“Taslima has been courageous in speaking out against fundamentalists. If the Central government cannot look after her, send her to Gujarat. The people and government of Gujarat will look after her. I have the courage to protect her,” the Chief Minister said while addressing an election meeting in Botad town of Bhavnagar district.
Walking through a narrow road with slums on both the sides, I suddenly took a turn and to reach Siyast Nagar, most popularly know as Bangali Waas (Residence of the Bengalis). I just had to walk down a slope to get close to the colony. The overpowering stench from Chadola talav was in the air, after a while I got used to the stench as I could no longer cover my nose and walk around.. There were files everywhere, on playing children, on resting elders, sleeping infants’ stored water, everywhere.
Small children only with their short pants and with running nose, were all around the place, playing with the dirt and some broken toys. I sat with some men and women talking to them, suddenly a young boy came up to me and showed me his license and his voting ID card, and he said that I also have my ration card, he asked me, “Isn’t this proof enough of me being an Indian citizen’ This question troubled everyone, sitting around, men, women, children everyone. The young lad told me that the police had picked him up the other day, and demanded money, when he refused he said I’ll book you under 151, the boy tried to argue but in vain, the police man, showered him with blows.
In this very area, last year four older women were picked up, all the women were above 50, they were sent back to Bangladesh, these women who have lived all their lives here do not even know a single soul there (Bangladesh), have been left to the mercy of strangers. Such incidents are very common in this area; there are about 250 families that live here. The living conditions of these people are deplorable, no facilities of any sort can be found here. When the Chandola Talav (Chandola Lake) over flows, the residents of this area run with their belongings to neighbours homes as their houses are flooded with water, this happens very often. It’s a Muslim dominated area, during the 2002 violence, all the houses in this area were burnt down to ashes. Post the violence, some organization from Hyderabad had rebuilt their houses.
There is a constant fear of the police, if there is anticipated tension in the city, the people from this area, especially the men, sleep either at their friends place or just move away from their residence leaving their children, and come back in the morning to meet their kids. This place has become a soft target for the police, as they can come anytime of the day or night and pick up people and demand money, the residents feel so helpless, in spite of having all proofs of being Indian citizens. Very few children go to school, not every one is educated in this area, and many families have sold house hold items to release their family members. Innocent people are picked up, leaving the family stranded.
It is difficult to decide whether in India it is bad to be a Muslim or a migrant from a Muslim country. If you are a Muslim, khaki shorts will haunt you, and if your are a migrant both the khaki shorts and uniform. Muslims from India are constantly asked to go to Pakistan when they are born in this country and live this culture, Muslims settled here for life definitely are discriminated. Muslims have to constantly negotiate for their citizenship, are they really free in India.
Do these people living in this area deserve this treatment, when the CM of Gujarat pledges to protect Taslima Nasreen, may be the CM is aware of this section of the society but will pledge to protect them in the next election campaign.
——————————————————–By Johanna Lokhande.