No TV, no music, beards a must: new rules in a Gujarat riot relief camp

via Anupam Chakravartty - Indian Express published on November 19, 2009

Vadodara : A London-based charity that set up a rehabilitation colony for Muslim victims who lost their homes in Gujarat’s 2002 riots is laying down a hard “Sharia law” for those living there — forcing many to pack up and leave.

The Muslim Relief Organisation, run by NRI businessmen in London, built 46 houses in Detral, a village in Bharuch, for families of riot victims.

Now it has imposed a blanket ban on what it calls “shaitani” (devilish) things such as TV, music systems and all forms of electronic entertainment. It has threatened to evict the riot victims if they don’t adhere to these.

Residents have been ordered to stay away from fellow villagers, asked to pray only in the special “Sharia-specified” place of worship built for them and not in any local mosque. Among other diktats, they are also required to wear skull caps and keep long beards.

The notice, accessed by The Sunday Express, reads: “… As per Islamic Shariyat, any person possessing a television, or any other such Shaitani goods in his house, cannot be the beneficiary of money from Zakat, Fitr, Sadka or any Imdaah. Last week, when the committee trustee came down from London, he showed his unhappiness when he saw television antennas and dish connections. So, take notice that within 15 days after receiving this, all televisions must be removed from all houses. If any television is found turned on, or even in a non-use condition, after 15 days, take note that as directed by the trustees from London, we will be forced to take re-possession of those houses. If you want to stay in this colony, all of you will compulsorily remove all televisions from your houses.”

“This land was donated by the elder brother of one of the trustees. These houses are built using zakat money we raised. That’s why everyone has to adhere to these religious rules. Those not following the rules have left,” says the local representative for the sponsors, Bashir Dawood Dukanwala who is the camp’s caretaker.

The order was first issued last year but several reminders have followed. A dozen families have already left and many more are on their way out, sources said.

Most families here say they got the Rs 50,000 compensation for their homes destroyed but that’s too meagre to buy or build another home.

When contacted at their London office, a functionary of the Muslim Relief Organisation, who declined to be named, admitted that the outfit’s members themselves used TVs in London, but “only when required”.

“Television is only a necessary evil, we use it only when required. It is not meant for any entertainment or pleasure,” he said.

The Tableeghi-e-Jamaat in Vadodara, which Dukanwala is associated with, claimed it had nothing to do with the issue.

Speaking to The Sunday Express, its Amir, Shoaib Qazi, a schoolteacher, said: “We do not mind TV or music. If they are doing this in the relief colony, it is beyond my knowledge.”

For the residents, that’s of little comfort. After five years in relief camps, Mohammad Shah Diwan hoped he had, at last, found a secure home in Detral.

“I never expected that we will have to go through this,” he said. “We are constantly harassed and told that if we do not follow those rules, we are kafirs.”

Diwan moved out three months ago with his daughter. At Detral, he worked as a poultry farmer but the caretaker asked him to limit his interaction with local villagers. “Then they built an Ibadatkhana for residents to pray and asked us not to even go to the village mosque,” says Diwan. He now lives off his teacher’s pension while his two sons drive autorickshaws.

Similar is the plight of Idrish Shaikh, a tailor who lost his home in Vejalpur in Godhra in the riots.

“I lost all my property in the riots and now our own people are treating us like animals,” says Shaikh. “Once the caretakers came and tried to lock up my home in my absence. They said I had been warned not to let my customers into the colony. I had no choice but to obey them.”

But Iqbal Diwan is one who moved out to his uncle’s house in Halol in the Panchmahals. “My sister is unmarried and we no longer have a home. We stay with our uncle in Halol who faced a lot of hardship after his house was damaged in the riots. But this is still better than staying under those people in Detral,” says Iqbal.

“They asked me and my father to wear caps at all times and to keep a long beard. We are not very comfortable with that lifestyle. There were unpleasant situations outside my house almost everyday when the caretakers would come and ask us to do this or that,” he says. “So the only option we had was to leave.”

Detral sarpanch Gajanand Mahant admitted he was aware of the new rules in the relief colony but said he didn’t wish to intervene. Some families went to the police, too. “But the police said it was our internal problem and it was up to the trust to decide what to do,” says Idris Sheikh.

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