Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Gujarat connection?

Some of the speculation related to Tuesday's terrorist attacks in Bombay suggest that the Gujarat riots of 2002 are being used by jihadi groups to help in recruitment [For e.g. this Indian Express piece]. And this Express piece speculates that the bombs were placed in First Class compartments on WR trains precisely to target Gujaratis, who would predominate. Presumably, part of the motivation is to avenge the pogrom of 2002. [Of course, that the blast killed Muslims as well is, I guess, just sad. Collateral damage, perhaps?]

Just a day before the attack, there was a fascinating post at Sepia Mutiny, reacting to a CS Monitor article on the rising sectarian tensions in Gujarat: Hindu, Muslim ghettoes arise in Gujarat.
With shackled feet and closed eyes, pilgrims walk toward the tomb of Pir Imam Shah Bawa, a Sufi saint. If the shackles disentangle on their own as the devotees take their first few steps, the faithful here - Hindus and Muslims alike - believe their prayers will come true.

"Faith can move mountains," says Mohan Majhi, a resident of Pirana in India's Gujarat state. He says his chains disentangled thirteen years ago, and his prayer for a son was granted. Now, kneeling on the dusty floor of the 600-year-old syncretic shrine, Mr. Majhi is praying for peace between Hindus and Muslims who are fighting to control this religious common ground.

Eager to slough off the shrine's Muslim identity after the Gujarat riots of 2002, Hindu devotees of the saint built a barbed-wire fence between the shrine and the mosque that was originally built in the same complex. Muslims and Hindus then accused each other of stealing religious items and are now locked in a bitter court battle, each claiming the shrine is rightfully theirs.

The divisions over the shrine are a microcosm for the polarization within Gujarat, where religious segregation is expanding not only to places of worship, but also neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. At the entrance of some villages, gaily painted message boards have sprung up since the riots that read: "Welcome to this Hindu village in the Hindu nation of Gujarat."
Of course, Indians have tended to self segregate by religion for ages. When we lived in Ahmedabad (the largest city in Gujarat) in the 80s, we all knew the Muslim areas of the old city: Mirzapur, Kalupur and so on. In Bombay, it's the area around Mohammadali Rd. or some parts of Mahim, for instance. I guess the point is that this kind of segregation is on the increase now in Gujarat, post Godhra (2002), when in the newer areas of cities, it had decreased.

I can also attest anecdotally to hardening attitudes in my own family. Relatives who after the Godhra riots moved residence. "Too many miyabhais in that area." An increasing sense of Muslims as outsiders. "Aaapna log nahi." Not our people. When riots broke out in Baroda briefly in May after the demolition of a dargah, "Look. How many temples have been razed for public development. One dargah is demolished and see how they react?"

What's really sad is that the kind of grassroots intermingling of the communities that, I suspect (I'm no historian) had lasted for centuries, the kind that is described above at the dargah of Pir Imam Shah Bawa, or immortalized in the poems of Kabir, or Bulle Shah, now seems unreal and impossible.

Do read the comments at the Sepia Mutiny post.

[As a complete aside, I am so regretful that I've completely forgotten a powerful and beautiful soz (a mournful song to be sung during Muharram, the Sh'ia month of mourning) taught to me by a close family friend years ago, who learnt it from her guru, Ud. Hafiz Ahmed Khansahib, who passed away in Delhi last week. The soz, if I remember correctly, had a similar theme, of a Hindu devotee who wanted to put a chadar at the shrine of a Sufi Pir.]

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