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In India, Hindu and Muslim men make a meal to heal the religious divide

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Ahmedabad, the Indian city from which Mahatma Gandhi led his nonviolent freedom struggle, has earned notoriety in recent decades for vicious religious violence between Hindus and Muslims. In 2002, mobs rampaged through the city, raping and killing. More than a thousand died throughout the region, mostly Muslims.

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But through four decades of bloody clashes and increasing polarization, one slum has managed to maintain a strict tradition of unity. “It’s peaceful here,” says Somabhai Makwana, a Hindu community leader. “Whenever there are any troubles, all of us try to solve the problem and nobody asks who’s Hindu and who’s Muslim.”

The slum is called Ram-Rahim to symbolize its fused identity (Ram is a Hindu god; Rahim is a name for Allah meaning “merciful”). A neighborhood committee includes Muslim and Hindu leaders. Tiny homes squeeze together along narrow pathways. Residents worship at a Hindu temple and an old Muslim tomb that share the same small plot of land. In March, hundreds of Hindu and Muslim children prayed together there before an afternoon feast of rice and lentils to celebrate the birthday of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman. Hindu and Muslim men prepared and served the food; on Muslim holidays they do the same.

This integration seems to be the secret to peace – and a true aberration in an increasingly segregated Ahmedabad, says Brown University Prof. Ashutosh Varshney, who wrote a book on the issue.

Niamullah Abdul Samad is a Muslim man who runs a small snack stand and has lived here since birth. “During 2002, we would be together, drink tea together, and we weren’t interested in the outside conflict,” he says. “Anybody from the outside that would come, whether Hindu or Muslim, if they didn’t want to come with the spirit of unity, then ‘Get out.’ ”

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