Maulana Mehmood Madani heads the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, one of the country's most influential Muslim groups that has 10 million listed members. He spoke to Neelesh Misra on some of the most debated issues related to the Muslim community currently, including the Sachar Committee report, reservations for Muslims and the issue of faith versus artistic freedom.
Excerpts from the interview:
Is the Sachar Committee report going to help bring change?
What this report has revealed is eye opening. But we are not very excited about what action will be taken on it. I think this will all end up in red tape. Muslims do not have much hope.
What is the sense in the community after the report?
This has started a new kind of discussion among the Muslim community. Community leaders are intensely discussing that there are some things the government has to do, but others that we have to do ourselves. Especially in the area of education, we need to do our bit as well, even as we seek help from the government in setting up more schools.
Education is most important. In the towns, there should be arrangements for hostels for Muslim girls. The dropout rate of Muslim children is due to two reasons: either they are just not interested in studies. Two, Muslim girls cannot do well because there are no hostels for them to go there and study.
The country needs competent people. We cannot achieve the vision of 2020 by ignoring the largest minority. They cannot be left behind, they need help.
Are you referring to reservations for Muslims?
Muslims should definitely get reservations. Our constitution says that there cannot be any discrimination on the basis of religion but reservations have been given so far only to Hindus. Reservation should be only on the basis of caste and backwardness, not religion.
Many Muslim sub-castes have been included in the Other Backward Castes (OBC) list for reservation, and yet they have not gained in any way from it. This is because of communalism. If you see a name - say Mohammed Altaf - and there is another non-Muslim name next to it, then the non-Muslim gets the priority in jobs.
Are you saying the Indian state discriminates against Muslims?
Most definitely. It is at all levels. The least discrimination is at the level of ordinary people - and that is why the society is sustaining itself.
You talk of discrimination. But is there anything that the Muslims also could have done differently all these decades?
Most certainly, we also have been lacking in many respects. We could not invest enough attention into the education of our children. The Muslim of India specialises in jobs like these - fixing bicycle punctures and doing manual labour. But they were deliberately kept out of the development programmes. Schools were not made in Muslim areas. Those who could get ahead faced discrimination and could not get jobs.
And reservation will address all those concerns?
Reservation is not the answer to the problem. But it will have a huge psychological impact. It will encourage Muslims to start studying again, in the hope that they will get jobs one day.
I went to Uttaranchal Chief Minister Narayan Dutt Tiwari - he is also a friend of my father -- and said we wanted to set up a school affiliated to CBSE. We sought permission to buy land. Six months passed. Finally we got the permission and bought 20 acres of land for Rs. 1.5 crores to set up a school and a teachers training college for women.
Suddenly, local newspapers started reporting that an "Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) den" is going to be set up there. So I told a minister, we have 150 madrassas in Uttaranchal, and if you dare me, I can set up 150 more within 24 hours. Even your father cannot stop me. I will ask any Muslim in any village, he will give me land with gratitude because it is in the name of Allah. But I want to start a school. I do not want money from you, I just want approvals so that we can go to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). But they forcibly acquired the land we had bought, saying it was a threat to the security of the Indian Military Academy. We have now taken a court stay. They are such dishonest people. They think that Muslims are the enemies of India.
What is your view on the debate over MF Hussain's paintings, and this debate over faith and religious freedom?
We are very clear on this. On one side is freedom of expression. And on the other is a person's self-respect. If someone starts to abuse my father in the name of his freedom of expression, should I feel bad or not?
In the same way, if Muslims regard someone as a prophet, this faith should be respected. Every freedom has a limit. If a cartoonist has the freedom to do what he did, then others have the freedom to react. But it is certainly unacceptable if he picks up a gun or blasts a bomb to express that protest.
What MF Hussain has done is completely wrong. If his paintings are hurting anyone's feelings, he should destroy them and apologise.
... But his supporters say it is art.
This is not art but something disgusting. We cannot insult anyone like this in the name of art. This is just insolence. Every freedom has a limit. He is a very talented man. Allah has given him the capability to paint clothes on the same paintings he had drawn nude.
We stand alongside those people who are angry and insulted by this.