Ahmedabad’s Ghettos and the Disturbed Areas Act 1991

 

Ahmedabad is a segregated city.

There are a lot of cities in the world which are segregated. Most of them based on financial power. People can guess whether you are rich or poor based on where you live in the city. There are always some areas in the city which are considered more ‘posh’ than the other areas.

The thing with posh areas is that, the areas don’t just have residents who are rich. They have better infrastructure facilities, better government services, access to better schools, better hospitals, better everything.

Ahmedabad has such areas as well. Areas like Naranpura, Thaltej, Satellite, and Bopal are considered to be ‘posh’ whereas, areas like Juhapura, Jamalpur, Shah-e-Alam, Chandola, Dani Limda are definitely not ‘posh’.

If you have been a resident of Ahmedabad for even a couple of years, you would probably know that the above mentioned areas have something else in common.

They are areas which are Hindu dominated and Muslim dominated. No prizes for guessing which one is which.

This is where the problem begins. You could argue that inequality is something the whole world is facing. It is not specific to Ahmedabad. It would not be if it was not combined with religious divide.

Hindu’s make up 81% of Ahmedabad’s population while Muslims make up around 14%. There is very little overlap if at all between residential areas of these two groups of people and it is not chance that has led to this.

If you go to buy a house in an apartment building under construction, the way the builder will treat you will depend more on your religion than on your ability to buy the house. It is almost impossible for a Muslim person to buy a house in a Hindu dominated area. Builders are reluctant to sell houses to Muslims because that would make it incredibly difficult to sell the rest of the houses in the building/society.

If you have a house in a Hindu dominated society/building, announce one day that you are renting it out to well educated Muslim family. You will see a sudden influx of ‘concerned’ neighbors coming to your house trying to convince you against this move.

This situation has forced Muslims in the city to move into small pockets of spaces in and around the city. These areas are not big enough to house 14% of the city’s population and hence the population density in these areas is much higher than other parts of the city. High population density leads to breakdown of essential services because they are now being shared by a dis-proportionate number of citizens. This leads to further decrease in the quality of life in these areas.

The bigger problem is the isolation that this creates within the city. Geographical distance means that children from different religion don’t get to go to the same school, don’t hang out at the same places, maybe not even go to the same colleges, and hence work at the same companies. This creates pigeon holes. Their exposure to people different from them is limited. The information they get is from their own echo chambers. Their ability to learn how to live in a diverse environment, to learn from diversity, and to tolerate differences, decreases. It makes the gap between the two sides bigger.

Academics have studied this situation. Dr Damini Shah wrote a thesis named, “Muslim Ghettoisation – A tragedy”. It was a study done in Anand, Ahmedabad, and Sabarkanath. It found that 92% of Muslim residents (respondents) who earlier had some contact with Hindu communities, do not have contact with the majority (Hindu) community after coming to the ghettos. [1]

If all this wasn’t enough, enter

Gujarat Prohibition of Transfer of Immovable Property and Provision for Protection of Tenants from Eviction from Premises in Disturbed Areas Act, 1991

commonly called the ‘Disturbed Areas Act, 1991’.

It is a law which restricts sale of immovable property in areas that are declared as “disturbed”. Property sale/transfer in such areas requires additional permission from the collector’s office signifying free consent. As is with a lot of laws, the intention was noble, it wanted to prevent people from one community to sell their house/flat to someone from another community because of any pressure.

Section 3(1) of the Act allows the state government to declare an area disturbed where

“public order […] was disturbed for a substantial period by reason of riot or violence of mob”.

The Act could have played a key role in stemming the ghettoisation of the city. It has in fact done the exact opposite. The last major riot or mob violence in Gujarat was more than 16 years ago yet the list of “disturbed” areas has kept expanding. In 2013, around 40% of Ahmedabad was declared “disturbed” by the Narendra Modi government. Most of these areas are still under the “disturbed” category even though there has been no major riot since 2002.

As recently as August 2017, BJP MLA from Surat, Ms Sangita Patil demanded imposition of the Disturbed Areas Act on her constituency Limbayat.

She alleged:

“Limbayat was once a Hindu area. But now, many societies, such as Govind Nagar, Bharati Nagar, Madanpura and Bhavna Park, which go by Hindu name, are now dominated by Muslims. If they do not get the house easily, they even threaten Hindus and force them to sell it,”

She won the election in December 2017.

There have been unconfirmed reports of posters urging the need to “stop Paldi from becoming another Juhapura” coming up on walls across the city. Juhapura, also called “mini Pakistan”, is the quintessential example of this phenomenon. Juhapura used to accommodate Hindus and Muslims who were displaced due to the Sabarmati flood in 1973. Post which, riots in the city led to Hindus leaving the areas and Muslims moving to the area for safety. Post-2002, elite Muslims — lawyers, professionals, doctors, people in business, judges, IAS-IPS officers — migrated to Juhapura as elite Muslim localities, including Paldi, were attacked for the first time. Juhapura has become a full-fledged ghetto with economic heterogeneity but ethnic homogeneity. [2]

The world, the country, the state, and the city are already very polarized. These kind of Acts and their misuse will just quicken the process of polarization. There is no heritage in the city which does not take care of all its citizens equally. Mistakes have been made in the past and that has resulted in a lot of injustice. We have to find a way to reverse the damage.

Living together, as citizens of Ahmedabad, will not only bring peace but also economic prosperity to all citizens of the city. We have to learn how to embrace diversity, work out our differences, and set an example for other cities to follow.

All of us can do our bit in helping improve the situation. Small acts will change mindsets. We can push our government to use the Act in the right way and improve living conditions in all parts of the city. We can aspire to a day where no area in the city is considered to be “disturbed” either by law or by the residents of the city.

Reference:

[1] – Its high time Gujarat Government recognises the communal elephant in the room.

[2] – The segregated city

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