‘Muslim Dilemma’ in independent India

Amir Ullah Khan and Riaz Shaikh

In the backdrop of the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, it becomes essential to first understand the facets of Citizenship laws, policies, rights and duties in a comprehensive framework. We at CDPP, with support from USIPI, are engaging with some of our most eminent scholars on various facets of Citizenship in India, its context, and its implications. Towards this we organise a weekly series of discussions and the first of these had Dr NC Saxena discussing his paper “Muslim Dilemma in Independent India” with Dr Abusaleh Shariff and Dr Javeed Mirza.

Saxena’s paper presents the Muslim dilemma of being caught between the vicious cycle of Hindu bias and discrimination and the erratic spontanesous protests that ironically lead to further resentment.  Citing impeccable academic references, he described the perennial history of Muslim problems – discrimination, insecurity, violence – covertly under the earlier regimes and blatantly under the present one. The BJP has a rational electoral incentive to spread disaffection against Muslims in addition to diverting attention from its poor governance. However, this strategy can work only because of the deep-seated Hindu prejudices and hatred against Muslims. The success of this ‘hard Hindutva’ strategy is forcing other parties to adopt a ‘soft Hindutva’ to avoid losing the majority community votes.

Muslim problems are also exacerbated by a lack of leadership, that has remained focused on political power and institutional support, fighting for preserving Muslim Personal Law and gaining reservations in education and jobs. Dr Saxena advises Muslims to give up this wild goose chase and instead work on improving their image and reducing Hindu bias. He identifies the root of the real problem as social rather than political. Other limitations are a right-wing, majoritarian party at the centre, and the geographical dispersal of the Muslim community across India that renders them politically emaciated.

Saxena describes in detail the litany of state discrimination and police violence against Muslims, the charges of ‘Muslim appeasement’ against the Congress and its backlash, the causes and effects of Muslim educational backwardness, the counter-productive identity politics of Muslim political and religious leaders, and an analysis of Hindu prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination. He accepts that the primary responsibility for providing security and discrimination-free environment to Muslims lies with the administration. However, he argues that the bias of the Hindu majority has a greater adverse impact on the lives of Muslims.

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He also laments the fact that despite having the right to protest, Muslims cannot benefit from agitational politics so long as hatred dominates the Hindu mind. Like everyone else, Muslims too have multiple identities, but they rarely protest for genuine non-communal issues like job losses and farmer distress. While the community must continue to raise its voice against state-induced atrocities and lack of security, in this new illiberal environment, it should also introspect what it can do on its own without inviting the wrath of the majority, and how to promote communal harmony and reduce Hindu bias against them. He seeks a new breed of leaders, beyond the political and religious, who will kick off a social movement amongst Muslims towards excellence through self-reliance.

The questions that emerged from the conference were many and vexing. Do Muslims in India need Muslim leadership? Are Muslims a homogeneous, monolithic community with a single set of problems? Why should their aspirations be restricted to a minority character of the Aligarh Muslim University – why can’t Muslims fill up the mainstream universities across India? When we have all seen the benefits of reservations to the SCs and the STs, why should the demand for Muslim reservations be deemed illegitimate? Are our institutions and constitution dead that we cannot seek justice from them? Do we not have the right to protest and demonstrate against injustice, without being charged and jailed?

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The major question raised was on calling these problems as a purely Muslim dilemma. Discrimination, injustice, and illiberalism is a cause of concern for all right-thinking citizens of India who believe in the constitution and its institutions and its values. We live in a modern world that espouses values like liberty, equality, equity, and justice that all Indians, not just its minorities, should fight for.  Also, why should a Muslim protest against injustice and discrimination invite majoritarian backlash and hatred? Isn’t it a fact that this resentment only comes from a certain section of the majority that feels this way, given their history of discrimination against women, migrant labour, Adivasis, and lower castes?

Making a clear distinction between ‘what ought to happen’ and ‘what is likely to happen’, Dr Saxena provides Muslims a pragmatic blueprint for action in the India of today. He proposes that Muslims take advantage of the relative lack of bias in the Class I and II services and higher education and improve their education quantitatively and qualitatively to increase their proportion in the top echelons by dint of individual and community hard work. The idea of India is inclusive and celebrates diversity. It is time for institutions to revive this idea and enable all citizens to work towards fulfilling their genuine aspirations. The Muslim dilemma can be tackled with the community making world-class institutions, providing high-quality healthcare and education for all. Given the vast assets at its disposal, the Indian Muslim community should start schools and hospitals in all parts of the country, that will educate India’s youth and take care of our patients, in turn earning goodwill and spreading a positive message. This is how right wing hatred can be fought and exterminated.

Amir and Riaz are researchers at the Centre for Development Policy & Practice (CDPP)

Twitter: @khanamirullah Skype amirullahkhan Mob: 9871322477

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