9/23/08

Is There A Muslim Mindset?

. 9/23/08


"Yeh daagh daagh ujala, yeh shabguzida sehar/Woh intezar tha jiska, yeh woh sehar to nahi"

(This black-smeared light, this night-ridden morning/This is not the morning we had waited for).

Faiz Ahmad Faiz


Random searches. Arbitrary arrests. Fake encounters. Muslims in India today live in fear. Fear of a state they think is becoming increasingly communal, and a media they regard as biased.


Maulana Mahmoodul Hasan Qasmi comes from a family of freedom fighters. As a hakim (Unani doctor) and head of Anjuman Minhajul Rasool, a socio-religious organisation, he is highly respected in Mograpada, a Muslim ghetto in Andheri, Mumbai. In the small hours of September 1, roughly 50 plainclothes policemen, members of the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), came looking for Subhan Qureishi alias Tauqeer, the alleged mastermind of the serial bomb blasts in Ahmedabad and Delhi. The cops woke the maulana and began to interrogate him.

When the cleric denied all knowledge of Qureishi or Tauqeer, they dragged him like a common criminal to his bakery, a few minutes walk from his house. Qasmi was not allowed even to wear a pair of slippers and don his customary skull-cap. It was only later that a police search of the maulana's house yielded a photograph album showing the cleric with several senior Congress leaders, including Sonia Gandhi. The police realised he was probably well-connected. They left in a hurry, issuing dire warnings of hell to pay if Qasmi spoke out about the raid.

Though ATS Chief Hemant Karkare later apologised to the residents of Mograpada, especially its much respected cleric, the damage had been done. Random searches. Arbitrary arrests. Fake encounters. Muslims in India today live in fear. Fear of a state they think is becoming increasingly communal, and a media they regard as biased (except the Urdu press, also called the Muslim press).

"It is tough to be a Muslim today. The main concern is security," says Mumbai-based activist and Islamic scholar Asghar Ali Engineer, who is currently travelling around the country. "Everywhere I go, I see how upset the Muslim intelligentsia is with the way the community is being treated."

It is not hard to figure out why. It was Faiz Ahmed Faiz who described Independence after the pain of Partition with the memorable line: " Yeh daagh daagh ujala, yeh shabguzida sehar/Woh intezar tha jiska, yeh woh sehar to nahi (This black-smeared light, this night-ridden morning/This is not the morning we had waited for)." Tragically, the darkness seems only to have spread over the years.

Urdu-language columnist Hasan Kamal says, "Just after Independence, Muslims were afraid to keep Urdu books in their homes lest they were labelled Pakistani sympathisers. After the 1971 war, the community shook off the guilt it had been carrying from the days of Partition. Now Muslims are once again being made to feel guilty — this time they're seen as sympathetic to the bombers."

What has made matters worse is that the community hasn't benefited from India's rapid economic progress. Just recently, the Rajinder Sachar Committee report reinforced a truth many of us knew: Muslims are worse off than most other Indians. According to the committee, the literacy rate among Muslims in 2001 was 59.1%. This is far below the national average of 65.1%. The percentage of Muslim graduates from poor households going on to study further is lower than SCs/STs: 16% and 28% respectively. Shockingly, the only place where Muslims are "over-represented" is the country's prisons. In Maharashtra, the percentage of Muslim prisoners in all categories (17.5%) was way above their share of population (10.6%). In Gujarat, the ratio of Muslim population to jail inmates was 9 to 25.

"If the trend continues, we will have to soon build idgahs in jails," says Pasha Patel, the BJP's lone Muslim MLC in Maharashtra, with ironic emphasis. But there is little sign that anything will change for the better. Most Muslims know the Sachar report is unlikely to be implemented in full. "The backward castes get reservations. Muslims get commissions," commented a senior journalist in a recent column.

The cause of Muslim anger is not deprivation alone. It is also the sense of justice discriminating against them. "The conviction rate in Mumbai's 1993 blasts was over 80%, while in the post-Babri demolition riots in the city it was not even 0.8%. Many police officers whom the Srikrishna Commission found guilty were promoted," says Javed Anand, co-editor, Communalism Combat and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy.

When the state discriminates against a section of its citizens, it prepares fertile ground for retaliation. The disaffected easily twist a sacred idea, say jihad in the case of the Indian Mujahideen, and tailor it to justify inhuman acts. This is why the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which started life in the womb of the peaceable, almost dull, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind in the 1970s, succeeded in exploiting many aggrieved Muslims' sense of insecurity. Playing up Muslim fears of being treated as the 'Other', SIMI radicalised a section of educated Muslim youth.

" Hum yeh maan chuke hain ki hum do number ke shahri hain (We have now accepted that we are second-class citizens)," rues an otherwise moderate cleric, Maulana Zaheer Abbas Rizvi, secretary, All India Shia Muslim Personal Law Board. He says, "Intelligence agencies which are quick to discover the hand of Muslim terrorists after every blast don't show similar enthusiasm in investigating terrorist acts where Hindus are involved."

It is obvious the agencies go soft when it comes to blast cases involving Hindu organisations. "In Nanded, in April 2006, two Bajrang Dal workers were killed while making crude bombs. A similar incident took place in Kanpur last month. Why haven't the authorities taken any action?" asks activist Ram Puniyani.

The sense of insecurity has further ghettoised the community. Ironically, these infrastructure-starved ghettos are labelled "mini-Pakistans". Their residents don't get bank loans, a fact recognized by the Sachar report. Shabana Azmi may have sounded controversial and peevish when she recently revealed that she found it hard to buy a house in Mumbai with her husband Javed Akhtar because they were Muslims. But, ask any Muslim, and they will affirm it is true. Muslims do face discrimination when it comes to buying and renting houses in "Hindu" areas.

Some sociologists say Muslims are treated like pariahs in many places. Nobody knows this better than Vadodara-based scholar-activist J S Bandukwala. After he miraculously escaped a frenzied mob during the Gujarat riots of 2002, Bandukwala's university allotted him a government house in a block of four. "The moment I shifted there, all the occupants of the three houses in the block left. I felt as if I was an untouchable," says Bandukwala, who has done a study on Juhapura, India's biggest Muslim ghetto with a population of over three lakh.

After the riots, Muslims from all over the city moved there. But despite the area boasting such a large number of potential customers, no bank wanted to open a branch in Juhapura. "After two Muslim MPs raised this question in Parliament following my appeal, Bank of India opened its branch there," says Bandukwala.

Unfortunately, most Muslim ghettos across the country don't have crusaders like Bandukwala.



Mohammed Wajihuddin, The Times of India





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