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Last Updated: Friday, 14 December 2007, 14:10 GMT
Elections pass Gujarat Muslims by
As the Indian state of Gujarat gets ready to vote in the second and final phase of elections on Sunday, the BBC's Geeta Pandey talks to Muslims displaced by religious riots in 2002 in which more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed.

The Muslim-dominated Naroda Patiya area of Ahmedabad (Pic: Geeta Pandey)
Residents of Naroda Patiya say they have been neglected

Overlooked by a hillock of garbage near Ahmedabad city's biggest rubbish dump, a group of children play in the early afternoon sun.

Small heaps of garbage burn a few metres away and the air smells acrid.

This is Citizen Nagar - home to hundreds of Muslim families, displaced by the 2002 religious riots in Gujarat.

Five years on from the carnage in which hundreds of Muslims were killed, these people live forgotten by the powers that be.

At every election rally, the state's Hindu nationalist chief minister Narendra Modi talks about how he has helped make Gujarat the most developed state in India by bringing tap water and round-the-clock power to every home.

He prides himself on Gujarat's world-class roads and the billions of dollars of investment he has won for the state.

'Uninhabitable'

But this development is yet to reach Citizen Nagar. Once you turn off the main road, you are on a dusty uneven untarred road.

The water here is so hard that it corrodes their pots. And the proximity to the garbage dump brings many illnesses.

And the residents' patience is wearing thin. I'm surrounded by a very vocal group of women as soon as I arrive and the list of complaints is long.

GUJARAT ELECTIONS
Shakila Bano (Pic: Geeta Pandey)
16 Dec: second round of voting
23 Dec: results declared

"The Citizen Nagar does not have the basic amenities. We have received nothing from the government. We live right next to the garbage pit. No one from the government has visited us in the last five years," says Reshma Bano.

She says the biggest worry they have is about their children's future. "There's no school here, no health centre, no work, nothing," she says.

In the monsoons, the residents say, the place is uninhabitable. The rain water floods everything, filth swirls around.

Fatima Begum, who lost eight members of her family during the riots, says, "We had a nice house but now we are forced to live near this garbage dump."

The residents of Citizen Nagar are now demanding that they are moved away to another location.

"This place stinks. They often come and throw animal carcasses here. And recently they threw two human bodies here. We are living like animals," says Reshma Bano.

Low priority

Of the state's 50 million population, Muslims make up about nine per cent. And because they are scattered around, they do not vote as a composite unit in the elections.

Which means their welfare is not a priority with any political party.

In the narrow lanes and bylanes of the Muslim-dominated Naroda Patiya area of Ahmedabad, hundreds of Muslims were butchered alive by marauding mobs five years ago.

Muslim children in Naroda Patiya, Ahmedabad. (Pic: Geeta Pandey)
Muslims residents say they are worried about their children's future

The memories still haunt those who survived the massacre. Most here lost several members of their families and are still living with grief.

Shakila Bano begins to weep as she recounts the horror of the riots.

"I lost eight members of my family - my mother, two brothers, sister-in-law and four small children. They hacked my brother into pieces, my mother and the children were all burnt alive."

Shakila Bano says her mother offered all her life's savings - 40,000 rupees - to the attackers to spare her family.

"They took the money and promised to spare my family. But, they still burnt them all. We begged and pleaded with the police to help us - they said they couldn't do anything for us."

Since the riots, Shakila Bano says festivals have lost any meaning for her family.

"Even Eid doesn't bring a cheer to us anymore. I avoid going to the lane where my mother lived, the memories of my family and happier times come flooding back to me. I don't wish to live any more, I wish for Allah to give me death," she says, sobbing.

Discrimination

Many of the residents have returned to Naroda Patiya since the riots to pick up the pieces and start afresh.

In a matter of days, most lost everything they ever owned, and their entire life's savings.

Almost all community members I spoke to said they had to deal with daily discrimination and humiliation.

"If you're a Muslim, no bank will give you a loan," said Rafiq Lala, an Ahmedabad-based driver.

Narendra Modi at an election rally in Gujarat
Muslims blame Mr Modi for the riots

"However well educated and qualified we may be, we are never considered for any government jobs," says Sardar Ahmad.

He lost all his savings during the riots. "Today, we've been turned into beggars. Now I work in a factory, I earn 50 rupees a day."

For many Muslims, the current assembly elections have no meaning.

And they have no faith in any political party. "All we want is to be able to live in peace. Do you think any political party will give us that?" Mr Ahmad asks.

Angry

Muslims in Gujarat say they feel let down by the main opposition party in Gujarat, the Congress, which has not taken a strong stand on the minorities' issue in the state.

But most of the anger here is directed at one man - state's Hindu nationalist chief minister Narendra Modi.

Mr Modi was the chief minister during the 2002 riots and has been heavily criticised for not stopping the violence against Muslims.

Mr Modi is once against contesting the elections.

Community members say obviously they will not be voting for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"Modi's supporters say he's done great work - yes, he has, he's made women like us widows, he's made our children orphans, that's the great work he's done," says Fatima Begum, a resident of Citizen Nagar.



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
People wait to vote in the Indian state of Gujarat



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