In Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, the blows never cease. Several Muslims who thought they were lucky to have escaped the riots with their lives now find themselves without jobs.
These are increasingly being terminated by their employers for either not attending office during the riots or on the excuse of an economic slowdown.
At least 300 people have been fired in the city in the last one month. They include engineers, pharmacists, chartered accountants, software developers, clerks, besides scores of mechanics, electricians, book-makers, and technicians.
Kataria Motors, one of the city’s biggest automobile showrooms, has terminated the services of 40 Muslim staffers.
Afzalkhan Pathan, of Patel Panvad Ni Chali in Rajpur-Gomtipur, says: ‘‘I and 11 others, some of whom were foremen and officeboys, could not go to the workshop for days. When we went in mid-March, the workshop manager said they did not need us any more.’’
Kataria Motors General Manager G.C. Prajapati insists the staffers who have been removed didn’t show up on their own. ‘‘Our operations have suffered because employees, most of whom are Muslims, could not turn up. We did not ask anyone to leave.’’ He adds the new recruits were mostly Hindus because ‘‘they come from relatively safer areas’’.
Around a dozen employees have quit Progressive Motors, another major automobile showroom chain. Says Shakeel Sheikh: ‘‘There were about 14 of us who could not attend work. Sometimes we would go in the morning but returned early due to trouble. When we finally went back in April, we found several youths working in our places.’’
Sources in the automobile industry said showroom and workshop owners are wary that Muslim staffers could create trouble. ‘‘If there is trouble, they go home leaving work unfinished,’’ says a workshop owner on Sarkhej Highway.
The fear has infected other businesses too. Accounts Officer of Amersey Damoder, a Mumbai-based cotton trading firm, Jamil Ahmed Khan received a termination letter on May 7 because business was slack. ‘‘I could not go to office for a few days when the riots began. When I called up my office, the manager was not sympathetic,’’ Khan says.
Malik Mohammed Ashfaq, a pharmacist with Lincoln Pharmaceuticals, had it worse. He says his employers made the situation so bad, he had to quit. ‘‘I was absent for a week after February 28. When I rejoined, I was told by one of the owners that I should resign. They showed me signatures of two persons who gave a statement that I asked them to steal chemicals from a godown. When I threatened legal action, they said I could continue in their godown. I resigned in disgust,’’ Ashfaq says.
Mahesh Patel, Lincoln Pharmaceuticals Director, insists the company had nothing to do with Ashfaq’s decision.
Gujarat relief coordinator S.M.F. Bukhari says they are ‘‘aware” but ‘‘the state cannot directly interfere because it is a contract between two parties”. “Indirectly district collectors have been requested to liaison. In Gandhinagar, the district collectorate mediated between organisations at Chandkheda and the aggrieved parties.’’