Muslims in India form the largest religious minority in the country. According to the 2011 Census, they comprise 14.4 per cent of India’s total population — roughly 174 million people. To use the word ‘minority’ for them, therefore, is misleading: they are the third-largest Muslim population anywhere in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan. Minority status, however, refers to a group’s relative power vis-à-vis other groups rather than to its numbers alone (note the case of women everywhere or blacks in South Africa during the apartheid). In that sense, then, Indian Muslims certainly are a minority, particularly when one considers the growing influence of Hindu right-wing forces since the 1980s.
But just how oppressed are Muslims in India? For Pakistanis – and particularly for those whose families migrated from India – this question is a source of endless curiosity, not the least because the answer either justifies or undermines the very notion of the Pakistani nation-state. If Indian Muslims, in fact, are oppressed then – regardless of Pakistan’s myriad internal troubles – the people of Pakistan can still breathe a sigh of relief that they live in a land of their own. On the flip side, if Indian Muslims are not oppressed, then what exactly was the Partition trauma about? As academic literature produced on Indian Muslims in recent years tells us, there are no simple answers to these questions.