Multi-religious secular democracies are confronted with the challenge of dealing with the growing sense of insecurity among the minorities. This is especially because of the rise of militant Islamist movements. The fallout of this is that the ethnic majorities look upon minorities as a 'threat' to multicultural democracy.
It is heartening that the government has taken notice of this. Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, on September 30, wrote to the chief ministers of the states, saying: "Some of the minority youth have started feeling targeted and deprived of their basic rights" and the "government has to ensure that no innocent person is subjected to undue harassment".
Even before Shinde's letter, the Union minister for minority affairs had brought up this issue and true to its nature, the Sangh Parivar shouted it down.
It is a norm in any analytical exercise that the test of a policy statement has to be contextualised. If, on the one hand, the country is fighting against terrorism, on the other, there is a rise in the tide of Hindu communalism directed against Muslims and Christians. This is the context in which Shinde's letter has to be understood.
Anti-Muslim mobilisation, especially after the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, has made Muslims suspects and villains of the piece. Is it not a fact that whenever there is a bomb blast, Muslims are the suspects, often without evidence? Is it not a fact that Mohammed Amir, an accused in the Delhi blasts of 1996 and 1997, was found innocent and let off after spending 14 years in jail?
The National Crime Records Bureau data have revealed a 'great disparity between the rates of detention and conviction of Muslims in 22 states'.
If the virus of anti-Muslim communalism is spreading in society, the functionaries of the state cannot remain insulated. Justice Srikrishna clearly identified Hindu and pro-Hindu police functionaries participating in the Bombay anti-Muslim riots.
The fallout of this is that the Muslims have been negatively impacted and the best example of this is their reaction to the Batla House police-terrorist confrontation because with such negativism, the community is bound to be in 'denial mode'.
Another contextual change has taken place in the role of the media. After every bomb blast, theories about the involvement of groups are circulated without waiting for evidence.
A minority with a feeling of alienation further retreats into a 'ghetto' and feels neglected. Hence, Shinde has intervened in a particular context to reassure the Muslim community that justice is on their side.
The UPA government should make extra efforts and take special measures to assure the minority community that the secular state is their protector and guardian.
CP Bhambhri is a former professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
The views expressed by the author are personal