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Sachar and the politics of division

Sachar and the politics of division

Author: Tavleen Singh
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: April 8, 2007
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/story/27766.html

As a frequent traveller to foreign lands, may I begin by stating humbly but categorically that in my view there is no non-Muslim country in the world in which Muslims have more freedom to practice their religion and culture than India. The rise of radical Islam and the continuing horror of global terrorism have made Muslims into international pariahs in most of the western world. And they are not that popular in places like Thailand and Bali either. In India, despite the Kashmir jihad having been replaced by a more general-purpose jihad against Hindus and the idea of India, the status of the average Muslim remains largely unchanged. This is why the prime minister could have done the country no bigger disservice than to give us the Sachar Committee and its whining report, whose only achievement is that it has heightened a sense of grievance in those Muslims who already had one.

When the committee was appointed, this column pointed out that the main result of its efforts would be to divide the country further and to give India an undeserved bad name. This is already happening. Anyone with doubts should refer to an article that appeared in London's highly respected Financial Times newspaper last weekend under the headline 'Loathe thy Neighbour'. It used the Sachar Committee's report to damn India for its supposed ill treatment of Muslims. Listen to this: "The Sachar committee found that India's Muslims, constantly battling perceptions that they are 'anti-national', 'unpatriotic' and 'belong in Pakistan' are reluctantly withdrawing or being pushed into ghettos. Markers of their identity, such as the burqa, the purdah, the beard and the topi, a Muslim cap, invite ridicule and harassment. Bearded men find they are routinely picked up for interrogation, hijab-wearing women that they struggle to find jobs."

Really? Is it easier for hijab-wearing women to find jobs in England? France? Are men of Islamic appearance treated with special respect at western airports or are they routinely picked out for interrogation? If Muslims are having such a hard time dressing in Islamic style in India why do we see more women in burqas now than before? Why do we see more radicalised youths sartorially flaunting their Islamic identity?

What I found particularly offensive about the article was the suggestion that India deserved to be a target of Islamist terrorists because of its "catalogue of atrocities" against Muslims. "Why is India, a country that prides itself on its democratic safety valves and vibrant political system, proving so vulnerable to terrorism?" The same question could be asked about Britain.

What did the prime minister hope to achieve through the Sachar committee? Was it appointed, as some cynics believe, only with an eye on the Congress party's lost vote bank in Uttar Pradesh, or was there some higher purpose? And, now that we know that there are too few Muslims in government jobs and in the higher judiciary, should we expect affirmative action in the form of another round of reservations?

Keeping in mind that journalism is the first draft of history, I would like to put on record that in my view the worst legacy of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is its politics of divide and rule. On the one hand we have this nonsense about reservations for supposedly backward castes, who constitute the vast majority of India's population, and on the other we have the Sachar committee telling Muslims that they, poor things, are being discriminated against now more than ever before.

This is nonsense. The pogroms and riots of the past are a thing of the past because television has made it impossible for a Narendra Modi to get away with what he did in Gujarat. If there had been 24-hour news channels in 1984, it would have been impossible for a Congress government to allow the massacre of more than 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi in two days.

Unfortunately, what has not changed is the politics of the past. Our political leaders continue to believe that the way to rule India is by dividing Hindu from Muslim, Dalit from Brahmin, and other backward castes from everyone else. The election campaign in Uttar Pradesh offers sad evidence of how little has changed, and it must change if India wants to overcome its terrible handicaps of poverty and illiteracy.

If anything holds India back it is our inability to rid ourselves of this double curse. That is the war we need to win and we will only win it if we are spared Sachar Committee type reports that distract us from real issues by communalising policy in the name of secularism.

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