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How Jamia Nagar Became A Muslim ‘Ghetto’ In The Nation’s Capital

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By Towfeeq Wani:

On June 14, an article describing  life in a Muslim ghetto was published here. Even though the author of the said article provided some valuable insights into the everyday life of this forsaken district of Delhi, it failed to explain why the mentioned place is a ghetto, which as per my understanding is central to all the miseries of the residents living there.

Formation Of The Ghetto

It all started after the infamous 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Before that there were hardly any people living in Jamia Nagar, except a few houses built by the professors teaching in Jamia Millia Islamia. The university, which was declared a Muslim minority institution in 2006, served as a nucleus for what would later become the largest ghetto in Delhi, with Muslims pouring in from all sides of the state and country.

Garbage lying in water. Scryscraper in the distance.
Okhla Ghat

It was not a matter of urbanisation, as some would want you to believe. Of course there was hardly any concrete construction beyond Modi Mill (Okhla Industrial Estate) prior to the 1980s and almost all the land around Jamia Millia was either cultivated or uncultivated grasslands inundated by Yamuna waters during the monsoon season. However, it defies being categorized as urbanization because only Muslims moved into these areas- not for finding jobs and trying to act big shots in a rapidly growing city but for the fear of life.

Muslims saw a pattern during the anti-Sikh riots in and around Delhi- that those who lived together in clusters were less persecuted. Although Muslims were many more in number than the Sikhs, there was a still a constant fear of being overpowered. As such, Jamia Nagar (still un-congested in those days and with Jamia Millia adjacent to it) served as a natural successor to Old Delhi.

The second wave of migration took place immediately after the 1992 demolition of Babri Masjid and the subsequent rioting throughout the country. It was after this incident that the surrounding areas of Jamia Nagar started to get congested and new enclaves came into existence.

Post the 2001 Gujarat riots, Muslims in Delhi could not think of settling anywhere else because of rising tensions between the majority and the minority community. This was also the time of  the ‘Global War on Terror’ and Muslims everywhere were seen with an eye of suspicion. As such there were hardly any property owners willing to sell or rent houses, flats, and apartments to Muslims. However, even more than that, Muslims themselves were not willing to live in other areas dominated by the Hindu population and the Hindu culture.

Therefore, what is made to look like a gradual and natural process was not so gradual in reality. It was a result of intimidation by the majority against the minority and the resulting environment of fear thereof.

Ghetto Or Enclaves

As quoted in the article I have mentioned at the beginning, one may argue that no one forced the Muslims to live in these congested concrete blocks, and hence they can at best be called enclaves rather than a ghetto. It did not happen overnight and it did not happen in an overt manner, which is exactly why it is more dangerous than the former. I won’t say that it was a well planned move, but it does show the failure of the government in particular and the majority in general in providing a safe and secure environment for the minority to live in.

This is true of some other Indian cities as well. Mumbra in Mumbai and the walled enclosure for Muslims in Ahmadabad can serve as fine examples.

Why Live In A Ghetto?

Policemen walking down a narrow lane
Delhi Police in Jamia Nagar after the Batla House Encounter. Image Source: Hindustan Times / Contributor/ Getty

The difference between a well developed and maintained colony and, let us say, a slum, is that of the economic condition of the people living there. The richer a person, the better would be the locality he chooses to live in. However, a ghetto defies this logic of classification. Walk through the narrow lanes of Batla House, Zakir Nagar, Gaffar Manzil, Okhla Vihar, and Noor Nagar and you will find all the luxury cars trying to find their way through the veins and arteries of the ghetto they are forced to live in. Not all, but many, and perhaps most of the people living in Jamia Nagar can easily afford to live in other well maintained colonies of the city, but they don’t.

Now it may be true that they won’t be killed if they live scattered in other areas, however, they would never be able to live a life of freedom and dignity elsewhere. Take the example of food. Almost all the Muslims are non-vegetarians. Even if they do attempt to live elsewhere, wouldn’t they have to live in constant fear of their houses and fridges being raided in search of mutton and beef? This isn’t just a matter of culture (that people who share the same culture tend to live together) but this is a question of fear and threat to safety.

Self-loathing

However, the single most important reason of Jamia Nagar being a ghetto is the unavailability of basic amenities. It is because people of a specific community are forced to live in congested areas without proper facilities and away from the general population that we call it a ghetto. However it can also be true that since it is a ghetto, it is not given the due share of the necessities of modern life like a proper supply of electricity, water, and sanitation. How easy then it becomes to neglect a community and deny them basic needs after they have been successfully brought into a cluster!

What is even more worrying is that the residents of this ghetto have been taught to self-loathe. I have heard almost everyone here say that it is basically Indian Muslims in general who are not so particular about cleanliness. I mean no resident of the posh colonies wakes up early in the morning to recycle all the waste that his house generates. No. The people from the Municipal Corporations send their men to clean the colonies and take away the waste. However, when it comes to this place, nothing like that happens.

First the structures were permitted to be built without any prior planning or drainage system installed. Then, they are denied almost all the basic amenities on a daily basis, and then they are made to blame themselves as if the government collects taxes only to make them look after their own homes.

Conclusion

Proximity to one of the Delhi’s most sought after universities has benefited the area in many ways. However, it continues to exhibit every feature of a ghetto, whose main aim is the persecution of a minority in one way or another. To study the social conditions of the people of Jamia Nagar is actually to study the larger socio-economic conditions of the Indian Muslims in general because the formation of this ghetto is only a small portion of the larger picture.

Banner image source: Sajjad Hussain/Getty
Featured image source: Qamar Sibtain/India Today Group/Getty Images

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