Rabi-Ul Awwal/Rabi-Ul Akhir 1423 H
Volume 15-06 No:186
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No other part of the world is as diverse, in terms of religion and ethnicity, as South Asia. South Asia has been the cradle of numerous world religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Christianity reached the region before it did Europe, and the number of Muslims in South Asia taken as a whole far exceeds that found elsewhere in the world. In all the countries of South Asia, dominant majorities live alongside with religious minorities. Some of these minorities, like the Muslims in India or the Hindus in Bangladesh, number in their millions, while others, like the Kalash of northern Pakistan or the Jews of Kerala number only a few hundred.
These two books seek to provide a general overview of the history and contemporary status of the numerous religious minorities of South Asia. The first volume deals with the religious minorities of Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, while the second volume focuses on the religious minorities of India. Each of the essays is written by a specialist in the particular area, in most cases a member of the religious minority that he or she deals with. The essays are of varying quality, some extremely general, others well-researched and documented. Three of the ten essays in the first volume deal with the religious minorities of Muslim-majority Bangladesh. In his essay on the Bangladeshi Buddhists, Bimal Bhikshu of the World Chakma Organisation writes that although a predominantly Buddhist area, the Chittagong Hill Tracts were forced to join Pakistan in 1947 against the will of the people of the area. From then on it has been a continuous tale of woe for the Buddhists of the country, displaced from their lands and their territory being flooded with Bengali migrants, forcing many to flee to India. Meghna Ghuhathakurta, of the Department of International Relations, Dhaka University, discusses the problems of the large Hindu minority in Bangladesh. While in the period of Pakistani rule the Hindus seem to have suffered from considerable discrimination, it was hoped that in independent Bangladesh they would be able to live as equal citizens. This has not happened, however, she notes.
The only officially Hindu state in the world, Nepal has a small Christian and Muslim minority. Marc Gaborieau, in his paper, discusses the spread of Christianity in Nepal from the seventeenth century onwards, noting that until recently conversion from Hinduism to any other religion was a punishable crime in the country. The Muslims of Nepal are a more well-established community, with a long history of their own. Sekh Rahim Mondal makes a general overview of the different Muslim ethnic and occupational groups in the country, who, like the Christians, were till recently officially treated as outcastes by the state.
Although established as the first Islamic republic in the modern world, Pakistan has a sizeable non-Muslim population. Three essays included here discuss the Ahmadis, Christians and Parsis of the country, but the Hindus, another sizeable community, especially in Sind, are conspicuous by their absence. Zulfiqar Gilani’s article on the Ahmadis focuses on the vexed question of what it means to be a Muslim, and the competing understandings of Islam, resulting in the declaration of the Ahmadis or Qadianis as non-Muslims by the Pakistani state.
As befits its size, the entire second volume is devoted to the religious minorities of India. India’s largest religious minority, the Muslims, are discussed in two papers, one by Asghar Ali Engineer and the other by Monirul Hussain. They are both concerned with the issue of how India can come to terms with its multi-religious situation and how Muslims can reconcile their faith in Islam with their status as minorities, while seeking to promote better relations with people of other faiths. Although several of the essays in these two volumes are general surveys and repeat little else than what a regular newspaper-reader would already know, the books provide a useful overview of the situation of religious minorities of South Asia. With religious and ethnic strife tearing apart established societies in this part of the world, it is clear, as these books suggest, that the question of religious minorities in each country can no longer be seen in isolation from wider developments in the region as a whole.Top
Tamil Nadu has a minuscule Muslim minority, i.e., merely 5.75 per cent of the population. Even Christians with 6.5 per cent outnumber them. Yet the community has invested considerably in modern education in order to stay on par with others in the race for development. The Organisation of Muslim Educational Institutions and Association in Tamilnadu (OMEIAT) has been striving since 1973 to give a central focus to the educational struggle in the state. The OMEIAT Directory of Muslim Educational Institutions in Tamil Nadu is the first solid outcome in this direction.
The Tamil Nadu Muslim society has this unique characteristic of maintaining a humble façade with solid infrastructure in education. Though the underbelly of the community still drips with poverty and educational backwardness, some philanthropists, and of late, the ones who use education for commerce, have erected enough number of monuments of their munificence and enterprise respectively. No wonder then why the 35 lakh strong community runs as many as 22 degree colleges, a dozen engineering colleges and Industrial Technical Institutes, half that many polytechnics, 125 high schools, 152 primary schools and several other institutions. These statistics may be impressive, but show that the pattern is top-heavy, i.e., number of schools almost competing with those of colleges and professional educational institutions. This somewhat skewed pattern does not exactly help the community attain a balanced profile of literacy, education, skills and professionalism. There could be more useful conclusions from the data packed in the directory. The Directory fulfils the longstanding need of such a guide for the seekers of opportunities in the field of education.
Though poorly edited, the Directory is useful in several ways as the data is assiduously collected over several months and reflects the painstaking efforts of the tiny minority. The flashes from an official survey provided at the end is astonishing in that it puts only two per cent of the state’s Muslims in the upper income bracket. Pictorial introduction of men and women who move and run these institutions is also laudable.
Maqbool Ahmed Siraj.Top
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