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Redefining minority - The Observer

Tufail Ahmad ()
1 September 1997

Title: Redefining minority
Author: Tufail Ahmad
Publication: The Observer
Date: September 1, 1997

Despite the pioneering work undertaken by sociologists such as, Imtiaz
Ahmed, to analyse the various communities within the Muslim society, the
media and the academic world treat Muslim as a homogeneous community,
thereby neglecting the social discrimination suffered by their sub-groups.
The term 'minority' has been in frequent use, ignoring its negative impact
on the 'collective psyche' of all those who believe in Islam. Excessive
use of the word 'minority' by writers and Journalists engenders - in the
long run - an 'inferiority complex' (at least at the collective
subconscious level) among the Muslims, thereby preventing enterprise and
mercantilism among them.

The South Indian Muslims, who have been free of 'minority syndrome' have
been able to contribute substantially to the economic life of the nation,
while their northern counterparts remain emotionally engaged in issues
which are less real and mainly concern religion and politics.

Compared to Muslims, the Christians and, especially, the Parsis do not
exhibit any 'minority consciousness' (except for the fact that the latter
are a worried about their diminishing numbers).

They have performed significantly well in business and industry.

The term 'minority' came into vogue after the introduction of parliamentary
democracy, in which the numerical strength of different communities is
significant for political power. The word 'Minority' is derived from the
Latin word minor and the suffix ity, meaning the smaller in number of two
aggregates which constitute a whole. Going by this numeric definition, a
social group may or may not be socially subjugated, or politically

The Blacks in pre-apartheid South Africa were politically subjugated,
though they constituted a numerical majority.

On the contrary, the Muslims under the Mughal rule in India were
numerically small, but a politically dominant group.

The Muslim agenda in India demands at best the establishment of an Urdu
university or a Minority Financial Corporation, and not the establishment
of a chain of industrial training institutes for the training of the
children of poor artisans. Yet, all the problems faced by the Muslim elite
are shared by the entire community. The recent outburst of the Civil
Aviation Minister, Mr C. M. Ibrahim, that "minority and secular leaders are
being attacked by the press", should be seen in this context.

A minority status carried with it an exclusion from full participation in
the collective life of a society. This status is, therefore, derived from
its subordinate-relation to some dominant group, which need not be a
numeric majority.

The Tibetans, living under Chinese occupation, fully qualify for a minority
status and, therefore, their subjugation warrants attention of the world
community. A minority can be racial, linguistic, religious or caste group,
if it is differentiated and discriminated because of any of these factors.

A group may be a minority either by choice or by compulsion. Dalits in
India are the first sociological minority, given the highest degree of
persisting historical discrimination, social prejudices and forced
exclusion from mainstream life. They are a minority by compulsion.

In the case of Muslims, the term minority has been used mainly as a
political residue of the partition, which is perhaps the biggest cause why
there aren't enough educated people among them.

The Muslims in India are, unfortunately, a minority more by choice and less
by compulsion. Unlike the Dalits who have been marginalised in the
socio-economic and political life of the country for centuries, the Muslims
have no history of political subjugation or social boycott.

The Muslims also enjoy a strong sense of history and culture which is an
essential prerequisite for a community to take voluntary initiatives.

And unlike the Dalits, Muslims carry no social stigma, which could
potentially inhibit economic enterprise in the community.

The role of elitist community leaders alienates the common Muslims from the
socio-economic life of the mainstream, while helping these so-called
leaders attain some privileged posts in the government and administration.

Fortunately, the new generation of Muslims in colleges and universities is
beginning to understand the political practice of their self-preserving
leaders. It is high time the young generation shed its 'sick status',
which is more psychologically free and industrious, and contribute to the
economic progress of the community.

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