A Belated Report on the Gujarat Earthquake

Myself and Mawlana Burhanuddin Qasmi, were on our way to Gandhi Dham to see the devastating effect of the earthquake and relief and rehabilitation work undertaken by different Muslim organizations. It was Maghrib time and the train stopped at Osmanabad station, as I was told, to give passage to the Rajdhani Express. Frequent travelers; and they appeared in good numbers, came out on the platform and started strolling leisurely. We offered our prayers one by one. When we sat on our seat and the train started, a respectable lady approached Mawlana saying “Mawlana, do you have Fazail e-a’maal with you?” He did not have it and said so.

I guessed that the lady was a Muslim and belonged to Tableegh Jamaat, a new entrant and remarkably an open Minded person. When I asked why she was looking for that book the lady questioned me in chaste English, “Are you  also a Muslim?” Either she was surprised to see a clean-shaven man talking Islam or she was in the impression that only a bearded man has the authority to talk on this subject. She told us at the outset that her moorings were totally in “liberal” atmosphere. Though born a Muslim, she hardly had lived among Muslims. She was happy to hear that I too during my college time was attached with the movement. I recounted a news report that once I read in an English daily.

The small report simply said that five “bearded men” of a fundamentalist Jamaat (Tableegh) were arrested from a Bangla Biman scheduled to fly from Kolkata to Dhaka, on an intelligence tip off that “terrorists” might attempt to hijack the plane to coincide with the anniversary of slain Bangladesh leader, Mujibur Rahman.  The following day report said that those five arrested were actually Israeli citizens traveling on Jordanian passports.  When the intelligence department of West Bengal contacted the home ministry in Delhi and sought certain information, the home ministry in turn contacted the Israeli embassy for a feedback. They were told by the Israeli embassy that the men were Israeli citizens visiting on “genuine” passport issued by the Israeli government. The home ministry swiftly cleared them, the report said, without mentioning where did they fly from Kolkata.  The five “bearded men” stayed at Tabligh Markaz at Nizamuddin. They also visited different cities in U.P., Haryana and Punjab “to preach Islam”. They could hardly speak any local language. They were able to converse in English with great difficulty, but were fluent in Hebrew and Arabic.

Her grandmother also came by and told us how their life pattern was transformed when they came into contact with the Tableegh people. The grand mother is in total bliss and happy to recount that her husband now goes for Jum’a prayer and also fasts in Ramadhan. He doesn’t scold her any more when he enters into the house and finds her praying. The family is one among the richest Muslim families of Mumbai. They got down at Surat and we went to sleep for the night. The morning brought the sight of a trail of destruction. Wherever I could see, buildings were either destroyed partially or raised to the ground fully. As we entered into the city, we could see the hollow promise of the government. The promise to build a “new Kutch” township with modern planning and quake-resistant houses was nothing but a sham.  I was witness to a heartrending scene where a fragile woman and her young child of no more than 7-8 years were removing the debris of their house by their bare hands.

A government that has failed to remove the debris of fallen houses after a lapse of five months, many still lying dead beneath, cannot be trusted on their words to make a “new Kutch” township. After getting down at Gandhi Dham, we proceeded to Anjar city which is almost 17 km away from the station.  The city particularly was in the news because around 400 children were buried alive while they were taking part in the Republic day celebration marching together with the songs of Sare Jahan Se Achcha, Hindustan Hamara on their lips. The school ground is now cleared of debris and the state government reportedly plans to build a monument to commemorate their memories. Even if one goes by the conservative official estimation, the loss of life and properties in Gujarat is un-parallel in the Indian history of natural calamities.

According to the estimation of the Gujarat Government the total loss in the four quake-hit districts has been put at more than Rs. 20, 875 crore. The loss due to damage to industrial and commercial establishments is estimated at Rs 8,000 crore while damage to houses and belongings is estimated to be Rs 11,000 crore besides Rs 1,875 crore loss of public buildings. Gujarat is the second most industrialised State. It accounted for 11 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and an eighth of its industrial output. Its four ports – one of which, Kandla, carrying a third of India’s exports, is among the largest in the country and has been extensively damaged. The state had more than 200,000 small units and over 2,000 large and medium enterprises. Besides, the state’s diamond cutting and polishing industry was among the largest in the world, with a daily turnover of Rs 300 million. Moreover, Gujarat’s share in the country’s petrochemicals, petroleum refining, natural gas, fertilisers and pharmaceutical sectors is estimated at 36 percent, 30 percent, 22 percent, 32 percent and 36 percent, respectively.

According to the government estimation, in 1016 villages and eight cities the number of damaged houses of which more than 50% have mostly collapsed has exceeded 5 lakhs in the State. According to a survey carried out by Jamiat Ulma-e-Hind, more than thirty-six thousand houses belonging to Muslims have been completely destroyed, among them are 350 mosques and 177 madrasas. Meet the people in the village and they have stories after stories to recount how the government machinery collapsed in the face of the tragedy. Had not for the NGO’s from within the country and abroad rushing to the aid, the loss of life would have only multiplied. The pathetic state of the government machinery could be gauged from the facts that while relief and rescue experts with their men and material reached from as far as Australia and Canada and were waiting for the government permission to fan out in the affected areas.  The State government didn’t permit them to go to the villages on their own – for the simple reason that their officials, supposed to accompany and lead them, were not able to organize their acts together.

The BJP cum RSS led State government’s fear was that these NGO’s would not only carry relief and rescue work, but they would also propagate their ideology. In fact they were afraid because precisely that is what the RSS workers were witnessed doing in Bhuj, the epicenter of the earthquake, the largest district in the State and the district headquarter of famous Kutch, around 40 km away from Gandhi Dham. Meet Dr Muhammad Siddique Ibn Abdullah, popularly known as Dr. Male, and he would recount the inhuman behaviour of the RSS and Bajrang Dal workers even in the face of this great tragedy. With truckload of relief materials they would go to the affected areas and ask people to say “Jay Shri Ram” and “Jai Bajrang Bali.”  Those who repeated it got the food and those who didn’t, got nothing.  Among the recipients were some hungry Muslim children who repeated these sentences.  However, there was a young lad who took the food but didn’t say anything.  When insisted to repeat it, he threw the food on their faces saying “Ja Yeh Khana Tu Apne Ram Ko Khela Le, Main Nahin Khata,” (Go and feed your Ram with this food, I don’t want it).

The incident forced the seventy-five year old doctor to load food on a truck and fan out in the villages. Thereafter, says Dr. Male, relief material began pouring in at his sprawling residence.  He says that more than three thousand tons of food and food grains were distributed from his camp. The Doctor also recounted certain heartening incidents of communal harmony in Gujarat where Hindu villagers refused to take relief materials from RSS volunteers because they discriminated against Muslims with whom they have lived like brothers.  In certain villages Hindus either forced the RSS workers to distribute relief material to all and sundry without any discrimination or forced them out of the village refusing to accept their relief material.  Although there has been every effort to sow the seeds of hatred against Muslims by these communal organisations, the saplings that grows and tries to take roots meets its natural death because the salty soil of Gujarat doesn’t seem very fertile for it. Whereas the Gujarat earthquake has highlighted the weakness and inability of the Central and State government to meet any such challenges posed by natural calamity, the bright side of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has also come up into the light during this tragedy.   Had not for their relentless and selfless work during the calamity, many people would have died beneath the debris and would have also died without food and water.

The government apathy could be gauged from the fact that Swiss, German and French relief and rescue teams arrived in the areas before the Central or State government team could reach. Remarkably, several Muslim NGOs were first among those who rushed in the affected areas with relief material, soon after the news was flashed.  Prominent among them are Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind (New Delhi), Khidmat-e-Khalq Committee (Ahmedabad), Anjuman-e-Tameer-e-Millat (Surat), Central Educational Trust (Mumbai), Jamaat Islami Hind (New Delhi) and Idadara Falahul Muslimeen (Dabhel, Navasari).

However, prominent among the Muslim organisations that have come up in Gujarat with flying colour for sustained and dedicated relief and rehabilitation work are Tableegh affiliated organisations and Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind. They have not only reached the nook and corner of the earthquake-affected areas of Kutch with relief materials, but are also busy in rehabilitation work with all sincerity. Among the villages and Taluks that we visited apart from “devastated beyond imagination” prominent cities such as Anjar, Bhuj and Bhachau were Khavda, Kodra, Rataria, Talwan, Mota Banda, Kuran, Nana Laiza, Moti Reldi, Mota Khirsara, Omarwand (popularly known as Morwand), Rahimwand, Mobinwand, Lakhara, Hale Potra, Manfara and Dhamarka etc.  Although no survey is done and no definite report of total loss of life is available, it is believed among those 30,000 who perished in the earthquake of Gujarat, around 1,500 were Muslims. There are reports of initial confusion prevailing among Muslim NGOs and Jamaats. Many Muslim NGOs rushed to the same direction with their relief material, while other areas were totally neglected. In the prevailing situation certain paper tiger Muslim organisations hogged the limelight through press releases and by flashing news on the web sites, although ground realities said those works were carried out by other organisation. It dawned upon Muslim leadership involved in the relief work that they should coordinate their operations so that maximum people can be benefited and there is also no confusion. President of Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, Mawlana Syed Asad Madni, took the initiative and formed an amalgamation of organisations, named ‘Gujarat Sarvajanic Relief Committee’. The Committee comprises of organisations such as Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, Idara-e-Falahul Muslemeen, Khidmat-e-Khalq Committee, Anjuman-e-Tameer-e-Millat and Central Education Trust – the last three NGOs are run by Tableeghi Jamaat followers. It was thus decided in the meeting of the organisations, Chaired by Mawlana Syed Asad Madni, that they should select certain areas of their influence and work under single banner of ‘Gujarat Sarvajanic Relief Committee’ for effective implementation of relief and rehabilitation work. This undoubtedly has facilitated the work.

We visited the headquarters of these organisations and their areas to rehabilitation work with a view of gauging effectiveness vis-à-vis other organisation. We found that Tableegh people are not interested in self boasting of what they have been doing. They are also not interested in showing their work for advertisement purposes, as we found in case of other organization.  However, we have no hesitation in accepting here and giving full credit to them for proving most effective in executing rehabilitation programs – by virtue of strength and dedication of their cadres. Among the projects undertaken by Tableeghi Jamaat affiliated NGOs that we witnessed during our visit are construction of houses for 36 families in Moti Reldi, Mosque-cum-Madrasah projects undertaken at Himmatpura in Bhachau city and in each village – namely Sanwa Wadi, Morwand, Rahimwand, Mobinwand, Tukharawand &  Hale Potrawand. Clearing of the debris and erection of the boundaries of Madarsah Misbahul Uloom in Bhachau city in the face of stiff resistance from the administration. Purchase of 10 acres of land in the suburb of Bhachau city and initial preparatory work undertaken therein for a residential complex having 300 houses, with a school and a Masjid cum Madrasah.

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