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Backward Communities and Migrant Workers in Surat Riots

Author(s): Irfan Engineer

Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 29, No. 22 (May 28, 1994), pp. 1348-1360
Published by: Economic and Political Weekly
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Backward Commnunities and Migrant Workers

in Surat Riots
Irfan Engineer

In the riots in Surat thatfollowed the demolition of Babri masjid on December 6, 1992, the BJP and Hindutva forces
had the backing of.the migrant Hindu communities in the city. These upwardly mobile communities were looking for a

broader identity and a larger political role, which the Congress had failed to provide. The BJP attempted to fill this
vacuum and, therefore, had the resources of these communities at its disposal.
women, and partly in retaliation of the

THE communal riots which broke out all

over the country after the planned demolitionrumours about rapes of Kathiawadi women

communities of Surat. In the third part, I will

focus on the conditions of the migrant workers

in Sayyedpura. Rioting took place mostly in

of Babri masjid in Ayodhya on December 6,

1992 found their most barbaric expression in

middle class societies and RCC concrete

the industrial city of Surat. Hundreds of

houses. There was hardly any violence in the

people belonging to the minority Muslim

slums. In spite of the communal outbreak,

Surat City

community were done to death in an

solidarity and mutual help cut across

It was in 1795 that there were riots in the

extremely cruel manner, women were

subjected to repeated rapes and were
humiliated by. hoodlums of organised

communal as well as class lines. There was a

communal outfits like the BJP, VHP, Shiv

While in the first phase rioting took place

city for the first time. The riots occurred

between the bania community of traders and
Muslims because of traders' support to the
British. The British gained control over the
city but gradually shifted trading activities to

marked difference between the first phase

and the subsequent two spells of rioting.

Sena a7'd Bajrang Dal, and property owned

mostly on the outskirts of the city, with

by members of the minority community

participation of large number of migrant

Bombay. As a result, the importance of Surat

worth crores of rupees was systematically

workers and the Muslims by and large on the

as a port began to decline. While the Hindu

looted or destroyed. The consequences of

riots continue even today and a sense of

receiving end, subsequent spells of rioting

merchants of the city entered into new

occurred within the walled city andinRander,

relations with the British and adapted to the

unease prevails among the Muslims of Surat.

While the element of shock and anguish

with local Surtees participating. The Machhi

changing conditions, the Muslims, who

and the Kharwa youth participated with all

the militancy and solidarity at the command

identified with Nawabs, could not do so.

in different parts of the country and Gujarat,

Before the British rule in India, relations

between the Hindu and Muslimswere cordial

and peace?

in Surat because of their interdependence in

economic activities. However, the British
administration brought about many changes
which strengthened caste/communal bonds

was common to incidents of communal riots

of the community. Here some local factors

the riots in Surat gave rise to another question: also played a significant role which was by
How and why did the riots break out in Surat
and large absent in the first phase of rioting.
which was known for its communal harmony
In the later period of the second spell of
rioting, Muslims resorted to revengeful

Riots in Surat were preplanned by the BJP

actions like throwing bombs on Kathiawadis

among people. The British encouraged and

with help from other Hindutva forces. While

and setting fire to the slums of the Oriyan

welcomed delegations as well as representa-

the general purpose of these riots was to

workers. The third spell of violence was

communalise Hindus and prepare them for

caused by the Hindutva forces' attempt to

cash on an opportunity and give it a

tions on the basis of caste and community.

Not surprisingly, the opposition to British

control over the state apparatus by Hindu

fascist forces, the immediate purpose in Suratcommunal turn. THe secular forces were
was to win municipal elections, which were

policies by different elites also asserted itself

in terms of the caste/community interests that

totally absent from the scene as the city isthe

yetelites claimed to represent. While itdivided

elites along caste/communal lines, it also

strengthened the caste/community basis of
ties and laid the foundation for interthe vicious and vigorous communal campaign
and the rising castes are subscribing to the
community rivalries.
being carried out in the country in the
Hindutva ideology and so there is little hope
After independence, Surat made rapid
immediate past. However, the extent of
economic progress with the growth of smallfrom these sections to support the cause of
democratic and secular forces. The role of
scale. industries and informal sector in the
spontaneous participation by different
sections in the riots was not imagined even
the media in supporting and propagating thecity. Several factors account for this growtb.
assertive 'cultural nationalism' of the
Oil exploration at Hazira andonatural gas
by the BJP. Large-scaLe participation of
Hindutva is considerable.
migrant workers and the role played by
exploration, a few kilometres away led to the
rumours in mobilising the mobs on the streets Since much has already been written about
establishment of big projects near Surat. The
were crucial factors. The police were either
Surat riots, the details of events will not be city is well connected by rail and road to other
major cities like Ahmedabad, Baroda,
recalled here. In this article, I propose to
absent or inactive. In some cases, the police
even abetted the rioters; anti-social elements examine the background of the city in the
Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. The state
actively participated in the riots as the policefirst part. In the second part, I will describe government encouraged small-scale units
and the informal sector in Surat. The transport
looked the other way. Muslims provided the the hold of communal politics on Gujarat
necessary spark by giving a bandh-call to
and its impact on Surat and examine why thenetwork and cheap labour contributed to these
protest against the demolition of Babri masjid BJP could develop a strong network in Surat developments. The crisis in some industries,
with the help of upwardly mobile Rana,
and by indulging in violence either due to
especially in textile industry in Bombay and
Ahmedabad, alsorled to their shift to Surat.
anger, frustration, or to garner support for
Ghanchi, Kharwa and Machhi communities.
I will also investigate how the Congress has
elections. Kathiawadi workers indulged in
A large volume of industrial production in
lost credibility amongst the people in Surat
raping women on an unprecedented scale,
Surat is exported. Zari, powerlooms and
and did not counter BJP's propaganda. In
partly to vent their sexual frustration and to
diamonds are major industries. These have
demonstrate their power over middle class
addition, I will describe the Muslim
attracted a large number of workers from

due to be held soon, by translating Hindu

to witness strong working class movements

fears after riots into a vote bank for the BJP.

and organisations on class lines. The
The riots were not unexpected on account of
conservative but prospering middle class







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other parts of the country as well as the state.

hardly raises any eyebrows in Surat. There

Due to this migration, the population of

are organised gangs with sufficient muscle

Surat has increased phenomenally from

power and powerful connections to help in

evasion of octroi for a price. These gangs

along with the doctor treating them, from

Surat. One Mahendra Choudhary, became a
famous blackmailer and supari (contract)
killer. He is alleged to have links with a

earn lakhs of rupees daily from octroi

number of politicians. When the police

evasion alone! The super profits of lumpen

arrested him, he threatened to expose their

8 lakh to 1.8 million betwen 1981-1991.


capital further thrives on thefts of electricity.misdeeds. Subsequently, he was shot dead

Surat produces 40 per cent of total yarn in
the country. It also accounts for 40 per cent

The unregulated and illegal units are hardly

by the police while he was being taken for

known to get legal electric connections.

of the entire production of synthetic textile in

investigations. The policejustified the killing

on the ground that he was trying to escape.
The smugglers of Porbunder are known to
hide in Surat because of its safe underworld

the country. It has more than 2.5 lakh

However, even the registered factories pay

the Surat Electricity Company employees to

powerlooms (about 50 per cent of total

powerlooms ill the country). The industry
employs more than 30 per cent of labour

connect their wires, bypassing the meter.

Boom in land prices partly reflects this
aspect. Land prices in Surat are comparable

force of the city.

to those of Bombay! Affluence has increased. protection money rackets, thefts, rapes,


Thus, in Surat, extortion, blackmailing,

While the working class lives in poor

There are about 250 medium- and largeeveteasing, 'tackling' the agitating workers
scale dyeing units. They employ about
quality, over-crowded shelters with dirty
in exploitative informal and unorganised
surroundings and the number of high-rise
30,000 workers. There are many exportsector, liquor trade and organised evasion of
oriented ready-made garment manufacturing
building in affluent parts of the city, Athwa octroi and sales tax, are common activities
units. Diamond industry in the city employs Lines and Ghod Dod Road, is growing.
yielding high profits.
more than 4 lakh workers. It contributes
There are expensive parlours, restaurants
In recent times, the links between
more than 80 per cent of total diamond
and shopping plazas for the rich. The
politicians and criminals have strengthened.
builders' lobby has become rich and
exports from India. The diamond exports
A large amount of black money from crimina

from Surat are worth more than Rs 3,000

powerful. According to one builder, there is
crore annually. The workers as well as ownersa slump in demand of housing from the
middle class. Builders are now concentrating
are from Kathiawad (Saurashtra) while
distributors are mostly from north Gujarat.
on either low-cost housing (price less than

Zari (gold thread) was once a major

Rs 1 lakh) or elite-housing (costing more
industry ofSurat. In 1927, it employed 20,000
than Rs 20 lakh per flat) with modern
workers and produced output worth Rs 80
amenities. The strong lobby of builders has

activities fi1nds its way into pockets of

politicians to buy patronage. Now, criminals
run their own political outfits. Shiv Sena and

Bharatiya Minorities Suraksha Mahasangh

(BMSM) eloquently reflect this tendency.

The growing power of criminals in politics

is also influencing the leadership of parties

like the Congress and BJP. The old leaderdiamond industries, it was relegated to third exorbitantly but has also encouraged land
ship, which is not so dependent on criminals,
sharks with muscle power to grab land.
position. According to 1971 census, there
is being pushed out. They are being replaced
were 300 big and 800 small producers in Zari The lumpenised capital needs organised
with the new breed of politicians with direct
industry. It employed 30,000 workers and
muscle power and criminal gangs for its
and strong links with criminals. Sometimes,
immoral and unregulated growth. The crime
exports amounted to Rs 7 crore annually.
leaders themselves are established criminals.
rate in Surat is very high. Of late, the city has The lone Congress MLA from Surat has a
However, of late the industry is facing threats
from units producing artificial gold thread. begun to attract attention of Dawood Ibrahim
reputation of being a land shark with strong
Though Surat is dominated by small-scale
even as Latif gang from Ahmedabad already
connections in the underworld. Similarly,
units, it ranks next only to Ahmedabad in
has its hold over the city through its liquor
the BJP is trying hard to draw gangs wielding
collection of income tax ih Gujarat. As perdistribution network (in spite of prohibition). muscle power into its fold. Its influence
1971 census, while its population was oneThefts and dacoity incidents occur frequently over the state machinery and particularly
third of that of Ahmedabad, its income tax
due to 'Chaddi Baniyan Dhari Gang',
the police has attracted criminals to the
collections amounted to about one-half of
allegedly of migrant labourers from Orissa
BJP. Recently, one BJP leader, one of its
the collections in Ahmedabad.
and Banda district in UP. The gang is
candidates for Surat municipal corporation
The growth of industries in Surat has been notorious for attacking almost one flat every
elections, was accused of possessing an
haphazard. Unlicensed and unregistered units
day and terrorising its occupants. One
unlicensed revolver and several cartridges,
abound. Today, nobody is in a position to
columnist, Hakumat Desai wrote in his
by the police. Hindu anti-social elements are
give a reliable estimate of numbers of
column in Sandesh, a daily in Gujarat, that
also moving close to the BJP. Guns and arms
operating units in the city in different
according to available statistics, almost oneare freely available in Surat. A few months
industries. Many household units are in
eighth of residents of Surat are rapists!
ago, the police stumbled upon a racket of
remote areas and slums. Labour laws are
Workers, especially Kathiawadis, staying
issuing fake licences in which several
unheard of and workers are paid on the basis
away from their families for long, are sexuallypoliticians, criminals, and btilders were
frustrated and frequently visit prostitutes.
of production. All means are employed to
involved. Two film producers from Bombay
squeeze out maximum labour power of the
AIDS is making rapid inroads among them.
had obtained fake licences through the
workers by paying extremely low wages.
'Supari' contract for murders are also
racket. Police constables and inspectors
There is no security of work. Workers are
pay Rs 2 to 5 lakh for prized postings in the
freely hired and fired by owners of industrial A few incidents will illustrate the
city. These are among the highest rates for
units. Industrial regulation laws are rarely
magnitude of criminalisation in Surat.
transfer of posting. Yet, this money is
Recently in Bombay, when a prisoner was
implemented. Ruthless exploitation of
recovered within a year or two!
labour forces them to live in abysmal
taken to the J J Hospital for treatment, he
Thus Surat, growing at the fastest rate in
was shot at, allegedly due to rivalries
Asia, is a city with unregulated growth of
The lumpen entrepreneurs of the city want between gangs. The killers were also injured
small-scale industry and lumpenised capital,
quick returns by any means, fair or foul. In in a shoot-out with the police party guarding
generating a high proportion of black
money. In turn, this accounts forhigh crime
search of super profits, lumpen capital
the prisoner. Later they were brought to
lakh. Later, with the emergence of textile and

not only pushed up the price of land

organises large-scale evasion of octroi, excise

Surat for shelter and clandestine medical

rate in the city as well as the all-pervasive
treatment. They were arrested under TADA,
control over it by different criminal gangs.

and sales taxc. This is so common that it







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of arms into India. Even during the Indo-

Communalisation in the Country

Pak war of 1965, there was a widespread

and Its Impact on Surat

suspicion that the Muslims were sympathetic

towards Pakistan. The BJP and other forces

of Hindutva exploit such popular percepThe communal propaganda unleashed by

the forces of Hindutva found fertile groundtions and beliefs to portray Muslims as antinational and pro-Pakistan. This common
in Gujarat. In fact, Gujarat has become the
misconception benefits all the ruling class
bastion of Hindu communal forces. These

have steadily increased their strength ever

parties, including the Congress, and hence

since the formation of Jan Sangh. However, instead of clearing such misconceptions, they
are sought to be strengthened.

it is not only communal fascism which is

The bankruptcy of the Congress has led to

asserting itself in isolation. In the society
itself there are fascist tendencies. The brutaldisillusionment of an increasing number of
suppression of dalits and tribals in Gujarat ispeople in the state. Ordinary people had been

far more inhuman than in other regions. Inmobilised for anti-price rise movement and
such a conservative and fascist ethos,

anti-corruption movement, like Nav-Ninnan,

against the Congress. In such a crisis, to

communal fascism of the upper-caste Hindus

quickly gained ground with forces of

maintain its hold over the people, the


Congress reformulated its strategy and came

tion for such tendencies and practices.

up with the slogan of kshatriya, harijan,

The explanation for these tendencies has

adivasi, muslims (KHAM) alliance. This led

to be historically located. "The western

Gujarat is surrounded by Arabian sea. First
Cambay and later Surat served as important

members of these groups in the conservative

Gujarat society. In the state, there have been

ports. It was situated roughly midway

violent anti-reservation movements. Gujarat

between markets of China and south-east

perhaps is a unique state in which the anti-

Asia" [David Hardiman: Penetration of

Merchant Capital in Pre-Colonial Gujarat].
Historically, Gujarat has had flourishing

witnessed brutal anti-dalit violence by the

to widespread resentment against the

reservation agitation of 1985, which

upper castes, could later be converted into

trade and a prosperous class of traders. The communal riots between the dalits and
Muslims. The people of Gujarat, tired of the
size of this trading class has grown
significantly in the last four decades. corrupt
These Congress rule, are increasingly
turning towards the BJP as an alternative to
traders with a conservative and orthodox
the Congress.
outlook have traditionally provided the
political base for the BJP. The trading class
and the rising middle classes always clamour
for stability and fastergrowth. This is the root
cause of the tendency to brutally stifle any The BJP has gradually built a strong party
voice of dissent, which is viewed as an
organisation and political support base in
Gujarat by taking up vanous socio-economic
uncertainty that can hamper stability and
issues affecting the people. For the last Lok
growth. As mentioned earlier, it is this
conservatism and the authoritarian tendenSabha elections, it depended heavily upon
the Ram Janmabhoomi issue. Frequent
cies in the society that nurture communal
communal riots, systematic campaigns

received patronage of some Congress

ministers who even utilised his services to
finish their opponents within the party. TheBJP, with its highly efficient propaganda
machinery, immediately proclaimed that
Congress was protecting Latif merely because
he was a Muslim. They also branded him as

anti-nati6nal. The insecure Muslims began

to see Latif as their protector. The BJP's
propaganda slowly created a belief that the
Muslims are anti-social elements and
stockpile a lot of weapons; that they smuggle
arms and drugs and are therefore also antinationals. Some of the important issues
highlighted by the BJP in,its propaganda and
the activities of forces of Hindutva may be
summed up as follows:
-Numerous rath yatras in the name of
religion are carried out not only to generate
high-pitched and vulgar propaganda against
the Muslims but also to provoke them into
starting riots. These rath yatras almost always
create tension and many riots in Gujarat have

been sparked by them. For example,

according to newspaper reports at least 34
people were killed in Gujarat in the aftermath
of L K Advani's rath yatra in October 1990.
-Communal programmes such as
'Ramshila pujan' (collection of consecrated
bricks and donation for Ram temple in
Ayodhya) and 'Ram paduka pujan' were
carried out widely, covering even remote
tribal villages.
-Provocative slogans were written on
walls at the time of 'ekta yatra', 'kar seva'
and other yatras.

-False propaganda of the Hindutva forces

was never countered by the other
parliamentary parties and secular forces.

-Saints of various sects, who wield

considerable influence among the people,
came together and unitedly campaigned for
Ram mandir and dubbeFd the Muslims as
anti-nationals. They gave a call for Hindu
There are other, geographical and historical,
against Muslims and for building the Ram
unity, asking the people to forget all caste
temple in Ayodhya by the BJP-RSS-VHP
differences for the sake of the nation.
reasons for steady growth of communal
fascism on the fertile soil of Gujarat.
combine at all levels, with active participa-Hindu religious festivals were liberally
tion by other religious preachers and saints,
financed and celebrated with pomp and show.
Gujarat shares its borders with Pakistan.
created a near hysteria in the society. Due to Even festivals of different sects were
Some agencies in Pakistan are trying to
this hysteria and its role in the Nav Nirman
supply arms to terrorists in India. The Rann
celebrated by the people of other sects to
movement as well as reservation agitation
create the atmosphere of a united Hindu
of Kutch, bordering Pakistan and the
and communal riots, the BJP won elections platform.
coastal belt of Saurashtra have proved ideal
of Rajkot and Ahmedabad municipal
for such activities. The media in Gujarat
-Communal riots were planrned to create
corporations. It also intermittently ruled
Suratagainst Muslims and insecurity among
has widely publicised this fact and magnihatred
and Baroda municipal corporations
fied its dimension, giving it undue impor[Ghanshyam Shah: Islamic Perspective,
tance. The neo-literates and the rising
-Anti-reservation agitations of 1981 and
1985 were turned into Hindu-Muslim riots.
middle class/caste read such news with
June-July 1992]. InAhmedabaditutilisedits
control over the municipal corporation to
These riots even spread to some rural areas,
keen interest thus increasing the circulademolish the shops and houses in Raipuraccording to Ghanshyam Shah.'
tion of the newspaper concerned. The state
-The BJP projected its version of 'Ram
government, too, in order to divert the atten- Dariapur area, out of communal bias (as it is
rajya' as an alternative to 'goonda raj' of the
tion of the people from the problems of the a locality with considerable Muslim
Congress and its appeasement ofthe Muslims.
day, gives misleading statements that create population). Naturally, seeing the communal
-There is an attempt to change the name
apprehension in the common man about the
bias of demolition squads of the BJPcontrolled corporation, the anti-social
all-pervasive Pakistan terrorist. The
of Ahmedabad to Kamavati. This was widely
common Hindu sees Muslims as the natural
elements from the community retaliated and
and repeatedly propagated with the full
thus strengthened the hands of the now
support of the local media. People are fed up
allies of Pakistan. They are suspected of
with goondas, corruption, price rise,
underworld don of Ahmedabad-Latif. Latif
clandestinely helping Pakistan in smuggling







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unemployment and other election strategies

sentiments of the people and has tried to give

and cynical calculations. The people,

especially traders and middle classes, want
an authoritarian regime to change all this. In

them the colour of Hindutva.

this context, the Hindutva forces have

managed to garner support and develop
roots in Gujarat by giving their campaign a

moral, nationalist and patriotic colour.

SardarPatel is being portrayed as the 'iron
man' who stood for Hindu values in Nehru's

Thus, beginning from its Jan Sangh days,

Navapura but the prosperous among them

the BJP has become a major party with a

are slowly shifting out of these traditional

strong support base in the state and it expects

areas and are ready to pay any price for
to form the next state government wheneverbuying houses in other localities. They have

spread to Begumpura, Gopipura, Vadi Faliya,

are held, the easier it will be for the BJP to Soni Faliya and other places. They have also
begun to buy property in Jhapa Bazaar,
capitalise on the Hindutva wave and come to
which is mainly inhabited by the Bohra

elections are held. The sooner the elections

community. Initially, the poor Bohras sold

cabinet. It is not without significance that

L K Advani began his rath yatra from

their property to Ranas at high prices.


However, the Bohra high priest soon realised

Somnath temple in Gujarat. The restoration

of the Somnath temple after independence

are mainly employed in jari (gold thread)

trade. They are concentrated in Golwad and

The communal propaganda at the state and

that if members of his community began to

move away from traditional localities, his

was deliberately taken out of context and at national levels has had its effects on the
hold over'them might loosen. He, therefore,
people of Surat as well. The city had not
the time of rath yatra, it was extensively
bought back some of the property sold to
propagated that 'lokhandi punish' (iron man) witnessed any communal riots since 1927
Ranas and checked their further intrusion.
Patel got the temple reconstructed and thereby and both local Hindus and Muslims had a
restored the glory of Hinduism!! According history of co-operation in trade and business The Ranas migrated to Surat from
Rajasthan and claim to be rajputs from Rana
relations. However, communal propaganda
to the Hindutva propaganda, had he been

alive today,he would have definitely got the was changing such perceptions, especially
Ram mandir built at the very spot where Ram among Hindus who have slowly begun to
nurture strong biases and prejudices against
was born (where the Babri masjid stood)!!
The Congress and its leaders at different

Pratap's clan. After their defeat at the hands

of Muslims, they moved to different places,
including Surat. Their original occupation
was trading in rice and pulses. Ranas have

The propaganda of the BJP has

come up the hard way in the jari trade. They
times have used religious symbols to take
used to be workers under Kanbis. While
advantage of people's faith in religion. The communalised the young in Surat, especially
those of Machhi, Kharwa, Rana and Ghanchi
some of them have become owners, the
BJP-VHP-RSS combine is carrying out this
majority continues to labour under harsh
game further and distorting history in a
communities. They used to be strong
conditions. The working hours stretch from
supporters of the Congress but have now
systematic manner. In step with this
moved away from it. These communities
5 a m to 8-9 p m. One prominent member of
campaign, the BJP has increased its support
have prospered in the recent years and are
the community complained that the workers
base in Gujarat. Today, the BJP has 69 seats
have acquired bad habits like drinking and
in the 182-member state assembly, including
looking for new power equations and
gambling. Till recently, education in the
four out of six seats which it won in bybroader identities. Th,y are shedding their
elections held in May 1993. It not only
community was limited since after a little
old customs and 'kuldevis' and have begun
schooling children would assist in the famify
retained Jambusar and Gadadha assembly
adopting the customs of upper castes. The
trade. But now, education is spreading. The
seats but also snatched Rapar and Ellisbridge BJP has successfully responded to their
seats from the ruling Congress., Kashiram
aspirations by giving them a broader identitynumber of graduates has increased and many
Rana'and other BJP leaders promptly claimed through its Hindutva campaign. Also, its
have become doctors, engineers, lawyers or
that the results of these by-elections reflected propaganda has given this identity a
taken up jobs in government. They have also
the victory of 13JP's Ram rajya over goonda- nationalistic and patriotic colour. The desire
begun investing in other trades like the
raj of the Congress.
powerloom industry.
for a broader identity and subsequent
In the last assembly elections, the BJP had communalisation in these communities was
Golwad area, the old Rana locality, is a
an electoral alliance with Janata Dal. The
preceded by a reform movement among them crowded, dingy place. Many families have
united opposition enabled it to win 69 seats
machines inside houses and work there. As
to give up certain rituals. Education is also
new processing machines are installed, the
as against 30 seats won by the Congress, in
on the rise among them. Simultaneously,
living space for the family gets even more
their economic base has widened as they
an anti-Congress wave among the people.
Later, a coalition government was formed in have moved into new areas, instead of
crowded. Women also help in family trade.
the state with Chimanbhai Patel as the chief confining themselves to their original trade.
It is interesting to note how Ranas, serving
minister and Keshubhai Patel of the BJP as
their Kanbi owners, became owners
They are also looking for a wider political
number two in the cabinet. (It is difficult to
themselves. Hardworking and honest, Rana
role for themselves. While the old political
visualise that the BJP would have won 69
equations and arrangements in the Congress workers were slowly promoted to the level of
seats in elections on its own strength.)
foremen to supervise workers arnd machines.
provided -them with only limited
Some Ranas were employed as account clerks
The BJPtook full advantage of the coalition opportunities, the BJP as a rising force is
providing them new opportunities and greater with Kanbis. This helped them to learn about
govemment. When Advani's rath yatra was
the sources of raw materials and economies
participation. To understand the effect of
flagged off from Somnath temple, it began
of the trade. Kanbi owners began to give the
with provocative speeches by the BJP
communalisation in the country, it is
leaders. Janata Dal in the state was a silent
necessary to understand the recent history
of work to Ranas on a contract basis
while they concentrated on marketing. As
the Rana, Ghanchi, Kharwa and Machhi
spectator to this provocation. Later,
withdrawal of the support by BJP led to the
Ranas developed contacts with markets, they
community. What follows is a brief
gradually took over the entire trade and
collapse of the then V P Singh government at examination of the communities.
the centre. It also led to the ouster of the BJP
prospered. Today 90 per cent of the janr
There are basically four Hindu
industry is in the hands of the Rana
from the state government. After sometime, communities who have prospered in Surat.
the Janata Dal faction of Patel merged with

the Congress and the BJP became the main

These are known as 'Ka', 'Kha', 'Ga', 'Gha'
in Surat (standing for Kanbi, khatri, Gola or
There have been many attempts to reform

Rana and Ghanchi respectively). Ranas are

contemptuously referred to as Golas. They

the community and pull it out of some old

the strong anti-government and anti-Congress roughly number around a lakh in Surat. They

For this task, Rana Gyan Pracharak mandal

party of opposition in the assembly. As a

result, the BJP has managed to capitalise on





customs, blind faith as well as sectarianism.



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was established by Jaikishah Das Rana,

the condition to own a power loom. In 1 950s,

any derogatory reference to the community
a community group was formed to oppose

Lalbhai Master, Gaudabhai master and others.

as 'golas' and claimed its heritage from Rana

J D Rana was the first graduate in the

Pratap. He also fought against double and

expensive marriage and death ceremonies.

multiple taxation on the jari trade. In this

community,just before the transfer of power

While the refreshment expenses at the death

trade, tax evasion is widespread. 90 per cent

in 1947. Various Rana magazines were
of jari trade in Surat, like other trades, is
published to support and encourage
rethinking in the community like Rana
Patrika (1942), Rana Pragati (1948-52),
Even without being in power, Kashiram is

ceremony were curtailed considerably, the

Rana.Mitra (1961-67), and Rana Samaj

Patrika (1969). There was an outcry against
alcoholism within the community and the

custom of serving liquor during wedding

Among Ranas, marriages are an expensive

same did not happen to marriage ceremonies

because marriages are attended by business
connections from other communities and a

quite influential in the government, including simple ceremony would adversely affect
the police. This influence is used to help any business relations of the community. A
magazine, Jyotirdhar, was also published to
member of the community in trouble. He
takes personal interest in such matters and

spread modem outlook in the community.

provides a protective umbrella. "As a result",
Due to expensive marriages and dowry,
laments aCongress leader in the community,
which should be at least Rs 50,000 in cash in

affair. Middle class famnilies even take loans "Rana community and Rana businessmen
addition to jewellery, poorer families are
for marriages. To curb expenses, the practice do not depend on Congress help at any stageforced to marry out of the caste. Hence, interof 'samooh lagan' (group marriages) was
even though -it is the ruling party in the
caste marriages are increasing. However,
also initiated. These attempts were made to
state!" The Congress has entirely given up
even among the rich, these inter-caste
improve the community, reform its public
on this community. In all likelihood, it will
marriages by choice are not looked down
image of a backward community and use
concentrate on slums for votes in any future upon. Women in the community also have a
increasing- prosperity for social concerns.
election. Today, all the educated and upright
modern outlook. The community celebrates
Today, inter-caste marriages in the
people are within the BJP. As will be
common Hindu festivals and has almost
community are on the rise, especially with
discussed later, factional fights and groupism
forgotten festivals of yester-years specifically
brahmins, Desais and Patels. Chamunda is
as well as the change in the leadership ofimportant
to the community.
their kuldevi (goddess of the clan) but she is Congress from prominent industrialists/
The Ghanchi community has always been
gradually being replaced by other Hindu
businessmen to lumpen elements have also
anti-Congress. Therefore, they wholeheartedly
gods like Rama and Ganapati.
contributed to the shift of the community tosupport the BJP. The BJP has highlighted
These changes in the community were
the BJP.
problems of the textile industry from time to
accompanied by its greater participation in
The word Ghanchi has come from Ghani, time, especially problems of weavers like tax
politics and with more awareness. In 1952,
which was used by this community to extract burden, expensive raw material, and 'exploitathe first corporator from the community wasoil from oilseeds using bullocks (which was
tion' of weavers by spinners who charge
elected. In 1956-57, two were elected. In
theircommunity trade). TheGhanchis mainly
unjustifiably high price for their synthetic
1973-74, Ramanlal Jariwala became the first
stay in Begumpura, Ghanchi Sheri, Tower
yam (Spinning is a large-scale industry,
mayor of the city from the community. Now,
Road, behind Maskati'Hospital and Haripura.mostly situated outside Surat except for
there are about 10-1 1 corporators among
There are Modh Ghanchis and Amdavadi
Baroda Rayon Corporation). The communiRanas. During 1975-80, Kashiram Rana was
Ghanchis. Modheshwardevi is theirkuldevi.
ty was quickly influenced by anti-Muslim
the first Rana MLA and between 1984-88, he Amdavadi Ghanchis predominate in
prejudices. There are four to five corporators

became mayor or Surat for three terms. He

Begumpura and Jhapa Bazaar, while in from

otherthe community, all members of the
areas Modh Ghanchis are in majority. They
BJP. Hemant Chapatwala, a BJP member,
and 1991 on the BJP ticket.
are no longer confined to their traditional
was the first elected MLA from the Ghanchi
With increase in prosperity, other
trade and have diversified into other areas
institutions were also set up by the community
like textiles, jari, diamond, kirana shops and
Kharwas have been in Surat for many
like Akhil Bhartiya Rana Samaj (1970),
so on. Today, about 70 to 80 per cent Ghanchis
generations. They alsor inhabit Navsari,
Urban Co-operative Credit Society,
are in textile industry. Ghanchis are
Valsad and other places on the banks of Tapi
was later elected to the Lok Sabha in 1989

Navapura and others. These control marriage

entrepreneurial by nature. They would first
river. In Surat, they live in Rander and
halls, dispensaries, etc. Prominent people
of under someone, learn the trade and
Kharwas in Surat have largely
the community in these institutions were
details, gain confidence and then gradually
come from nearby villages like Ghogha,
members of the Congress till a few years ago. start their own business. In the recent years,
Mordin, Bhagwa and Dands. During the
However, with the rise of the BJP and its
the community has prospered due to the
British period and evren afterwards, they
communal propaganda, the entire Rana
expansion of textile industry since the 60s.
mostly worked on ships. However, now
community has become a strong supporterNow,
of they are also in texturising, sizing and employment opportunities in shipping
the BJP. Pro-Congress individuals are
dyeing. Earlier, Khatris used to dominate
industry have sharply reducedand they are
completely sidelined and marginalised. The
textile trade but now they have been relegated
forced to look for jojbs elsewhere. Three
young are particularly pro-BJP. All the Rana
to a secondary position by the Ghanchi
reasons explain this, deeline in shipping
institutions have slipped out of control of the community. Almost all are educated at least
industry: importanice of Surat as an
Congress supporters and are now in the
important port reduiced after major port
up to SSC; a large number goes for higher
hands of the BJP elements. Old Congress
education. Women are also encouraged to
activities shifted toi Bombay; air routes
leaders are Swaroopchand Janrwala, Nagindasstudy.
have replaced ships ,as a means of transport
Kheni and others.
Money and prosperity that came to the
for passengers as mwell as cargo; and the
Kashiram Rana, now a BJP member of the community after 1955/60, was spent on
inclusion of SC/STr candidates through
Lok Sabha and the president of its state unit,customs like marriage and death ceremonies reservation quotas on government ships
has been active in the BJP since its Jan Sangh
has broken Kharwas' monopoly on such
as well as to consolidate and expand their
days. On account of his sustained work, he
business. Roughly after 1956, daughters werejobs.
slowly gained power, both within the
married into only those families which
The few ships which still use Surat and
community and the BJP. He also took partowned
powerlooms. As a result, the poor in
other nearby ports axe oil tankers, meat tankers
the Nay Nirman movement in l 9.70s and the
wascommunity found it increasingly difficult
and other cargo ships. On the ship, Kharwas
to marry, both on account of expenses and
have worked in lower category of jobs like
jailed during that period. He fc^11cht against

1352 Economic and Political Weekly May 28, 1994

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its occupation to trading in fisheries: they

'khalasis' and then moved to' higher posts
Congress candidate for the corporation from
buy fish from Saurashtra and sell it in the
like 'tandels' and 'sarangs', who are in charge the community, Anil Bhagwagar, has been
Surat market. Ninty per cent of fish suppliers
of the deck crew. Many of them derive their able to split the pro-BJP activists and win
from Saurashtra are Muslims and the rest
last name from their status on ships. Due to them over to his side on the ground that the
Hindus. Some from the Kahar community
the nature of their work in the past, KharwasBIP did nothing for the community during
have also become commission agents. There
are adventurous and courageous. Also earlier, its rule in the municipal corporation. It is

significant that the split occurred after the are 18 wholesale dealers in Surat in fish; all
at least one member of each family used to
work on ships. They had to sail for months at riots in the city but for the future one has to are Kahars. They also own cold storage
a stretch and had none but one another to help watch carefully the equally strong bonds
in times of need and crises. As a result, strong within the Muslim community. Also, liquor
bonds of comradeship developed among
dealers in both the communities always pit

factories to preserve fish. The Kahar women

sell fish in the retail market.
Besides fish trade, the community has

them. Even today there is strong solidarityone community against the other and
slowly diverted to other occupations also.
and unity in the Kharwa community and itschallenge the lumpens of both. For example,
They now own more than 100 rickshaws.
youth are very militant.
About 5 per cent have government jobs and
young Kharwas get provoked when some
The members ofthe community have other
young Muslims burst crackers when Pakistan
20 per cent work in private firms in
vocations as well. There are about 40 to 45
wins an India-Pak cricket match. Of late, one
powerloom and diamond polishing
rickshaws, 10 to 12 trucks and four to five
retired deputy secretary in the home
industries. The turning point for this
boats A few of them even work department has been trying to form a broader
community came -.out 20 years ago when
in the powerloom industry. Many Kharwa
association of all Kharwas to campaign for
five to six enterprising Kahars started quarry
women work in 'Sardar' wholesale market
education and to persuade them to give up
mining. After this, they acquired 50 to 60
for vegetables. They have to get up at 4 am the habit of drinking.
everyday to-go to work. Kharwa women are
Machhis came to Surat in the 13th or 14th
known to be very militant. This may be
century along with the 'doli' of Nawab from
attributed to the nature of their work where
Lucknow. About eight to ten families had
unless one is rough and aggressive, there is
accompanied the Nawab to carry his doli on
physical and mental harassment by
their shoulders. As it would have been

trucks and began transporting sand as well.

The mining and trucks brought prosperity to
a section of the community. Only a small
proportion of this wealth is invested back in
the business and a much larger part is spent

on luxuries and liquor. The young are

customers. Some Kharwa women also work
difficult for them to go back, they were given
employed in liquor trade and many of them
as maid servants in upper middle-class
land in Rustompura and some were given
have quickly prospered due to increase in
houses. Someof theyoung in the community
jobs in Rajwada as soldiers. They are known
demand for liquor with more affluence.
are alcoholics and run liquor shops. They
as Kahars. They began to fish in Rustompura
Like the Kharwas, the Machhi community
pick up fights with Muslim anti-social
'khadi' to supplement their income. Since
is also very militant and strongly united.
elements who sell liquor in neighbouring
then, they have come to be known as Machhis.
Their strong unity comes from common trade,
shops. Since the Kharwa community is
After the rule of Nawab, fishing became their
culture and history. From the very beginning
strongly united, even a small fight with
main occupation.
in UP, the community has been very organised
members of other communities may soon
Some of their customs can be traced to
and it has retained this unity and militancy in
involve the entire community. There are
their ancestors in UP like special big crowns Surat. Muslims and Kahars stay close
very few government employees among
and big garlands used during their marriages.together. In fact, as one Kahar put it, the


They worship a mosque-like structure in all

Traditionally education has not been
their rituals (perhaps the Nawabi influence).
widely spread. However, the new generation
Their language, even today, is a mixture of
is opting for it and views it as a source of
Hindi and Gujarati. They have forgotten the

alternative means of livelihood. Education

also helps them come in touch with other

original goddess of the clan and have adopted

Singotra Mata at Hajira. Perhaps, they began
to worship this deity after plague afflicted

Machhi community is surrounded by

Muslims. Many times, there are fights

between them over liquor trade. There is

some competition between liquor dealers of
both the communities. Any dispute between
these traders often takes a communal turn
when they are supported by their respective

communities, They have to maintain good

relations with others because these contacts Surat in which people died like flies. Along communities due to strong community bonds
may help in future in acquiring jobs, skills
with others, they might have gone to Singotra and militancy.
and trade. As yet, the Kharwa community
Mata to seek protection for their community.
In 1991,there was an eruptionof communal
has one to two doctors, engineers and lawyers.
There are roughly 5,000 Kahars in
violence. between Kahars and Muslims in
Rander and Nanpura. While the riots in
Gradually, the standard of living has been Sayyedpura, 2,000 in Rudrapura and 20,000
improving in the community. Their
in Navapura. They do not marry their
Rander were due to elections, the Nanpura
traditional god is Khatribaba and important
daughters in other communities though they
riots began with a fight between liquor traders
festival is Divala. However, the younger
can dine with other fishing communities like
which turned communal. Even at that time,
generation does not follow these traditions.
Dhimmer. Now, even SingotraMatais fading
the Kahars attacked a mosque. However,
In general, politically Kharwa community
to oblivion as the community seeks broader
soon peace committees were formed and
is anti-Congress. In 1977-80, when the Jahata identity. Educationally, it is a backward
issue was resolved. It is interesting to note
Party was in power, one Durlabhbhai
community. Only 5 per cent are graduates
that there were no riots in Nanpura in
Bhagwagar was a Kharwa corporator. In
and 75 per cent of the community nave taken December 1992. The riots between Kahars
1985, Jaswant Sarang, a BJP member, was
their schooling up to SSC. They have only
and Muslims in Nanpura broke out only
elected a corporator. The elite of the
three to four advocates, three to four
during the second phase, only after the BJPcommunity are divided between the Congress
engineers, one doctor and about 10 school
leaders were seen talking to Machhis and
and the opposition, which is presently teachers.
The educated ones are unemployed after maha-artis were organised. The Kahars
BJP. However, this time the BJP wave is and
notmost of them trade in liquor. Almost 60 claim that generally they had.good relations
simply anti-Congress but also a pro-Hindu
per cent Kahars are alcoholics.
with Muslims till two to three years ago and
wave. The pro-Hindu wave has provided the
Traditionally, it has been a fishing
even used to attend each other's marriage
community with a wider identity and has
community. However, after the Ukai Dam
consolidated the hold of the BJP over the
was built, the 'khadi' (pond) dried and fishing
Once again, the recently acquired
community. However, reportedly the
prosperity and wider trade links make the
there had to stop. The community then shifted







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-community seek a broader identity provided

by the Hindutva forces. The community has
forgotten its traditional god/goddess and has

adopted those of other Hindu communities.

In recent years, it has been spending large
amounts of money in Ganesh utsav which is
lavishly celebrated. The entire community
has shifted its support to the BJP in the last

and to settle their factional disputes, leaders

Allahabad link, by the north Indian migrants
even help the BJP. One Congress leader
in Surat. It also began to contribute a large
recalled that previously the party in Surat
amount of funds for religious festivals and
was led by people who had credibility and
utilise these platforms to its political
commanded respect from the party workers.
advantage. Kashiram Rana, president of the
Now, it is led by commission agents and
state unit of the BJP, addressed meetings of
lumpens who demand money to do the
'Uttar Bhartiya Rahwasi Sangh', an
simplest task for the needy.
organisation of migrants from north India,

There are different factions, each loyal to

and took active interest in their problems.
four to five years. The young and the liquor
Also, two local newspapers in Surat, Gujarat its leader, like Pachchigar faction, Thakore
vendors are wholeheartedly with the BJP.
Samaciar and New Surat Times, faithfully Naik (minister-in-charge of Surat) faction,
Bootleggers support the BJP alsdtecause of
reported the BJP propaganda to the public in Jina Darji faction, Sahdev Choudhary faction
its influence over the police machinery.
and so on. Each leader, to be important, must
The lone corporator from the community, their columns.
Another factor in favour of the BJP in the have his own faction in the party. On account
Gulab Borsali was elected on the Congress
ticket but he later defected to the BJP whencity was that itdid not encounterany effectiveof these factions, for a long time the city unit
opposition from any quarters to its communal of the party has not had a president. It only
he saw the BJP wave in the community.
propaganda. The secular forces were literally has an acting president, Naginbhai Bardolia.
Kahars vote en-bloc. Till about five years
Muslims in the Congress are also badly
divided. One faction is led by KadirPeerzada,
discredited to put up a fight and minorities
leader of the party in the municipal
were a divided house. Thus, there was no
corporation. Mohammed Surti leads another
political challenge to the BJP at all.
faction, and there are others.
Earlier, the Congress was in power in the
municipality with the help of a few
independents. However the party lost it due
The Congress in the state,has virtually
to fights among different factions as well as
lost credibility in the eyes of the public. It
non-existent. The Congress was too

ago, the community used to vote for the

Congress but now the BJP holds complete
sway over them. Some of the young people
even attend the RSS parades and are being
influenced by its cadre.
To summarise, it may be said that newly

prospering communities with diversified

trade links and seeking a broader identity
have been attracted to the BJP. While Rana
and Ghanchi communities provide it with
financial resources, Machhi and Kharwa
communities supply it with necessary

manpower and muscle power. As a

consequence, different programmes
in the name of Ram mandir like Ram shila
pujan, Advani's rath yatra, Joshi's ekta yatra
and sending kar sevaks to Ayodhya have
been successful in spreading communal
message and anti-Muslim bias.
Today, the BJP in Surat is a party with

is seen as a corrupt party which protects

the ambition of its leader, Ajit Desai, to

bootleggers and underworld gang leaders.

Different sections of the people have

become mayor of the city.

He defected to the BJP and fulfilled his

repeatedly looked for an alternative to the

Surat Whenever there appeared an
alternative in sight, people in Gujarat have

ambition with its support. When some other

corporators began to feel insecure about

their position and got an assurance from the

BJP that they would be given tickets in the

'next election, they also defected to it.
most of the support to'the BJP among people
Kadir Peerzada has a reputation of being a
is on account of its anti-Congress stance.
wholeheartedly supported it. Even today,

Through its efficient propaganda

smart tactician. He effectively opposed the

machinery, the BJP has added to its old

BJP in the corporation due to his experience

anditknowledge. Therefore, the BJP is totally

charges against the Congress, namely, that
against him. Its entire machinery was used
to carry out effective propaganda and
pampers minorities, especially Muslims, for
to push him out of the leadership of the
its vote banks and is soft on 'anti-national'
mobilise thousands of people at a short notice.
elements. As a result, the Congress has
Congress in the corporation. This would
Thus, kar sevaks to Ayodhya were given
have not only prevented the emergence of a
indirectly encouraged the growth of these
enthusiastic send offs. The BJP has so much
Muslim leader but also- of someone who
support in these communities that those who elements. Latif and his gang are cited as an
massive resources and machinery with which

example. They are alleged to have links with could provide an effective opposition to the
Pakistan, assist it in smuggling arms into the BJP. An attack on the Congress always had
Peerzada as the target. Thus, he was blamed
country on borders of Gujarat and supply

were not willing to participate in its various

programmes were branded as born of a

Muslim womb. This made even the toughest
fall in line and contribute whatever was

these arms to terrorists in Punjab and Kashmir. for riots during assembly elections in 1991
as well as the recent riots in the city. The BJP
expected of them. The rally organised by The
the Congress in the state never countered
alleged that he planned the bandh call in the
BJP in Surat on December 6, 1992, when the
these charges. It also never challenged
city on December 7, 1992, with Mehmood
Hindutva forces on Ram mandir issue.
Babri masjid was destroyed, was attended by
Pardew'ala and was'also responsible for the
a large crowd despite the fact that most of its The Congress is divided into various
that ensued. As a result of such
factions and these are busy fighting with violence
leaders were away in Ayodhya. Even for the
determined propaganda by theBJP against
another rather than confront the accusations
rally on February 25, 1993 in Delhi, which
Peerzada, even non-communal Hindus in
was later banned by the central government, against the party. Even in the recent bya largtgroup had gone from Surat. The BJP elections for the assembly, in which the BJP Surat are convinced today that he had a hand
in 1991 as well as the recent riots in Surat for
snatched two seats from the Congress,
.oul' ' keep its propaganda machinery fully
his narrow political gains.
actj$e after the f4rst phase of riots in the city groupism in the Congress played a significant
Peerzada was once again made a target in
role. The BJP won the Ellisbridge assembly
which ultimately led to the second phase of
the case of firing on advocate Lalwala, the
seat with a huge margin of over one lakh
BJP candidate for Shahpur-Nanawat seat. In
votes. This was made possible because the
Very large demonstrations were held in
anti-Chiman Patel faction in the party kept the belatedly filed FIR, his brother's name
Surat to demand elections and oppose firing
was deliberately included. Then, the BJP
itself out and did not co-operate with the
on advocate Lalwala (described in detail,
leadership during elections. In fact, there arerepeatedly demanded the arrest of all those
later). The BJP also tried to gather support
among migrant workers and slum-dwellers.
allegations that the dissidents worked for thenamed in the FIR. Their objective was to get

It took active interest in their problems. The

BJP was in the forefront of demand for a
Tapi-Ganga railway line, that is, Surat-



defeat of the official Congress candidate.

In Surat, as well, the Congress has lost its
credibility among people. It is faction-ridden



Peerzada replaced by a pro-Hindutva leader

in the Congress. Hindus in the Congress are
no longer willing to be led by him. He used



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to regularly issue statements to the press.

for modem education or hospitals. There is

attitudes towards Muslims, at least partly

The BJP countered them. Now, Peerzada has

only one Muslim hospital in Surat, Lokhart

on account of the Nizam rule there in the

stopped this practice and nobody else is

and two to three schools. Tabligh Jamat

past. Yet, their involvement in riots was

doing this work.

spreads conservative values in the

almost nil.

Mohammed Surti is another old Congress

workers participated in the riots

community. These trusts sponsor and Migrant

leader. He was responsible for inducting

community leaders with political aspirations.

Muslims in the party and groom them for

These leaders in turn pander to narrow

because of their feeling of insecurity iti an

alien city which brutally exploits them,

leadership. However, in the recent riots in

aspirations of the community instead of

suppresses their culture and has nothing but

the city, he kept quiet. A faction of Muslims

providing it with a broader perspective.

contempt for them. It was also an outburst of

their anger and frustration at their inhuman

in the Congress is opposed to Kadir's

Most of the relief work after the riots in

leadership, who became a leader at a very

Surat was primarily carried out along

living and working conditions. It is,

young age. He was the party candidate for

community lines though members of other

therefore, necessary to analyse their socio-

assembly elections in 1991 from Rander.

communities were also given help. One Khoja

economic background to understand their

The old Muslims in the party were sidelined.

Muslim leader said that, when he went to the

role in riots.

They resented this and some even worked for

hospital, he was relieved to see that there was

Kadir's defeat. He lost the election because

no Khoja among the dead which meant they

were not killed in riots. Before, and even

One aspect of lives of migrant worker

stands out. All of them live in groups and
clusters from their own regions. Mixed

after the riots, there was no leader among

localities do not exist. They maintain strong

Muslims in the city who would think and

Congress has been immobilised. It has not
been able to counterthe BJP in any way. This work for the entire Muslim community
has given the BJP a free hand in the city to irrespective of factions and party politics,

back. They are alien to the city as the city is

a section of Muslims voted against him.

To sum up, the entire machinery of the

links with this native place and long to go

to them. They are identified by their regional

single leader to guide the community, give it

groups: Oriya mali, Madrasi (people from

Andhra Pradesh), Bhaiya (north Indians),
Kathiawadi 'gamadiyo' and so on. They

a programme and provide future direction.

have a strong sense of their regional identity

If acts of commission and omission by the

Despite riots, Muslims in Surat remain a

which they zealously preserve by their

Congress helped the BJP gain strength,

divided lot on community basis and along

strong regional solidarity and' intra-

Muslims, divided into too many groups,

political lines.

communal bonds. They, in fact, recreate

that is, defend the rights of minorities and

propagate its communal politics.

articulate their point of view. There is no


their own state in the city and in localities

along community as well as political lines,


where they live. It appears as if portion of

Condition of Migrant Workers

in Surat

those states/regions have come to reside in

utterly failed to protect their democratic

rights. InSurat,thereareabout 1.5 lakh Muslims.

Generally,they votefortheCongress. However,

Bhartiya Minorities Suraksha Mahasangh

also has some influence in a few slum areas.

BMSM is insignificant in terms of votes it

the city.
The fast growing city of Surat has attracted

The riots in Surat arid large-scale killings, people from different parts of the country.
Before independence, Halpatees or Dublas,
looting, arson and rapes were almost

exclusively confined to the outskirts of
the in Surat district, migrated to the city.
As other industries got established in the city
city, largely inhabited by migrant workers
living in slums of Udhna, Pandesara,
after independence, labour, especially from
who runs a theatre, is president of this outfit.

gathers, but it has a nuisance value due to its

lumpen leadership. Mehmood Pardewala,

Varachha Road, Katargaam and other areas.

He is also alleged to be the right hand man of

backward regions where there are no sources

of migrant workers actively

Latif in Surat and distributes his I iquor in Thousands

of employment except lowly-paid seasonal

city. As a result, he has influence over the

lumpen elements of the community in some

slums. Pardewala donates money to slum-

participated in the riots. In fact, the BJP and

hadscarce farm work, began to migrate to
Surat to earn some livelihood. Some even
very little hold on the migrant workers, who
made fortune with small investment and
have been ignored by all political parties

hard work. However, while workers sweat it

though they constitute more than 50 per cent
out for 12 to 14 hours a day in unorganised
of the population of Surat. Their participation
sector, wages are meagre but not as bad as
in the riots does not seem to reflect any
outburst of Hindu sentiments or reaction to
they are back home. For example, in Orissa,
other dalit leaders.
farm labourers earn Rs 7 to Rs 14 per day
the bandh and subsequent violence by
The rest of Muslims are in the Congress
depending on the season whereas in
Muslims as the BJP would like people to
and are divided into different factions. There believe. The migrant workers are hardly
powerloom industry in Surat, wages are up
to Rs 70 a day! It is then hardly surprising
are Memons (three to four subgroups among
aware of political events in the country or in
that migrant workers and their families
them), Khojas and Bohras. These are
the city. Hard work, long hours at work,
relatively affluent communities and have
exhaustion, low wages and language barriers constitute more than 50 percent of population
dwellers in times of need. After floods in

Surat, he is said to have donated money for

relief work. He also has some dalits under his
banner and is often seeni in company with

of Surat.

prospered in Surat. Some families have been

in the alien city ensure that the migrant

staying in Surat for generations. Burmese

workers remain ignorant.

Bohra and Sunni Bohra groups are settled

The Oriya 'malis' are the least prejudiced
against Muslims. They have no Muslim
Small-scale units dominate industrial
population in their native villages and the
BJP is not strong in Orissa. Yet, they actively activity in Surat. There are only a few largescale or medium scale units. Workers,
participated in the riots and viciously
employed in these small units, find it very
attacked Muslims: the mosque in Pandesara
difficult to organise themselves and struggle
was destroyed only because of their lead as
for better working conditions. Labour laws
the resistance by Muslims from inside the
are ignored with impunity by owners of units
mosque was strong and north Indian and
and workers have little legal protection and
other migrant workers were unwilling to

abroad and have made a lot of money there.

Then, there are poor Muslims in slums from

Khandesh, north and even south. Some are

from villages around Surat. These Muslims

are either hawkers or employed in bakeries.

Very few work in industrial jobs. Business

communities of Bohras, Khojas and Memons

have their own trusts which collect large

amounts of money. This money is utilised

for building mosques and madrasas for

approach the mosque. The workers from

security for their jobs. In fact, precisely on

religious instructions. The money is not used

Andhra Pradesh are more communal in their

account of this factor, small units have been







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encouraged by big industrial houses who

Even a single day's absence by a worker, due

over a period of time, various sections of

benefit from shift in investment and

to sickness or any other emergency, can lead

the industry get divided along regional

production away from big cities where

to abrupt termination of his/her services.


workers have unionised and have managed

to gain higher wages and better working

Severe working conditions require only

young workers. Almost all the workers in the

pattern of employment: (i) significant


industry are less than 45 years old. After that

differences in wages between different

age, they can labour no more and return to

sections; and (ii) crisis in one section leading

their native places.

to large-scale retrenchment and forcing

Main employers of migrant labour are

industries like art silk and powerlooms,

Only two factors tend to break the regional

workers to seek employment in other sections.

dyeing mills and diamond industry. Except

Formerly, only Gujaratis used to invest in

for in some dyeing units, workers have to

the industry, but now other communities like

In the absence of these factors, employment

work 12-14 hours a day. For example, in

Kathiawadis, Telugu and others from

in sections continues along regional lines.

and Punjab have also joined the
Some Oriyas took upjobs in weaving section
powerloom units, workers have two shifts
12 hours each. Working conditions are
partly due to slightly higher wages there and
expanding powerloom industry. Most
workers come from Orissa, Andhra Pradesh,
partly due to large-scale migration of workers
abysmal. Again in powerloom sector, work
Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Khandesh.
from Orissa.
is camed out amidst deafening sound of
There are about 250 dyeing mills in Surat
machines and the air filled with cotton dust, With workers employed in small galas,
divided and insecure, it is difficult for thememploying about 30,000 workers. Muslims
responsible for more than average cases of
to organise themselves and fight a long drawn
tuberculosis and deafness. These units are
own 12 of these mills. Muslims are Suratis,
Dhorajees and Memons. Generally, people
out battle with employers. However, there
concentrated in a few industrial estates/
are about 20 unions of workers though the
from Rajasthan and Punjab dominate this
societies. These are spread throughout the
city. Each unit may have two to 48 machines total strength of all unions, taken together, is trade. The dyeing mills employ mostly north
in most cases; a few units have more than 48 not likely to be more than two to three
Indian and Khandeshi workers. Of late, some
machines. Generally, each worker in weaving thousand workers.
Oriya workers have also been employed in
this industry. In large- and medium-scale
section operates four machines. Inside a unit,
Sometimes, workers spontaneously close
down units and negotiate their piece rates.
the floor space between machines is just
dyeing units, some unions are active like the
Some of the migrant workers from Andhra

about enough to arrange machines in rows.

HMKP. But unions are weak due to

Pradesh are politically conscious due to strong employment of contract workers in the
The operator can barely squeeze himself
between the machines to operate them. The
industry. As a result, there is no significant
CPI(ML) movement in their native place.
worker is on his feet for 12 hours in congested These workers have formed three unions in
difference between average wages for
surroundings with no room for any physical
Surat: Gujarat Shramik Sangathan. Mazdoor
different workers. However, wages here
Vikas Manch and Naujawan Bharat Sabha.
movement or rest. Often, these small 'galas',
are slightly higher than those in art silk
But despite conscious efforts, none of these
as these units are called, do not even have
clean water to drink or for toilets.
unions has been able to overcome its regional
Diamond industry is yet another important
The industry employs women workers in
barrier and bring wotkers from other areas
industry in Surat. According to the southern
within its fold along class lines.
spinning and wharping work. Women
Gujarat Chamber of Commerce, the total
workers are paid much less than men workers.
Whenever a Telugu worker, familiar with daily production in diamond in,ustry is to
Complaints of sexual exploitation of women
these unions, loses hisjob, he approaches the
the tune of Rs 6 crore (next to art silk industry
are not uncommon. These women workers
union. After threat of violence by the owner where total production is about Rs 20 crore

are mostly Gujaratis or Khandeshis. Child

labour is also employed\in different

or the union, the worker may be awarded

owner asked him to join immediately. When

managed to break these regional bonds.

daily). It employs about four lakh workers.

However the industry is widely scattered and
units are located even in small tenements.
departments of art silk indus(ry, especially
union able to force the employer to take back
in passing beam threads through the comb
the worker. If any north Indian worker is
This makes it difficult to estimate total
on the weaving machine. Workers are often
thrown out of his job, he is most likely to
number of units in the industry. 80 per cent
beaten up by the employer for minor
approach the HMKP for some legal action.
units are housed in 20 by 15 rooms with up
mistakes or damages in production.
Its leader is Dasrath Nagar, himself a north
to five machines, known as Ghantis. Each
Satyanarayan, a migrant worker from
Thus, unions are, perhaps unwittingly, unit employs 20 to 30 workers. Though the
Pradesh, once went to a gala for work, the
divided along regional lines. The city has not
industry has links with Bombay, the
some compensation. But only rarely is the

Telugu workers are almost exclusively in

he inquired about the piece rates in the gala,

the owner gave him a thrashing for daring to

weaving section as weavers. Oriya workers

ask the rates!

have also recently begun to work in weaving

Workers can be thrown out at will without section but most of them are still in winding

distribution of diamonds is done from

Palanpur And is controlled by Jains. The

diamonds from Bombay are sent here for
polishirjg. There are several operations to be

carriedout, like cutting, brushirng, polishing,

etc, before the diamond is ready for the

being paid any compensation. No legal

section. Khandeshis are mostly in spinning

procedures are followed for terminating

and twisting sections and north Indians are market. Kathiawadis dominate this trade.

services of any worker. They have no proof

also mainly in weaving section. Very few

of theiremployment in any unit and, therefore,Muslims are employed in the powerloom

Workers are also mostly Kathiawadis.

Migration of workers to this industry began

in the early 1970s. Later, due to three
consecutive droughts during 1985-88 in
Saurashtra, people migrated in large numbers

they cannot seek any help from the labour

industry as workers.

grievance redressal machinery of the

government. In a large number of cases, the
worker does not even know the name of the

of work seems to be that once a worker gets

gala/factory and of owner(s).

from his region for jobs. When they come,

and they came to be mostly employed in this

industry. There was some migration from

Whenever workers attempt to organise

the employed worker trains them in skills

Palanpur, Disa in Banaskatha district and

themselves and collectively protest against

unfair practices in a unit or seek collective

known to him. Then they usually manage to

The basic reason for this regional division

ajob in an industry, he slowly invites people

redressal, goondas or the police are promptly

summoned by the owner to warn the workers

Mehsana. Till 1985, the industry expanded

find jobs in the same section in the industry, rapidly and profits were high. Big earners
sometimes even in the same gala. (The
became land agents. They also invested their
profits in powerlooms, chemical units,
training is done clandestinely at night when

and, of course, the police promptly oblige.

the owner is not around at the gala.) Thus,





farming and cash crops like bananas and



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'Telugu and north' Indi?in workers live in the migrant workers. Tthey come from Nandurbar,
sugar-cane. In the diamond industry, only 15
city without their families. After working for Dhulia, Jalgaon, Nasik, Aurangabad and other
to 20 groups have latest technology and
12 hours, workers without families have to places. Out of these, Khandeshis from
employ workers in large numbers. Almost
perform a number of household chores.
Khandesh, on the borders of Surat district,
60 per cent of total polishing work in the
from the biggest group. Borders of Khandesh
country is done in Surat with annual turnover Since there are hardly any public toilets in
slums, most people, men and women, use
(Navapur taluka) are about two-three hours
of about Rs 3,000 crore. Recently, the
open space and railway tracks for the
away by bus and it is well-connected to Surat.
industry suffered crisis with reduction in
The meagre landholdings of small peasants,
purpose. Thus, the same oppressive
the volume of diamonds processed. This
conditions prevail in the slums as at the
landlessness, backwardness and lack of
led to lower wages and production. Here,
adequate employment, droughts and nonthe rine in wages is far behind the inflation work-place. Usually, big slums are inhabited
implementation of Employment Guarantee
by a mixed population from all communities
rate and workers are heavily in debts;
Scheme of Maharashtra state government in
In diamond industry, it is a normal practiceand regions though the population of each
the region are major reasons for migration
to give loan to workers for marriage and region lives in an exclusive cluster.
other occasions. It is gradually recovered by Workers feel all the more miserable because of Khandeshis to Surat. Due to similarities
they are in an alien city with an alien culture. between Marathi and Gujarati languages.
the owner from wages to be paid to the
workers. However, there have been cases of The alien city not only exploits them but also Maharashtrians learn Gujarati faster than
workers being beaten up or tied to the machinesuppresses their culture. They feel they have workers from other regions and are better
integrated with the life in the city. Among
when they were unable to earn enough to payno one in the city to speak for them and
migrants from Maharashtra, there are
back the loan. A worker is forced to remain their problems. In the absence of a strong
shimpis, chamars, patils, sonis, Muslims
midddle-class/intellectuals among them, they
with the owner till the loan is repaid. The

normal working day is long: 12 to 16 hours. do not find any one to support them and give
a voice to their cultural and social aspirations.
Average monthly earnings range from Rs
1,500 to Rs 2,000. Often, workers are accused Thus, migrant workers feel a loss of their
to stealing diamonds. 'Blind faith' is used toidentity.
detect the thief; the suspected worker is tied, Till recently, the Congress could mobilise
beaten up and tortured. Recently, in a pressvotes of these workers through, different

and dalits. Dalits are organised by the

Republican Party and Dalit Mukti Sena and

are more assertive. Different dalit issues are

taken up by these parties and often rallies are
taken out to highlight the issues.
Till recently, others have been with the

Congress or Janata Dal. They work in

powerloom, tailoring, and dyeingindustries.
Very few are employed in diamond and
construction industries. Some work in
attached to the ceiling of the room and beatenfew amenities from the city municipal
government departments. The Muslims are
up. Feudal norms prevail in the industry andcorporation. Yadgiri, a Telugu worker from
petty traders, rickshaw-pullers and some are
also govern employer-employeerelationship. Limbayat area, said that the Telugu people
voted according to the wishes of
involved in bootlegging. In the present Surat
Workers usually wear lungis and baniyans
for polishing work. Whenever the owner is 'peddamanshi', a senior citizen among
Municipal corporation, there are five to six
Maharashtrian corporators, elected 'on
to visit the unit, the manager is intimated in them. Each small by-lane and small cluster
advance and workers are asked to change to of huts has a peddamanshi. He normally asksCongress/Janata Dal tickets. One Khandeshi
corporator is a Muslim.
'proper' clothes even though they do not feel people to vote for the Congress in the absence
comfortable in these.
of any strong alternative. Most of them are Says one Bhimrao Kashinath Patil: "In
times of difficulties or emergency like
not supportive of the Congress. Some are
even critical of the Congress. However, as
marriages, sickness, people from my native
village come forward to help. After my duty
the Congress wields power, peddamanshis
hours, I normally come home, but someMigrant workers live in miserable
have to approach its leaders for odd works.
times I visit people from-my village. During
conditions, generally at outskirts of the They
city. are also supplied liquor during
elections by the Congress to ensure their
Most of them live in rented kachcha houses
festivals, I visit my relatives and friends who
are from my native village."
support for the party. However, when the
with barely enough space to sleep. Diamond
winds of change blow and any strong
The Maharashtrians have collected money
workers often sleep inside the factory itself.
alternative to the Congress emerges, these
and constructed their own temples. They
These kachcha houses are dark inside and
visit these temples to pray during
peddamanshis ask the people to vote for usually
have poor ventilation. Though migrant

release, workers alleged that in some units mechanisms without solving any of their
problems or even representing them. For
the owner kept special room to torture
example, slums of migrant workers receive
workers; the worker is tied to iron rings

workers constitute more than half the

festivals. They have a 'panch', as is their

alternative to try it out. In the last municipal

traditional custom, who resolves theirdispute.

elections, for example, when a CPI candidate
population of Surat city, their slums are
They also have a marriage hall. About 50 per
(also from Andhra Pradesh) emerged as a
hardly provided with minimum municipal

cent marriages among them are solemnised

strong candidate, people switched their
amenities like water, electricity, roads, health
support to him. Similarly, during 1989 Lokin Surat itself, unlike migrant wvorkers from
clinics, etc. Only some migrant workers stay
other regions who mostly go back to their
Sabha and assembly elections, migrant
in tenements constructed by the governient.
native place to get married. Shiv Sena is now
workers also joined others to vote for change
In most cases, workers only keep their
trying to have a political base among the
with hopes for a better future.
belongings in houses and live and sleep
migrant workers. It has
In order- to --overcome their feelingsMaharashtrian
outside. For example, on Varachha Road,
formed Jai Bhawani Yuvak Mandal and
alienation in the city, migrant workers forge
where Kathiawadis stay, ever)* evening a.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Mandal to extend its
strong bonds with others from their own
large number of people can be seen on the
roads outside houses, sitting and chatting. region. In the absence of a strong trade union influence among Maharashtrians in Surat.
Most workers leave their families behind in movement and other platforms, these bonds
their native place and only rent sleepinglead to solidarity within a community and replace in small dwellings. For instance in a 1 0create their regional socio-cultural milieu.
-ft by 15 ft room, more than 30 workers rent Migrant workers from Maharashtra came
sleeping place and sleep in shifts. About 80to Surat earlier than workers from other
Per Cent Of OriYa WOrkerS, 60 Per Cent Of regions. With a population of about four

KathiaWadi WOrkerS, 40-50 Per Cent Of



One Suresh Sonar is the president of Surat

shakha of Shiv Sena. The Sena has utilised

the recent riots to gather support among

Maharashtrians in particular and Hindus in

general. It has also found a strong base

among Maharashtrians in Pandesara. It

regularly holds meetings there to propagate

lakhs, they constitute the largest group among





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its communal politics and actively

Mishra, Ram Barang Yadav and others. These

Padmashali migrated. After that, people

partfcipates in celebrating festivals like

workers are also occasionally militant in

Ganesh Utsav, Shiv Jayanti, etc.

their struggle with owners ('sethias'). One

belonging to other castes like brahmin,

reddy, vaishya, chadali (dhobi) and mangali
(barbers) also began to come here to

In Surat, there are about 1.5 lakh migrant

Hanuman Singh emerged as a leader from

workers from UP. They have come from

among these workers. He was active in Surat

look for jobs. In Surat, due to the important

Faizabad (lowercastes, harijans and adivasis),

Silk Labour Union. Later, owners got him

role that money plays, caste barriers have

Varanasi (yadavs), Gorakhpur (brahmins),

killed, fearing his militancy and his supportnarrowed over period. However, while

Banda (brahmins, adivasis, harijans. They

workers eat at one another's place irrespective

among a large section of north Indian workers.

For workers' problems, he was always ready

have the reputation of being militant and are
to lead a tough fight. The union was not
caste) and some are from Bihar. About 50
strong enough when he was killed. As a
not very literate), Allahabad(patels-forward

of caste, they still marry only within their


After a crisis erupted in the handloom

industry in AP (deaths of Chirala handloom

remembered by workers though he died aboutworkers due to hunger received a lot of

per cent workers are without families,

result, its growth was checked. He is still

especially those from Banda. They work

mostly in powerlooms and dyeing mills. The

15 years ago. After his death, north Indian

publicity), many workers started looking for

largest group of north Indian workers lives in workers became leaderless and desolate.
better prospects. Some migrated to Bombay,
As Ram is a very popular mythological
Pandesara. Others live in Katargam GIDC,
some to Bhiwandi and others came here.
figure in north India, the BJP was slowly able
Udhna and other areas. Pandesara is at the
Roughly, 50 per cent of Telugu workers in
to attract a section of north Indian workers
in live with their families while others
outskirts and is not well connected to the
city. Most workers work near Pandesara
GIDC and Sachin (even farther away from
the city). In Pandesara, they have bought
residential plots in a nearby village Bamroli

Ayodhya. But, their general atitude is: we

entire Telugu community is employed in

have come here to earn. Why lose wages for

powerloom industry, most as workers while

and live there.. Their colony has come up

the sake of Ayodhya? However, north Indian

some have set up their own units after selling

land in their native place and investing it in
powerlooms. Some own small shops

the name of religion and Ram Janmabhoomi.

have left their families behind due to lack of

A few workers also went for kar seva in

proper housing and low wages. Almost the

workers of Pandesara participated in riots on

over the years, yet it has no water or electncity

connection and no pucca road. During

December 8, 1992. They were agitated by

monsoon, the entire area becomes slushy

and it becomes difficult even to walk. The

rumours and the announcement by the

mahant of Bamroli mandir (also from UP)

north Indian workers positively hate their

living and working' conditions. However,

numbers to attack the temple and Hindus

that the Muslims were coming in large

providing various services/goods. A few are

employed as teachers in primary schools of
Telugu language.

For people from AP, language has proved

they are forced to leave their villages due to should gather around it to protect it. The mob
to be a big barrier in their interaction with
gathered in thousands due to insecurity,
meagre income as a result of unproductive
non-Telugu people. Very few of them can
land and dry farming there. The money earned curfew and general tension. It was then incited
converse in or understand Hindi or Gujarati.
in Surat is useful for repaying debts incurred to attack selected targets, and riots and looting
As the Teulgu community in Surat is
back home and/or for agricultural activities. began. One north Indian worker who had
relatively large, they have no compulsion to
To eam adequate dowry for their daughters'
joined in riot recounted how insecurity among deal with people from other communities.
marriage is another reason for migration.
them led them to attack these targets. The
They live in clusters with their own people.
About half of them live here without their
police also encouraged the mob to loot. The
As a result, they almost constitute a minifamilies because wages are low and the

workers without families were in the forefront

Andhra in Surat but they miss their folk

problem of housing is acute. Also, there are

very poor facilities for education of children.

of rioting while those with families were

supported the issue and had even led the

a traditional weaving caste called

of 150-200 people, gathered in a small lane,

march. It was led by Dudhnath, Ayodhya

'padmashali'. In fact, till 1983, only

began to shout angrily. It pointed to a hut and

culture here. The result is that when cultural

troupes from AP come to Surat to perform,

If the fanmily has a small plot of land in the families.
they receive enthusiastic response. The
native place, it stays behind to cultivate it.
After riots, the police started to arrest
Telugu workers also confine their talk and
About 40 per cent migrant workers from
people arbitrarily and arrested whosoever it
discussion to politics and other issues in AP.
north India are landless labourers, 40 per
could lay its hands on. Fearing arrest, the
They are hardly aware of Surat outside their
cent come from small peasant background
mahant of Bamroli temple later ran away. He
workplace and slums. Only a small minority
and only about 5 per cent own substantial
was afraid that the people would beat him up
of Telugu shopkeepers and powerloom
land. These workers haVe no panchayat or
if they saw him. Many of these workers now
owners has to interact with other people and
repent that they believed rumours and attacked they speak Hindi and/or Gujarati.
caste organisation in Surat. They do not
adhere to caste norms, freely mix and dineMuslims.
They also regret the loss of wages
The caste associations, caste panchayat
each other's place. This is partly because farfor two or three months due to riots. In
and their traditional god Markandeshwar
away from home, they need one another
Pandesara GIDC, Muslims are also employed
have strong presence in Surat as well. Any
irrespective of their caste. Women in their
but they have never had any trouble before dispute between two Telugu persons is rarely
families do not go to work, though some of and even after riots, when Muslim workers
reported to a police station. Instead, these are
them work at home to eam some money.
returned to work, there was no communal
resolved within their own traditional panch
They also follow ghunghat system when
feeling against them.
system. Panches demand a huge deposit and
There are about two lakh workers from
elders from the village visit them but not in
other expenses are incurred, but
their daily life. These workers celebrate
Andhra Pradesh in Surat. They have been
Satyanarayana, a Telugu worker and the.
coming to Surat for work for the last 20
festivals of Diwali, Dassera, Holi, Ramnavmi
president of Gujarat Shramik Sangh says:
and so on. Every year, Ramlila is performed
years. Most of these workers are from
"Here in Surat,-traditions are strictly adhered
to and even in worse forms than in the native
at a large ground near Athwa Lines.
Telangana region, a backward part of AP
A few years ago, north Indians in the city
spread over eight districts. The area has also village". A community experiencing
were mobilised on a large-scale to demand
been a traditional base of communists.
alienation is very likely to rigidly observe
However, there are people from coastal region
Ganga-Tapti railway line. About 70,000
traditions to seek security. Also, money plays
people had gathered in a rally to demonstrate
as well as other parts of AP. About 50 per
an important role. Recently, an incident took
cent of migrant workers from AP belong to place which illustrates this. One day a crowd
their support for the demand. The BJP had



more worried about the safety of their





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accused the woman living there of practicing

witchcraft that had made a girl very ill and
ensured that no medicine helped her
condition. They claimed that this woman

as tenants. Very few own a hut. Most of

them have left their families behind in

native place.
There are about 300 people in Surat from

just one village, Pankaj's village, in Orissa!

had already killed four children of that.lane
This village is located in a hilly area and
land there is not very productive. Besides
worried about the safety of their own children
agriculture, there is no other avenue for
from her. The accused woman was frightened

through her witchcraft. The crowd was

that if she was caught the crowd would beat

her up and she had managed to escape after

jobs. Land in the village is concentrated in

alittlebeating. Immediately, people said that

by custom do not touch the plough even

the panch must be called to resolve the issue

about the link between the woman's
witchcraft and death of four children. One

the village can sustain very few people. In

their native district, there are hardly any

a few families, mostly brahmins. Brahmins

today. The dry-land-farming practised in

worker said that in their own village, nobody Muslims, less than 5 per cent and it has no
believes in witchcraft and it was terrible that history of communal riots. Women do not
step out of their homes and are not allowed
his community in Surat should follow such
to work outside except in a few agricultural

Similarly, after L 1C Advani's rath yatra.

peddamanshis had sympathised with the
cause of Ram temple. They wondered why
Hindus could not build a temple in their own
country. After the riots, they have come

offered liquor and all go out in a group to

settle the issue. They have their own ideas of
'wrong' and 'right'. In cases where there is a
complaint against an Oriya person and the

operations on their own land. Oriyas of

forward as well as backward castes have

police are likely to arrest him, he runs away

to another basti and sometimes to his native

migrated to Surat. Caste panchayats are very

place to escape arrest. Pankaj says: "We are

strong and feudal norms and values

very scared of the police. They beat us

dominate the village life. Literacy and the

mercilessly, without any reason on the

closer to the BJP because they believe it to be level of formal education is one of the
the only party that can save them. In the basti,lowest among migrants from Orissa. Except
in day-to-day issues Muslims dominate

a few, nobody can read Hindi or Gujarati.

Telugu people. This had led to some antiMuslim feeling among them. The BJP has

Some of them can read Oriya, their natie

been trying to gather more support among

because they know that in such cases, a big

group would soon emerge to retaliate.
Pankaj, an Oriya worker in powerloom
industry, said that they are not in the habit of
going to a police station with a complaint. If
there are any quarrels within the community,
they settle it among themselves with their
panch system. Justice is administered by
imposing appropriate punishment or fines
on the guilty. If one of the parties involved in
the dispute is non-Oriya, they still do not go
to the police. The aggrieved Oriya worker
reports the matter to his friends and others in
the community. Traditionally, they are

language, but there is no Oriya newspapeiV

magazine available in Surat.

Telugu wokers by financing their Ram

The oppressive working conditions, long
hours at work, household tasks, low level
Iavami festival. However Muslims from
of literacy and the language barrier, not
AP live peacefully with them.
The migrants from Orissa, Oriya malis, are only segregate Oriya workers from others
in Surat but also keep them ignorant of any
more closely-knit, display more solidarity
event in the world outside. The only link
among themselves and are more militant
than others. Theymainly come from Ganjam,with the outside world, apart from
a backward district in a hilly part of Orissa.

powerloom units where they work, is

Some also hail from Puri and other districts.

through occasional letters from the village

There are more than three lakh Oriya workers or news brought by those returning from
here, employed in powerloom industry. In
the native place. These factors combine to
Surat, they are called Oriya mali. Jagannath
create strong bonds of solidarity among

slightest pretext. There is no one to help us

against the police brutality and lawyers only

assist the police despite charging high fees

from us." Thus, the fear of the police is very
real for them. Also, they have no political
support whatsoever because unlike migrants
from other regions and states, Oriyas work
almost exclusively in the powerloom
industry. There is hardly any middle class
section among them like shopkeepers or
the unit owners who can intervene

effectively on their behalf or/and get their

work done.

Very few Oriya workers bring their families

along and even fewer send their children to
school in Surat. There are hardly any Oriya

schools. Hence even Oriya teachers are very

few. The display of militancy by them is the
only way to protect themselves. They do not

Patti of the department of sociology, south

Gujarat University, Surat suggests that
initially migrants from Orissa were mainly

enforce a strong urge to preserve their own

take any initiative in demanding municipal

world-view for security and solace in an

employed as gardeners and watchmen. This

alien and oppressive environment.

Oriya workers are shy before strangers

them gotjobs in expanding powerloom sector. and staunchly defend their traditions and

amenities but support others as and when

such problems are taken up. For ration cards
and similar things they approach the local
leaders and corporators. In this, some workers

Dueto betterwages, gradually they all shifted customs when questioned about them. A few
incidents in Surat illustrate this. Oriya

them. Oriya workers show little interest in

them, impart militancy to the group and

earned them the name Oriya mali. Some of

to powerloom industry.

An Oriya worker, Rama, migrated to

Surat some 15 years ago. At that time, he
was working in a coal mine in Ranchi,
Bihar, when he received a letter from his
uncle in Surat. His uncle asked him to leave

who have been living in Surat for years 'help

workers do not join any trade union or play

voting in elections except in those slums

an active part in it. However, when in a unit, wher9 they are concentrated. Of late, the BJP
one Oriya worker was thrown out of his job, has been trying to woo them for support.
all Oriya workers forcibly closed down the
These workers have always Voted for the

Ranchi and come to Surat because jobs

were easily available and wages were good.

unit and began patrolling the area with lathis Congress till now. The Oriyas are among the
in their hands, ready to strike anyone who
least communal groups and have no antidared to work in their place. The owner
Muslim prejudices. Kalu Patra and Tripathi,

Today, Rama owns a house in Pratapnagar,

near Bombay Market, in Surat. In his dark
hut, made of tin and gunny bags, he stays

called the police but they remained

two Oriya workers, are active in the BJP but
undeterred. The militancy of Oriya workers
they have no support at all in the community
in Surat.
forced the owner to take back the worker

with about 18 other Oriya workers, though

at a time only up to 10 workers can sleep
inside the hut. A larger number can be
accommodated because workers work in

shifts. They cook collectively and Rama

charges them for food and accommodation.
He himself works in a powerloom unit.
Most Oriya workers live in huts like Rama' s



In mid-80s, Utkal Samaj Samiti was

formed. Its president Ashok Patra was a
A large number of Oriya workers go to
member of the Congress. This organisaOrissa for Lord Jagannath's rath yatra. They tion is now defunct and money collected
collect money for it. During that period, they by it in instalments! for residential plots
strongly fight with owners of units for
remains unaccounted. It was inaugurated
by J B Patnaik, the then chief minister of
maximum termination benefits. Nobody
picks up any tight with an Oriya 'worker
whose services had been terminated-a rare

event in Surat.





This content downloaded from on Wed, 12 Oct 2016 12:22:41 UTC
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The Kathiawadis migrated to Surat from

As pointed out earlier, Saurashtra is an

Kathiawadi diamond workers live in

Saurashtra region, especially Junagarh,

underdeveloped region dependent on

extreme poverty. About 60 percent of them

Amreli, Bhavnagar and other places,

agriculture. Kathiawadis are staunch

sometime in early 70s. Saurashtra is a

backward region of Gujarat. Its inhabitants

supporters of tradition. They vehemently

preserve traditional values and are proud of

cannot afford to bring their families along

to Surat. They live in crowded rooms and
share sleeping place. At times, they even

are mainly dependent on agriculture, which

them. Muslims from Saurashtra are also proud

stay in the factory. Literacy rate is very low

is not much developed because of its

of its culture. Here, joint family system is

among them. They cannot read or write and

dependence on monsoon. In the coastal belt

still prevalent. Underdevelopment, resultant

spoken word is almost sacred. Repeatedly,

of Gujatat, due to increase in salinity, the

poverty and uncertainty associated with

productivity of agriculture is declining. Land

is concentrated in the hands of a few rich

change reinforce traditional values and

sadhus, employers and politicians talk about

communal issues and project them as major
issues. While other migrant groups do not
have a middle class to voice their aspirations,
among Kathiawadis this is not the case.
They have a middle class and small

culture in the region. Their popular image

is that of simple villagers, warm and
families who grow cash crops like groundnuts.
hospitable. Guests are always welcome in
Most migrants from Saurashtra belong to
their houses. They go out of their way to
Patel caste. The caste system and orthodox
religious practices are rigidly followed in
help a needy and a poor person. At the same
time, Kathiawadis are known as militant
Sautashtra. Backward castes and scheduled
fighters if provoked. For example, they
castes are routinely oppressed by forward
reacted angrily on Varachha Road, also
castes. For instance, Vankars are beaten up
known as mini-Saurashtra of Surat, against
and terrorised on the slightest sign of their
assertion and affluence like wearing better

'Mangadh hatyakand' in which Darbars

clothes, not bowing in the presence of the

upper caste people and so on. Disputes over
wages are common.

massacred Patels proceeding to attend a

marriage. According to a reporter of

Sandesh, massive protests were organised

industrialists in their community. However,

this middle class does not articulate
aspirations of workers and'the silently
oppressed. There is no agitation or protest
along class lines. In the name of Saurashtra,
only communal politics and interests of the
elite are pursued.
The Kathiawadis have a strong sense of
solidarity and community life which

preserves their separate regional identity.

against the massacre. Similarly, there were
serious repercussions of the aniti-reservationThis has, as in the case of other migrant
communities, developed strong intraagitations of 1981 and 1985. Kathiawadis
religious movements in Saurashtra. For
communal bonds. It is this bond of which the
react militantly whenever their values and
example, Jalaram Bapa, Morari Bapu and
upper caste and the diamond unit owners as
identity are under attack.
other saints are revered here. Thousands of
well as land-grabbers of Kathiawadi origin
Recently, a well known Kathiawadi
people attend their preachings and sermons.
take advantage to pursue their interests and
person was arrested and allegedly tortured
One Kathiawadi jokingly suggested that
communal politics. It is this bond emanating
by the police. He was falsely implicated in
any one can attract people in Saurashtra if
one wears saffron clothes and goes to a
a case of firing at the PSI from his revolver from a strong sense of identity in an alien city
village. Many religious gatherings are held
that today mobilises, almost effortlessly,
in Kapodra police, station. In protest,
thousands of Kathiawadis at short notice
massive meetings were organised and
in Saurashtra, like Sitra and Satam. In the
whenever they perceive danger to their
statements threatening the involved PSI
past few years, religious movements have
identity from 'aliens'-be they Muslims or
were issued in the press. Militant speeches
deepened the faith of the people. The saints
were also made. This went for days. The
police. It is this bond that today makes the
have also been propagating on the Ram
Kathiawadi worker stand behind the elites
situation was brought under contrll only
Janmabhoomi isssue. As a result, the BJP
when the two concerned PSIs were
from the community. Ironically, one of the
has been able to make inroads in Saurashtra
reasons for such strong sense of solidarity
transferred by the commissioner of police.
and consolidated its position. Since the Jan
Sangh days, it has a foothold in Saurashtra.
and identity is the insecurity of life and
However, a small section claimed that the
entire agitation was opportunistic and was
employment and brutal oppression at their
BJP gave a political colour to this religiosity
places of work, including torture and beatings
manipulated by diamond owners and
of the people by extensively carrying
to recover advances and loans and on
campaigns on Ram mandir issue and
builders (the accused was a builder Mohan
spreading prejudices and lies against the
Sawant). There are several other instances
suspicion of theft. The miserable conditions
where the slightest provocation leads to
Muslims. The Kathiawadis of Saurashtra
of living only add to the longing for some
were carried away by the propaganda. With
sort of collective feeling. Separated from
angry and violent reaction by Kathiawadis
like pick-pocketing or a minor road
their families, the alienation of the city drives
the Kathiawadis of Saurashtra coming under
accident. Violence and brutal exploitation
them to various vices like alcoholism,
the sway of the BJP, those of Surat also got
prostitution, and even blue films.
communalised due to their close contact
in theirdaily life accounts for such outbursts
with their native place.
by them on such occasions.
In 1989 assembly elections, three out of the Events and rumours after the demolition
of Babri masjid on December 6, 1992,
total four assembly seats in Surat were won
In the riots that followed the demolition of
provided a spark to the communally charged
by the BJP. From the Varachha Road area,
which is dominated by Kathiawadis,
atmosphere in the city created by the vicious
Babri masjid on December 6,1992, the BJP
and Tindutva forces had a strong
anti-Muslim propaganda of the BJP, VHP,
Manubhai Pithawadiwala won. Manubhai is
RSS. Literally, thousands of Kathiawadis
organisational network and the backing of
reputed to have links with illegal activities,
People of Saurashtra are deeply religious

in nature. There have been a number of

land-grabbing as well as diamond factoryowners. He also campaigned for change and

took to streets and there was no one to

*the Rana, Ghanchi, Kharwa and Machhi

the ir interests. He adopted a militant posture

communities. These upwardly mobile

restrain them, including the police. For two
communities were looking for a broader
full days, looting, rapes, killings and other
identification and larger political role which
brutalities were perpetrated by them on
the Congress had failed to provide. The BJP
Muslims in the name of religion. The
could fill in this vacujim and therefore had
Saurashtrian identity also works in another
the resources of these communities at. its
way. During any agitation, diamond factory
owners close down their factories and
disposal.Themigrant workers' participation
in be
theitriots was out of their insecure living
mobilise their workers for the agitation,

in favour of Kathiawadis and won his seat.

communal riots or anti-reservation stir.

called upon the youth to channelise their

energy towards change, take the initiative

and fight unemnployment. He presented

himself as an agent for change. He appealed
for the unity among people from Saurashtra
and declared himself to be an advocate of





and working conditions.



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