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Village that shines like metropolis

Haldharwa (Vadodara), Dec. 15: In a village of prosperity, trust is at a deficit.

At first glance, Haldharwa, a village of around 3,000 people located 150km south of Ahmedabad, is a symbol of Gujarat’s glistening present — purifying plants to ensure clean drinking water, 24-hour electric supply, 20- to 50-bed hospitals working round the clock, the hamlet has it all.

Sitting pretty on the 140km Vadodara-Surat highway, Haldharwa resembles a metropolis for hinterland dwellers in Bihar in particular and the Hindi heartland in general.

Besides round-the-clock electric supply and hospitals at Pelaj — around 2km from the village — working 24x7, Haldharwa has a well-maintained park for children, a middle school, four spanking hotel-cum-motels offering decent food and comfortable stay on the highway and well-irrigated farmlands producing cotton, wheat and lentils.

The youths in the village have enough scope for work: many of them have found jobs in an RPG Group’s carbon company.

But beneath the veneer of well-being lies an uneasy tension. Muslims, who make up half the population of the village and are the more prosperous, are afraid to open up. “Azaan ho gaya hai, namaaz ka time hai, baad mein aayega (azaan has been announced. It’s namaaz time, come later),” said a young man when this correspondent asked him come down from his terrace on the first floor.

The Muslims live in the southern corner of the village which appears far more prosperous with their multi-storeyed spanking houses fitted with air conditioners, glazed tiles, SUVs and terraces fitted with marbles. But fear hasn’t left them.

“Please for Allah’s sake leave me alone. You are a media man I guess. I don’t want to talk to you,” came the refrain from a young woman, as she walked towards an SUV parked outside her door.

After a lot of cajoling, Ghulam Mohammad, 60, whose son studies in the UK, agreed to talk to this correspondent with the condition: “no photograph please”.

“See, Godhra is more than 150km south of our village. But the burning of the train at Godhra and subsequent rioting between Hindus and Muslims in 2002 changed our lives forever. Though our Haldharwa village witnessed no riots, the Kalashnikov-wielding policemen keep raiding our homes almost every week. They enter our localities through the Hindu settlements,” Ghulam said. “We live in constant fear. The trust between Hindus and Muslim has gone forever. The CM hardly cares to restore the trust which was so strong earlier.”

Unlike the other villagers, Ghulam was vocal in his opposition to Narendra Modi. “The prosperity of the village is not the gift of Narendra Modi. The highway, the hotels, electric power, industries, our well maintained park, the well maintained dargah of Sufi saints Baba Nasiruddin and Baba Badruddin are there since days when no one had even heard about any Narendra Modi,” he said. “His only gift is the loss of trust between Hindus and Muslims.”

A little inquiry revealed that Muslims — many of them in trade, industries and big farming and even working in the US and the UK — were the zamindars of the village. The Hindu population, mainly comprising backward Harijans and tribal, served as manual workers at the Muslim homes. “They (Hindus) still come and work at our doors. We give them gifts on Id and Holi festivals,” another resident, who had come to join the conversation, said.

“But we no longer trust them and they too don’t trust us. They (Hindus) let the policemen enter our localities at regular intervals. No one from our village has been involved in rioting, then what is the logic of the security forces searching our homes every other day?” he said.

The villagers pointed out how 750-year-old mazaar of the two Sufi saints serves as a cure to snake bite to both Hindus and Muslims.

“He has done nothing to restore the confidence of Muslims. He has not given a single ticket to the Muslims even in the Muslim dominated areas. He is a disaster for Gujarat. It will be a disaster to India if he becomes Prime Minister,” said a villager. “We had no problems until 10 years ago. Everything changed after that,” he added wistfully. Trust being the biggest casualty.