Fifteen years after bloody riots, Indian Muslims struggling to escape Gujarat ghettos

    by Rina Chandran
    Monday, 24 July 2017 14:50 BST

A resident of Citizen Nagar, which houses Muslim victims of communal riots in 2002, shows her burnt documents in Ahmedabad, India. June 20, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Rina Chandran

Muslims displaced by communal violence are often too fearful to return to their homes

By Rina Chandran

AHMEDABAD, India, July 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Shahjahan Bano was a young boy in February 2002, selling vegetables with his mother in a market in Ahmedabad in the western Indian state of Gujarat, when some of the worst communal riots in the country's history broke out.

For days mobs rampaged the city, burning houses, looting shops, raping women and killing men, women and children. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the violence.

Bano and his mother, who hid in the market the first night, were taken to a relief camp the next day where other Muslims huddled, awaiting news of their families and homes.

It was a month before Bano was reunited with other family members - and eight months before they could leave the camp.

They moved into what they thought would be a temporary home in Citizen Nagar, an enclave of 116 modest homes, built quickly by a Muslim charity for some of the displaced families.

Fifteen years on, Bano and his family still live there, spilling out of their two-room home in a fly-infested neighbourhood flanked by a large, smoking landfill.

"We lost everything in the riots," said Bano, 23, a lanky young man, staring into the distance.

"We are very grateful for this house, but we die a little everyday here: the smoke, the smell, the rubbish, the lack of facilities. We have thought about moving, but where can we go?"

The riots displaced about 200,000 people in the state, mostly Muslims. Some returned to their homes, while others found new accommodation in mainly Muslim neighbourhoods.

Muslim charities resettled about 17,000 people in 80 colonies across Gujarat, among India's wealthiest states.

Fifteen of these colonies are in Ahmedabad. Every family in these colonies lost family, homes, possessions or businesses in the riots, which led to greater segregation and marginalisation.

"The state has done very little to resettle the victims," said Shamshad Pathan, a lawyer who has represented some victims in their fight for more compensation from the government.

"Today, Ahmedabad is a segregated city: you will not find many buildings or neighbourhoods where Hindus and Muslims live together. Muslims are forced to live in ghettos, excluded from the development of the rest of the city and state," he said.

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