The 50th anniversary of Indian Independence should be a time for stock-taking, introspection and course correction for the 120 million Indian Muslims. Though the traumatic post-Ayodhya phase contributed a lot in this direction, little has emerged by way of crystallised thought for the future. Disparate though, the demolition of the Babri Masjid did engender a thought process with a distinct element of Indianess among Muslims of India. It introduced situational or circumstantial factors into their responses making them wary of alien solutions and imported ideologies. Looked from the angle of ideas being important for the destiny of people, the last five of the 50 years of Indian Muslims can be the source of maximum hope for the future.
Independent India at 50 is not what it was at its birth. So are the Muslims who form the largest component of its population in ethno-cultural terms. Whatever be the cause of partition, it did the utmost harm to them. Guilt complex and physical pain and shock of the division of families in the North consumed the first half of the 50 years. Dismemberment of Pakistan came as the deliverance. Emergence of Bangladesh at one stroke exposed the falsity and futility of the concept of a separate homeland for a section of people bound by the history, geography and cultural. This heralded an era of rediscovery. The community began throwing roots into the soil, identifying with the issues and events around them and raising stakes in the system through business, commerce and industry. Thus began the phase of consolidation. The post emergency phase witnessed the rise of the fascists who were out to deny the Minorities an opportunity to consolidate. They targetted the honour, self-confidence and self-respect of the Muslims. Egged on by them the national media maintained a hostile focus on Muslims through issues such as Meenakshipuram conversions, Shah bano judgement, Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen, the Arab brides from Hyderabad or the Ayodhya agitation. Last two decades were almost devoured by the campaigns of hate and malice.
But these only contributed to their maturing. They have progressed in all spheres, and on all fronts. Withstood all storms. Wrestling with dilemmas and grappling with challenges, they have learnt to cope with all difficulties. They often outsmarted their leaders in electoral decision- making. They voted parties in and out of power judging their commitment to secularism both in profession and practice, calls from the pulpit cannot confound them any longer. If secular alternative proved incohesive and unbecoming of their trust, they shifted their choice from party to candidate or from ideology to the leader’s track record.
By doing this they almost jeopardise the chances of communalists taking on the reins at the centre. Their own concern for secularism has helped the platform of social justice. They have learnt to pull along themselves a large chunk of the underprivileged classes from other communities, albeit totally thanklessly.
Muslims greatest hope lies with democracy and secularism as the twin pillars of Indian polity. Whenever these came under assault-emergency in 1975-77 and Babri demolition in 1992- they suffered grievous losses. But thanks to the vast majority of saner sections of our people, the system has shown remarkable resilience. Every time it bounced back to recovery. Now everyone realises but few speak out that Muslim support is central to the rule of a pan Indian party at the centre. Their desertion of the Indian National Congress always led to a coalition and weak governance from the centre. Seen in the context of Hindutva lobby’s attempt to paint the Muslims anti-national colours, this must appear to be a paradox. But it is a reality that none can ignore. The prospect of Congress (I)’s return to the centre is hinged on the question of its refurbished secular credentials. Apologies on Ahodhya events will not heal the wounds. The Congress will need to isolate the BJP elements from within. As for the BJP, its current predicament is: largest segments of seat, yet far from being enough for power. It needs to rethink its strategy of isolating the minorities.
In education the success has been modest. They made strides in South India. In the North mass awakening is in evidence. But they find the playing field is not a levelled one. So a good segment of leadership is veering round to the idea of reservations.
Economy remained miserable. First flush of democratic reforms took away the Zamindari system. It was a harsh blow, but inevitable one for a country to sustain democracy. Traditional Craft went into decline for want of induction of modern technology and big capital. But they can yet be saved. Islamic banking could make no significant advance than shibboleth. But Islamic finance did yield some success. No community initiative is yet on the scene to help the urban, poor Muslims out of their miserable existence.
Cultural sector is totally desolate. Urdu declined in its main citadel, the Gangetic plain but shows some signs of life in the South. Noted Urdu magazines went out of circulation one after another. A decade from now, the Urdu Academies are certain to run out of award takers. Unless Urdu gets fresh recruits, the language is headed for a doom. Notable Muslim contributions to literature were made only in Tamil and Malayalam.
Muslims were impoverished by massive brain-drain due to rush for the Gulf jobs. It took place at a time when India saw the burst of professionalism in every sector of life. So the community was depleted by people with ability to develop creative responses. Now that Gulf-ensconced professional is wary of heading back home with its cholesterol, sugar and bifocals.
Social sectors such as community health, housing and welfare for the indigent and the disabled have almost remained without any concerted initiative from within its fold. But some hint of awakening is in evidence.
The outlook down the road is not without hope. Pragmatism is the offspring of maturity. The Muslims of India have taken hard knocks in the past. They are living down sentimentalism. This in itself is the major gain since independence. Other losses can be offset once pragmatic action begins to sprout.