Ramachandra Guha’s picture of communal amity (Letting Azad win, March 16, 2012) might have acted as a soothing balm to the nation, only if he was right. He concludes that for the past 10 years there have been no serious Hindu-Muslim riots, meaning that the communal polarisation of the 80s and 90s is now history, Muslims are in a better shape and so there is no need for job quotas for Muslims, which in turn will communalise the atmosphere.
One concedes that there has been no anti-Muslim riot of the scale of Mumbai 1992-93 or Gujarat 2002. Does that mean communal polarisation is on the decline? One must add that scattered violence against the Muslim minority has persisted through the years. The police remained partisan in the riots that took place in Rajasthan in 2010-2011. The Kandhamal riots of 2008 showed that communal polarisation was extending its boundaries to involve other minorities as well.
Is communal violence the only symbol of communal polarisation? One knows the impact that the Gujarat riots left on the psyche of the minority community. There was no post-violence justice, no rehabilitation or building bridges with the wounded community. Instead, all efforts were made to marginalise the community, politically and socially. It is true that a section of Muslims are trying to come out of a psychology of victimhood, while trying to avoid the grip of fundamentalist elements within their religion. True, a section of girls are coming out from behind the burqa and cycling to schools and colleges, but they are but a small number compared to the 170 million Muslims in the country.
The Sachar Committee and Ranganath Misra reports have shown that the condition of Muslims is declining across the community. The violence of the 80s and 90s, culminating in the carnage of 2002, has left a deep scar on the community. It has affected their social psychology as well. Muslims find it difficult to find houses in middle class areas, often confined to ghettoes in areas like Mumbra and Bhendi Bazar in Mumbai and Juhapura in Ahmedabad. Today’s Muslims are being linked to constructed images of aggressive Muslim kings, polygamists, cow killers, terrorists and what not.
These ‘hate’ sentiments against Muslims are more or less uniform all over the country. Rural areas, not touched by communal thinking, are rapidly coming under the grip of these myths. Stereotyping is so rampant that the uniform policy of the State had been to catch hold of some Muslim youth to solve any ‘case’ of terror attack. Despite Hemant Karkare unearthing concrete proof of the involvement of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Swami Aseemanand to terror attacks, the popular perception of Muslims as terrorists prevails across the country.
All this has led large sections of the community to retreat into their shells. The tradition of common celebration of festivals and being part of a common cultural expression has received a serious blow thanks to the ceaseless propaganda emanating from communal sources. Muslims who never kept their religious identity to the fore have been forced to change the way they think.
India, of course, cannot be compared to Pakistan. The formation of Pakistan was the achievement of colonial rulers and their policy of ‘divide and rule’. The country was more dominated by feudal elements than India has been. The situation in Pakistan got worse as the madrasas began to be run by the US-CIA-ISI for training al Qaeda-Taliban recruits to fight the occupying Soviet army. This worsened the already horrific communal situation in Pakistan.
If the absence of communal polarisation is the condition for abolishing any prospective quota for Muslims, we are nowhere close to that. If anything, communal polarisation has worsened. The way out of this quagmire is not clear either. Quotas might be avoided if an alternative can be devised to rid the Muslim community of its deep sense of insecurity, which has thrown identity-related issues into prominence and contributed to further communalisation. Historians of modern India have to go through the reports prepared by social activists and learn to be sympathetic to the pain and anguish of Muslims unable to get houses in mixed localities. Quotas might not be the way out but can we overlook the overriding communal polarisation staining the fabric of our society just because large-scale communal violence has been absent in the country for the last 10 years?
Ram Puniyani is a Delhi-based writer
The views expressed by the author are personal