This is an excerpt from the upcoming sixth edition of the India Exclusion Report, a collaborative effort involving institutions and individuals working with a shared notion of social and economic equity, justice and rights. The report seeks to inform public opinion around exclusion and the role of the state and to influence policy-making towards creating a more inclusive, equitable and just society. The annual publication is anchored by the Centre for Equity Studies and edited by its director, Harsh Mander.

As India’s political trajectory consolidates towards majoritarianism, the physical place of Indian Muslims acquires increasing prominence in the Hindu nationalist discourse.

The cause-and-effect explanation of Muslim ghettoisation – which includes the insurgence of Hindu nationalism, societal stigmatisation of Muslims, political violence, among others – has found decent media attention. However, the media discussion on Muslim-dominated geographies often uses a simplistic characterisation of Muslim-dominated geographies as slums.

In our India Exclusion Report study on Juhapura – a ghetto of over 3 lakh Muslims on Ahmedabad city’s western periphery – intriguing paradoxes of Muslim ghettoisation emerge. Juhapura’s trajectory showcases that India’s Muslim localities are spaces with fierce internal contestations, socio-economic differentiations, and also offer lucrative investment opportunities to the Muslim elite.

In Ahmedabad, elite and upper-middle-class migration to Juhapura began as early as the 1990s. It quickened with the 2002 anti-Muslim Gujarat pogrom when the city’s privileged Muslims, who were protected from violence until then, were attacked – such as in the case of Paldi, an upscale locality in western Ahmedabad. At this point in history, the elite Muslims of Ahmedabad realised the importance of safety over living in posh, inter-religious localities: consequently, they migrated to Juhapura in large numbers.

A scene in Ahmedabad during the Gujarat riots. Credit: Amit Dave/Reuters

This elite Muslim migration to Juhapura added to its economic diversity and guaranteed some capital to create private institutes, especially in the area of education. This capital is behind the creation of over 30 primary schools in Juhapura, including Crescent School, FD High School, New Age School, Shanti Niketan, and Model School. However, the combined capacity of these schools is not more than 3,000 students at the Class I level.

Moreover, this migration helped Juhapura’s residents to lobby the state. These lobbies have been utilised to negotiate with or put pressure on the state government and the municipal corporation –two entities that have neglected Juhapura. For example, in 2017, the Mega EduFest, an educational and career fair, was organised in Juhapura, where Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, Gujarat’s education minister, spoke.

Some Muslim activists have also taken legal recourses: for instance, Association for Juhapura Infrastructure Movement approached the Gujarat High Court with a complaint against the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation for not providing adequate basic infrastructure – street lights, traffic management, road infrastructure, removing cattle stray, etc. The High Court gave a favourable verdict and instructed the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation to ensure the provision of essential services in Juhapura, such as roads, maintenance of traffic, and a solution to cattle menace.

Real-estate opportunities

Most importantly, the arrival of elite Muslims has opened real-estate investment opportunities and inflated land prices. Abida Desai’s data shows that a square yard costs Rs 50,000-Rs 60,0000 in a large number of Juhapura’s localities – the area’s elite “enclaves” distant from its lower-class population (see map). Her data highlights that Juhapura’s upscale colonies are similar to other Muslim-dominated middle-class localities in Ahmedabad, such as Shah-e-Alam and Dani Limbda.

Only two Muslim-dominated elite localities, i.e., Paldi and Navrangpura, have somewhat higher land prices than posh colonies of Juhapura. Modern supermarkets, restaurants, gyms, and clothing outlets have followed in Juhapura as a corollary.

This real estate inflation has partly stemmed from a rise in demand vis-à-vis accentuating spatial constraints: Juhapura cannot expand geographically due to the application of the Disturbed Areas Act (1991) – a law that effectively prohibits property transactions between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat’s major cities and towns. Moreover, Juhapura’s so-called borders have a housing colony of police officers near Makarba – an indirect way to keep an eye on the “suspicious” community.

The arrival of elite Muslims to the area has not facilitated any emancipation of the poor in the ghetto but only added to the non-linear trajectory of Muslim vulnerabilities on caste, class, and gender lines. The land price inflation in Juhapura has worsened socio-economic inequalities and pushed the Muslim lower-class to its peripheries. Indeed, the elite Muslims in Juhapura live near the national highway or the Sarkhej-Gandhinagar highway, while the poor stay deep inside the ghetto.

In the poorest localities of Juhapura, with a working-class population, a square yard is worth less than Rs. 15,000. The land rates in poor localities compare with Vatva, Narol, and Naroda – three localities on the periphery of Ahmedabad, with a significant population of the industrial working class and casual labourers by riot victims and people displaced by the gentrification of Sabarmati’s riverfront.

Most notably, the class differentiation in Juhapura’s ghettoised Muslim community is challenged by lower-class Muslim women, who often also come from lower-caste backgrounds such as Ansari Julahas – a community of weavers – who historically migrated to Ahmedabad from the Hindi heartland to seek employment in the cotton textile mills.

While some women championed Islam as a feminist religion – who also started sharia courts – and used it as a basis to fight for their rights, others lead the fight against discrimination of women in religious places and triple talaq. This juxtaposition and seemingly diametrical tensions continue to challenge patriarchy in all its myriad shapes and forms, what it leaves intact is class.

While lower-class Muslim women fought for affordable housing, necessary infrastructure, clean drinking water, access to education, and women’s rights, middle-class and elite Muslim women mostly stayed away. This oppressive impassiveness can perhaps best be exemplified by the fact that Juhapara is yet to see an all-girls college. Wealthy residents send their children to colleges in the city, whereas women leading the struggle, inter alia, for access to higher education for girls have limited, if any, recourse.

For instance, Saliha Ansari (name changed), from the Ansari
Julaha community, mobilised Muslim women for the Vasvaat Andolan (Movement for Housing). The movement was birthed because of a town-planning scheme’s road that may potentially destroy over 100 houses Alif Row House – a colony of impoverished lower-caste Muslims located behind the luxurious Al-Burj housing scheme.

Ansari, alongside her Shaikh, Mansuri and Ansari women neighbours who generally work as homemakers or housemaids for elite families in Juhapura, has led the struggle for housing rights. An 11-km-long demonstration from Alif Row House saw over 100 women from the colony march up to the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation headquarters in the old city. Even though they were not allowed inside, the state government later amended the plan and reduced the road’s width from 18 metres to 12 metres.

These perplexing features of Juhapura’s political economy are not separate from Gujarat’s long history of Hindu nationalism. The ghetto’s real-estate inflation owes in large sum to the Disturbed Areas Act. Recently, in October 2020, India’s President, Ramnath Kovind, signed on the amendments to the Disturbed Areas Act that allow the state government to stop property transactions between consenting individuals if it senses an impending imbalance in the “demographic equilibrium.” Those violating the law may also end up in jail for a period of three to five years now.

Indeed, this legal mechanism to promote Muslim ghettoisation, in the name of stymieing “land jihad,” will complicate Juhapura’s trajectory even further.