India's Muslims under Narendra Modi

Swan song for Gandhi

150 years after the birth of the Indian freedom fighter, the Hindu nationalist government in Delhi has distanced itself from Gandhi's legacy of peace more than any other preceding administration. This is highlighted by the continuing systematic marginalisation of Muslims in India. By Dominik Muller

Gandhi was born on 2 October 150 years ago. He is regarded worldwide as a symbol of reconciliation and non-violent resistance; for decades many Indians viewed him as a leading light in the independence struggle against British colonial rule. To this day, all banknotes bear his image and his bust still adorns many official buildings on the sub-continent. The anniversary was marked by ceremonies and events across the country. But members of the governing party and other Hindu nationalists are intent on contradicting his legacy and in their view, setting the record straight.

"I was totally convinced that the teachings of absolute non-violence espoused by Gandhi would eventually lead to the emasculation of the Hindu community," wrote Nathuram Godse, "which would no longer be in a position to resist the aggression of other communities, in particular that of the Muslims."

Godse went down in history as Gandhi's murderer. Today, all Indian bookstores stock his 200-page confession "Why I Killed Gandhi".

Deeply divided

There can be few places in India where Gandhi's legacy been so trampled underfoot as in Gujarat, where he grew up and founded his first spiritual centre, an ashram, in Ahmedabad in 1915. Today, Ahmedabad is traversed by a wall, three kilometres long and three metres high, crowned with barbed wire and shards of glass embedded in the concrete. It separates the districts of Vejelpur and Juhapura.

Muslims in Citizennagar, Ahmedabad (photo: Dominik Muller)
India's Muslims – second class citizens: Citizennagar, "community settlement", is the name of this slum on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. The slum is located between the municipal garbage dump and a chemical factory. It is inhabited by Muslims who had to flee from other parts of Ahmedabad during the pogroms of 2002

Driving rhythms and temple bells can be heard on one side, in Vejelpur, a well-kept middle-class neighbourhood in the south of the metropolis of six million. Saffron-yellow flags fly on house fronts and on the sides of streets. Signs affixed to the facades of many residential buildings bear the words "For Hindus Only".

On the other side of the wall, asphalt roads are the exception – since the pogroms of 2002, more than 400,000 people now live in Juhapura. Many Muslims fled there after being driven from their homes in other parts of Ahmedabad. The current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of the state at the time. 

The neighbourhood feels cramped, dusty and dilapidated. The muezzin issues the call to prayer five times a day in one of mosques, of which there are just under 100. Green flags dominate the townscape. Juhapura is the largest Muslim ghetto in India. In an allusion to the arch enemy across the border, Juhapura is also known as "Little Pakistan".

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