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Myth of Appeasment



The Myth of Muslim Appeasement

Muslims India's MusIims number more than 120 million people, the largest minority group in this country and the second-largest Muslim population in the world. Fifty years after freedom, the community finds itself in deep turmoil. The saffron surge, continous communal conflict and the denial of a better standard of living to large sections of Muslims has left them disgruntled and suspicious of successive governments. A predicament for which they blame the polity as well as the heterogenous society they co-habit. Professor Mushirul Hasan examines the state of Indian Muslims half-a-century after Partition.

Debates on the Uniform Civil Code have gone on ceaselessly since Independence. Muslim orthodoxy was unequivocally opposed to change, and the liberal view became increasingly blurred because of the unhappy intervention of Hindu ideologues as vocal proponents of reform in Muslim personal law. The Congress stand had been ambivalent from the days of Nehru until Rajiv Gandhi decided to throw his government's weight behind the Muslim Personal Law Board in the Shah Bano case.This was a significant and reckless departure from the informal consensus established by Nehru on non-intervention in matters of faith.

Muslims For the first time since Independence the priests and the politicians spearheaded a massive, countrywide fundamentalist upsurge, setting aside party and sectarian allegiances to crusade for a common Muslim/Islamic cause. It was their finest hour. The grand alliance paid off, as it did in the 'triple talaq' (divorce) controversy a few year later.

Urdu's uncertain future irked and tormented the north Indian Muslim intelligentsia, yet it was hardly the main plank of any organised or sustained agitation. Public rhetoric was mostly not matched by action. Leading protagonists of Urdu conveniently abandoned the cause -- Zakir Husain did so -- after being co-opted by the establishment. Scores of people lamented and shed tears over Urdu's demise. Yet most were confronted by the officially-sponsored Urdu academics, patronage through awards, the popularity of the language in the otherwise 'Hindi' -designated cinema, and a few more or less token concessions to linguistic sensibilities.

In the country as a whole, the democratic and secular forces did not have the necessary motivation to defend a language that symbolises India's composite heritage. In UP and Bihar the Congress rank and file, the socialists, the Lok Dal and the Janata Dal were either indifferent or hostile to Urdu. The Hindu parties, of course, consistently denied Urdu any official status. Thus when the UP Vidhan Sabha adopted the Official Language (Amendment) Bill in 1989 amid unruly scenes, the BJP's MLAs stormed into the well and raised anti-Urdu slogans like Urdu Bill murdabad (Death to the Urdu Bill) and Ek rajya, ek bhasha, nahi chahiye dusri bhasha (One state, one language, a second language not required).

'Urdu poetry? How can there be Urdu poetry when there is no Urdu language left? It is dead, finished. The defeat of the Mughals by the British threw a noose over its head, and the defeat of the British by the Hinduwallahs tightened it. So now you see its corpse lying here, waiting to be buried.' This is not just the anguish of a living Urdu poet in Anita Desai's novel, but a summation of the anger of Urdu-speakers who were appalled by the treatment meted out to the language. The story of a weak, gasping poet in In Custody is also the story of Urdu language and literature.

Yet those living in India have to reckon with the stereotypical images propagated by the Hindu traditionalists and nationalists and their myth of a minority pampered by the 'pseudo-secularism' of the Congress governments. 'For too long' thundered Uma Bharati, the saffron-robed member of Parliament, 'the government treated Muslims as ghar-jamai (literally, 'favourite-son-in-law). The Congress was the principal target for reasons detailed in Organiser, the RSS-BJP mouthpiece, and in the writings of Girilal Jain, Arun Shourie and Swapan Dasgupta. Arun Shourie cited the Congress and Janata Dal election manifestos of 1991 as 'excellent examples' of minority appeasement.

Rajiv Gandhi There are more specific charges. First, Muslims, along with Christians, run their own educational institutions without any public accountability. Secondly, they are allowed to marry four wives so that their population, which stood at 25 million in 1947, shot up to nearly 100 million, their high growth-rate was also due to unwillingness to adopt family planning. The family planning scheme, it is argued, is covertly if not openly forced upon the Hindus while the Muslims and Christians are allowed to procreate without limitation. The government dare not change its strategy for fear of losing Muslim votes. Thirdly, for the same reason, Rajiv Gandhi imposed a ban on Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses and his successor V P Singh declared Prophet Mohammad's birthday a national holiday.

Finally, Muslims were willfully appeased by the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, and through official reluctance to enact a Uniform Civil Code.

The representation of a privileged Muslim community was woven around a palpably false theory of Muslim appeasement

Babri Masjid Most of the points listed have been convincingly refuted, but some carry conviction. This would not have been so if, instead of making petty concessions to religious fears and sensibilities, the secular establishment had conceived and implemented literacy and poverty alleviation programmes for the poor and impoverished Muslims.

It was all very well to push through a retrograde piece of legislation in the Shah Bano case or to rush into banning The Satanic Verses but such 'gestures of goodwill', usually timed to coincide with state or parliamentary elections, proved prejudicial to most Muslims.

Religious concessions per se, far from making them feel secure or improving their material condition, reinforced the stranglehold of orthodox and conservative clerics. They have also provided the Hindu parties with a stick to beat the Congress with, allowing them to expose the hollowness of a secular polity that rested on pandering to Muslim religious sentiments, invent areas of contestation between 'minority' and 'majority' interests, conjure up the image of the Other, homogenise the segmented Hindu population against the minorities, and create what Romila Thapar has so aptly characterised as 'syndicated, semitised Hinduism.

The representation of a privileged Muslim community was woven around a palpably false theory of Muslim appeasement, a theory based on the works of Savarkar, Golwalkar and Hedgewar, high priests of the Hindutva philosophy. But there were serious limits to what such representations could achieved electorally. So the evocative symbol of the Ram temple in Ayodhya was added to the BJP-RSS agenda. The strategy worked from 1986 to 1992 because of the attachment to Ram in the land of Aryavarta. It also worked because the Ayodhya symbol is simultaneously provided both a rallying counter-ideology against the divisiveness of caste and an all-embracing framework capable of mobilising Hindus as an undifferentiated community.

L K Advani At the same time, the long-awaited miracle at the hustings did not take place. L K Advani's chariot came to a standstill. A party riding roughshod over the political process and claiming credit for pulling down the Ayodhya mosque on December 6, 1992 suffered major reverses in state and municipal elections.

On 19-20 December 1964 the Indian Express carried two articles describing the position of India's 55 million Muslims as 'sad'. Its author A G Noorani commented on Urdu's plight on the Muslims unequal treatment in employment, and on the threat to their physical security. Add to this a near denial of even the rights to agitate for redress, even to ventilate grievances, and you have the malaise clearly spelt out.

Badruddin Tyabji, a retired diplomat, stressed much the same themes four years later in three articles published in The Statesman. So have others, with elaborate documentation. The Gopal Singh Committee submitted its report to the central government in June 1983. Radiance, the Delhi-based English weekly; Muslim India, edited by Syed Shahabuddin; and Aijazuddin Ahmad's studies reveal how most Muslims, chiefly in UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bengal, remain on the lowest rung of the ladder according to the basic indicators of socio-economic development.

The picture emerging from such writings is familiar. A large majority of the Muslims -- nearly 71 per cent -- live in rural areas, and are mostly landless labourers, small and marginal farmers, artisans, craftsmen and shopkeepers. Their social stratification and class interests are more or less the same as those of other people in the countryside. More than half of the Muslim urban population live below the poverty line, compared to about 35 per cent of Hindus.

Muslims Out of nearly 76 million, more than 35 million live below the poverty line. The rest are self-employed. Many fewer urban Muslims work for a regular wage or salary than members of other religious groups. In most areas the Muslim share in public and private employment is small.

In Kerala, Muslims had a comparatively higher literacy rate, yet they were far behind others, sharing the endemic problem of their co-religionist as a whole. The Mappilas, for example, held only between a quarter and half of the percentage of positions in government departments, proportionate to their share of the population

Equality of opportunity has largely been a mirage for the Muslims

Muslims The government machinery has been either hostile or lackadaisical in responding to individual and collective efforts to redress the inequities and imbalances in private and public sectors. In May 1983 Indira Gandhi emphasised her commitment to the secular ideal. The India of our dreams, she wrote, can survive only if Muslims and other minorities can live in absolute safety and confidence.

Acting at the behest of some Muslim members of Parliament and the Jamiyat-al-ulama, she issued guidelines on better job opportunities for Muslims, but the central and state governments ignored her directive. Individual appeals to industrialists to recruit Muslim graduates fell on deaf ears. Such was Badruddin Tyabji's experience as Aligarh University's vice-chancellor. He discovered, as have others since, the small proportion of Muslims in large-scale industry or business.

Not a single Muslim figured among the 50 industrial houses up till 1985. Muslim industrialists owned only 4 units in a group of 2,832 industrial enterprises, each with sales of Rs 50 million and above. In the smaller industrial sector, they owned about 14,000 units out of a total of 600,000 of which 2,000 belonged to the 'small' category with a limited capital outlay.

In general, Muslim access to government-sponsored welfare projects was limited. For example, up till 1985 Muslims in the lower and middle income groups received 2.86 per cent of houses allotted by the state governments and only 6.9 per cent of licenses for 'Fair Price' shops. Muslim artisans received only 9.15 per cent of the benefits extended by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission. Only 301 out of the 10,450 units under the KVIC programme belonged to Muslims, and only 45 million out of 5,846 artisans who gained subsidies for purchasing tools and equipments were Muslims; as were only 99 out of 74,000 who secured other financial benefits.

Muslims accounted for 3 per cent of the sums advanced and 3.4 per cent of the recipients of loans for small industry and agriculture in the range of Rs 50,000 to Rs 100,000, and less than 6 per cent in the Rs 100,000 to Rs 200,000 category. They accounted for 3 per cent of recipients and 1 per cent of sums advanced in the higher bracket of Rs 200,000 to Rs 1 million. The GSC thought that the poorer Muslims should have benefited most from the differential rate of interest and composite loan schemes, which were meant for lower income groups, but this did not happen.

Many writers emphatically believe that discriminatory practices contributed to Muslims being the hewers of wood and drawers of water. 'Equality of opportunity guaranteed by the Constitution,' Shahabuddin commented, 'has largely proved to be a mirage in practice. Muslim India suffers from discrimination in access to public employment, to higher education or to career promotion opportunities, to public credit, to industrial and trade licensing.

Muslims Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, a Delhi-based scholar, blames the Muslims's 'own backwardness, which they misguidedly wish to blame on others.' Most Muslim scholars and social and political activists have no sympathy for this view or, for that matter, for the argument that Muslim backwardness is linked to the nature of economic growth, the uneven distribution of material wealth and the slow and tardy progress of the economy as a whole.

They likewise do not subscribe to the view that their problems could be solved in the same way as the chronic poverty of the other rural and urban poor. They insist that opportunities for economic advance are specifically blocked for Muslims because of official neglect and discrimination. Hence the clamour for a larger share of the national wealth.

'We must demand our due from the system' wrote Shahabuddin at the beginning of 1984. 'We do not cry for favours or preferences but we assert our right to equality.' The All-India Milli Council, formed in 1992, has undertaken to draw attention to the continually declining condition of Muslims and their unemployment in various parts of the country

Hindus often respond to Muslim mobility by challenging Nehru-style secularism

Muslims Suggestions by some Western scholars that the Muslims, unrestricted by caste considerations, are better placed than most Hindus to grab new economic opportunities are not confirmed by the experience in many places. Those areas which Muslims tend to dominate, such as the lock industry in Aligarh or the bangle industry in Firozabad, are now accessible to others without any sense of caste restrictions.

Moreover, scheduled castes and tribes have compensatory programmes; there are none for the Muslims in most states. The backward castes, too, had no access to compensatory schemes until the Mandal Commission report was implemented. Yet they had neutralised their weakness much earlier by the use of political mobilisation, using their numbers and voting strength to secure attention and capture political power, as in UP and Bihar, by forming coalitions with other forces.

To be sure, such mobilisation, when it sought politically allocated resources by way of job quotas, generated opposition and violence, as in 1990, but this controversy was small compared to the consequences that awaited Muslims whenever they asserted themselves politically and, even more, in the economic sphere.

Thus the economic resurgence of Muslims in isolated pockets is commonly ascribed to 'Islamic fundamentalism' and the confidence boosted by the flow of petro-dollars from West Asia and the Gulf region in particular. Thus some activity in moving two madaris to more spacious grounds in Moradabad, scene of a communal outbreak in 1980, led to the inference that Muslims planned to turn the city into a fortress in order to lay the basis for another Pakistan. A pamphlet was circulated which commented; 'A college built with foreign money (reference to petro-dollars) will be an abode of foreign powers; one day this may even place our capital in jeopardy. In 1990-1 fear and envy of Muslim landed wealth and status, upward mobility and popular power was fomented in the riot-torn city of Khurja.

The GSC noted that economic stratification in traditional centres of arts and crafts usually followed the pattern of Hindus being businessmen and Muslims being workers. This relationship began to change in the 1960s, when Muslim artisans and craftsmen started competing with Hindu traders and businessmen for the expanding markets in India and the Gulf states.

The competition thus resulted in conflicts which took the form of violent outbursts over the routing of religious processions, cow-slaughter, music before mosques and inter-community marriages.

Disputes over such matters had been quite common in British and princely India, but at that time there was no discernible pattern to them. The GSC underlined the economic factor and the keen and bitter rivalries over acquiring control or sharing the gains of economic ventures and existing enterprises. According to its findings:

'The prolonged nature of violence and the target-oriented destruction of property leads credence to the theory that these are not sporadic expressions of communal anger but pre-planned operations with specific goals and targets in mind.. In our view, therefore, communal conflicts are more the results of the economic competition which has often resulted in the majority community depriving minorities of their economic gains. Innocent lives were taken in this process to instill a sense of insecurity among the victims and destruction of their properties was aimed at uprooting them economically.'

So why were Moradabad, Khurja, Aligarh, Bhagalpur, Ahmedabad, Baroda and Surat specially targeted? In western UP, where growth has been shaped by the commercialisation of agriculture and the rapid expansion of small towns, there appears to be a significant coincidence of rapid socio-economic growth and an increase in communalism. Many towns in the region, as also in other states, are riot-prone because Muslim craftsmen, artisan and weavers reap the rewards of a favourable economic climate, trading relations with Gulf countries and the revival of traditional artisanal and entreprenurial skills.

Noteworthy developments include the changes in Khurja on the Grand Trunk Road where after years of decline the pottery units owned by Muslims picked up business. Then there are the improved fortunes of Muslim in certain areas at Aligarh. Owners of lock making industries moved into producing building materials and bought property in the civil lines. Residential colonies like Sir Syed Nagar bear testimony to the presence of a substantial middle class and the prosperity that has come to it through trading, business and professional links with the Arab world.

Most shops in Amir Nishan and Dodhpur (as opposed to Marris road) have Muslim owners and a predominantly Muslim clientele. Doctors educated at the university's medical college had established clinics and are successful. Some engineers have sought employment in Western countries, principally the United States, and in West Asia; others have set up factories and moved into heavy engineering or electronics.

In Kanpur, another city with a long history of communal conflict, Muslims prospered in the leather industry although most were petty traders, artisans and industrial workers. In Varanasi Muslim weavers have gradually established their hold over the silk saree trade and obtained a financial stake in the industry itself. In Meerut Muslim weavers who have turned to entrepreneurial activists tend to do well in iron foundries, furniture manufacturing, scissor-making and lathe operations. In Moradabad, also in western UP, the traditional methods of producing brassware were reoriented by the Muslims to produce decorative brassware for export to rich Arab states.

In Bhagalpur (Bihar) the monopoly of Marwaris in the silk business was broken by some new Muslim exporters. Tension in the city mounted between the loom-owners and traders due to the growth of the latter as an independent force, especially Muslims, who had earlier been dependent on Hindu traders. In Ahmedabad and Bhiwandi, centres of textile manufacturing, Muslims gradually bought up small-scale textile units, which are tempting targets during communal riots.

In the Kolagu region of Karnataka the resentment against Mapilla labourers is accentuated by the modest economic success of Muslims as small coffee-planters. Finally, the traditional Hindu mercantile community in the walled city of Delhi resents Muslim intrusion into its commercial enclave. Hindus tend to raise their eyebrows, concluded a report on the Delhi riots by May 1987, at the assertion of an equal status by a community which they have been used to look down upon as their inferiors in the post-Independence era.

In other words, prosperity bred resentment among those accustomed to Muslim invisibility and deference, Hindu professional and businessmen expected Muslims to serve them as tailors and bakers. Industrial and office workers seeking jobs, better pay or promotion expect them to stick to their traditional occupations -- weaving, gem-cutting, brass tooling. Hindus often respond to Muslim mobility and wealth by challenging the Nehru-style secularism that offers special protection to Muslims.

Sure enough, the 'hewers of wood and drawers of water' theory does not apply to Muslims everywhere. There are regional variations, especially where Muslims, along with Christians, enjoy benefits in the shape of liberal admission to institutions and scholarships, or in Bihar where job opportunities have steadily increased after Urdu earned its rightful status in some district. Secondly, signs of progress and prosperity were visible in some parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

What the students are taught and the fashion in which their tender minds are moulded, time seems to have frozen many centuries ago

Mushirul Hasan continues his discussion on the state of Indian Muslims, 50 years after Freedom.

Young Muslims Much of it, as in Surat or Baroda, is not new. Apart from petty traders and groups of Muslim artisans who have carved out a place for themselves, the Bohra, Khoja and Memon communities continue to play trading and mercantile roles in western enterprise, including two cotton-spinning mills in Surat stared in 1861 and 1874, Ahmedabad had no Muslim mill-owners, and only one industrialist, Munshi Fateh Mohammad Fakir Mohammad, who started a match factory in 1895.

The situation improved over the decades because the textile and transport industries expanded, attracting large numbers of Muslim migrants into the city. Though still relatively backward in most sectors of the economy, especially in the professions and in private and government employment, Muslims in Ahmedabad have made their mark in textiles, transport, petty trading and shopkeeping.

The overall progress of the Kerala Muslims is aided by Gulf employment, reservations in education and higher rates of literacy achieved through sustained application. Farook College at Calicut in the Malabar region, from its humble beginnings in 1947-8, generated constructive movements of modernity and progress among the Kerala Muslims; it has been called 'the Aligarh of the south.'

Along with other voluntary agencies, the Muslim Educational Society, founded in 1964, promotes primary, secondary and higher education. By 1960, 46.3 per cent of school-age Muslim children were attending school; by 1970, Mapillas accounted for 30 per cent of college students in Malappuram and Calicut districts. At the beginning of 1974, about 700 lower and upper primary schools and 36 high schools flourished under Muslim management. In the state as a whole, there were nine first-grade Muslim colleges and several technical institutions.

The fortunes of the Kerala Muslim migrants to Madras city have improved since the 1940s when they first entered the metropolis. Those from the Malabar region did particularly well in running hotels, biscuit factories, textile concerns and import-export firms. A Muslim timber merchant who came to the city penniless now owns one of the largest timber firms in south India with twenty branches in Madras city.

The Malabar Muslim Association has reason to be proud of its achievements. It set up a medical relief centre, primary and secondary schools and colleges. The Islamic Foundation in Madras founded an engineering college in 1984 in the name and style of the Saleh Kamel Crescent Engineering College at Othivakam in Chengalpatlu district. The Al-Ameen Educational Society in Bangalore founded colleges, an evening polytechnic (1977) and a school of pharmacy (1982). In 1984 the society awarded scholarships amounting to Rs 89,745,63.

The picture is much less promising in UP and Bihar. These states have some isolated pockets of affluence, but on the whole a rather alarming percentage of the minorities, particularly the poorer sections among the Muslims, live in these states. The country's partition and the sheer scale and magnitude of migration of Pakistan from traditional Muslims centres like Delhi, Aligarh, Farrukhabad, Moradabad, Rampur, Meerut, Mufaffarnagar, Lucknow and Allahabad contributed to the professional classes being skimmed off. The loss has not been made good.

Zamindari abolition caused serious hardships to small landowners, zamindars and their dependants. When Hindi was made the sole language of administration and education, the affected sections were the very ones which sought employment at the clerical level, in lower government service or in educational institutions.

Indeed, it was difficult for many Muslims whose mother-tongue was Urdu to compete for government posts. This, and the constant fear of discrimination, largely accounts for so few taking the competitive examinations for government posts.

Widespread illiteracy and a higher drop-out rate at the elementary stage are additional factors. According to the Planning Commission, the average literacy rate among Muslims was 42 per cent in 1987-8, less than the national average of 52.11 per cent. Muslim women -- more than half the total Muslim population -- do not receive even school education, let alone higher education.

A survey conducted in 1967-8 in Lucknow showed that illiteracy among Hindu women was 32 per cent compared to 50 per cent among Muslim women. None of the latter who responded had a post-graduate degree. Most of the husbands of the 1,423 women surveyed also had not attended a school. On the other hand, 80 per cent or more of the upper-caste Hindus and Christians had received secondary or higher education.

The educational profile of Muslims is much lower in Khurja and Bulandshahr, though they constitute numerically one of the dominant groups along with scheduled castes. The number of Muslims who study in Khurja is about 10 per cent (the corresponding figure for women was 5 per cent) while of Hindus about 75 per cent.

It is not clear whether Muslim children are not sent to schools and colleges because of economic constraints, the absence of religious instruction, the sting of the prevailing bias against Urdu, or because parents in larger arts and crafts centres hardly consider it worthwhile to give their children higher education. What is evident is the lack of concerted effort in UP, though less so in Bihar, to promote literacy or modernise existing educational institutions. Initiatives in Delhi by the Hamdard Foundation or the Crescent School are modest compared to the scale of similar operations in Bihar, and west and south India.

The Dini Talimi (Religious Education) Council of UP had 6,000 small rural schools in which more than 600,000 pupils received religious instruction. Studies by A R Sherwani, whose brother was a prominent industrialist in Allahabad, indicate that instruction in such schools seldom goes beyond Class II and that the educational content is confined almost exclusively to Islamic religious texts. Urdu-medium schools, mostly government-run, teach physics, chemistry, mathematics, geography and economics, but Sherwani shows that such institutions fail to maintain the standards of Hindi-medium schools, either in UP or Delhi. Some schools have modified their curriculum, but most have not.

Take Karnataka's largest seminary on the outskirts of Bangalore. More than 400 boys, mainly from south India, are trained to lead prayers, recite the Quran and teach in makatib and madaris. But the curriculum has not changed, because of the traditions handed down from previous generations: 'There are great spiritual blessings to be had from ancient wisdom which modern education is totally bereft of.'

The library is stocked with books, but only on Islam and in Persian, Arabic and Urdu languages. Maulvi Haroon, as a recent graduate, had not heard of liberal and modernist authors; they find no place in the institution. The glass doors of the cupboards are covered all over with colourful stickers, all conveying in different ways the same message: 'No to the Uniform Civil Code'

In sum, what the students are taught and the fashion in which their tender minds are moulded, time seems to have frozen here many centuries ago.

The great seminaries at Deoband and Lucknow, which should ideally have given the lead, are sluggish in responding to the winds of change. The few cosmetic changes introduced in their curriculum have not helped to equip their graduates to compete in the wider world of employment, trade or business; many end up as school teachers or prayer-leaders in local mosques. Aligarh and Jamia Millia have attracted some bright students largely through a liberal admission policy, but their numbers are small and with a few notable exceptions their performance has been disappointing.

The GSC report found students at Nadwa totally devoid of modern secular education which is essential to help them face the realities outside. The Jamia Millia and Aligarh Muslim University have not lived up to their reputation.

The Jamia, founded in the year of great political upheaval is rocked by mounting corruption, misguided student agitations, increasing administrative lapses and strained teacher-students relations.

Muslims The university at Aligarh seethed with discontent caused by corruption, declining academic standards and inept administration. Other institutions, such as the Shia College in Lucknow, are little better.The Dar-al-Mussaniffin, Shibli Nomani's creation, languishes in Azamgarh, and Lucknow's Firangi Mahal, situated in Chowk, is a symbol of the Nawabi city's decline. Declining standards and financial mismanagement plague the once renowned Faiz Aam Inter-College in Meerut.

If so few go to school and college and if so many are inadequately equipped to face the world, it is easy to understand why only 5,336 (2.59 per cent) Muslims competed for the subordinate services commission examinations and so few found employment in the judicial, administrative, police and forest services. Figures furnished by the GSC report or Muslim India need to be updated, although the pattern is likely to remain much the same for many years to come. By and large, Muslims are like to remain outside the area of state employment and predominantly in the unorganised sector either as workers or as self-employed petty bourgeoisie.

Muslim organisations have not diagnosed the malady, but they need to do so. They must review the performance and functioning of educational institutions, including Aligarh, Deoband, Nadwa and Jamia Millia Islamia, and improve the working of huge numbers of charitable endowments which had once sustained vigorous and creative intellectual life at several urban centres.

Hindu nationalism will continue to torment the minorities, but the battle is not lost

Barq girti hai to bechare Musalmanon par'

(Lightning, after all, only strikes the beleaguered Muslims)

-- Mohammad Iqbal

Muslims Several important conclusions, some spilling over to larger questions of minority identity, emerge from the foregoing. The reactions triggered off by the Muslim Convention and the Majlis-i Mushawarat illustrate how the democratic process itself imposed constraints on the articulation of minority grievances and their redressal through formal procedures.

Most political activists across the board saw a divide between minority and majority interest, although this divide rested on an undifferentiated view of what constituted a 'majority' or a 'minority'. This made it increasingly difficult after Nehru's death in 1964 to channel the very different aspirations of minority segments through secular formations.

The left-wing and democratic forces tried to do so in their limited spheres of influence, countering overt manifestations of Hindu communalism and providing the healing touch in riot-affected areas. But there were to tread warily and not identify themselves too closely with minority causes.

The formal and informal channels of articulation created by Nehru had collapsed by the 1970s, and the resulting vacuum was filled by Muslim organisations in UP, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. They had survived on the fringes of Indian politics, but were back in business after Nehru's death. Their agenda was two-fold: To create a distinct Muslim constituency by dwelling on the Congress failure to assuage their fears and fulfill electoral promises, and to organise and deepen anti-Congress sentiments, in co-operation with regional and local parties.

Thus, the Muslim Convention, Majlis-i Mushawarat, Ittehadul-Muslimeen and the Muslim League in Tamil Nadu and Kerala raised important issues, but theirconstituency and their overall reach were limited. They picked up a few seats not through a consolidation of 'Muslim votes' but through a coalition with local or regional forces. In a more general sense they knew that it did not pay to act solely as Muslim parties.

What does one make of 'Muslim identity', an expression widely in vogue but without any clear intellectual underpinnings? It is doubtless true that economic discontent, coupled with escalating violence, lent weight to notions of identity and acted as a catalyst to communitarian strategies. Yet Muslim scholars and activists had recourse to a definition that rested uneasily on the Islamic concept of a unified millat, and which will always be problematic.

So too is its projection in the political arena. To identity and locate a set of unified communitarian interests in a mixed and diverse population is politically inexpedient and empirically hard to sustain. Hence, the importance of drawing a sharp distinction between political polemics and the actual realities on the ground.

If so, what does one make of the self-image of a minority, religious or otherwise? In a nutshell, the language and vocabulary of communitarian politics, such as those used by the Muslim League or the Majlis-i-Mushawarat, need decoding because the dominant priest-politicians combination has, for its own reasons, projected a certain image of itself and the community it purports to represent.

Thus an outraged Shahabuddin mistakenly assumed that his defeat in the Rajya Sabha biennial election in 1984 'sent shock waves in the Muslim community all over the country.' 'Every Muslim Indian who is politically conscious', he added, 'is bound to draw certain conclusions from this episode and he will not be wrong if he thinks that if the national parties which swear and he will not be wrong if he thinks that if the national parties which swear by secularism reject Shahabuddins, Muslim India must find a new strategy.' Wahiduddin Khan rightly regards such reactions as symptomatic of the 'erroneous self-definition vis a vis the present.

Finally, we have kept track of the relentless defence of the Muslim Personal Law and the clear and outward signs of conservative and orthodox reactions to modern education, composite and syncretic trends and reformists initiatives.

The Jamiyat al-ulama and the Jamaat-i Islami regard modernism as the most dangerous heresy of the day. They have taken the position -- indefensible in a liberal dialogue -- that changes in Muslim Personal Law are tantamount to an infringement of the 'covenant' of composite nationalism which binds Muslims to India and its Hindu nationals.

The intervention of other organisations has deepened support for this viewpoint. Theologians, jurists and public figures gathered in Delhi in April 1989, under the aegis of the Institute of Objective Studies, to explore solutions to contemporary problems in the light of and in conformity with the principles of the Shariat. Maulana Syed Abudl Hasan Ali Nadwi and Maulana Minnatullah Rahmani, Amir-i-Shariat in Bihar and Orissa, were the star performers. The All-India Muslim Milli Council, founded in Bombay on May 24, 1992, set out to create collectivity and unity among Muslims on the basis of Kalimah-Tayyabah [epitome of the Islamic creed] and 'endeavour to see that Muslims in their role of Khair-i-Umma [welfare of the community] fully discharge their duties.

These were the loud, clear voices of orthodoxy. Yet there is no reason to conclude that the Jamaat, the Jamiyat or the All-India Milli Council represent some form of a Muslim consensus. At the other end of the ideological spectrum, sections of the Muslim intelligentsia, both before and after Independence, attributed different meanings to the 'covenant' with Indian nationalism, and reviewed their past from secular perspectives.

They affirmed their faith in a democratic and secular polity, and fashioned their future in relation to the broad nationwide currents of socio-economic transformations. They rejected the world-view of the Jamaat and the Jamiyat on ideological grounds, since they understood the consequences of community-based politics. They were not numerous, and their views were sharply contested during the excitement of the Pakistan movement. But their position was vindicated after Partition when India emerged out of the communal cauldron to set its house in order through a democratic and secular regime.

Babri Masjid The Babri Masjid-Ram Janamabhoomi controversy, followed by the demolition of the mosque, provided yet another historic opportunity to reiterate secular positions, oppose the mixing of religion with politics, and revive long-forgotten internal discussions on the efficacy of reforms and innovation, intellectual regeneration, and developing a secular temper. The nature and outcome of such dialogues, examined in the next chapter, will determine the direction of change and progress among Muslims.

The ebb and flow of Hindu nationalism will remain a vital factor in Indian politics. It will continue to tease and torment religious minorities, but the battle is not lost. The secular ground has been narrowed, but it has not disappeared. The critical issue for religious minorities is whether they are adequately equipped and motivated to occupy this territory along with other democratic and secular tendencies. The turf is sticky, but surely negotiable.


Excerpted from Legacy of a Divided Nation, by Mushirul Hasan, Oxford University Press, 1997.



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