Monday, May 27, 2024

Gujarat: More than 500 Muslim voters removed from voter list, “deliberately sidelined,” they say

At least 575 Muslim fishermen in Gujarat’s Devbhoomi Dwarka district will not be able to vote as their names were deleted from the voter list following the demolition of ports in Gandhvi and Navadra villages of the district.

The state administration demolished the homes of Muslim fishermen for port expansion in Gandhvi village of Kalyanpur taluka (administrative division) in Devbhoomi Dwarka district, displacing the residents there last year.

These individuals had been voters in Dwarka assembly constituency number 301 for years and had also voted in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The votes of about 350 Muslim fishermen have been deleted from this year’s voter list and have not been transferred to any other location in Gujarat.

Similarly, the administration demolished the homes of Muslim fishermen in Navadra village of this taluka for port expansion, displacing the residents. These individuals were voters in Dwarka Assembly Constituency No. 249 and had voted there in many previous elections. The votes of approximately 225 Muslim fishermen in Navadra have been deleted from this year’s voter list and have not been transferred to any other location in the state.

According to these fishermen, they have been forcibly driven away by the administration. Multiple petitions for their reinstatement and resettlement are pending in the Gujarat High Court. The demolitions were carried out on the grounds of “illegal construction on government land” by the Muslim fishermen community.

However, before the demolitions began, the residents received a notice informing them of the impending action but were given little to no time to vacate or collect their belongings. The matter was also listed for hearing in the High Court.

Jakub Moosa Pateliya, a 47-year-old fisherman from Navadra village, was displaced due to port expansion and now lives at least 40 km away from his previous settlement in Mul Dwarka, where he had spent 40 years of his life and voted for at least 13 years. When he went back to check his name on the voter’s list, he was turned away by the authorities of the taluka.

Ahead of the third phase of the Lok Sabha polls on May 7th, not one of the 20 voters in his extended family received a voter slip. Issued by the Election Commission of India to registered voters before an election, these slips serve as a confirmation and provide information on where and when to cast their vote.

“I have voted here for 13 years, and other members have voted too, but this time they have deleted our names from the rolls,” said Moosa.

But the deletion of his name didn’t deter Pateliya. He first checked the names of his family online on the voter’s list on the Election Commission’s website. After being disappointed by the absence of their names, he directly approached the school teacher who serves as the BLO (Booth Level Officer) of the area in Kalyanpur Taluka.

“I was told that if you don’t live here you can’t vote here. The school teacher said you are not the resident of the village anymore,” said Moosa.

“The teacher also said that he would not have let us vote even if our names were there on the voter’s list and asked me to approach higher authorities”, he added.

He also pointed out that regions of Harshad, Navadra, Bhogat, and Gandhivi Dwarka villages had mostly Muslim fishermen, and were driven out of the area strategically in a “selective target.”

Out of Gujarat’s overall population, 9.7 per cent alone is of Muslims which is almost 6.3 Million people. Despite this significant demographic presence, the conditions of Muslims have only worsened post-2002 Gujarat Muslim Genocide. As per political analysts, the Muslim population of not only the working class but the middle class are systematically being sidelined.

After the widespread loss of lives and properties in 2002 the alienation has spiralled into strategic displacement, loss of livelihood and destruction.  

Pateliya also believes the same. “Only smaller regions with a larger population of Muslims were asked to vacate the area, now that we have left, our right to vote has also been snatched. If we ask the BLO there they ask us to bring the documents to prove that we are residents of that area, when we come here we are told that we are no longer residents since we don’t live here”, he said.

“If you want your voter slip, you will have to go to jail”

For 44-year-old fisherman Gafoor Dawood Pateliya, going back to Harshad Harbour in the village of Gandhivi, in the same district of Devbhumi Dwarka means arrests or unnecessary harassment from the authorities.

Dawood, like Moosa, also travelled from Manglur at a distance of 120 km towards Gandhivi to inquire about the status of the names of his and 12 family members in the voter’s list but was allegedly stopped by the police and threatened to be arrested if he didn’t go back. 

Speaking to Maktoob, Dawood said, “We were informed by a friend that our voter slip has arrived at the government school in Gandhivi and I should collect it so that I can vote. Upon reaching the region I was asked by the police to go back or else they would arrest me.”

“I checked on the list online to determine whether our names were there or not, our names were not on the list”, said Dawood, “My relative saw three slips of my family in the Sarkari school number 50, which was usually our polling booth when we used to vote.”

“This has never happened in a Lok Sabha or a Vidhan Sabha election before,” he added. “We have 14 voters in my family. But only 12 of us had voted so far.”

“I revisited the Gandhivi to get my voter slip but this time the policeman told me that if I want my voter slip, I will have to go to jail to get that,” said the displaced Muslim fisherman.

“No new registrations, home for displaced Muslim population”

Dawood wanted to get his two sons’ names registered in the voter’s list as one of them turned 18 this year and the other one would have been voting first time after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections but couldn’t do so, because all their documents are under the demolished rubble of their earlier settlement.

To get these documents or to make one, the family will have to go through police and other administrative officers who tell them that they don’t belong to Gandhivi as they don’t have a home there.

Dawood said, “To make the documents at the new address we need the earlier documents, which is just impossible to get. We don’t have proof of residence, now they are not letting us vote.”

And added, “ghareeb ka to koi ghar hi nahi hai (the poor don’t have a home).”

“Along with our homes all our documents got misplaced under the rubble,” said Dawood.

“We all voted for BJP all our lives”

Sakina Banu (26), daughter-in-law of Moosa said that she had been voting for BJP till now as the saffron party doesn’t have opposition in the state or the district.

“If we get our voter’s slip, it’s a good deal for BJP only even though they have demolished our houses, we have voted for them all our lives”, said Banu.

When asked who she would vote for and why if she gets the voter’s slip and the name on the voting list, Banu said, “I will vote for BJP because we don’t have any other option and if we will vote we will get the proof of our residence.”

She added, “The proof of our residence can prove the ownership of the land and hence they are not giving our voter’s slip. My father-in-law went there multiple times but to no avail.”

“One by one they are taking away our everything, first our land, now our vote and don’t know how long our livelihood will survive, which is almost breadcrumbs after we were displaced”, said the Muslim fisherwoman.

She also pointed out that in Harshad, houses of Hindu families and temples are still standing as it is and said, “They did this only to Muslims, they want to drive us out of the country systematically.”

“How it is my fault if these people are not at their homes”

Prafful, a teacher in the government school in Navadra told Maktoob that his task is to distribute voting slips in the area that comes in the jurisdiction of his school.

“I distributed all of them,” he said. 

Denying the allegations of deliberately not giving the voter slips of Muslim fisherman families he said, “When I went to their homes, I could not find them as mostly Muslim residents are displaced after the port demolition. So I sent their voter slips back to the collector’s office because we couldn’t find the families.”

However, he was unable to explain why he would find these people at their previous settlement despite knowing that their homes were demolished by the administration for the port expansion.

He said, “I have been distributing voter slips of the entire village. These people are accusing me of deliberately removing their names from the list, tell me how can I make changes to the list sent from the above? When they called me I told them about their absence and that they can collect their slips from the collectorate office, that’s where they are dumped at last.”

“Now you tell me if their names have been deleted from the higher authority, how is it my fault?” asked Prafful, refusing to reveal his full name.

Prafful also denied the claims made by the Muslim families that he would not let them vote even if they had their names on the voting rolls. He said, “How am I going to benefit from it if they won’t vote? I am a teacher and I am doing my work diligently.”

Maktoob tried to call the Mamlatdar (Revenue officer) Dakshaben Rindani and Devbhumi Dwarka’s district commissioner, Ashok Sharma, to learn about the entire matter but didn’t receive a response. This story shall be updated if and when they respond.

On 3 May, the Minority Coordination Committee (MCC), a legal and advocacy Human Rights organisation in the state, wrote a letter to the Chief Electoral Officer, a copy of which has been sent to the state drawing attention to the deletion of names of more than 500 Muslims from the voter’s list and to demand a “right to vote under special circumstances.”

Mujahid Nafees, Ahmedabad-based rights activist associated with MCC speaking to Maktoob, said, “These people have been deliberately pushed by the administration, more because of their identity. The petition of their reinstatement is pending in the High Court so it would be unfair if these people would be deprived of the right to vote.”

He added, “The Election Commission repeatedly insists on the registration of every voter but the administration not only removed the names of the voters from the list but didn’t register the displaced people’s vote in any other place in the state.”

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