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Election 2014

As Godhra votes today, town's Muslims still grapple with chasms created by 2002 riots

Narendra Modi is viewed with anxiety in the town that is synonymous with the riots that set him on his path of prominence and noteriety.

If caste was actually the most important factor in swinging a victory in the elections, the Muslims of Godhra would be rallying in support of Bhartiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi.

For, like the majority of the 60,000-plus Muslims in this town, Modi belongs to the Ghanchi community, which has traditionally been involved in manufacturing cooking oil. The community includes both Hindus and Muslims, divided into 154 sects.

“Today, a person from our Ghanchi community and that too from Gujarat is being tipped to become a PM and this would be a joyous occasion for us,” said businessman Yusuf Rasool.  “But the man in question is Modi, so we can’t support him.”

Some of Godhra’s older Muslim Ghanchis actually have faint memories of their community member from 1970, when Modi spent a decade in the town’s Rani Masjid as a young pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Samiti. Twenty years after he left, Modi’s rise to national prominence – and notoriety – started in the town, when coach S6 of Sabarmati Express caught fire on the morning of February 27, 2002, right outside the Muslim Ghanchi settlement of Signal Falia.

Fifty-nine Hindu pilgrims died in the blaze. The incident triggered retaliatory attacks on the Muslims across Gujarat. The violence claimed more than 1,000 lives, the majority of them Muslim. More than 150,000 people were displaced from homes to which they have still not been able to return.

Though the incident in Godhra was the ostensible trigger for the pogrom, the dusty town in Panchmahal district was largely untouched by the pogrom that engulfed the rest of Gujarat. But the violence established the fault lines between Hindus and Muslims that still mark the town.

In the months after the train burning, the police arrested just over 100 Muslims for allegedly being involved in the attack. Among them were all Sugrabibi Badam’s four sons – Siddique, Shaukat, Hanif and Bilal.

“They are all innocent,” 78-year-old Sugrabibi said. “They never burnt any train.” She recalled nightly raids, long curfews, extended power cuts, the sirens of police van and the banging on the door. “The police would come to our house and destroy everything,” she said. “They would point at me and say, ‘what kind of mother are you to gave birth to such aatankwadi (terrorists). Dheere dheere sab ko le gaye. They eventually took all my sons.”

Sugrabibi says Modi’s leadership since 2002 has completely divided the town’s Hindus and Muslims. Her house in Polan Bazar marks an entry point for the Muslim quarter beyond which Hindus rarely step any longer. “He has spread poison and crossed one community against the other,” she said. “It is very important that Godhra votes for Congress.”

A few kilometres away, in a sprawl of shanties near Saat Pul, Najmabibi, who dropped out of school after the arrest of her father, will cast her vote for the first time today. “If I vote, it will make a difference,” she said. “Maybe the new government will release my father.”

Her father, Siddique Mohammed Modia, an illiterate 40-year-old bhangarwala (scrap dealer), was arrested a year after the train burning, while drinking tea at a roadside stall. For the last 11 years, his family of nine, which includes six daughters, has survived meagrely on a Rs 2,500 monthly handout from a Muslim charity.

In 2011, a special court acquitted two-thirds of the accused men and convicted only 31 people for setting the train afire. Sugrabibi’s four sons and Modia the scrap dealer were among those found guilty. The others – elected corporators, advocates, small businessmen, college students – have quietly retreated from the public eye, attempting to recover the nine years they lost in jail.

The arrests have left Godhra’s Muslims with a fear of being singled out for being members of the minority community. Just last week, Hanif Kalandar, a young farmer and activist who has spent last 12 years helping families of men accused under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, was beaten while talking on phone as he travelled on a train between Vadodara and Godhra. “I answered asalam aleikum, and suddenly two saffron-clad activists caught me and started beating me.’’ He filed an FIR at the local police station naming the two Bajrang Dal activists, but neither has been arrested.

The divide between Godhra’s Hindus and Muslims is also infrastructural. Shoaibhai Sheikh, a one-time independent member of Godhra Municipal Corporation, said that during his five-year tenure which ended in 2010, he failed to push through development proposals for the town’s Muslim localities. They remain deprived of basic facilities like garbage collection, roads, water and electricity, residents complained.

When Godhra goes to the polls today as part of the Panchmahal constituency, many of the town’s 1.5 lakh people are likely to support sitting MP Prabhatsinh Chauhan of the BJP. Muslim Ghanchias, though, are likely to favour Congress candidate Ramsinh Parmar, chairman of Amul Dairy.

But despite their antipathy to Modi, there has been nervousness about campaigning against him. Instead, the head of Ghanchi community mosque in Godhra, Maulana Ibrahim (who asked for his name to be changed to protect his identity), has been putting up posters across the town, appealing to Muslims to cast their vote for this important election.

“According to our religious texts, voting is evidence that the person in whose favour the vote is caste ‘is of good values’”, the poster says. “Not participating in the voting process is an attempt to ‘hide this evidence’. And those who hide this evidence, despite knowing the truth, are committing the biggest crime.”

The Maulana said, “This message is enough for the Muslims to think about whom they should not vote for.”

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“Doctors have it easier than us. Their mistakes get buried, our mistakes will be there for everyone to see”

Celebrated architect Hadi Teherani tells us what luxury in the living space means to him.

Hadi Teherani is best known for designing iconic buildings in Germany including the famous Dockland office in Hamburg and the Kranhaus in Cologne. But he’s also left his mark on the landscape of Abu Dhabi with the Zayed University, and has designed a luxury residence that will soon grace the skyline of Mumbai—Lodha Altamount. We spoke to him about the challenges of designing luxury living spaces in India.

Q. In your opinion, what is the definition of luxury specifically in the area of private residences? Is it a lot of fresh air, space and daylight? Is it the room composition? Or is luxury something completely different?

Hadi Teherani (HT): For me, luxury is first and foremost to have space, not just enough for what you need but enough space to really thrive. And luxury has always been defined that way. If you look at Art Nouveau houses, those rooms have incredible heights. So yes, space is definitely an important factor when it comes to luxury. In Europe people pay attention to every square metre and here in Mumbai it is the same. There are slums where 4 people live in one room and just across the street somebody is living by himself on 1000 square metres. Once you have space, luxury can be in the features, in using certain materials, and there is no limit. Some things, of course, are simply not available here: the luxury of fresh air and a clean sea. No matter how much money you are willing to spend, you cannot get those. Therefore, you are limited to what is available.

Q. Have you incorporated this concept of space into previous projects?

HT: Yes, in different ways, no matter if you are working on government-sponsored housing projects or in the luxury segment. Usually our projects are more in the luxury segment, where space is crucial. We are currently designing a building where luxury can already be sensed at the parking level. You reach with your car and you are already supposed to have the feeling that you’ve arrived at a hotel lobby. This is how far luxury has come. That the arrival in a garage already gives you the feeling as if you are coming to a palace—you get out of your limousine into this stunning lobby and this feeling continues as you go up into the apartment where you have a bathroom that is 20-30 square metres and not just 5-10. The idea of really designing your bathroom or kitchen has not yet reached India. Bathrooms are still rather compact and practical since the idea of spending quality time in your bathroom doesn’t seem to exist yet. Customers definitely do not request a spacious bathroom when we discuss their projects. For me, personally, a great bathroom is extremely important, as it is the first thing you use in the morning. Afterwards you go to work, and you come back home. But I believe the areas that you use most need to have enough space for you to move and thrive in.

Q. Do you have any role model in the field of architecture? Maybe a building or a person?

HT: The Bauhaus is still my role model. Back then they designed products for day-to-day life, affordable for the general population. But those products have become classics today like the lounge chair by Le Corbusier. Those were project works but Bauhaus thought further ahead. The idea was to give people light, air and space, and to free them from elements that were poorly designed and uncomfortable like big stucco ceilings. The focus needs to be light, air and sun. For them, architecture and product design were always very fluent concepts. Le Corbusier, for instance, designed fantastic buildings as well as whole cities, but on the other hand also designed furniture. Gropius had even designed a car once and furniture, too. This school of thinking has influenced me, and once you have all those “tools” and this way of thinking, you get very far. With this “toolbox” of modern design, you can create anything and influence society. The times back then aided this development; everyone was opening up, living in and with nature, not hiding away in little holes. And the world evolved from there. And today you can see they are daring even more spectacular things in Asia than they used to in Old Europe.

Q. You have already gained quite some experience in India. Is there something that you would define as a typical “Indian palate”, and if so, how does it differ from the international projects? You already mentioned the differences in bath and kitchen design, but are there, for instance, taboos like colours you wouldn’t use or something in room composition?

HT: I haven’t encountered anything like that. What I do experience is that many projects are influenced by religious thoughts and by Vaastu, something like Feng shui. So the master bedroom has to be in the south-west and the kitchen has to have a certain location. Those rules need to be followed exactly, no matter if it makes sense for the building or not. Here in Mumbai it’s a little more liberal but in other regions, Hyderabad for instance, every centimetre has to be exact as per Vaastu. Sometimes they want a dedicated room for pujas. All this changes while designing a project, of course. But overall the ground plans are not that different. The families might be bigger so houses and apartments are bigger as well, or they are trying to utilize each and every square metre and avoid hallways, for example.

Those projects are also in the centre of a lot of marketing. We are not used to that in Europe but here in Mumbai or even more in other cities like Bangalore, along the entire highway from the airport into the city you only see 50-metre-high billboards announcing new real estate projects. You don’t see anything else! And it’s very creative marketing with catchy headlines and slogans. That isn’t happening in Germany. One more difference: when designing upper class buildings in India, they require a maid or servant room, maybe a separate entrance from the staircase and so forth. Here, you can still afford having a maid. In Europe you might have someone coming by for three hours once a week but certainly not living in.

Q. Let’s talk about the Lodha Altamount. What was the challenge?

HT: The design of Altamount was strongly influenced by being a Lodha project and by its location. Next to Altamount stands a luxury highlight of architecture, the Ambani tower, the most expensive home in the world. How do you want to top that? The Ambani tower is very structural. It shoots through the air, it combines all sorts of crafts and structural design elements with gaps and open spaces. You can’t top that and definitely not with our type of design. That’s why we decided to hold back and instead develop a dark and sleek building. That type of building doesn’t exist a lot here in India. Usually buildings have many structural elements like beams and balconies. By creating a calm building in the skyline of Mumbai, we will make Altamount stand out. Plus, the top of the building is very unique. Many structures are either simply cut off straight or completed by a dome. We have two geometric pointy tops so that the building is properly completed and doesn’t look as if it could grow further. It has a head and feet and is finished. So for us to hold back was our way to stand out. It doesn’t devalue the building design in anyway. It is meant expressively in the sense of “less is more”. And the interior is of course very luxurious: it is designed through and through, there is the green car parking podium, each balcony has a mini pool. So all those luxury features are present but the architectural design is based on the idea of “less is more”.

Lodha Altamount (Mumbai) designed by Hadi Teherani.
Lodha Altamount (Mumbai) designed by Hadi Teherani.

Q. Luxury can drift into the eccentric, depending on the client. Have there been any projects that were very eccentric which you still accepted or projects that you had to turn down because they were too eccentric?

HT: As architects, we create a space. What happens, of course, is that people buy an apartment in a great contemporary building and then furnish it in a baroque style. But that freedom has to be there, of course, because we can’t also tell the client which curtains to use or clothes to wear. At a certain point our job is done. However, when it comes to public buildings, the public is supposed to benefit from, so I have to be strict and dictate. In private buildings you can leave it up to the individual but publicly I have a responsibility and cannot consider each and every taste. I have to do a clean job so that in the end every individual can find himself or herself in my design. Anyway, taste always stems from a certain upbringing, culture and environment, so I also have the duty to educate and that’s what I do with my projects. When a small child walks by a building, she recognizes when the proportions are right even if she has no idea about architecture. But if the proportions are off, the child will pick that up too, because every building also exudes energy, either of unease or comfort. So we have quite a big responsibility as well. I always say doctors have it easier than us. Their mistakes get buried, but our mistakes will always be there for everyone to see.

With one residence per floor and a host of bespoke luxury services, Lodha Altamount is the epitome of unrestricted luxury. Designed by Hadi Teherani, and a part of the Lodha group’s Luxury Collection that has homes present at only the globe’s most-coveted locations, Lodha Altamount is the last word in luxury in India. For more information about Lodha Altamount, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Lodha by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff

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