On 23rd, June 2004, just before the dark, a Chandigarh bus dropped me at the Kashmiri Gate Bus stand in Delhi. A year back I had gone to Chandigarh from Patna to study Science, and days before this journey, I was consoling myself and parents for flunking in my school exams there.
This was not the first journey to Delhi. I had come here before as a tourist with my parents and on occasions alone to write some exams. However, this time I was one among millions who had migrated to capital for a better life. I had decided to study commerce as I did not have the aptitude to study science having failed in all my science papers back in Chandigarh. In some papers, my score could not reach the double digits.
Before I could find my bearings, I saw auto drivers charging towards me and asking if I wanted to take an auto. I told them my destination – Jamia Nagar.
Muslims don’t come to Delhi: they come to Jamia Nagar. All the relatives and friends I knew to be in Delhi were in Jamia Nagar. Auto Walahs probably did not know that I was a Muslim. But they were clearly reluctant. Finally, I found someone who was ready to take me there. He was curious to know what a lad like me in modern attire had possibly to do in Jamia Nagar. I listened to his long narrative on the place, people, -locality and everything that remotely related to Muslims over there.
So began my introduction to a new city – by hearing him patiently to the kind auto driver and by assuring him that I will shift to a different place soon made him believe that I was certainly not among them. It took half an hour to reach where I was to stay with one of my relatives from Bihar, till I could find accommodation.
My first glimpse of the place seemed to match the description of the auto driver. I could see open drains, narrow lanes, and numerous meat shops stood on what was the main road. People moved in groups, most wearing skull caps and women going about in Burqaa. The billboards on the shops advertised mutton base delicacies—Nihari and Biryani. I thought this was not the place for me. But I a Muslim in a new city with limited resources at my disposal. After a great deal of contemplation, I decided to stick to the plan and stay at my hosts’ place.
Jamia Nagar located close to the western banks of Yamuna in south Delhi is home to lakhs of Muslims, Home alike to working-class as well as eminent Muslims like – former Foreign minister Salman Khurshid and planning commission member Syeda Hamid. This class heterogeneity of the locality with one religious group makes Jamia Nagar one if the not the largest Muslim Ghetto in India. Considerable Chunk of Muslim intelligentsia is found here. Jamia Millia Islamia is one of the large universities in the city and home to thousands of students who flock to Delhi or rather Jamia Nagar to chase their dreams. They hope of becoming Engineers, Doctors and groom themselves for other professions.
I am living there for more than a decade, never managed to leave it to find a room elsewhere in the city of social profiling a religious prejudice.
In common lingua, just like the old Delhi is referred to as Delhi-6, this Ghetto is referred to as Delhi 25. So if one takes a Phat-phat from Delhi 6 to Delhi 25, the driver could well be heard shouting Dilli 25 and then Okhle Okhle-, as if he is known that his passengers know that Oakhla is also known as Delhi 25. Between Delhi 6 and Delhi 25, there are other parts of Delhi but unlike 25 and 6, they look like islands of light amidst the darkness, with their fancy markets, posh housing societies and residential enclaves. People living between Delhi 6 and 25 would always give you a strange look if you tell them that you live in Dilli 25. Those strange look, oh that Muslim Ghetto- a mini Pakistan inside Delhi. In time, one gets used to it and internalizes the humiliation and the intended slight it carries.
Delhi 25 is not flat,- there are divisions in it just like in a bookshelf with classified arrangements of books according to their value utility. Batla House is known to the outsiders more than other localities, because of the infamous ‘encounter’ of the year 2008 and its subsequent branding as a terror hum by corporate media and right-wing outfits. Apart from Batla house, there are Shaheen Bagh, Abul Fazl Enclave, Ghaffar Manzil-, Jauhri Farm and the TTI road. Each one of them has their own characteristic. The chapter in the book will deal with them individually.
I was just 17 when I came here eleven years ago. I don’t think I can still fully map all the social, psychological, economic and political terrain with its layers and tonalities. The place strange when I came: It was so different from the places that of my childhood. It was an entirely different social space. I had never seen so many burqa-clad women flocking together cheerfully in the streets. I had not experienced humiliation by my address. I wore shorts and carried a goatee. I was often teased about it by classmates.
I was politically naïve; the Batla House encounter had not taken place, which would later politically groom me. So like others, I blamed community and it’s much talked about conservatism for all the ills it suffered from. Forget about knowing what Ghetto was, often I thought that these are conservative people, who have not seen the world outside. Little did I realize that they did not want to see it.
Over the years, my understanding of the place changed drastically. I know a bit more about Ghettos. Why people living with a certain religious identity are forced to live in a Ghetto? What is that which connects Jamia Nagar to Juhupura in Ahmadabad? Importantly, I now relate myself with this ghetto more than other places I had.
Between these two extremes, there is transition; a period spanning over years: This period was shaped by my interaction with people and relationship I shared with them here- also with people living in other parts of the national capital.
It is not just my personal life,-; there were events in faraway places at the national and international scale which would push me to understand more and more about politics and its impact on places and communities. Especially, on the Ghettos.