Ahmedabad

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Athar Parvaiz
If Delhi Metro has eased off traffic travails of Delhiites and has revolutionised the mobility in the city, BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System) is almost equally effective in Ahmedabad. Started in 2009, BRTS system provides a separate route to BRTS busses enabling them to avoid traffic jams and speedy arrivals at stations.

No horns honk from behind or from front, nor do the BRTS busses need a conductor blowing whistle for passengers to alight or get on the bus. These busses cater to the passengers within 57-kilometer radius fulfilling mobility needs of up to one lakh people every day in Ahmedabad, a city which is in a state of rapid urbanization.  

The BRTS has failed everywhere in India, but has achieved huge success in Ahmedabad. Is it Modi’s magnetism? Not really. It is actually the mindset of the people of Ahmedabad which is more instrumental.

These enterprising people love development and are quite receptive to new ideas and developmental projects. They have not even minded the construction of an ambitious river-front project by the Gujarat government – the river-front, according to experts is fraught with risks.

But BRTS is worth the support and involvement of people. Another 115 kilometers are going to be added to the BRTS road network in the coming phases. This would make the mobility in Ahmedabad, enjoyable.

Srinagar is currently facing a huge mobility challenge with traffic jams becoming a routine affair. Our public transport is too bad to take care of people. Is it time to think of a similar model for Srinagar?

Wearing Revolution on Sleeves
An Egyptian journalist, Lina Elwardani, who I met twice in Ahmedabad, literally wore the Egyptian revolution on sleeves. We are proud to have toppled Mubarak, read a slogan on her T-shirt when I first met her. And next time, I saw her wearing a deep-blue T-shirt with the slogan We Are Egyptians without Any Agenda.

Both the slogans were in Arabic language. As I made a little sense of the slogans in Arabic, I asked her to translate them for me. About the second slogan, she told me that they had to think of the slogan because they were getting mistaken for pro-Mubarak protesters who were having the particular agenda of defending the Mubarak regime; that is why they had to say it specifically that they were Egyptians, but without any agenda.
Lina shared with me some horrible moments which they had to face during protests. Here is her personal account of one of the worst police actions on peaceful protesters:

The demonstrators, who were mostly young people not affiliated with any political party, were walking peacefully down the cornice (save for their chanting) when suddenly a group of police thugs stopped them, started firing tear gas grenades, and began fiercely beating down on everyone, chasing them as they tried to get away. People tried to flee up the bridge, but they were followed, and I saw them grab a colleague journalist and poet Mohammed Kheir. They started beating his face, seeming to focus on his eyes, and dragged him all along the corniche.

In one swoop they then dragged film maker Hala Galal, her husband Samy Hossam the script writer, and myself. They slapped Hala on the face, and almost broke her knee in the process of dragging her to a hired microbus. Samy Hossam was beaten, and his shirt was torn as they dragged him to the van too.
With me, they grabbed my hair, beat me in the back, on my leg and then my face. They dragged me to the microbus too. Throughout it all, they sprayed us with tear gas, or something like that — it had a pungent smell and it made it very hard for us to breath.

The microbus left instantly and kept roaming inside dark streets in down town, while the two police thugs kept insulting and threatening us and calling us bad names: “We will show you”, they said, “Because of you we haven’t slept for two days,”. “You bastards….”

How did it feel Lina? I asked her. “It was a pleasant experience,” she said while alluding to the end-result. Long live revolution!  

Still Struggling to Unwind  
Time has healed some wounds, but the memories of horror live on here in Ahmedabad, the cultural and commercial hub of Gujarat and western India. Noor-u-Din, a shopkeeper whom I met in Naroda Patiya, was reluctant to speak when asked if he was happy with the way he lives.

“I don’t want to get into any sort of trouble,” he told me in a curtly tone outside his small hutment at Jawaharnagar in Naroda Patiya , which witnessed 90 killings when Gujarat was engulfed by communal riots in year 2002.  

More than 1200 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in these riots though unofficial estimates put the figure at more than 2000.

After prodding Noor-u-Din for a while, he explained a few things. “Look my brother, things are not as simple as you believe them to be,” he said. “Had it been that way, you wouldn’t see those paramilitary troops patrolling here.”

But the presence of paramilitary troops doesn’t mean, he has shed his fears altogether. He was not ready to take any risk and strongly prohibited me taking his picture and publishing it. “I am doing a very small business; I don’t want to create any enmity for myself. I even hesitate to demand money from those who buy on credit from me,” he said appending this striking one-liner: “this should give you enough indication.”   
 
I later decided to call on Dr Hanif Lakdawala, a social activist, who works for communal harmony in Ahmedabad. Lakdawala, who has a secular image, elaborated what Noor had earlier alluded to. His account further attested to the fact that Muslims of Gujarat are feeling insecure and have the feeling that they are second-class citizens.

 “This is all because of the 2002 riots and the approach adopted by the Modi-government,” he said.

Muslims also find themselves discriminated against when it comes to availing basic amenities of life. Lakdawala cites the example of Juhapura and Vejalpura, two adjacent localities in western Ahmedabad. “While Vejalpur, a Hindu-dominated area has grown into a posh locality, Juhapura, a Muslim dominated area has remained a slum with no basic civic amenities like drinking water and metalled roads though both the localities have come into existence simultaneously,’’ said Lakdawala.

“Having a population of half a million, Juhapura has neither a hospital nor any school or college.”

Inter-community interface is facing a serious challenge with Muslim families cuddling up in ghettoes because of “insecurity.” This according to Lakdawala is a serious concern. “It will have huge impact on the behavior of people. In a multi-religious society, people ought to know each others’ religion and social values, but this will become difficult when they pull in different directions,” opined Lakdawala.

Dr Shakeel Ahmad, another social activist, whom I met at his office of Islamic Relief Committee, gave a similar account. He told me that the Modi government was yet to release the ex-gratia relief of Rs 150,000 each for those who were killed in the riots while the union government “has long before given its share of Rs 3,50,000.     

He and his various other colleagues, including Hindu and Christian activists, are relieved over the fact that they were able to reopen 2170 cases, which had been “summarily rejected by the Modi administration for lack of evidence.”     

In a recent presentation Relative Development of Gujarat and Socio-Religious Differentials Chief Economist at New Delhi-based National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER), Dr. Abusaleh Shariff put in figures, the discriminations faced by the Muslims in Gujrat.

He said in his presentation that Gujrat is one of the most developed states of India which has a paved road network, 98 percent electrified villages with 80 percent electrified homes and 18-hour electricity everyday, 86 percent piped-water supply, but Muslims are not benefiting from this growth.

According to Dr Shariff, urban poverty among Gujrat’s Muslims is eight times more than high-caste Hindus and 50 percent more than OBCs (Other Backward Classes).

“Muslims are educationally deprived: despite 75 % enrolment of Muslim children in primary schools, a mere 26% reach matriculation. This is against 79% enrolment of others, except lower castes, 41% of who make it to matriculate levels,” he said.

Dr Shariff went on to reveal that Gujarat is the only large state that had not implemented pre-matric scholarships for minorities, a Central government initiative, for 55,000 students, which included 53,000 Muslims along with other minorities.

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