Minority Interests-What’s That? Ask Nandigram’s Displaced Muslims
Every Muslim we spoke with refused to be taped or photographed. It is a deep-seated fear – reminiscent of 2007.
The Hijli kingdom flourished in eastern India between 1687 and 1886. Hijli, said to be have been founded by Mansingh, was initially a small island-village on the Rasulpur River which runs into the Bay of Bengal. It later became a port town. The kingdom was ruled for some years by Taj Khan, a disciple of Guru Peer Mackdram Sha Chisti. It was also ruled sequentially by Kushan, Gupta and Pal dynasties and also by the Mughals.
Not far from Nandigram is the Hijli Sharif, about 10 km from Khejuri. As can be established from what has been said at the outset, Muslims have been living in this area for hundreds of years. One lesser known detail about the 2007 Nandigram incident is that a mammoth share of the people who were killed, attacked, and displaced, were Muslims. Though not a communal incident, this uncomfortable truth rattled the Left Front government— known to have always safeguarded the interests of the state’s minority groups —back in 2007.
The only good thing for Muslims is that, in the last 30 years of the Left rule in West Bengal, they were safe. What happened in Nandigram puts question mark on that too.Manzoor Alam, General Secretary, All India Milli Council in 2007
After March 2007, many Muslim leaders, like All India United Democratic Front’s Siddiqullah Chowdhury, and Trinamool Congress’ Idris consolidated the Muslim vote, turning it against the decades old Left Front government.
The Empty Promise of Rehabilitation
It is March 2014 now. Several Muslim families who fled have only recently come back to their homes. Funds have been disbursed for them to rebuild their homes, but they have only received part of the grant. Half-constructed houses now dot the Muslim localities in the area.
Latha bibi left her home in 2007. It’s been a year and a half that she returned with her family. She lost Rs 45,000 to the Saradha Group. She has given up hope on getting that money back. The partial funds she has received are not sufficient to complete the construction. She says,
If I don’t get that money, I will be homeless again after the elections.
In Latha Bibi’s adjoining village, lives Sheikh Anwar. Anwar, with a host of 4-5 families, now live as squatters near their previous dwelling. They are in the process of constructing their houses. While I was speaking with Anwar, 60-year-old Gulam Sheikh happened to pass by. Anwar pointed at him saying that the man has not spoken for the last 8 years. Sheikh lost his family in the 2007 carnage.
Both Latha Bibi and Anwar were reluctant to speak on camera. They didn’t want to be photographed and named either. When asked why, as everything was peaceful now, they said that they don’t want to be persecuted further and be thrown out of their homes.
If I say something, I have to wear several layers of rug and move around. Do you think the ruling party will spare my back if I speak up?
The Deafening Silence
About seven to eight kilometres from Anwar’s village, lies another Muslim locality. As I walked in, 80-year-old Gulam Nabi hailed me over. Nabi did not leave his home, even though it was severely damaged in the violence. He was promised a house under the Indira Awas Yojana. Apparently, people from adjoining localities, who were behind him in the queue, got their homes build but not him.
Nothing has happened here. It is because we are a Muslim locality. Look around, we live in despicable conditions.Gulam Nabi
Seeing him speak with me, Rokeya Bibi gathered herself and shared her story. Rokeya paid Rs 10,000 for a toilet in her house. She says it has been a year since she paid the money and is yet to get the said toilet.
“The ruling party has done nothing for us. When we protested, we were beaten up. Nobody listens to us. Safeguarding minority interests – what is that?” exclaimed 25-year-old Hasan. He is a science graduate who now earns a living from driving an electric auto. Hasan and his family returned from Haldia two years ago. “We have no water, no proper houses. Everything around is crumbling. How do you expect us to live?”
Each and every Muslim we spoke with refused to be taped, named or photographed. It is a deep-seated fear – reminiscent of what one had witnessed in 2007.
“We don’t even have an opposition candidate here. It will never be a fair election,” Rokeya cried. A big question mark looms large over the fate of these Muslims. Is the minority vote, which facilitated the TMC’s success in 2001, dwindling? Is it why instilling fear in the hearts of people has become necessary to ensure electoral victory? What will the minorities do?
Only time will tell.
(The names of the villagers have been changed upon their request. The names of the localities in the story have also been deliberately left out.)
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