Social relationships among marginalized communities have retained their communal edge in poll-bound Gujarat. This is one of Narendra Modi's enduring legacies, writes Uddalak Mukherjee
In March 2011, I had visited Boru -- a rehabilitated village -- and Halol -- a temporary relief camp -- near Godhra, Gujarat, to interview a few families that had survived the blood bath of 2002. In Halol, the displaced Muslim population had asserted repeatedly that tribal people had been mobilized by the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to perpetrate the horrors on them. Since that trip, I had always wanted to investigate the factors that had led to a section of Gujarat's tribal people -- a sizeable vote bank that numbers approximately 45 lakh and accounts for nearly 17.57 per cent of the population -- to turn against another, equally marginalized, community.
In September this year, I was offered an opportunity to explore the old question by a news report in The Telegraph which noted that of the 32 people who had been convicted by a trial court for the Naroda Patia massacre -- 97 Muslims were slaughtered in this ghetto in Ahmedabad -- 11 were members of the Chhara community. A formerly nomadic tribe, the Chharas, in popular imagination, are chiefly associated with 'witch's brew', a kind of unlicensed liquor that is manufactured, heavily consumed and sold by them. The Chharas are also loathed for being petty criminals and occasionally admired for their street theatre. In 1871, the colonial State declared the Chharas a criminal tribe. The community was denotified as late as the 1950s and resettled in Ahmedabad's Chharanagar, which, like the Muslim-dominated ghetto of Juhapura, resembles a maze of serpentine lanes, clogged sewers, cheap restaurants and shops.
I travelled to Chharanagar two weeks before the first phase of elections in Gujarat and talked to the Chharas not only about their ties with the other denotified tribes such as Kaikadi, Vagri, Bajania and Nat but also with the Muslims who reside in neighbouring Naroda Patia. My aim was not to record the social, political and economic marginalization of denotified communities. That the Chharas do not own land titles in Chharanagar (thereby raising the possibility of forceful eviction), have a paltry employment rate (3 per cent in the public sector according to some estimates), have been denied the right to secure employment or admission in educational institutions on the basis of a DNT certificate, and suffer from a high rate of alcoholism are established facts that puncture holes in Narendra Modi's claim of inclusive governance. My primary interest was to investigate the modus operandi of an institutionalized communal agenda that has succeeded to a certain extent in weakening the solidarity that binds Muslims to Chharas on account of a shared history of neglect.
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