Exploited for electoral purposes, cajoled and subjected to lip-service by so-called ‘secularist’ parties and ‘Muslim leaders’, the Muslim community of India stands at a crossroad. Earlier this month, the Centre was questioned by the Delhi High Court regarding the implementation of Sachar Committee recommendations for the welfare of Muslims. The bench told the government that it was “trying to please one community” and that it should not be fighting against poverty for one community only.”
‘Minorityism’ in India has been an abominable misnomer. It is time that we give up this ghettoised ‘minority-majority’ mindset. The voice of reason demands that educational standards and qualifications must be uniform, irrespective of religion or language. If a minority status is to be granted, it should not be on the basis of language or religion but as per the United Nations charter that states that quotas should be provided for all disadvantaged and have-nots.
Misled by their fundamentalist leaders playing to the gallery, Indian Muslims have acquired a ghetto mindset by sticking to the non-progressive and archaic attitudes. Children are not sent to modern schools and girls are kept away from schools altogether. Often misguided by their peers, they have no desire to work, compete and come up in life. Obscurantism, poverty, ignorance and instability have become such common features among Muslims that their detractors assume that these are the natural consequences of following the teachings of Islam.
What is to be lamented is the advocacy by secular and progressive elements in society and polity of ‘uniting’ Muslim Indians on the basis of religion and keeping them apart from the majority of Hindus that goes country beautiful interfaith fabric of the Indian Constitution. Frankly, a minority status, rather than helping the backward within the community, has harmed their cause. It is this term, ‘minority’, that has, over the years, led to political manipulation to the extent that the parties supported by the RSS have been only too happy to cajole others to ‘appease’ this community with the ‘most favoured minority’ status.
According to legal scholar Mohammad Atyab Siddiqui’s Law of Education, although the Constitution recognises ‘minorities’ based on language or religion, no improvement in the status of minorities has been observed owing to the impracticality of these provisions. So it makes sense for such a hollow gesture to be done away so as to allow the community to compete alongside the rest of Indians. There’s the Ministry of Minority Affairs, a white elephant that has done little since its inception because of a lack of intentions or funds. But even as it is, the Ministry has done nothing to ameliorate the condition of ‘backward minorities’.
Muslims should stop looking at charity in the form of quotas and instead accept the challenges of a competitive life. People like Maulana Azad, Zakir Hussain, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and APJ Abdul Kalam did not come up using the short cut of quotas but by working hard and facing open competition.
The Rs 150 crore Haj subsidy that Muslims get, for instance, is actually jeopardising their case. The government should provide Muslims with proper educational paraphernalia rather than issuing such grants and sops that are more like begging bowls than actually help. Announcements, such as the one made during Budget 2008 about Rs 1,000 crore being earmarked for the uplift of minorities and Rs 350 crore for the modernisation of madrasas are, to put it plainly, rubbish. Such schemes in the past have failed to do anything concrete for Muslims.
Thanks to their leadership, Indian Muslims live in unofficial apartheid. Hindus and Muslims have developed separately (as in Gujarat), very often wholly ignorant of what is in 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.
The Muslim leadership has lost its voice and its utility. Most of the leaders are brokers who play the politics of vote banks to acquire state patronage for themselves and their coteries. Their obscurantism is leading the community backwards. They are characterised by petty mindedness and a narrow outlook that is so out of tune with reality that it is downright irresponsible.
The Gopal Singh Report of 1983 and the Education Policy of 1986 had recorded neo-Buddhists and Muslims as the most backward communities in the country. The situation has not changed. Muslims represent between 12 (official) and 25 (unofficial) per cent of the population, but they hold less than 1 per cent of the jobs in India’s bureaucracy and in schools and colleges. The community occupies the lowest rung in the development index. Its literacy rate is poor and it has a low presence in private and public sector jobs. All these add to a feeling that Indian Muslims are discriminated against. To cap it all, Muslims — mainly the poor — are at the receiving end in most outbreaks of communal violence.
According to a survey by the Friends for Education, almost 52 per cent Muslims live below the poverty line (compared to 25 per cent of all Indians). Of every 100 Muslim girls admitted in schools at the primary level, only four pass out at high school while only one makes it to a college. The literacy level is a shocking 28 per cent and graduates and postgraduates form less than 1 per cent of the total. In the field of medicine, the percentage is just 2.4 while in the judiciary, it doesn’t go beyond 3.1 per cent.
The need of the hour is to vigorously support the inbuilt social reform current growing within the Muslim community, to promote literacy and education campaigns, to insist on gender equality in family and inheritance laws, to enhance girl child education and create opportunities for hapless Muslims so that they empower themselves through the acquisition of education and new skills.
Firoz Bakht Ahmed is a commentator on social, educational and religious issues