By Firoz Bakht Ahmed*
India’s Muslim community, the world’s second largest Islamic population, is in at crossroads. There is widespread disappointment, a sense of helplessness and some anger. But there is also the zeal to surge ahead, the dream of being equal partners in the nation’s destiny when Modi promises to take all the 125 crore together sans any tokenism.
Sixty nine years after they cast their lot with Hindu-majority India, rejecting the newly born Pakistan, the millions of Indian Muslims — and the lives they lead — are under scrutiny like never before due to growing militancy globally and a perceived radicalization at home of some of the younger ones.
Throughout its checkered history, Islam has suffered on account of extremists. It reminds us of Imam Ghazali’s words in Ahiya-ul-Uloom in the 11th century who stated, “If Muslims do not annihilate terrorism, surely terrorism will annihilate them a day!” Terrorists like the IS amongst Muslims have surfaced in all hues but most commonly amongst the clerics who in the name of saving Islam and waging jehad, have wrought havoc on innocent people.
The proposal of modernism as envisioned by the 19th century reformers, and developed by those who believed in the voice of sanity, has been engulfed in darkness by acts fanaticism so much so that nearly every effort at Islamic defence or rejuvenation is considered is suspect and looked as awful by the civilized.
Indian Muslims need a visionary leader whose caste and creed are immaterial. What is needed is a leader with a holistic and healing touch and someone who can boost the community’s morale. I actually believe it is dangerous to talk about leaders for particular religions or castes.
Opines, Intizar Naeem, of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, a Muslim body set up in 1941, “Many socio-economic problems Indian Muslims face are the same as faced by others. But there are other issues that affect only them,” says Intizar Naeem.
Among others, Shahid Siddiqui, editor, Nai Duniya,Urdu daily, lists the step-motherly treatment to Urdu, the mother tongue of most Muslims in northern India, attempts to undo the autonomous character of educational institutions founded by Muslims, attacks on the Muslim Personal Law, harassment of Muslims after terror acts, caricaturing of Muslims as terrorists, and insinuations that mosques and ‘madrassas’ are up to no good.
To become productive, Muslims must instead focus on Huqooq-al-Ibad (duty to fellow human beings and Muslim empowerment). This should merit temporal, secular practice, keeping religion in the personal domain.
Based on the data leaked so far, it is evident there are entry barriers Muslims — who account for 17 per cent of India’s population — are unable to cross in virtually all walks of life. From the administration and the police to the judiciary and the private sector, the invisible hands of prejudice, economic and educational inequality seem to have frozen the `quota’ for Muslims at three to five per cent.
Muslims in India are seen with a begging bowl, languishing in their ghettoized slums with their literacy rates plummeting (44.27 per cent against the national literacy rate of 64.07 per cent).
Muslim women have just 21.66 per cent literacy rate as against the 40. 54 per cent amongst the non-Muslim women according to surveys carried out by Friends for Education.
Not more than 2 per cent Muslims are in government jobs. Of the 479 judges at an all India level, only 30 are Muslims that makes it just 6.26 per cent. In the IAS, Muslim percentage is a mere 2.27 per cent. Of the 3284 IPS officers, just 120 are Muslims – just 3.65 per cent.
In the central government ministries, the figures are ghastly. Of the 59 secretaries in the Home ministry (joint secretaries, directors advisors etc), the percentage of Muslims is 0. The situation isn’t different at the labour, power, defence, finance, external affairs, personnel, public, pension and grievances ministries.
Of course HRD and Information and Broadcasting ministries do have an officer each out of 26 and 33 respectively, making it 3.44 per cent. Of the total 426 officers in all the ministries, only 9 are Muslim which means a meager 2.11 per cent.
If we just look at the electoral front, we find that despite constituting about 20 per cent of the population in Uttar Pradesh, 17.4 per cent in Bihar, 14 per cent in Madhya Pradesh, 65 per cent in Jammu and Kashmir, 14.2 per cent in Karnataka, 11 per cent in Himachal Pradesh, 15. 8 per cent in Gujarat, 12 per cent in West Bengal and about 9 to 10 per cent in the remaining states, Muslims have not really mattered in electoral politics.
All the political parties have used them as vote bank and thrown them like tissue paper. There are various reasons for the backwardness of Muslims. Moreover, Muslims must come out of the clutches of their so-called leaders like Azam Khan and the Owaisis who, more or less, are rabble-rousers.
Because of their leaders and the petty politicians who represent them, Indian Muslims live today in a system of unofficial apartheid. Hindus and Muslims have developed separately; very often wholly ignorant of what is on the other’s mind. This ghetto existence has allowed the rise of a class of political middlemen who serve as interlocutors between the Muslim masses and the rest of Indian society.
This gross under-presence of Muslims in virtually every sector is presaged by substantial inequalities in education. Muslim enrolment and retention rates at the primary and secondary levels are lower than the national average and this further magnifies existing inequalities at the college level as well as in the labour market.
For virtually every socio-economic marker of well being, the Muslim is well below the national norm — not to speak of the level commensurate with her or his share of the national population — and the evidence suggests these inequalities are not decreasing over time.
This bleak statistical picture is rendered drearier still by new trends visible in many cities. Muslims, for example, find it extremely difficult to rent and buy property outside of “Muslim areas” in some metros.
Apart from several journalists, I even know of one former Muslim Union Minister in Delhi whose Hindu colleagues had to intercede to find him a flat. In Mumbai, the situation is perhaps worse. Many Muslim businessmen have problems accessing credit, besides having to run the gamut of uncooperative officials who look upon them with suspicion at every turn.
*Community worker and grandnephew of Maulana Azad. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org