Ahmedabad- a city of contradiction

Ahmedabad PictureI share a strange bonding with Ahmedabad. I love it and hate it at the same time. It inspires me and it makes me a pessimist.  The bonding began six years ago when I came here to participate in a debating competition. That visit has no fond memories, except that a love story of a friend began and concluded during the same.

From that time onwards I kept coming here every year, from past seven months- almost every month. My work made me intrude insane number of houses and listen to the inspiring stories of women who were none to me. I have never thought even in my wildest dream that I will be ever working on gender-related issues and here I’m meeting women who are organizing themselves to get their contribution in the economy recognized.

During the interviews and past exposure to the city, I saw varying undercurrents. The city is deeply polarized on the lines of faith. By leaving the conversation there I will not be doing justice to city. Yes! There are people like Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi who inhabit in this space. But the story doesn’t end there. Ahmedabad also has pioneers and nation builders like Ela Bhatt who have invested all their lives to change the way we look at development, created a new avenues of unity and harmony and termed such sources ‘sisterhood’. ‘Sisterhood’ which unites women workers of informal economy through a string which is different from faith & caste based identities.

Ahmedabadis aka Amdavadis are very curious to know about your ‘faith’ in the very first interaction itself as if that is the only thing which matters to them. The answer to the question about ‘religion’ is essential to the foundations of their relationship with you. If you belong to the same faith- they will rejoice your company otherwise a certain distance will be maintained. And for me it has been a very tough question to respond to. Am I Muslim? Am I Hindu? I don’t think I have any answer for that. I prefer to be in the gray area. The city doesn’t understand eclectic identity- you have to be either this or that- no in betweens allowed.

The story is still incomplete. Fluidity for many in the city is a strange concept. Ahmedabad is a polarized ocean where one current prefers to stay away from the other. There are strange places where the currents mingle, not many in the city know about it. The morning assembly of (Self Employed Women’s Association) SEWA starts with verses of Quran and Vedic Mantras going up together. You can see women with sindur on their forehead reading out Sura of Quran and hijabi ones joining them with their melodious voices in singing bhajan. Isn’t it strange! For sisters in SEWA it is a part of their daily life.

Post 2002 to challenge the hegemony of faith based polarized identities same sisters are trying their best through child care centers (pre-school) that children of different faiths stay together, play together. They are creating a generation of children who will be different.  2002 has left many scars however the healing process has begun. The perpetrators of the crimes against humanity are still out there. Justice is yet to be delivered in most cases.  Still people have not lost their faith in each other. The child care centers are part of the same collective healing. I again emphasize on the fact that Ahmedabad is a polarized ocean but there are strong waves which are thrashing the faith based walls. In 2002 when few men became beasts, there were others who remained humans and restored mankind’s  faith in humanity. There were more Hindus who saved the lives of the Muslims than those who slaughtered them. That is what makes the city unique and affable.

The city was termed as “Shock City” by an urban historian. It is definitely a shock city. The tremors of love and hate both co-exist. Moving on to the leadership of Mr. Narendra Modi surprisingly my sample survey outcomes have been very flawed, whomsoever I met- women in SEWA, auto rickshaw drivers on the street, waiters in restaurants and friends who are studying in different colleges- all are opposing Mr. Stooge of saffron party, he seems to be a butt of every joke they crack. I’m unable to understand the reason of this flaw in the sample.

Gujarat is a part of this new – ‘conservative crony capitalist make believe developed world’ where anarchy prevails. Roads in mess, farmers committing suicide, mass displacement for development, no fresh air to breathe, no water supply & sanitation facility in most parts and shiny tourism advertisements.

I feel like asking that ‘the man who is unable to manage the traffic on the roads of Ahmedabad, how will he able to administer the whole country?’ His two pet projects ‘Riverfront’ & ‘Bus Rapid Transit’ both in Ahmedabad are deemed as a failure. Farmers are protesting as they are unable to access the waters of Narmada which were diverted to irrigate their land. The same are now used to give city an aesthetic look. Sabarmati is a dead river and in its river basin Narmada stagnates- giving a mixture of London & Benares like look to the city. The Bus Rapid Transit which is being declared as a success story is nothing but a cropped photo story on facebook. The conclusion of recent surveys published in urban affairs edition (2013) of Economic & Political weekly have posed genuine questions on the viability of the project.

People make tall claims that Ahmedabad is a safest city in India. It is partially true. It is less to do with the safety net laid by Gujarat government. Chief Minister who was wearing bangles on Mehndi laden hands in 2002- how is it possible for him to make the city or state safe? Particularly for safety we need to appreciate the owl like nature of staying awake in the night and dog like curiosity of Gujaratis. That is what makes it safe.  There are too many eyes on the street checking out every passing individual.

The story of safety in the city is partially true. The perpetrators of crime against humanity are still out. They can lay their hands on any damn women walking on the road. The Page-2  of‘Times of India’ a daily which is not worth calling a newspaper is filled the stories of rise in the crime in Ahmedabad. Keeping that coverage aside, during the past conversations for a proposal on ‘violence against women working in informal economy’ made me aware that city isn’t that safe. Women especially under-privileged ones are at the receiving end of the sexual violence. They can’t go to police station as they fear of losing livelihood.  Police stations in the state are apparently no less than a den of hungry beasts. Newspapers don’t feel like reporting such stories as the media is heavily controlled by the state. It is not a mere allegation. One can find from the content of newspapers apart from TOI that there is something fishy going on. All the stories are ‘happy, happy’ and they are enough to make a lay man cynical. Now what can be done in such state of sorry affairs I have no idea. I will be bashed from North, South, East, and West but will not be shy away from stating that Gujarat is a milder version of ‘North Korea’.

In all this juggernaut of crime, hatred and love I desire for a nice beer in the evening on the riverfront. Availing that is no easy task. The dryness of state is taking a toll on me, thanks to the ban on alcohol imposed by the urine drinking Chief Minister who later became the Prime Minister.

Few weeks ago I heard a gossip that the current Chief Minister was in favor of removing the ban- but he was informed by his colleagues that this will dry up the source of party funds and fill the state exchequer with revenue. He was told to be conscious on deciding whether he wants party to prosper or the state. We know what he chose. His decision is making my life miserable.

The Khichdi of notes on Ahmedabad to be continued, if left alive after this post…

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