Tuesday 20 December 2011

Findings of the Sachar Committee were an eye-opener for many in the Muslim community all over India. The report itself raised many eyebrows and the community is overwhelmingly concerned by the startling statics brought out by the Committee. It is really a painful reality that quite a few governments have initiated studies on the community and developed administrative measures on their basis to tackle the long-debated issues related to the social, economic and political status. On account of various factors, the work of the Sachar Committee and its report has greater significance and relevance than earlier initiatives. The report also adds that Muslims rank below Scheduled Castes in some of the indicators considered. In many of the Indian states the community lives in conditions of poverty comparable to that of Dalits and Adivasis. However, situation in Kerala represents a notable odd to the general situation. The credit for this remarkably exceptional position, no doubt, goes to the sparkling galaxy of Indian Union Muslim League leaders, their amazingly futuristic visions, thoughtfully devised policies and finally but importantly to the all-weather support of Mappilas of Malabar. Thanks to their persistent and untiring efforts our party has undeniably become a household name and a perfect model for others to emulate in Muslim politics.

The Indian Muslim Situation
It is a sad irony that a community-Indian Muslims- contributed immensely to the nation-building, is vilified by a section of population and media. Madrasas run by the community are portrayed as “nursery of terrorists” as part of castigation. Muslims need to prove on a daily basis that we are not anti-national and terrorists. We can’t deny that we are partly responsible for this negative stereotyping and all sorry state of affairs.  Some of our fellow-Muslims are caught up in the image imposed by the fascist forces. This prompts us think of seriously; are they really dancing in tune with Sangh Parivar agenda? What we could see, when we take the stock of situation is that the positive results seldom outweigh the damages caused by them and such disruptive activities get backfired most of the time.

A thorough-going enquiry points towards the fundamental social condition that has created this situation. Muslims across the country, except in Kerala, have a less access than other religious groups to educational facilities and political institutions. Community’s participation in governance is also abysmal. So may also be the case with Dalits and other backward communities, who have been the victims of hostile neglect and violence. Thanks to reservation policies, we have witnessed the emergence of a stream of affluent middle class in other communities. But one should be very self critical, when it comes to our community. Have we fully utilized the opportunity provided by reservation and other affirmative actions? The answer may be bit of agonizing.  We can see that much of what goes in the name of affirmative action fails to take off the ground in our community.

How did this come about? The reason may be a complex intersection of many factors. The prime reason may be historical stretching back to colonialism and the differential treatment enjoyed by the community under British rule. None can deny the historical past in which Muslims were the victims of benign neglect and various degrees and modes of discrimination. Partition left Muslims, particularly in the north, a largely impoverished community. It also led to a situation, in which separate political mobilization of Muslims was no longer considered feasible. But blaming colonialism and partition itself does not entirely explain our backwardness and subscribing fully to partition theory will not provide an answer for the problems of the present. As we know, the similar forces are still powerful in different forms. The chance is very bleak for us to have a situation in which all enemies are eliminated. Such a situation would be very ideal and imaginary.  So, it is the need of the hour to overwhelm such forces strategically.

Extremism: An unwise Option 
However, one has to keep in mind such a defence should not speak the language of terror. The most effective weapon in this context, no doubt would be the proper utilization of our intellectual capital not the muscle power. The world has witnessed umpteen numbers of incidents, which proved the inefficiency of terror to deal the situation. What we experience for last two decades is that as a self-destructive weapon, terrorism often leads to further alienation and isolation from the mainstream.

It is a painful reality that many of our fellow-Muslims live with the mounting wave of Islamophobia and Hindu chauvinism. The selective targeting of Muslims by the state, as what happened in Gujarat, of course, have reinforced the feeling among Indian Muslims that they are actively being discriminated against. Sachar Committee Report has highlighted the institutional discrimination in Muslim-dominated localities and areas in such matters as schools, banks, grants, roads and development schemes. Disengagement with the politics naturally evolves as a strategy for some in such a situation. But what we see is that this further drives Muslims into ghettos, where they are often confined against their will. The example of West Bengal, where Muslims were earlier a integral part of the left parties, exposes the hollowness of communist parties’ ‘Muslim appeasement’. Muslims of West Bengal lag far behind their counterparts in rest of India.  The community, with large deficits in education and employment, naturally figures high in terms of incidence of poverty.

Why Muslims have not fared well even after 60 years of independence? One can find reasons in three major factors; political under-representation, educational backwardness and abnormally poor participation in governance. Among these factors, one needs to have special mention here; inadequate role of Muslims in political process. As we know clearly, Muslim politics since the trauma of partition is chiefly centred on fear and consequent insecurity. And the only way we could deal with this situation is the enhancement of participation in the political process.  The lack of representation and colossal shortfall in participation in governance has really contributed in a big way to the growth and expansion of stereotypical image of Muslims. The vexed issue of bad- Muslim image arises from the lack of political power.

With regard to education, none thinks that Muslims in India continue to nurture their traditional opposition to ‘secular’ system of education.  A recent statistics explodes the myth that Muslims prefer to send their children to madrassas.  But still there is a noticeable lack of access to educational institutions of higher learning. Again on the positive side, there has been a significant trend among Muslim organizations to focus on Muslim educational and economic empowerment. These efforts, in the form of Muslim-run NGOs are however, scattered and inadequate to address the problems of the community in the absence of political will and proper institutional support. As many studies show, Muslims are second to none in many fields. In the areas of art, science, literature, technology and professional world, we stand in equal measure to any other community in India. The problem arises when it comes to representation and power. It is indifference to mainstream politics that is responsible for Muslims inequality with other communities and that it has blocked their progress and created a public image of backwardness.

Similarly, it is clearly understood from our long experience that the social mobility is always complimentary to political power. We have a classical example of Gujarat, which proved that economic power doesn’t essentially lead to social power. Whatever the pinnacles of economic power we are, the community is vulnerable to any kind of attack from outside. The mere material changes will not bring about the true empowerment of Muslims unless they are attached with political mobility. Political power, as the major pointer to mobility, is the first and foremost goal to attain. The others will follow it automatically.

As has been discussed, Muslims in every state constitute disadvantaged communities; only the extent and nature of the disadvantage vary. In Gujarat and Assam they are gripped in high amount of insecurity, while in Bihar and UP they are treated as outcasts, in national capital they are pushed to stay in ghettos. There is a strong feeling of alienation within the society everywhere. Muslims are subject to the same social discrimination faced by Dalits in many of the north Indian villages.

The Sachar committee report points out that Muslims, who account for 10.6 per cent of the population of Maharashtra, constitute 32.4 per cent of total number of prisoners in the State. Although there is fact that a section of investigating officers are biased and draconian laws are responsible for increasing number of arrests of members of this community, this statistics is very much disturbing, especially when it comes to a community, which gives vital role to moral science education from the childhood onwards. While there is no justification for discriminatory practices, the reason why so many from this minority community add up to the crime statistics has to be analysed.

Besides being discriminated against for their entire lives, many men have been victims of communal violence. Taking advantage of this, terrorist groups brainwash the youth in our community. Similarly, there is widely-held misconception that the community has little faith in mainstream law. This is another indication of increasing alienation.  

Kerala Experience: Testimony to Muslim League’s Strategies

Situation in Kerala illustrates best that the alienation comes out of the lack of political power and under-representation. What makes the Kerala Muslims truly different from their Indian counterpart is the political clout they do enjoy in the State.   As we all know, the role of Indian Union Muslim League is undisputable for this enviable achievement. Muslim League’s glittering array of leaders, starting from late K.M. Seethi Saheb, motivated people in the community to use their own strength. Learnt from the lessons of 1921 Mappila rebellion, League leaders reworked the strategies and succeeded in a complete makeover of the community from a traditional one to a modern, vibrant and forward looking.  

League leaders stressed more on three ideals, knowledge, representation and power. The party launched a tradition of challenge against the causes of backwardness and set in motion a new practice of politics enabling to acquire power in a more democratic way. Keeping fight against the forces that hindered community’s development and integration with the secular ethos of the State in mind intact, League participated fully in governance. Fighting against all odds the League gave the community a sense of power and freedom from inherent insecurity and alienation.

It was again a nice coincidence that most of the first generation league leaders were very active in social reform movements also. They inculcated the need of a radical reform through education and empowerment. The holistic socio-political engineering scheme envisioned by the early League leaders captured the popular imagination of a large section of ordinary Muslim population in Kerala as it stood appealing to a lot of educated Muslims. The most significant result of their effort was the popular realization among the Muslims that the welfare of the community depended on the intelligent utilization of power for the benefit of community.

Our leaders like Seyd Abdul Rahiman Bafakhi Thangal and Pankkad Seyd Pukkoya Thangal could use their mass clout among Muslims as a committed weapon for the community advancement.  Qua’de Millat Ismail Saheb’s shibboleths ‘restoration of ideal society’ and ‘honourable existence’ became a rallying point for many to join the bandwagon. Through well thought-out strategies, ahead-of-time vision and well-calibrated programmes, leaders like C.H. Mohamed Koya contemporarised the community along a modernist line. The community witnessed a manifold transformation under the pious and broad-shouldered leadership of our beloved Pannakad Seyd Mohamedali Shihab Thangal who departed us by making a profound gap. Finally, E. Ahmed’s accession to power at the centre as a minister marks a new phase in the political history of this country and adds long up to the amazing list of political attainments of our party.  

Muslim League facilitated a journey for the community from the problems of anecdotal social inertia to a rapidly modernizing one.  Kerala Muslims for the first time in many centuries realized the state of being under-educated and under-represented. Thanks to this attitudinal shift, Muslims in Kerala have now done so well in terms of their representation in politics however under-represented they may be in the government services.

Quite interestingly, they felt the need for faster educational progress. League leaders like M.K. Haji were instrumental in establishing educational institutions all across the state. They harbingered a real revolution with a multitude of deliverable agendas. This is being reflected in a plethora of new generation educational institutions came up in Muslim localities. However, it does not mean that Kerala Muslims fascinating human developmental index does prevent them from all sorts of discrimination in terms of religion. Nevertheless, Muslims in Kerala, who make up 24 percent of the State’s total population, stands apart with a developmental model that the others’ can emulate without much of hassles.

The triumphant story of Kerala Muslims, as has been widely accepted, closely entwined with the success of political engineering schemes orchestrated by the Indian Union Muslim League. Kerala, where the party has a key role to play in parliamentary politics, still remains to be a quintessential political laboratory for the League.  What the other states with sizable Muslim population lack are an organized and thoughtfully designed political move that Muslim League often stands for. It is quite outlandish to understand that the Muslims are incapable of determining the election results even in assembly segments, where Muslims make up a decisive portion of the population.

Need to re-formulate the Strategies 
History is the other major site, where Muslim alienation is quite palpable. It is a domain in which the ideological struggle that Indian society is currently witnessing; a struggle between secularism and communalism. There is a purposeful deletion of Indian Muslim history from the mainstream. The new historical narratives being poured into by the neo-conservative historians distort the real history in favour of Sangh Parivar. Correlated with the distortion of history, there is the issue of dissemination of fabricated historical truths through text-books. A critical interrogation would expose the lack of organic intelligentsia form the community to take on such noxious efforts at the intellectual level. We have due respect for secular intellectuals who speak usually of a meaningful debate on the alternative version of history. There is also a more concerted attempt to draw attention to the differently situated experiences of oppressed groups like minorities and Dalits in history writing. Apart from these, there is the need of an organic intelligentsia to emerge. Taking cue from the experience of Dalits, who recently witnessed the emergence of organic intellectuals to speak up for their rights and to make hear the previously excluded voices, Indian Muslims also need to have specialised organic intellectuals. Our party has a plan to initiate a dialogue and float a platform for organic intellectuals to come out and express themselves. The ideal proposition for this is to create a national level think-tank incorporating scholars from different fields including theology. A research centre with state-of the art facilities and properly updated data bank on various socio-economic indices of the community like education, employment, poverty, and standards of living is also proposed in support of such an intelligentsia. The proposed think-tank is expected to have a role in policy making and in preparation of text books and evaluation of text books to ensure community interests are not hurt. The Party would get benefit out of the regular dialogues and brainstorming sessions proposed.

It is clear that the new media debates have aided the process of ‘villification’of Muslims in the public eye. Media plays an important role as the street level interaction with the community becomes seldom instrumental in determining the non-Muslim perception about Muslims. Other communities’ understanding of Muslims, thus, is influenced by a set of ‘transnational’ media debates taking place in a distant place (mostly in the west). Such debates provide inputs to the people for taking a position regarding the matters related to Muslims than the real life experiences. But blaming media solely may be a futile exercise.

It is quite unfortunate that Muslims haven’t recognised the power of media images to create a particular group’s identity and social relations so far.  Along with the issues related to security and equity, Sachar committee also had given emphasis to the issue of ‘problematized Indian Muslim identity, which is manifested mainly through the media discourses. Against this backdrop, Muslim League leadership has felt the need of an appropriate move to make the media debates in favour of the community or at least to lessen the damages caused by such debates. Launching a media cell and a media lobbying group appear to be essential in this context.

Another important issue is of human rights. A major doubt remains, whether Muslims have used politics for strengthening our rights? Awareness about constitutional provisions like human rights commission is relatively less in our community. There is, of course, a burgeoning trend among Muslim organizations to speak the language of ‘rights’. A genuine doubt lurks here; are they earnest enough to uphold the spirit? Sometimes cry for human rights becomes a mask for such groups to promote their hidden agenda.  The prospects turn to be very bleak and such hypocrisies fail to attract the attention of authorities and general public. In the light of this fact, League leadership is giving a thought to have a genuine mechanism to get national and international audience for violation of Muslims’ human rights. The other area to which we have to pay urgent attention is empowerment of Muslim women. Enhancement of the role of women in the party and government is, obviously, our long-committed agenda. Women empowerment and realization of their rights, however, come solely through education. Effort to make them self-dependent seems to be the other means of empowerment. Self-help groups to address local and proximate income generating issues could be made a part of such a holistic approach.  

There is another issue, which perhaps must be the most important one. Muslims are the worst-hit community under the new economic regime. Studies have shown that the community, many of which are artisans, odd jobbers and petty traders are witnessing a rapid decline in their living conditions in the face of the current economic reconfiguration. On the other side, there is a newfound economic mobility among Muslims mainly due to the remittance from the Gulf. This phenomenon may be quite confined to some pockets of Kerala and Uthar Pradesh, but this economic transformation is often shadowed by the mystification of Muslim investment. There is an acerbic debate over the money with a volley of guess games; where is the money generated from, how does it operate. Muslims’ financial transactions blur the lines between national economies and between legal and criminal transactions. Why others look askance at Muslim capital? Why Muslim capital is always conflated with ‘hawala’. The major factor which helps mystifying Muslim wealth is its general dissociation with the financial institutions.

We have a time-tested system of zakat with a view to lessen the effects of economic imparities. And there is a considerable section of faithful Muslim population keeping aloof from the bank interest. Given this, what is required is a collective effort to channelize the excess wealth that rich people in our community possess in a constructive way. Introduction of microcredit system strictly adhered to Islamic financial rules is the most appropriate solution which seems to have a high potential to bridge the gap between the poor and the rich in our community. Other avenues in which we can engage the rich people (especially high-profile NRI businessmen) are to set up an Islamic financial banking and ssupport initiatives for self-employed youth.

Also to add, there is the issue of emergence and spread of new technologies and global means of communication, like internet and satellite television. Muslims’ engagement with new technology is a significant and interesting phenomenon as they have collectively brought many changes in pattern of our life. And many of the Muslim organizations and individuals have taken the advantage of IT to have wide reach for their ideologies among larger section of population. The proliferation of Islamic webistes, blogs, you tube clippings and other related sites for expressions of beliefs and articulation also have increased tremendously. But in spite of all these glossy pictures, we should be very self-critical about two things. Firstly, how we have made use of new technologies and global means of communication for the propagation of our ideology? Secondly, have we made any attempt to reach out to such professionals or utilized them for community’s benefit? 

Environmental degradation and consequent climate change is the other matter of concern which attracted so much of global attention in the event of global summit on climate change. But Muslim community, as a whole, pays little attention to the frenzied global debates on environmental issues and its wide-range repercussions. It is quite mysterious to understand that a community which pioneered the fight against the ill-effects of some disastrous socio-political phenomenon (like colonialism) well in advance fails to recognize the major issue of this century. The Party has sensed the urgency and need to address such sensitive issues with a due concern they deserve. In order to be sensitive to such issues, there is the need to initiate the process of establishing single-issue-oriented NGOs under the patronage of the Party. Such civil society organizations eventually would strengthen the Party as they play an important role in recognizing real issues of the people.   

To sum up, the low participation of Muslims in nearly all political spaces has an adverse impact on Indian democracy and polity in the long run. In a pluralistic society, a reasonable representation of various communities in governance is necessary to enhance participatory governance. The proper political participation provides a necessary influence and opportunity to change or at least to influence events which enable our meaningful participation in the political process. The current statistics show that the country is far from attaining such a goal. In no uncertain terms, we can say that the political strategies of old mould would not serve the purpose. The priorities should be given to address new challenges and to work out programme strategies to attract the yo

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