Mainstreaming Muslims

muslimsWhile it looks un-secular to look at any Indian through a communal prism, it cannot be denied that certain communities face problems owing to those very narrower identities. A part of the issue owes to a set of beliefs held dear by a major section of the community. Another part is how other communities treat them. And the third is how conscious or uncaring the subject as well as their observers are about that identity.

One such community is that of Muslims. How they can be mainstreamed is a puzzling question that needs a nuanced answer. For one, they are not a monolith, unlike the popular perception among most Hindus.

Before the onus on the community is dealt with, that on the rest of the Indian society must be put in place. It is disgusting to say the least that most Muslims are not given houses on rent in regular neighbourhoods. As we move to a State like Maharashtra, even purchasing a dwelling is an uphill task. There is a virtual social boycott of Muslims in many localities. Some property consultants are brazen enough to put up the message of prohibition of the community even in their advertisements.

For the fault of a few bad apples — read “terrorists” — in the basket, the whole basket of good ones — read “law-abiding citizens” — must suffer. Why have things come to such a pass? Because of ghettos that do not inform the authority of suspicious elements in their midst in time. And because of the fear instilled in them by a prejudiced police force and ruthless militants alike. Then there is the boycott that pushes them to these communally exclusive pockets. It’s a vicious cycle. A solution to the issue will be suggested in the section on the poor in the lot.

To know the problem from the minority group’s end, let’s study this section of our population by classifying it into three sub-divisions*: the elite (mostly descendants of Mughal, Turk, Afghan invaders), the middle class (a mix of those who have slipped from the first category and those who have risen from the lower strata, and descendants of vassals of the post-Aurangzeb feudal era) and the poor (mostly converted Dalits).

Shahid Arif

Shahid Siddiqui and Arif Mohammad Khan: two prominent examples of mainstreamed Muslims. One addresses them as one would address any regular Indian, not conscious of what religion they profess in their private space. Neither would they address you while wearing their communal identity on their sleeve

The elite are more than mainstreamed. They either occupy positions of influence in political parties or are (additionally) super-rich businessmen. A chunk of this section comprises feudal lords (erstwhile nawwabs/zamindars). You can detect them from their caucasoid looks. They need not be talked of separately as they have all been co-opted in politics. While they don’t talk of Muslims alone, it does not make them secular; they are just too engrossed in enjoying the fruits of power to spare a thought for anything else.

The middle class is half eager to get mainstreamed, or, just half of this sub-division wishes to be seen and treated normally. Like Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Jains etc, they talk of lives of citizens in general and not Muslims in particular. Since this group is active online, I have had the pleasure of observing the likes of Shoaib Daniyal, Aymen Mohammed, Tauqeer Alam etc, posting on Facebook** their views on issues that are as generic as they would be if they were posted by mainstream Hindus (not the fringe Bajrangis, Ram/Shiv Sainiks et al).

The other section wears their religion on their sleeve. The condition of the rest of the Indian population seems none of their concern. I have online friends like Afroz Alam Sahil and N Jamal Ansari whose status updates veer around the communal identity. “How many Muslims have made it to the IAS cadre this year?” “How have Muslims fared at the IIT-JEE this time?” “How many Muslims have been offered election tickets by different political parties?” One does not normally find people known to be of the ‘general’ category in the employment market posing such questions, putting the name of their communal identity in place of the word, “Muslim.” But such are the issues this section of the Muslim middle class mostly raises. Does this mentality not preclude the process of mainstreaming? Why do you wish to be noticed and treated distinctly despite sharing the nationality and human DNA strains with the rest of the population?

The poor have two sub-divisions, too. The literate, but not highly educated, are mainstreamed already. Normally, you can’t tell the faith they espouse from the work they do: technicians, peons, labourers, barbers, hawkers etc. The other part comprises madrassah-trained people. Every move of theirs — and thought patterns like paranoia and mistrust for the world outside — is dictated by the clergy. Illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, whose existence the whole society barring the polity and media recognises, mingle with this section and, sometimes, make the ghettos impregnable for even well-meaning and noble ‘outsiders’ who wish to extend to them a helping hand. These are phobic and, hence, dangerous souls. It is this sub-section of the Muslim population that essentially serves as a political party’s vote-bank, a rabble-rouser’s mob, a goon’s vandals. Offer them third or fourth grade staffers’ job in an office, and they will flatly turn it down. The clerics have told them we are evil; we have ulterior motives behind the offers of help.

However, brainwashed robots as they are, the problem does have a solution. The solution demands patience. Political posturing to attract them makes matters worse or, at best, maintains status quo. Use of force for a noble purpose is necessary to uplift this lot. Use of tact and process (like demonstrating to some madrassah teachers how conventional education helps other communities in society) is working, too, but rather slowly. The force I refer to is not physical in nature. It includes state-sponsored actions like forcible English medium education, teaching them how advanced the science known by modern-day humans is, training them in liberal market economics, cajoling them to wear clothes like the rest of society — subsidise shirts and trousers if necessary — taking on the might of the local clergy in the form of open debates between them and government representatives, etc.

An essential measure that must be taken to instil confidence in this corner of our modern civilisation is their heavy recruitment in police. If people manning the state complain that they are not informed of suspicious tenants from ghettos in time, the state must be asked what mechanism they have put in place that enables such reporting. A Muslim beat constable will not only enjoy the trust of the local inhabitants but will also understand the residents with more empathy. Further, if any dubious movement in the area is not reported in time, the police department would know which cop to get hold of to seek an answer.

Unfortunately, if the existing political parties, especially the ruling one and the chief opposition, have no will to initiate such processes in these pockets, the new entrants promising vyawastha parivartan have not announced anything to such effect either. By the way, madrassah-training is also a kind of schooling, but that is no way an assimilating process.

When this writer, as a part of an organisation called Youth for Democracy, was campaigning at a Muslim-dominated pocket in Bawana on the outskirts of Delhi, I was approached by local Muslim fief lords, who said we should promise promotion of Urdu in the area, and we would be assured of all their votes. A big-time promoter of the language otherwise, I told those men I didn’t think it would do anything to improve their economic condition, which was our main concern. Some of them then looked for issues to disturb the meeting and then left, taking many others away. We failed politically but did not settle for a compromise that would prick our conscience for the rest of our lives. The no-nonsense attitude bore fruits socially later. Now at least the apolitical Muslims of the area trust us.

Like some friends on Facebook who are only bothered about the question, “What is the country doing for Muslims?” or, a somewhat better “what are Muslims doing in/for the country?” I have been approached everywhere on the sidelines of political meets with the question, “What will you do for us (Muslims)?” And not for once did I assure them I was ready to consider them anything other than human beings and Indians.

The consequence: Muslims have approached several political forums for what can be called special packages. While they could extract some privileges here and some relief there, at home in private conversations, their talks reveal they consider all of them opportunists all the time as well as betrayers some of the time. These ‘duplicitous’ parties include the Congress and SP (the BJP is pariah to them, anyway), and also the elites of their own faith. It is in that confine, where an individual always speaks his heart out, that we must always live up to what we stand for. The people who can deliver at this level are the only ones who can bring about vyawastha parivartan/tabaadlah-e-nizaam/systemic change in the Islamic society. I can guarantee that an activist like me is not spoken of in those confined circles negatively, much as I neither have a political potential at the moment nor a political ambition to pursue.

Those from the middle class, two of whom I have named, are too educated and intelligent for others to help them. They will perhaps change only when the lifestyle of the lower stratum of the Islamic society clearly appears to have undergone a sea-change.

Importantly, terrorism is not religion-specific. But how to deal with this scourge visible in other societies is not a subject matter of this article.

Finally, the issue is not communal alone. Women who raise issues typically concerning women all the time, and Dalits who cannot think beyond entitlements to their castes render a disservice to their legitimate causes as well. Their concerns are valid, but harping on them and looking at everybody else as a suspect or conspirator makes their followers go: ‘Oh, no! Not again!’

* there can be numerous bases of classification, but factors other than political and economic ones will cause a distraction in this discourse

** as on 16 November 2013, all the Indians named in the article may be traced in the list of friends the writer has on the named social media site by those who have been granted access to it: https://www.facebook.com/surajitdasguptarandomthoughts/friends

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