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Ghettoisation of Muslims: Trends and Consequences
Imran Ali / Yoginder Sikand

A major issue afflicting Muslims in some parts of India is that of enforced ghettoisation. Periodic anti-Muslim riots and pogroms, sometimes instigated by state authorities in league with fiercely anti-Muslim Hindutva groups, have forced Muslims in several places to shift to separate localities for safety. The starkest demonstration of this process is the case of Gujarat, where, in the wake of the anti-Muslim holocaust of 2002, Muslims were forced to flee to separate areas to save their lives. In such places migration has been forced, for that has been the only way for many Muslims to save their lives. In other cases, even in places where there have been no riots, many Muslims prefer to live in Muslim-majority localities for fear that anti-Muslim violence can break out at any time. Living in their own localities gives them a sense of security.

Many middle class Muslims, too, prefer living in such areas although the levels of infrastructural provision are poor and even though they can afford living in more posh, upper caste Hindu-dominated areas. Often, ghettoisation is promoted by the fact that Hindu landlords simply refuse to rent out their houses to Muslim tenants.

Ghettoisation has crucial consequences for the economic and educational conditions of Muslims and for relations between the different communities. This fact emerges in a study on Indian Muslims in which these two authors are presently involved, and jointly undertaken by Action Aid and the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi.

As this survey discovered, typically, Muslim ghettos are deprived in terms of government provided infrastructure, possessing few good schools, roads, sewage facilities etc. Ghettoisation also leads to a steep reduction of opportunities for social interaction between members of different communities and, consequently, to the strengthening of an insular mentality, because of which the community is not able to properly articulate its views and concerns before the wider public. It also strengthens the hold of conservative religious forces.

No study of Indian Muslim economic and educational conditions can ignore the impact of the process of ghettoisation that is evident particularly in urban areas today. For this purpose, the Action Aid-Indian Social Institute study took up the case of Delhi and Ahmadabad in order to examine patterns of shifting residence among Muslims. In Delhi, the Muslim-majority localities of Basti Hadrat Nizamuddin and Mehrauli were selected for sampling, while in Ahmadabad, Juhapura, the city’s largest Muslim settlement, was selected. In Delhi, 304 respondents were interviewed, and in Ahmadabad the figure was 243.

55.6% of the respondents interviewed in the above-mentioned localities of the two cities have been living in the area for less than 10 years. This indicates a high level of migration or ghettoisation in recent years. 15.4% of the respondents were staying in the area for the last 10-20 years and 17.2% for more than 20 years. 45.7% of the respondents had moved in from Hindu-dominated localities and 22.3% from areas with a mixed Hindu-Muslim population. Only 13.2% responded that they have moved in from Muslim dominated areas. This clearly implies that fear and insecurity was the most important reason for their shifting of residence from one locality to another. 31.4% of the respondents answered that they had migrated in search of better livelihood options. On the other hand, 42% of the respondents answered that the reason for their migration to Muslim-dominated areas was fear of anti-Muslim violence or the fact thereof.

There are significant differences between Delhi and Ahmadabad in this regard, which owe themselves to the fact of the state-sponsored anti-Muslim genocide in Gujarat in 2002, which resulted in the deaths of some 4000 Muslims and destruction of Muslim property on a massive scale. Prior to this, too, there have been several anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujrat, including Ahmadabad, which had led to a process of Muslim ghettoisation some three decades ago. Thus, while 33.9% of the respondents in Delhi said that they were relatively new migrants, living in their present localities for between 0-10 years, the corresponding figure for Ahmadabad was 82.7%. This indicates the massive scale of enforced ghettoisation in Ahmadabad in recent years, a fact which holds true for almost all other towns in the state of Gujrat. While 26.3% of those interviewed in Delhi had been residing in their present locality for 11-20 years, and 29.6% for over 20 years, the corresponding figures for Ahmadabad are 1.6% and 1.59% respectively.

While 14.8% of the respondents in Delhi said that they had migrated from Hindu-dominated localities, the corresponding figure in the case of Ahmadabad was 84.4%. 54.9% of the respondents in Delhi answered that they had migrated to the locality in search of better livelihood options, 6.9% for educating their children and 6.3% because of communal riots and insecurity. In Ahmadabad, on the other hand, the corresponding figures were 2.1%, 0% and 86.8%, indicating that anti-Muslim terror was the major factor in causing inter-locality migration in the city.

Migration and consequent ghettoisation seems to have had a particularly deleterious impact on the economic conditions of the respondents in Ahmadabad. Some 52% of the respondents in Ahmadabad said that their economic conditions had markedly declined after migration, and the corresponding figure for Delhi respondents was 5.3%. On the other hand, in Delhi 60.5% respondents said their living conditions had improved after migration, and the figure for Ahmedabad was just 7.4%. Respondents were asked if they go out of their area of residence, particularly to those inhabited by Hindus, in search of employment. 77.7% responded in the affirmative, and only 16.6% reported in the negative.

A large number of Ahmadabad respondents said that while before their migration that had frequent and fairly cordial relations with non-Muslims, this had markedly declined after migration. 68.1% of Delhi respondents said they had friendly relations with Hindus, and the figure for Ahmadabad residents was only 2.9%. Many Ahmadabad respondents said that they feared and suspected Hindus, this being a result of the recent anti-Muslim pogrom and the enormous clout of Hindutva fascist groups in Gujrat. They also said that the infrastructural conditions in their new localities are far poorer than in the areas where they previously lived, attributing this to anti-Muslim discrimination on the part of government authorities.

Ghettoisation of Muslims appears to have an extremely deleterious impact on their overall economic and educational conditions. 32.5% of the children of the respondents were not attending any school. Of those children who were going to school, 6.0% were attending Urdu-medium schools, 17.7% English-medium schools, 15.4% Hindi-medium schools, and only 5.1% were enrolled in madrasas. Only 15.7% of the respondents said that religious instruction was being imparted in the schools in which their children were enrolled. A majority of the children were going to government schools, and the proportion of those in private schools was only 27.8%, indicating the high levels of poverty among the respondents. From these figures it emerges that the majority of parents in these localities prefer to send their children to regular “mainstream” schools rather than to madrasas and Urdu-medium schools, contrary to widely-held notions as often depicted in the media.

Almost a fourth of the respondents were unskilled labourers. 39.1% of the respondents interviewed reported an annual income of Rs.10,000 or less. Only 5.5% of the respondents claimed an annual income of Rs. 60,000 and above. Despite the overall poverty and deprivation of most of the respondents, a significant 36.9% of them claimed that their economic conditions had improved somewhat after migration. On the other hand, 25.8% stated that their economic conditions were better before their migration, while 14.3% of the respondents felt that there had been no change in their economic conditions after migration.

In a religiously plural society, inter-community interaction at the personal as well as economic level are of utmost importance in preserving communal harmony and peace. Obviously, therefore, the trend towards increasing ghettoisation of Muslims in several places is a disturbing phenomenon that needs to be seriously and urgently addressed.


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