By Nafees Ahmad:
Since 1997, I have been living in Batla House, Jamia Nagar. Jamia Nagar in the 1990s was very different from what I see today. For starters, it was not as congested. The decades of discrimination against Muslims in India and unwillingness on the part of localites to rent out their apartments to Muslims have resulted in multitudes seeking to live in Muslim dominated areas.
Another factor which contributes to the congestion of Jamia Nagar is its proximity with Jamia Millia Islamia University (JMI) which makes it an appealing abode for migrant students who find this area remarkably inexpensive. The spiraling network of coaching institutes further leads to the vitality of this area for students.
In my observation, the overwhelming presence of students, intellectuals and educated middle-class Muslims render this area particularly vulnerable to biased and discriminatory police action. Illegal detention of educated youth under suspicion has been rampant and Jamia Nagar has unofficially been earmarked as a ‘red’ zone where the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) refuses to carry out its civic duties and entities such as public banks are allegedly reluctant to open their branches or extend any loan or credit facility to its inhabitants. That is why we see the presence of few banks in the area as majority of the banks tend to open only their ATM outlets in the area and not their branches.
The Hindustan Times once carried out a report titled, “Jamia Nagar living in the shadow of encounter; Batla House verdict today” which quotes one resident, Firoz Bakht Ahmed on the same: “The moment you take the name of Jamia Nagar, there is a certain uneasiness among people. No bank or shop is ready to extend loans to the people of the locality. They have all been blacklisted, painted with one brush for no fault of theirs.”
This is not enough. Jamia Nagar is also referred to as ‘mini-Pakistan’ as most people here will tell you. It has often been dubbed as a hotbed and nursery of terrorists and extremists. The area is so notorious that many auto drivers often refuse to offer a ride to it at night.
Dr. Nida Kirmani, who teaches Sociology at Lahore University, spent a year in Zakir Nagar, and interviewed around 60 to 70 women for her research paper, remarked, “There are Muslim ghettos or mohallas in the city, and most Muslim-majority areas in India are called ‘mini Pakistan’, which are popping up all over India.” She further adds, “The question is whether Muslims have chosen or enforced to live in the areas that they live in? If they’ve chosen it, the areas could be called enclaves; if enforced, they could be known as ghettos.”
The area is further beset with more pressing problems such as a poor drainage system. Although the recent work of the Jal Board in modernizing the drainage system has reduced the overflowing of water, there still is a lot to be done. You can spot harrowing traffic jams at any time of the day near Batla House Qabristan, Tikona Park Stand, Okhla Head near Jamia Nagar Police Station and Thokar No. 8, near Shaheen Bagh and Kalindi Kunj Park.
Another problem is the non-availability and scarcity of water for more than half of the population of Jamia Nagar, leading to a mushrooming network of water purifier plants which sell water. Many residents complain of how the ground water is contaminated and leads to hair fall, itching, burning of skin and clothes turning yellow.
Apart from water, many residents have complaints against the frequent power cuts at various places such as Jogabai Extension and Pahalwan Chowk area near Hari Masjid, to name a few. One thing for which none but residents themselves are to be blamed, is their tendency to throw garbage on the roads and streets in the middle of the night.
Though Jamia Nagar is plagued by many woes and several stereotypes, it is astonishingly exceptional for many of its amazing attributes. Its proximity to JMI has made it a hub of academics.
Moreover, the Batla House encounter in September 2008 has, in my view, contributed a lot towards an awakening of its residents towards education. The residents, who accorded business more priority than education, started taking it more seriously, convinced that only quality education and further integration in the mainstream society will enhance their safety and reduce their vulnerability. Knowing your rights when authorities come to ‘pick-up suspects’ is something only a sound education can guarantee, and hence the big shift, as I observed it.
Consequently, when I step out in the morning, I see buses ferrying students to schools in as far as Faridabad. Prior to Batla House, the residents knew only few schools like Jamia Hamdard and some nearby ones. Post encounter, parents have broadened their search for schools which are reputed and known for quality education.
The future of Jamia Nagar lies in the further awakening of its inhabitants; their undeterred dedication towards imparting and promoting quality education, raising awareness about the rights of its residents and forming strong and robust Residents Welfare Associations (RWAs).
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