Guest post by ZAHIR JANMOHAMED
Since I started conducting research in March 2011 about the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots, I have learned that the worst way to begin a conversation with a Muslim here in Ahmedabad is to ask about the 2002 riots. I was an eye-witness to the riots in 2002 and I thought my experiences might make some Muslims in Gujarat feel more comfortable speaking with me. I was wrong.
Sometimes I had to interview a person four or five times before they felt comfortable speaking about the 2002 riots. The reasons are varied. Some feel there is no use speaking about the riots as they know justice will never come under Narendra Modi’s watch. Others feel exploited by NGOs and Islamic groups who have used their stories to raise funds for their organizations abroad. And others, as one rape survivor told me, do not want to “relive the trauma.”
But if you ask Muslims in Ahmedabad about Pakistan, chances are you will walk home with a notebook full of comments. Earlier this week I went around my neighborhood of Juhapura—an area pejoratively known as “mini Pakistan”—and asked residents for their comments on Pakistan. The answers are telling.
One 24 year old named Arastu, who was forced to flee his home in the 1992 and 2002 riots and ran a tutoring program for children of riot victims in Juhapura, had this to say:
Growing up in Gujarat, even if a Muslim has nothing to do with Pakistan, he or she will often be expected to prove their patriotism to India and ‘thus’ hatred for Pakistan, the most visible examples of which can be felt during an India v/s Pakistan cricket encounter. As a result of these enforced emotions, my view on Pakistan is a bit like my view on Muslims. I am very critical of them myself but don’t feel the best when someone else criticises them because I am known as one myself.
However when I think about Pakistan disconnecting myself from past experiences, I am fascinated by stories of their music, films, royalty and kind treatment to Indians but besides these, I don’t have much of an opinion on them. Just another country.
Another Juhapura resident, currently posted abroad with an NGO, sent me this comment:
The country never even comes to my mind unless of course when these bunch of rightwing jokers rabidly ask Muslims to go to Pakistan.
But most people I interviewed told me they are exhausted at being called a Pakistani.
Even if I like the way Shahid Afridi plays, will I tell you? Maybe I will tell you because you are Muslim. But I will not tell others (ie Hindus) because then they will say, “See you love Pakistan more!” But this is not fair. What if we just like his bowling?
One store owner told me that he has cousins in Pakistan and that he is tired of being told he should hate Pakistan.
Because of Facebook we can chat and see pictures of each other’s kids. I love Pakistan. Why not? Some of my family lives there and I love my family. But I will not say this in public. People already say Muslims do not belong in Gujarat. Can I not love India and Pakistan both?
Perhaps the biggest change people in Juhapura tell me is that they no longer tolerate Muslims who cheer for Pakistan. From an NGO head:
Earlier, an odd Muslim or would light crackers when Pakistan won. We tell them they are stupid. Do not do such things. It will only harm all of us.
One of my most memorable interviews was with Guddu bhai, my local paan wala, who I tried to decipher as he spoke with a mouth full of supari. I think he had this to say:
People say I should hate Pakistan. Why? They are people. For me the only country we should hate as Muslims is Israel.
A young Juhapura resident I spoke with said that he hates Pakistan. He has been called “Pakistani” so many times that he hates hearing that word. But if any of his Hindu friends bash Pakistan, he says he feels the need to defend Pakistan. When I asked him why he does his, he shrugged his shoulders. “I am not sure. It is like that only.”
For Shia Muslims residents in Juhapura, Pakistan is a place to fear, given the rise of anti-Shia violence there. One Shia business owner told me:
There is no comparison. In Juhapura no one bothers me for being Shia. In Pakistan I think they will kill me. So India is better. Obviously.
Another business owner whose store is near what is known as the Hindu Muslim “border,” told me that he gets nervous when an India-Pakistan match takes place. He remembers as a child when people teased him for being “Pakistani” if India lost to Pakistan. So he learned to be the loudest to cheer for India.
It used to bother him, but now he just regards it as an inconvenience. Outside his business is a sign on the main road welcoming people to Juhapura. It reads:
Saare Jahaan se Achha Hindustan Hamara (Of all the countries, India is the best)
Juhapura: Aap nu hardik swagat kare chhe (Juhapura welcomes you graciously)
The first line is from an Urdu verse by Allama Iqbal. The second line is in Gujarati. There are few other greater symbols of what the Gujarati Muslim identity means than this sign. But residents in Juhapura have been called “Pakistani” so many times that they do not believe the sign will make any difference.
Indeed I heard these comments myself when I registered my apartment with the police station. “Be careful,” a very kind Hindu police officer told me as he handed me my apartment permit. “The area (Juhapura) you are living is called ‘mini-Pakistan.’ There are many anti-social people there. Many ISI people are staying there.”
I had explained to him earlier that I came to India from California to learn about my roots and my family’s history in India. But that still did not stop him from asking if I was Pakistani.
As one person in Juhapura told me this week, “We say we love India and we will keep saying it. We believe it. But will others?”
(Zahir Janmohamed is a freelance writer living in and writing about Juhapura, the Muslim neighbourhood of Ahmedabad. He previously served as the Advocacy Director for Amnesty International and Senior Foreign Policy Aide in the U.S. Congress. He tweets as @ZahirJ.)
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