New Delhi/Dwarka, Apr 01 (KMS): The coastline in the Indian state of Gujarat has seen multiple demolition drives in recent months. Opposition parties and locals allege that the Bharatiya Janata Party government is making it a point to displace Muslims and disrupt their livelihoods.
On March 28, Gujarat chief minister Bhupendra Patel visited Porbandar’s Harsiddhi Temple with the state’s home minister, Harsh Sanghavi. In October 2022, the same coastal city of Porbandar saw a massive demolition drive which set out to raze ‘unauthorised structures’ – under the banner of which the district administration demolished the Muradsha Pir Dargah.
Following this demolition, local Muslims protested. Prohibitory orders were issued in the jurisdiction of four police stations in Porbandar after the police used tear gas to prevent Muslims from marching to a site in the Udyognagar area where an ‘unauthorised’ religious structure was razed.
On Gujarat’s coast, demolitions made a comeback when on March 12 this year, villages across Devbhumi Dwarka district saw drives to expel ‘illegal occupants’ from the district.
More than 200 structures have been razed so far at the Gandhvi fishing harbour near the Harsiddhi temple – these include homes, mosques, Islamic shrines and shops owned by locals. A majority of the population in Gandhvi is Muslim and practice fishing as their livelihood.
The Dwarka administration has maintained that the unauthorised structures which now stand demolished were built on government land, the Harshad Harbour in the Mendha creek near the Harsiddhi Temple. The administration also added that the properties and warehouses located along the seacoast could be used as a landing point for smuggled drugs.
Mosques razed, temple spared
Gafur Daud Patel, a local from Harshad, has had to pack all his belongings from his 35-year-old home overnight. From Harshad harbour, his family of eight fled to Gir Somnath district after the government issued a 24-hour demolition warning.
“Muslims were fleeing, packing their things in a rush, piling their belonging on their heads and trying to make sense of what was happening. But the Shankar Temple near our demolished homes was left untouched,” alleged Patel.
Imam Sharfuddin, a cleric from the village, told The Wire that no mercy was shown to Islamic shrines and structures in the village. “Our Dargah Ghaus Paaq, our Madina mosque were demolished in one go,” he said.
Locals have alleged that the Shankar Temple in Harshad had also received the notice declaring it as an illegal structure and yet it was spared.
Community leader Haji Hanif explained that the village now wore a deserted look and nothing except the temple survived. “We are being targeted in the garb of security and drug peddling; how can an entire village be emptied due to the government’s suspicion?” he asked.
Though the government had served them notices in January asking them to vacate the premises because it wanted to demolish them, at least 69 fishermen of Gandhvi and 122 from 20 km away, Navadra, had petitioned the high court seeking regularisation of their homes constructed on the government land.
Fishermen ousted for capitalists’ settlements
The demolitions, allegations of drug peddling, and concerns for national security create an environment of hostility for those fleeing the affected villages. Congress’s Nusrat Panja views the targeted ouster of Muslims as nowhere related to any of the concerns expressed by the government.
“Hindus also live in settlements across the coast, their villages can also pose as a potential avenue for the dangers highlighted by the government. But you do not see them being pushed to homelessness. Veraval is one such village,” Panja said.
Panja also added that if the government found these locals to be residing on illegally occupied land, they should have been rehabilitated first and then their illegal homes could have been brought down. “These fishermen have been living here for decades and generations, how can the administration uproot them without offering alternate housing facilities?” he asked.
On March 28, chief minister Patel and state home minister Sanghavi took stock of the demolition of illegal structures carried out in Bet Dwarka in Devbhumi Dwarka district. With most Muslim fishermen displaced, the chief minister asserted that no illegal construction will be allowed along the coastal belt and the campaign against illegal encroachments will continue.
With hundreds of structures reduced to rubble, Mujahid Nafees, convenor, Minority Coordination Committee, Gujarat understands this as a two-pronged attack on the fishermen. “For one, the administration is trying to clear the coast of these fishermen in the garb of national security, only to hand this coast to capitalists, and secondly, they want to further the fake narrative that it is Muslims who indulge in all kinds of illegalities, be it settling illegally or drug peddling as the government alleges,” Nafees said.
Nafees also added that the Muslim fishermen whom the government is trying to remove from the coastline are actually the first line of defence in case of any intrusion or suspicious activity along the coast. Yet they were being painted as criminals.
“Musalmaan ka makaan, masjid, madarsa, mazaar, sab gira dia, magar mandir waheen hai abhi bhi,” said Nafees, referring to the fact that while the temples have received notices to vacate the premises, but they have neither been forcefully evicted nor the premises demolished.
Demolition and drugs
Congress’s V.T. Sida from Junagadh has been working to get the expelled fishermen into rehabilitation camps. Sida, who personally met with chief minister Patel, said that he was assured that the government would investigate the matter. But he says assurances are not enough to house those who have lost their livelihoods and places of living.
Sida explained, “If the government feels that drug peddling is happening, they have ample amount of intelligence to nab the culprits, why kick out the Muslim fishermen in this manner? If their residence is illegal, they should be shifted to rehabilitation camps, why is the government making it look like it is freeing an area from Muslim occupation?”
This is the second major demolition drive along the Devbhumi Dwarka coast in about three months. The previous demolition happened merely months before the state’s assembly elections. In October 2022, the government undertook a massive demolition drive razing at least a hundred structures in Bet Dwarka, an island off the Okha coast, famous for the Dwarkadhish Mukhya Mandir, a shrine for the Hindu deity Krishna. Currently, 120 structures in Navadra, 80 structures in Harshad, 65 structures in Bhogat and 120 structures in Bet Dwarka sit broken. This tally is inclusive of the four broken mosques and four toppled dargahs in all the four villages.
Gafur Daud Patel, one of the petitioners, told media that the high court disposed of the matter after the government assured the court that the affected families will be rehabilitated according to existing policies of the government, paving the way for the demolition. Yet, many like Patel from the coast’s emptied villages have fled fearing being flattened under the rubble that their decades-old houses have been turned into.
Disclaimer: In ‘selective’ demolition, Muslim structures razed but temple spared in Gujarat’s Dwarka - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view