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Muslims in India: Identity And Security Issues
January 31, 2009, 12:00 pm
Filed under: India, Muslims

Muslims in India: Identity And Security Issues

By M. Burhanuddin Qasmi

Our great nation— India was freed on 15th August 1947 after 190 years of fight against British tyranny, beginning from the battle of Plassey in July 1757 between Nawab Siraj-ud Daulah and East India Company. Year 1857 has been the hallmark of Indian’s ‘unity in diversity’ culture when all Indians with their religious, linguistic and cultural identities launched the ‘first united war for freedom of India’ under the last Mogul king Bahadur Shah Zafar. In the building of modern India every community and every caste has equally offered their share— thus India is for all Indians.

On 26th November 1949 India adopted the new constitution, framed by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, which two months later on 26th January 1950 was enforced assuring all the citizens equality, justice and security. Similarly the leaders of our freedom struggle like Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Mahmoodul Hasan and their devote companions had dreamt of an India where men and women would be judged not on the class, creed or religions they belong to but on the content of their character and merit they personally possess. But the scene in the post- independent India portrays a dismal condition all-around– prejudice, injustice, corruption, insecurity and lawlessness swirling all over India’s social, political, bureaucratic and law enforcing sectors endangering the very foundations of the Indian state.

No doubt, India is one of the fastest developing countries in the world. And we Indians do like the “Incredible India,” slogan– as global ad campaign by the government of Indian. On the contrary, a government of India report reads and acknowledges that Muslims in India have become “backward.” “Fearing for their security,” the report said, “Muslims are increasingly resorting to living in ghettos around the country.” Branding of Muslims as anti-national, intolerant and terrorists “has a depressing effect on their psyche,” the report said, noting Muslims live in “a sense of despair and suspicion.”

According to the report, produced by a committee led by a former chief justice of our country, Rajender Sachar, Muslims are now worse off than the Dalits, or those once called untouchables by the Brahmins. Some 52% of Muslim men are unemployed, compared with 47% of Dalit men. Among Muslim women, 91% are unemployed, compared with 77% of Dalit women. Almost half of Muslims over the age of 46 can’t read or write. While making up nearly 14% of the total population of the country, Muslims account for 40% of India’s prison population. They hold only 4.9 percent of government jobs and only 3.2 percent of the jobs in the country’s security agencies, thus creating a new set of ‘untouchable Indians’ in the modern democratic republic of India.

Indian Muslims’ ability to feel physically and emotionally safe; and their equal progress with other mainstream society is a test of the country’s democracy and of its hopes for becoming a First World economic power. A body cannot find relief leaving one of its sides squeezing in pain. Similarly our country cannot taste the progress leaving one of her wings— Muslims lagging behind. Though India’s nearly 150 million Muslims are a minority at home, they represent the second-largest Muslim population in the world, behind Indonesia (190 million) and just ahead of Pakistan (about 140 million). The numbers of Muslims in India is larger than the entire population of Arab Muslims (about 140 million).

The Sachar committee report recommended creating a commission to remedy the systemic discrimination and promote affirmative-action programms. So far, very few of the recommendations have been put in place.

Indian Muslims have, as per my findings, four principal problems. And these problems are the real obstacles in all educational, economic and socio-political perspirations of the Muslim community at large.

The firstproblem is the absence of true Muslim leadership in the post-Partition period until this day. The present Muslim political leadership is either puppets of the leading parties or they have no sense of the problems Muslims community is actually facing in India. It has been an irony in the post 1947 India that majority of the Muslim politicians have been proven ineffective in regards to the community which has voted them to the power.

The second problem of Indian Muslims is lack of security. Riots, communal violence have become a sad reality of India’s life and the majority of the victims of riots in India are Muslims. The bloody massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in late February 2002 that led to the death of over 2000 Muslims is a ghastly reminder of an organized violence with tacit support by the ruling authorities.

Mumbai based writer late ‘Mr. Rafiq Zakaria’ has written with anguish about communal riots in India. According to him, they reached genocidal proportions in Gujarat in 2002.

The political milieu just after the partition was such that made Muslims feel so demoralized that they could not dare ask the question as to why the doors of defence forces were barred to them after the independence. The Muslim civil servants similarly were not to be appointed on sensitive posts and extra caution had to be used for issuing even passports to them. The strength of Muslims in the police and state paramilitary forces was deliberately reduced to the extent that in some States including U.P., Delhi and West Bengal their representation is very low.

The third principal problem of Muslim community is its low income. Although the economic and social situation of Muslims is not the same throughout India, one cannot deny the fact that poverty and lack of genuine financial recourses are hampering socio- educational development of the community at every step.

Official data is, at least, enough to figure out that in the post independent India Muslim community remained downwards economically in comparison to all other majority or minority communities. And with authentic findings in hand as we have now through National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) and the Sachar Committee Report (SCR) about the profile of second religious majority group of India, official policy can – if any government wants to – easily identify the groups most in need of state intervention, support and special care. It is typical of India’s political and social ethos that this fact of gross under representation of a significant religious minority is not allowed to become an issue. Any such discussion would be rather viewed as ‘communal’ which is taken to be anti-secular.

The fourth and most painful problem of Muslim Indians is the discriminatory attitudes of the majority community towards them. In this paper it is not possible, nor is it necessary, to give an exhaustive account of how Muslims have been hauled under various draconian laws in Independent India and how intolerant and discriminatory attitudes towards them have adversely affected their rights as equal citizens in the common domain and their collective right to distinct religious, cultural and linguistic identity. What is being attempted here is to present a sampling of state of things to illustrate how institutional discrimination and extreme intolerance against Muslims have made them periodically feel insecure, marginalized and educationally deprived.

There are Muslims’ cultural and identity crises, including those fear-psycho cases among Muslims themselves and the factual ones like the recent Aftab Ansari case of an Indian Air Force (IAF) officer who wanted to grow religiously prescribed beard but has been dismissed from the job itself. From physical look, dress code, religious practices and even language like Urdu (which was wrongly taken to be Muslim exclusive) there appears a confrontation among majority and minority communities in the country. There is also the more sinister danger of actual history being changed or important chapters being omitted and Muslim culture, period of rule being depicted in official textbooks as barbaric and communal.

We learn of the most compelling stories of injustice and brutality as Muslims struggle for self-dignity and identity. A few of the images that are shown on television and the reports in the press confirm for us the plight of the Muslims in our country.

There has always been a big difference between the theory and practice in India. Indian constitution, no doubt, is one of the best in the world. It is truly secular and it was more so even before the word ‘secular’ was added to it in 1975.

Equal rights and justice for all — religious and linguistic minorities, freedom of expression and religious propagation, and punishment against any kind of discrimination are wisely enshrined in our constitution. But what practically on the screen for last few years is what it is called ‘chaos’ and collapse of justice system. The 1984 riots against Sikhs, 1992 Babri masjid demolition, 2002 Gujarat pogrom and recent Orissa and Karnataka riots against Christians are vistas which would surely find a mention in the future anthropological analyses of India along with underlined references of administrative lapses and state involvement as party in the dispute.

Plainly speaking, permanent steps should be taken that can restore the confidence of minority communities in India’s security and justice system and prevent further riots. Police must be made responsible for the riots and made them pay for their criminal inactions in the past.

Generally speaking, in all communal violence, in post independent Indian, affected people did not get justice. Muslim Indians have very few demands now– make justice visible rather than providing relief or promise of an enquiry, provide us with a feeling of actual security and see how we ourselves can make genuine progress.

We need an India where the combined, revolutionary and reformist ideologies of Shah Waliullah, Chattrapati Shivaji, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar are practically enshrined. There can be no democracy where there are no values. It is criminal to justify politics based on corruption and injustice. Democracy is where if one person is victimized the entire society stands up. Democracy based on public conscience is real. The new structure of the new era must thus evolve to a truly democratic and equal society in India.

A paper presentation at Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration (YASHADA), Pune on Thursday 29th January 2009

M. Burhanuddin Qasmi is editor of Eastern Crescent and director of the Mumbai based Markazul Ma’arif Education and Research Centre.


1 Comment so far
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Probably Muslims in India are deprived of fundamental rights by the constitution or the majority. I am hindu and have many muslim friends and colleagues. We wish them “Eid” and they wish us “Diwali”. Probably true picture is different than what has been presented here. Muslims are more happy in India than anywhere in the world. We have more number of muslims than in Pakistan. Even after partition muslims prefered to stay back in India and have prospered. We had many muslim president. Our VP is muslim. Several ministers are muslim. Several governors are muslim. Several service chiefs have been muslim in the past.

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