By: Fr. Cedric Prakash sj
Happy Birthday Ahmedabad! You are 603 years ‘young’ today! A sense of pride and of nostalgia overwhelms us. Not too many are able to celebrate their 603rd birthday. You have meant and mean so much to so many! Thank you Ahmedabad!
Happy Birthday Ahmedabad! I wonder why many of the folk here are afraid to call you by your real name, ‘Ahmedabad’? There is a corrupted form “Amdavad” doing the rounds. So after so many years, why are people here unable to accept the fact that you are Ahmedabad: a great city founded by a great ruler Ahmed Shah?
Happy Birthday Ahmedabad! And today we remember Ahmed Shah, a great king. Legend tells us that “ in AD 1411 when Ahmed Shah was marching south from Patan, he saw some hares chasing dogs on the banks of the Sabarmati. Marveling at the courage of the hares, he decided to drop anchor at that very spot. The city of Ahmedabad came to be known after him.” What a great metaphor indeed!
Happy Birthday Ahmedabad! We rejoice when we hear that Ahmed Shah had the courage and the vision to build a temple for his Hindu wife, the Bhadra Mandir, a great testimony to someone who was able to transcend the narrow confines of his own religion. Unfortunately, in Ahmedabad and the rest of Gujarat, we have today one of the most draconian laws of India innocuously called the ‘Freedom of Religion Law’. Will we ever learn?
Happy Birthday Ahmedabad! We celebrate the Sidi Syed Jali, “the tree of life” by the master stone craftsman Sidi Syed in a mosque in the heart of the city. Since 1572, it is a very powerful symbol of the diversity and pluralism which has been so much part of the city. Unfortunately, recently, the bigots who try to rule the city think otherwise and they have conveniently put aside this great symbol. We weep with you Ahmedabad!
Happy Birthday Ahmedabad! The “River-front” is made to depict you today! There can be no greater insult to you Ahmedabad. You who have been the home to all kinds of people; but today, because of the riverfront thousands of poor people who are the lifeline of the city are displaced – some of them have been shunted out to the periphery of the city. Besides, the waters in it have nothing to do with the Sabarmati. These are waters pumped from the Narmada canal: precious water meant for North Gujarat and Kutch are now being used to “beautify” the city. Ahmedabad, we hang our heads down in shame!
Happy Birthday Ahmedabad! People are talking about “development”: about buildings and flyovers and swanky areas. But nobody talks about the thousands of people living in the slums or the more than four lakhs of Muslims confined to a huge ghetto called Juhapura; or the Bombay Hotel area and several of the colonies to which the Muslim survivors of the Gujarat Carnage are condemned to a dehumanized existence or the fact that almost daily the Mother Teresa Sisters have to pick up dying men and women from our streets. What has happened to your soul Ahmedabad?
Happy Birthday Ahmedabad! There is so much more that can be written. It is high time you give us - the people of Ahmedabad, a birthday gift: Give us a heart which is inclusive of all, give us the courage to speak and stand up for the truth and above all the wisdom to discern the right from the wrong, the good from the evil and MAY YOU HAVE MANY MORE BIRTHDAYS!
26th February, 2014
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)