By Annisa Essack
Regarded worldwide as a symbol of reconciliation and non-violent resistance; for decades many Indians viewed him as a leading light in the independence struggle against British colonial rule. Although all banknotes bear his image and his bust still adorns many official buildings on the sub-continent, members of the governing party and other Hindu nationalists are intent on contradicting his legacy and in their view, setting the record straight.
Gujerat, Gandhi’s place of birth reflects the deep divisions that exist among the people of India and more especially in the city of Ahmedabad. Traversed by a wall, three metres high and three kilometres long, shards of glass embedded in the concrete and capped with barbed wire, it separates the districts of Vejelpur and Juhapura.
Vejelpur, south of the metropolis of six million is well-maintained with a middle-class population. The saffron-yellow flags on houses and streets are hard to miss and so are the signs affixed to the facades of many residential buildings bearing the words “For Hindus Only”. The sound of temple bells is common and constant.
More than 400 000 people live in Juhapura, on the other side of the wall where asphalt roads are an exception and the population mostly Muslim who fled there after being driven from their homes in other parts of Ahmedabad in 2002. The current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of the state at the time.
In the largest ghetto in India, the muezzins call to prayer five times a day, from the just under a 100 mosques. Green flags dominate the townscape and the neighbourhood is dusty, dilapidated and cramped. It is also known as “Little Pakistan”, alluding to India’s arch-enemy just over the border.
There are many ways in which Muslims are humiliated and treated as second-class citizens. The sewage pipes are not serviced, making the stench unbearable. There are few banks and cash machines, power and water supplies are totally insufficient. Those with an address in Juhapura or a Muslim name need not bother applying for a job in public service. Everyone living in the ghetto feels vulnerable.
Whilst there has been a repeat of the large-scale pogroms of 2002, which caused international indignation, there has been an increase in killings carried out by lynch mobs, often over suspicions that beef has been consumed since the BJP assumed power. These murders have created a climate of fear among many of the nation’s 200 million Muslims, especially as these actions usually go unpunished and are even justified by some BJP politicians.
The imminent spiral of violence is showing no sign of ending as a wave of ethnic cleansing is taking place in the northeastern state of Assam. As 35 million inhabitants must prove that they, or their parents, were already living in Assam before 1971. Else, they will be stripped of their citizenship. Early September saw the publication of the 1.9 million names of people, mostly Muslims, who had lost their citizenship and authorities have already begun the process of eviction and detention. As stateless people, they will not be able to go anywhere. Neighbouring Bangladesh – a country with 160 million residents – has already signalled its unwillingness to accept the stateless persons.
Just like the withdrawal of Kashmir’s special status, Assam is a testing lab and an attack on the Muslim minorities in India. Interior Minister Amit Shah, closest confidante to the Modi for more than two decades has announced his wish to roll out the Assam citizenship checks to the entire country. The Modi government in Delhi has distanced itself from the Gandhi legacy more than any prior administration.
The ruling Hindu nationalist government in Delhi has distanced itself from Gandhi’s legacy of peace and has been replaced with Modi’s credo of divide and rule.