For Vadodara ’s 25 displaced Muslim women, a refuge-cemetery

Vadodara, June 4: Under the shade of a tamarind tree inside the Qabrastan in Memon Colony in Vadodara, 62-year-old Banubibi Ghulam Nabi is imploring the forgiveness of Allah for having indulged in the forbidden – stepping into the cemetery. She forbids the little children eyeing bunches of ripe tamarind fruit from plucking any.

“This is the home of Allah. We are not sanctioned to eat these fruits here,” she says, insisting that a little boy must discard the fruit he managed to pluck in his first playful jump. Banubibi is among 25 such women, with children in tow, who are seeking shelter in the cemetery, about three km away from Kapurai, a neighbourhood in Vadodara where about 300 displaced families, mostly Muslims, were supposed to be relocated following the demolition of their homes in Suleiman Chawl on Tuesday.

These women, part of the 300 displaced families, are unable to occupy their homes in the Basic Services for the Urban Poor (BSUP) Housing Scheme at Kapurai after its residents wrote to the Vadodara Municipal Corporation protesting against their move. Their letter said that allowing Muslims to move into the locality will “hamper the peace-loving nature here” as their “daily activity involves assaulting and abusing”.

The VMC may have conducted a draw at the area for these displaced families and is firm about shifting them there, despite opposition from Hindu residents and “political pressure”. But the move into their new homes seems distant to the families. They say while they are anxious about the brewing communal discord from hostile neighbours, they are also unable to pay the mandatory down payment of Rs 25,000 to seek possession to the housing scheme flats that cost Rs 1.3 lakh under the subsidised government rate.

Many of the 300-odd families have sought shelter in the homes of their relatives and acquaintances or shelters run by Muslim charity organisations. Those who could not find a temporary shelter have turned towards the free land of the Qabrastan — ironically, it shares its boundaries with Udyog Nagar, a residential colony of affluent Hindus, and the temple of the colony. As many as 25 women from displaced families have been living in and out of the Qabrastan and relying on meals served by local Muslim organisations. The men, they say, are chased away by the police patrolling the area.

Tasleem Mansuri, one of the 25 women, says, “The police patrol vans chased us away from the roadsides the night after our homes were demolished. With no place to live, we decided to stay in Qabrastan.” The women, who work as domestic maids in the vicinity — their men are daily wage labourers — say they have no money to pay for the homes. “We are carrying some of our belongings from our homes that were demolished. If we had the money that we are supposed to pay to get these new homes, we would not have been on the roads like this.

We were not informed about this clause earlier or we would have at least made some efforts to collect money or opposed the down payment. Now, we are left in a lurch. Moreover, we feel unsafe about shifting to a locality where people are against us,” says Kausar Saeed.

Other women echo Saeed’s sentiments. Ayesha Shakir Pathan says, “Who is going to guarantee our safety if we accept the homes at Kapurai? When a group of our people visited the place to see the homes, they were threatened and chased away by some local residents. The VMC should give us homes in a Muslim area if it cannot assure us of our safety.” The VMC has conducted a draw for the 232 families at the Kapurai BSUP scheme that is in the final stages of completion.

But as per the guidelines of the government housing project, the families must purchase the homes for a subsidised rate of Rs 1.3 lakh — out of this, Rs 25,000 must be paid immediately, in three instalments. BSUP executive engineer FJ Charpot says, “In anticipation of the payment, we can give them the possession, but we will be able to give them the official allotment letters only after they make the complete payment of Rs 25,000. The remaining amount of Rs 1.05 lakh will have to be paid in the form of a loan with monthly instalments.”

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