Humra Quraishi | 30 Nov 2022
The community awaits a real chance to improve their economic conditions and an end to their exclusion in social and political spheres.
Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Sabrang India
When I started writing this piece, Hindutva brigades were making targeted attacks on Muslims, bullying those offering namaz and putting them in danger of hostile visits from suspicious police forces. But as I finish writing, there is news that a well-known university has suspended a professor for publicly taunting his Muslim student over his identity. If the first event reminded me of the far-sightedness of Akbar Allahabadi, the latter reminds me of Ahmed Rahi’s poignant poetry about the systematic decline in shared values.
“My rivals have lodged complaints against me in police stations for the crime/ Akbar continues to take the name of God in the present age and time,” wrote Allahabadi. And Rahi said, “We spent our lives in despair/ hope began to stir in our hearts/ We thought our destiny would change/ Alas, we were deceived.”
But gentle words cannot assuage the pain of Indian Muslims, who see the political ground realities turn blatantly communitarian. They see the threats to their identity and survival as the political class ‘others’ them relentlessly. What they eat, wear or say is always under a scanner. They are suspected at As-Salaam-Alaikum. They are hounded, subjected to humiliating queries and threats, thrashed and detained if they criticise the government or its policies.
My journalistic travels have led me to many Muslims who have decided to keep their laments about the present and future under tight wraps. They have told me they could not voice their dissent openly for fear of the backlash. So what we hear and see is the tip of the iceberg of their humiliation. India’s Muslims silently suffer at workplaces, educational institutions, or neighbourhoods. Do not overlook that the percentage of imprisoned Muslims is higher than their share of the population. It means there would be many reluctant to voice their dissent. Of course, ordinary Muslims can do very little to put up resistance. They share this fate with all secular citizens, who watch the damage and destruction unfold with dread in their hearts.
“We mourn and moan by ourselves, no one to hear us except Allah,” one man told me. I have also met Muslims shaken by the brutalities unleashed against them during pogroms, daughters violated, sons unfairly thrown in jails, homes burnt, belongings looted, and places of worship attacked and destroyed.
No, they did not chant anti-government slogans. They did nothing to “deserve” their fate. After all, Muslims opted to stay in India, not walk across to the country created in 1947. They did not leave because Hindustan is their country, and they are proud Indians, emotionally connected to this country. They love India. That explains their feelings of hurt when their loyalty is questioned, and new excuses are manufactured to target them. The significant blows to their social and economic life are bound to affect them for generations, and the entire country must stop this trend. I noted the declining economic and social capital of Indian Muslims in my book, The Indian Muslims: Ground Realities of the Largest Minority Community in India. That is when I traveled the country, hearing the Muslims retell their deeply saddening realities.
Besides everyday discrimination, many told me a bearded or sherwani-clad Muslim finds it hard to secure an appointment with public servants. Public offices have no ears for their grievances or room for them to come seeking welfare schemes.
I have met grave diggers, activists, traders, religious figures, students and parents, teachers, and shopkeepers from Muslim communities. Almost all were apprehensive of the right-wing brigades that hovered around their localities. Many Muslims said they felt safer and more secure in the downtown areas, despite the hopeless civic facilities in old cities. They have retreated to the ghettos in Muslim-populated pockets and market areas. But there is also the stark fact that Muslim families find gentrifying challenging. Buying or renting in non-Muslim housing is increasingly difficult for those who profess Islam.
Young Muslims were aware of the Sangh Parivar’s divisive agenda. They know the Sachar Committee report has detailed the stark inequalities Muslims face in economics, education and civic life. But they can also see that crucial corrective steps have never been taken to uplift them.
Even though a post-Sachar evaluation committee on improving the conditions of Muslims was set up under Prof Amitabh Kundu, no government has implemented his recommendations. The Kundu Committee report focuses on the dismal conditions faced by Muslims. He once told me how significant reservations were to his findings and recommendations. “If there can be reservations for the Hindu Scheduled Castes, why deprive those in the Muslim communities?” he said.
Prof Kundu also told me the living conditions of the Muslims are worse than the Scheduled Castes in many areas, a fact that studies have clearly proved since then. “Yes, in certain spheres, the condition of Muslims is worse than the Scheduled Castes and backward communities. They are access to medical facilities, sanitation and water, and public facilities. These deprivations and dismal conditions are worse in urban pockets where Muslims reside.”
But the ultimate question is when elections are fought and lost on how effectively parties can ignore or torment Muslims, how can the fate of its members improve?
The author is an independent journalist. The views are personal.