never let the Secularistanis speak on their behalf.
Today Gujarati Muslims are also abandoning the divisive politics played in their name. Please let them write their own script and don’t come crashing down on them if they fall out of line, as happened with Maulana Vastanvi and even Zafar who has withstood vicious slander.
Some Important Tips for a Reality Check
In order to get a more realistic perspective of the status of Muslims and the challenges they face today, I suggest you go and spend a few years in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran and other Muslim countries some of which are ruled by real, hardboiled dictators. Please see how these rulers treat fellow Muslims. Go to Pakistan and look closely at the plight of Gujjars, Baluchis, Ahmedias, Shias, Khojas and others considered heretics to Islam. Spend time listening to the stories of Sikhs, Hindus and Christians in Pakistan. Please find out how the 25% surviving Hindu population of Pakistan following the partition of 1947 has been reduced to less than 2%. How has the 22% of Hindu population of Bangladesh in 1971 been reduced to 9.6% in 2011? Check out the fate of surviving Hindus and Sikhs. Go and observe the plight of Bahais in Iran, how South Asian workers–whether Hindu or Muslim are treated in Saudi Arabia.
When you have figured out the story of ethnic cleansing of non-Muslims in our neighbouring countries, try finding out how and why the number of Muslims has increased in India from 9.9% in 1951 to 13.4% in 2011. This when you and your biradari would have us believe that Indian Muslims are an endangered species. For the last several decades, it is not just Bangladeshi Hindus but also Bangladeshi Muslims who have been migrating in millions to India. Why is it that no Hindus or Muslims from India are migrating to Bangladesh?
Are you aware that almost all Pro-Pakistani leaders of Kashmir have bought houses and other real estate in various cities of India? They may get truckloads of hawala money from Pakistan’s ISI but they do not invest it in Pakistan. They find India – their enemy nation which they have sworn to destroy- much safer for their investments, holidays as well as children’s education and career advancement than Pakistan. Kashmiri Muslims who wanted guns went to Pakistan. Those who wanted education and new business and job opportunities migrated to other states of India. Compare the lot of those who crossed the border to Pakistan– how desperate most of them are to return to India– with the prosperity of those who sent their children to Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, Delhi or sundry other cities of India to study or set up new businesses.
M J Akbar was not off the mark when he wrote that given the growing domination of murderous version of Islam in Pakistani politics, India should not be surprised if one day millions of Pakistani Muslims knock at India’s borders seeking political asylum from the rulers of Pakistan– the land of the “Pak” (Pure) Jinnah created for them.
I assure you many of us will take good care of Indian Muslims while you are away studying these life and death issues faced by Muslims in Muslim majority and in totally Islamic countries. We promise to make sure all their legitimate grievances are given serious hearing and redressal. If your secular brigade stops demonising Hindus, the intrinsic values of our civilization and culture will assert far more vigorously and the deeply cherished culture of peaceful co-living with mutual respect will come into play unhindered.
Zahirbhai, I can’t help but end with my mother’s words of wisdom: “Makhi hamesha gand par jaakar baithti hai. Agar bahut hi saaf suthra sundar kamra bhi ho to makhi aisi koi gandi jagah dhoondegi jahan koi gand bach gaya ho. Saara saaf kamra chhod kar woh gand par jaakar hi baithegi. Tum gand dhoondne wali makhi nahi, madhumakhi ban kar jeene ki koshish karna. Madhumakhi neem ke ped par bhi baithti hai to uske kadwe phoolon mein se meethi shehad bana deti hai.” (The ordinary fly always goes and squats on filth. Even if it enters a shining bright spic and span room, the fly will hunt for a spot of dirt and ignore the clean parts of the room. You should avoid becoming a filth seeking fly. Instead learn from the honey bees who convert the nectar from even the bitter tasting neem flowers into sweet honey.)
Human rights activists remain credible and effective only if we:
Don’t overstate our case.
Are trusted by all communities as being non-partisan.
Know how to bridge divides rather than widen them.
Don’t make conflict mongering into a lucrative profession for ourselves.
I firmly believe that if elite sections of society start encashing the misery of fellow Indians for personal gain, they become a liability for their country and its people.
ZAHIR JANMOHAMED responds:
Dear Madhu ji,
Thank you for taking the time to respond to my open letter about your visit to Gujarat.
You have responded in great length (almost 7,000 words) and I appreciate the time you spent on this. I also appreciate how you have carried yourself with me on Twitter since I wrote my open letter to you. You have been courteous and respectful and I am grateful for that. I should also add that I have read your articles on Gujarat since then and while I disagree with many of your points, I appreciate your thoroughness and your enthusiasm for Gujarat.
However I was disappointed and saddened to read your response to my open letter. I realize this issue can be emotional. I also gather from your writing that you have, as I do, a genuine affection and love for Gujarat and its people.
But I regret the tone and the choice of language that you used.
In your response, you called my views “jaundiced” and you refer to my letter as the “absurdity of your charge sheet.” Elsewhere you make assumptions about me such as: “For you Gujarat has no redeeming features and Gujarati Muslims are the most wretched on this earth. You don’t like Gujarati Muslims who tell you they have never had it so good before.”
In fact you refer to my work as an “obsession” and that I can’t “see (a) single positive thing in Gujarat.” You call me “stagger prone” and you often—perhaps unintentionally—condescend to me by using phrases like “do you need to be informed…”
In fact you tell me outright: “Please don’t hurl figures at people without first processing them with a modicum of common sense.” You refer to my work as “research” (quotations yours) and you question my motives and whether I am “cashing in” on this work, which you say is not “real research.”
In another paragraph, you say that I am trying to “cultivate a siege mentality.” Most disappointing, you chose to end your letter with a story of a fly who always sits on filth. I want to believe Madhu ji that you did not mean to compare me to a fly but that reference makes me believe that you are indeed making this allusion.
This is odd—in your response to me, you compliment me for the tone I used in my open letter to you. You write: “Unlike most of those upset at my articles on Gujarat, you have been remarkably measured in your tone and tenor and also respectful in questioning my observations.”
When I wrote my open letter to you, my goal was the tone as much as the content. I know that you are a leading thinker in India and I was genuinely excited to meet you and to learn from you. And I still am.
In writing my letter, I was careful to be utmost respectful so that we could continue our dialogue and to meet in person one day. In fact after I wrote my letter, I waited a few days to publish it as I wanted to give myself time to reflect and to remove any references that may come across as a personal attack on you.
I am very sorry, then, that in your letter you have resorted to personal attacks. I had hoped for more and I firmly believe that it is possible to discuss Gujarat without resorting to such remarks.
A few weeks ago, I received an SMS from Asifa Khan, a spokesperson for the BJP in Gujarat who you have written about in Manushi. I met Asifa bhen when I appeared in the audience for Barkha Dutt’s “We the People” and Asifa bhen knew from that show how critical I am of the Gujarat government. Despite this, Asifa still reached out and we met for a two hour breakfast.
Asifa bhen and I disagree on most things and yet we had a delightful discussion. She took time to ask me questions and I did the same with her. I asked her about encounter killings, minority scholarships, and many more such topics. When I thought her answers were insufficient, she allowed me to challenge her. I respect this immensely about her. Both Asifa bhen and I want a better future for Gujaratis and I left our meeting thinking that she is a person who respects me, even though I spent two hours challenging her views. I should add that Asifa bhen also questioned my own views too, something I appreciate about her. Asif bhen and I were able to do this, I believe, because we did not use personal attacks. Our language was measured, careful, and always courteous.
In fact, I have many dear friends in Gujarat who support Narendra Modi and I do not cut them out of my life. I watch movies with them, laugh with them over chai, and engage them in discussion. I am sure they would love to change my views (as I sometimes wish I could change theirs) but life is never fun when we are all the same and I am grateful to have a diverse group of friends in Gujarat who respect me even when we disagree.
But since you have taken the time to respond to my letter, I want to respond to some of the points you made.
Why I didn’t want an escorted tour of Muslim bastis
I respect that as a leading social scientist, you do not want a personal guided tour. I only offered to introduce you to some people as I thought they might provide an alternative view from the one you present about Gujarat. But I apologize if I offended you by this offer. That was not my intention.
I also apologize for misstating your work on Kashmir. I respect that you have worked for all of Kashmir’s people and I am sorry in my open letter that I only cited your work on Kashmiri Pandits. That was incorrect and I regret that error.
As for meeting the people I mentioned, I would be delighted to email you their contacts. However I cannot disclose the name of the building that I lived in using the fake Hindu name “Sanjay.” My friend still lives there and if his society were to find out that he had a Muslim staying with him, I fear he might face repercussions. As you pointed out correctly, not everything in Gujarat is about Modi and this housing issue is not about Modi. But I have seen and witnessed many of the prejudices of residents in that building and I do not want to cause trouble for my dear friend who still lives there. I trust you understand.
Your questioning of the Gujarat development Model
When you came to Gujarat, you posted a message on Twitter saying that you did not want to respond to personal attacks but that would respond to statistics. But in your open letter, you write, “I don’t even want to respond to the figures and statistics you quote.”
I am sorry you feel that way and I will let the reader make her/his mind about the figures and statistics that you and I have each provided.
I do, however, take offense to this line: “For you Gujarat has no redeeming features.”
I am not sure how you came to such a conclusion. In my articles, I have been careful to speak to a wide number of people. In my first post for Kafila, for example, I included a quote by a Shia Muslim in Juhapura who said that despite its faults, Gujarat is still a much better place to live than Pakistan, given the anti-Shia violence in Pakistan.
You say that I would protest you even if you complimented the dholka in Gujarat. I am sorry that you see me as so petty that I would complain about such things. There are many things I admire about Gujarat (especially its food!!) and I would not be doing this project if I did not love Ahmedabad and its people. To assume that I dislike everything in Gujarat is unfair. It is also rude.
Please do not assume that I walk around complaining about life in Gujarat. I do not. I am inspired each day by the people I meet in Ahmedabad who are trying to create a better life for themselves, people like Asif Khan Pathan of the Crescent School who started a school against great odds. You can read my article about him here.
Is the rate of crimes against women in Gujarat really staggering?
I respect that you have had a different experience in Gujarat. As a woman, you are in a much better place to comment about the experience of being a woman in Gujarat.
In my letter, I was attempting to show that while Gujarat fares better than other states, there are many challenges for women, something I have observed in my interviews.
I will not respond to each of your points about women in Gujarat but I want to address this rather hurtful line in your letter: “You have lived abroad for so many years. Do you never come across a single case of rape, wife battering or murder of women in the US? Looks like you shut your eyes and ears when you are abroad and go there only to lecture about the wretched world of Muslims you have created as a nightmarish cocoon for yourself.”
One out of three women in the US is a survivor of violence against women. In my life, I have had family members, colleagues, and girlfriends all suffer the indignity of violence against women. When I was a director at Amnesty International, I fought with my colleagues for passage of the Violence Against Women Act and I arranged many discussions about violence against women, including discussions about violence against women in the Muslim-American community.
I do this not only because I care but because this issue hits home: I have seen loved ones suffer because they have been abused. I will never forget when a dear friend showed up at work with bruises on her face after her boyfriend beat her.
I am not sure what to say to you, Madhu ji. I am sorry that you assumed that I have never, as you wrote, “come across (this).”
Politics of Engineering Divides and Enchasing Misery
You say that I am writing a “book on how wretched the Muslims of Gujarat are and how things are ‘getting worse.’”
I am not. I am writing a book to memorialize my own experience witnessing the riots and the experience of so many others who survived. I believe there is a responsibility in what we see in life and I am trying in some small way to pay tribute to what I saw. I am also trying to learn about a state that my family called home for generations and this book is a tribute to the generations of my family who are buried in Gujarat.
You say that you “felt angry and outraged” when I mentioned that I gave lectures about Gujarat in the US.
Let me share a brief story. My grandparents left Gujarat in 1925 for Tanzania, where my parents were born and raised. I grew up in California and my father, a proud son of the coastal city of Dar Es Salaam, wanted me to learn about the country he so dearly loves. As a young boy, he took me to conferences each year on Africa, especially those that had Tanzanian speakers.
I am grateful that speakers from different countries came to speak to us in California. It gave me a more nuanced, personal understanding of Africa and I believe lectures like these are critical. Were these speakers coming to the US to complain? Yes sometimes they were critical of African politics. But their purpose was to foster understanding in people like me who did not have the chance to grow up in Tanzania like my father.
Likewise when I returned to the US after the 2002 riots, I wanted to speak to Indian American audiences to help them understand what was happening in India. I did not do this to push an agenda—I did this because I wanted to given Indian Americans another view on India, in the same way I benefited from Tanzanian speakers on their visits to California.
As for cashing in on those speeches, this is not true. I almost always paid for my own travel and I almost always stayed with friends to save money. In fact I accrued credit card debt to give these speeches.
The idea that I made money off this is incorrect—in fact, I have done this work at a great personal sacrifice. As I have written before, I quit my job in the US Congress in 2011 to do this research and I have funded this research on my own based on my nine years of savings from working in Washington DC.
I have only received one sponsorship, from the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, but that was a fellowship for emerging writers that was unpaid and I spent the bulk of my time at the Grotto working on a short story fiction collection that is completely unrelated to Gujarat.
As for the issue of America’s double standard in speaking out, I agree. The Bush administration presided over some of the worst abuses and I was a very vocal opponent of these policies, as I am of the Obama administration. At Amnesty International, I was the lead advocate on a report that outlined US torture practices in US run prisons in Iraq and I have never been shy to criticize the country of my citizenship.
My work has not been limited to India and I believe America’s outsized role in the world comes with a responsibility to act justly, which the US has very often failed to do. In many cases–most cases, actually—the US does get it wrong.
With the Modi visa, the US was simply following its own laws, in particular the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. This was a decision made by the State Department and as much as activists may want to take claim for this, the decision was made by the US government based on a reading of its own laws and on Modi’s inactions during the 2002 riots.
The Woes of Juhapura
You mention here Zafar Sareshwala’s views on Juhapura. I met with him recently and I have given my word to Zafar bhai that I will not comment on his views until we sit down for a longer interview. I want to respect that promise to him.
As for Juhapura, we can chose to disagree respectfully. My articles are based on my experiences as a resident of the area.
Yes I know that illegal construction is rampant in Juhapura, as it is elsewhere in Gujarat, but I do not believe this legitimizes the lack of basic amenities that the area does not receive.
As for the issue of electricity, I owe you an apology. I thought there was a power problem in Juhapura but I was wrong. It was a problem with my building only. But on the other issues such as the lack of water or schools in Juhapura, I still stand by my initial views and experiences that services are not provided to Juhapura. I have indeed spoken to each of the three corporators and I have seen each of them struggle to get roads and gutter lines for residents of Juhapura, as others enjoy in Ahmedabad.
I have also seen the unfortunate politics that the Congress party has played, including denying Sabir Kabliwala a ticket, a regrettable move that I wrote about here. The Congress has failed Gujarat just as the BJP has, something I mention in the above article.
But my writing and my interest is not about the BJP or the Congress. It is about my desire to see my neighbors in Juhapura have access to better schools and roads, something I know the corporators have tried to procure with little success from the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.
Zafar’s Account vs Yours
As I mentioned above, I will not comment on Zafar bhai. I have seen him a few times only briefly but I want to hear his views in depth before I respond. Is he the most respected Muslim in Gujarat? Well it depends on who you ask. I know many who would disagree with that statement and I have withheld my own views until I spend more time with him.
Likewise I have met with AI Saiyed, a former BJP candidate, but I have chosen not to write about him yet as I have not had the chance to meet with him recently. But as soon as I do, I will write his story too as I enjoyed the brief time I spent with Saiyed sahib.
As for your statement, “Even now you are not engaged in solving any problems. You want to convince the world that Muslims in India are a perpetually persecuted minority even if it means shutting your eyes to realities of life.”
I am sorry you feel that I have shut my eyes. I have worked hard to meet whoever I can and to listen to whoever will speak with me. I am sorry this is not enough for you.
And yes, you are right—I am not engaged in solving any problems. As a writer, I have been careful not to create false hope. I am not an NGO person dispensing services. I cannot promise to fight someone’s legal battle. When a politician asked me to write his speech in Ahmedabad, I refused. I am here to write my own story and the story of others in Gujarat and to pay tribute to my friends who died in 2002.
Some Important Tips for a Realty Check
You write that I should “go and spend a few years in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Egypt and other Muslim countries.”
In fact, I have visited 44 countries, many of them in the Muslim world. For nearly four years, I served as the Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International where I testified in the US Congress about abuses of workers in the UAE, organised workshops about the lack of religious freedom in Iran, held press conferences about violence against women in Saudi Arabia, and spoke up about domestic violence in Egypt.
As for Pakistan, my father’s cousin, Dr. Sibtain Dossa, was assassinated in anti-Shia killings in Karachi on April 2, 2000. I wrote about his murder here.
I have faced discrimination and humiliation as a Shia Muslim in places as far and wide as Mecca and yes, even in the US. In fact I was so appalled by the intra-Muslim discrimination and marginalization of Islam’s religious minorities that I briefly started and ran a non-profit to combat this very mistreatment.
It is unfair to assume I have not faced or experienced this. I am not one to complain only when Muslims are the victims, as your letter’s title “Victimhood as Religion” may suggest. I have also spoken out when Muslims are the aggressors and you will find that I have a long track record of standing up to my fellow Muslims. I should also add that I am not making any claims that Gujarati Muslims suffer the most or suffer more than this group or that group, as you have implied. This is not a competition of who hurts more.
The reason I write these stories is that I am a Gujarati. And in some small way I hope I can give voice to those who are drowned out, unheard, or belittled in Gujarat. In my letter, I tried to present an alternative view in hopes you would respond to me with a similar tone and tenor and I hope we can continue our discussion in a respectful manner.
I am in California right now visiting my parents but I hope we can meet when I return. I still believe there is much I can learn from you and I look forward to continuing this discussion in person. Wishing you my very best.
With Fondness and Respect,
April 16, 2013
More on Gujarat from Kafila archives:
- A conversation that didn’t take place in Juhapura
- The urban-rural divide in Modi’s Gujarat
- Nivedita Menon: We remember Gujarat 2002.And we know you’re lying about development
- Rahul Verma: Gujarat vs. Himachal Pradesh
- Ayesha Khan: Of Shared Spaces and Experiences in Gujarat
- Reza Noorani: Reflections of a Refugee from Modi’s Gujarat
- RB Sreekumar: On the low morale of the Gujarat Police
- Urvish Kothari: We, the People of Gujarat
- Ayesha Khan: Three stories of resilience from Gujarat
- RB Sreekumar: Gujarat genocide – the state, law and subversion
- Zahir Janmohamed: When an April Fool’s Day joke is not funny
- Zahir Janmohamed: On Narendra Modi’s strange bedfellows in Washington DC
- Zahir Janmohamed: Sanjay and me