By Saif Ahmad Khan
When Vishank Singh took admission in Jamia Millia Islamia, he was required to travel for over two hours from north Delhi to get to the university. Hence, Vishank decided to shift in Jamia Nagar to save time and avoid travelling.
Though nobody from Vishank’s family objected to him staying in what has often been described as a Muslim ghetto, he did attract some eyeballs while shifting to Jamia Nagar.
“The transport loader who was helping me shift got a little scared when he came to know the address. He said that all Muslims live over here,” says Vishank.
Vishank stays in a flat situated in Ghaffar Manzil with two of his classmates. While one is a Bengali, the other happens to be a Kashmiri Pandit. Vishank doesn’t believe in organized religion but he keeps a painting of Lord Krishna at his apartment.
“I have never faced any religious discrimination in Jamia Nagar. My Muslim landlord has come to our flat several times but he never objected to Lord Krishna’s painting which I’ve put up in my room,” says Vishank.
Hailing from Kanpur city of Uttar Pradesh, Vishank has earlier resided in Muslim dominated locality of Chamanganj in his native city. “I find the Muslims of Jamia Nagar to be far more progressive than the ones I’ve lived with before. I think that it is because Muslims here had had access to education,” says Vishank.
When the police came for identity verification of tenants at Vishank’s accommodation, they were surprise to find three Hindu boys living together in Jamia Nagar.
“The policeman who was the same caste as me told us that if you face any difficulty then kindly contact me. But I never encountered any such problem,” he adds.
However, the local police haven’t been as gracious towards every resident of Jamia Nagar as they were with Vishank.
Photographer Javed Sultan was living with a friend in Jamia Millia Islamia’s hostel when the infamous Batla House encounter took place in 2008. Post the encounter, Javed started finding Jamia as an unsafe place to live.
“Random detentions were going on. It was a very difficult period for everyone in Jamia Nagar especially those who were living alone. My friend also quit the hostel as his tender period for the hostel’s mess was over. I decided to move to Laxmi Nagar where a few of my relatives were staying,” says Javed.
In Laxmi Nagar, he found his neighbours to be extremely good. He developed a very close bond with one of the families.
“But during Ramadan when I used to go for the morning prayer then some people looked at me as if I was an alien,” says Javed.
Javed returned to Jamia Nagar after two years when he became a permanent employee of Jamia Millia Islamia. “It is better to live within your own community. I have friends and colleagues residing here. My office is also hardly one kilometre away from my place,” says Javed.
However, Javed mentions that “I still don’t feel safe to live in Jamia Nagar.” But he realizes that one can be made a scapegoat no matter where he lives.
Dismissing claims of Jamia Nagar being a centre of Muslim extremism and fundamentalism, he states that good and bad people can be found everywhere.
“People who say such things have heard stories and never got a chance to hang out with people of Jamia Nagar. Many non-Muslim students of the university live in Jamia Nagar. I guess they are all living happily,” says Javed.
Javed feels that it will be incorrect to label the whole of Jamia Nagar as a Muslim area. But he reasons that Jamia Nagar is exclusive in the sense that one can find more educated Muslims here than Old Delhi, Seelampur or any other Muslim dominated area in the city.
“Several academicians, bureaucrats, lawyers and officers dwell in Jamia Nagar. Even former Union External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid lives here,” claims Javed.
In 2009, Gowhar Farooq moved from Srinagar to New Delhi. He was initially putting up in Lajpat Nagar but soon moved to Batla House.
“Lajpat Nagar was expensive. Also, as a person who heard Azaan (the Muslim call for prayer) five times every day in Srinagar, Lajpat was different,” says Gowhar.
Gowhar believes that the tendency to live alongside their community members is not solely among Muslims. “Why should we question them if they (Muslims) do so? Other minorities also prefer living together. There is nothing wrong in it. Also, considering the communal tensions post Babri Masjid demolition, Muslims prefer living among their community members,” he adds.
Due to economic, security reasons as also alienation and discrimination, many Muslims continue to dwell in Muslim dominated localities. Keeping aside the suspicions with which Jamia Nagar is usually viewed, the congested locality betrays the characteristics of a ghetto with its thriving market full of reputed eateries attracting people from the farthest corners of Delhi.