If Muslims continue to wait for the government to do something for them, they will remain victims
Now that the election season is upon us, all sorts of Muslims leaders and sympathisers are being scraped off the woodwork and presented to us as credible voices of the Muslim masses.
Ironically, leading the pack are not Muslim politicians, or even wannabe politicians who launch a one-man political party to harass a mainstream party, only to merge with them on the eve of an election, but the religious leaders of various denominations, heading famous mosques, in Delhi, Lucknow and other places.
Some are cleverly playing cards, holding the ace up their sleeves, by making statements that the Congress party has done nothing for the uplift of the Muslims, thereby keeping open the possibility of a bargain with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Others have been more sweeping, saying that no political party has ever done anything for the Muslims, treating them as a mere vote-bank. The irony is completely lost on them. That by making these statements before the elections they are themselves reducing the community they claim to speak for, to a vote-bank.
So, here’s a dose of reality. What can any political party do for any community, except ensure equal opportunities and justice? Beyond this, it is for the community to do for itself what it wants, either collectively or individually. It is true that as far as the responsibilities of the government are concerned, no political party has been able to deliver 100 per cent on equal opportunities and justice.
It is no state secret that Muslims face discrimination, not only at the hands of the State officials, but by fellow citizens too. Right from education to jobs to housing, many Muslims find themselves outside the gates looking in. The situation is much worse when it comes to justice. Time and again, religious prejudices of our men in khaki have been exposed. In many incidents of communal riots, more Muslims have been killed or maimed by police bullets than by the rioters. And with the so-called global war on terrorism, and Pakistan-spearheaded terrorist violence across India, the justice situation has become terrible. The injustice has been compounded by community-profiling. After every terrorist incident, the local police routinely arrest some Muslim boys; irrespective of culpability.
While all this is a sad reality of India, another equally damning reality is that Muslims themselves have done precious little to improve their lot; they have placed their destiny and their fortunes in the hands of semi-literate religious leaders. When Justice Sachar said that since Independence the lot of Muslims has become worse than even the backward communities, the community itself stood indicted.
Over the decades, it has allowed itself to get carried away by non-issues; whether it was Uniform Civil Code, Babri Masjid or even the Haj subsidy! Not only has this led to the charge of appeasement against the community, it has also conveyed to various political parties that all they need is tokenism. The biggest problem of an average Indian Muslim today is obsessive commitment to religious rituals, even to the extent of putting secular education and employment at risk. A vast number of Muslims do not complete formal education. In some cases, poverty pushes them out of the schools, but in many cases they simply do not want to study because of lack of interest or aptitude. Instead of looking for employment in the organised sector (both public and private), they are content running small businesses or remaining under-employed in family-run enterprises. Stop at any roadside car repair shop, or a small tailoring unit. Inadvertently, the workers or artisans would be Muslims.
The biggest advantage of working in an organised sector is that it exposes one to a range of people, ideas and opportunities. By not being part of this, Muslims remain hugely disadvantaged. Like frogs in the well, their worldview doesn’t change, even with the change of generation. Add to that, the constant sermons of the mullahs, who don’t allow them to step away from the prayer mat.
I know a young Muslim journalist, who leaves her office every Friday afternoon to offer prayers at the Jama Masjid and returns to her office after a few hours. Hence, she is unable to do any assignments on Fridays. Her boss accorded her this liberty despite the general resentment in the office because she doesn’t want to be accused of religious intolerance. But it is anyone’s guess how far this girl will go professionally or what kind of rapport she has with her colleagues. Of course, she will suspect them of discriminating against her when they don’t include her in their gossip sessions.
For a large number of Muslims, religion is the biggest unifier and the religious leader the wisest man. Ironically, the religion itself does not say so. With the exception of some Shia sects, Muslims do not have a structured clergy. Yet, such is the sway of the bearded order that many of them even harbour political ambitions and bring their dogmatism into Parliament.
Political party-bashing before elections maybe clever politics for some, but it does nothing for the Muslim community, which needs to shake itself up. Governments can only create institutions, but it is up to the people to take advantage of them.