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Decoding the Indian Muslim - Integration or alienation?

Decoding the Indian Muslim - Integration or alienation?

Publication: The Sunday Indian
Date: December 19, 2010
URL: http://www.thesundayindian.com/article.php?article_id=10768

India's largest minority community has been the subject of frenetic discussions across the political spectrum in recent decades. On the right of the divide, they are pilloried for being beneficiaries of an alleged policy of minority appeasement. On the other side, they usually end up being used and abused as a convenient vote bank. At election time, for candidates in a large number of crucial constituencies across the length and breadth of India, muslims assume great significance because they possess the power to impact the final outcome at the hustings. But how much really has the Indian muslim suffered as a result of being a pawn in a game of political expediency? How has continuing economic backwardness and a lack of mainstream educational and employment opportunities impacted the way members of the community think? This exhaustive survey conducted across multiple locations and social segments seeks out the answers from a complex web of questions that confront the Indian muslim in contemporary India...

Keeping The Faith

Much water has flowed down the Saryu since the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya - and the idea that is India - was reduced to rubble nearly two decades ago. One of independent India's most cataclysmic flashpoints, this outrage committed by Hindutva's foot soldiers occurred a year or so after the process of economic liberalisation was set in motion. The nation as a whole has definitely moved on since then. But has the Indian Muslim been allowed to keep pace? Have the fruits of economic progress touched his day-to-day existence quite to the extent that it has the lives of India's burgeoning middle class?

Let's face it, it hasn't. The Rajinder Sachar Committee report, tabled in Parliament in 2006, provided confirmation of that fact and, ironically, appeared to vindicate the BJP's contention that the left and the left-of-centre political parties have only indulged in 'minority appeasement' and exploited Muslims merely as a vote bank. Therefore, six decades and a bit after Independence, true empowerment continues to elude major swathes of India's largest minority community.

But it is amply clear from the findings of the exhaustive TSI-Team CVoter survey on the following pages that Indian Muslims want to put the past behind them and find their rightful place in the national scheme of things in terms of both socio-economic indices and educational parameters. But who will show them the way? Muslims are crucial to the electoral fortunes of all leading political formations of the country, but economically and socially they have constantly oscillated between real despair and false hope as those who claim to represent the community's interests have only flattered to deceive.

While more than 40 per cent of the Muslim respondents across the three categories covered by the survey - minority college students, madarsa pupils and the rest of India - asserted that they are satisfied with the role that religious organisations play in their lives, a majority felt that they do not need a separate Muslim political party to espouse their cause. Clearly, the leadership within and outside the community has failed them. Significantly, however, 58 per cent of minority college students, 50 per cent of madarsa students and 65 per cent of general Muslims said that they do not feel insecure in Hindu majority India and an overwhelmingly large percentage asserted that they would never opt for Pakistan or Bangladesh given a chance.

It is a community in flux. Even though a whole new generation has emerged - for them the baggage of Partition is a thing of the past - they have reason to look back in anger. Yet, the dignity and maturity with which Muslims in general have reacted to the contentious Ayodhya verdict is an indication that the dust is probably beginning to settle and happier days could be up ahead.

But it can never be easy to live down the past no matter how enticing the future may appear to be. It is especially difficult when the past is littered with turns of events that have engendered fear and distrust. It is a bit of a cul-de-sac: while the doctrine of majoritarian supremacy often stares the Muslim community in the face, most political, social or administrative moves aimed at bettering the community's lot evokes instant cynicism. They get battered by Muslim-baiters even as they are accused of being mollycoddled by the so-called pseudo secularists. It's a no-win situation.

The Indian Muslim has had to weather many storms in the past few decades as a result. The Shah Bano case of the 1980s and the then Rajiv Gandhi government's response to it triggered the accusations of appeasement that have, sadly, continued to dominate all discourse pertaining to Indian Muslims ever since.

In the 1970s, there were riots after riots in different parts of the country and in each case ordinary people bore the brunt as political and religious forces sought to cash in on heightened emotions. In the 1980s, Muslims had to repeatedly 'pass' the cricket loyalty test to prove their allegiance to India. In the 1990s, they had to live under the shadow of a Masjid dome that was no more. And in the first decade of the new millennium, the post-Godhra Gujarat riots exposed their vulnerability like never before. And now, every time a terror strike takes place somewhere in india, the common Muslim cowers in trepidation. The historical spectre of the two-nation theory refuses to stop haunting them.

As of April 2010, the 160 million-strong community constitutes 13.4 per cent of India's population - only two nations, Indonesia (200 million) and Pakistan (174 million), have more Muslims. But their representation in Indian government jobs and security agencies is grossly lower than what it should ideally be.

But all is certainly not lost. The literacy rate among Muslims is 59 per cent against the all-India overall rate of 65 per cent - with a just a little effort, the gap is eminently bridgeable. A Muslim child today attends school for three years and four months compared to the national average of four years. Once again, the distance does not seem to be so yawning that it cannot be closed.

Indeed, once the education gap that separates Muslims and the rest of India is eliminated, everything else could begin to fall in place. What is needed is genuine political will. Indian Muslims have kept their faith in India's 'secularism' in the face of the gravest of provocations. The nation owes them more than mere lip service.

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