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What Ails Indian Muslims?

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Report of the Seminar at Aurangabad 

The Centre for Promotion of Democracy and Secularism (CPDS) a non-profit organization in Maharashtra, in collaboration with the Department of Political Science and Maulana Azad Chair of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad and with the sponsorship of ICSSR, organized a two-day national seminar on the theme of, “What Ails Indian Muslims,” on October 11 and 12 at the University campus. Going by people’s response and the animated discussions witnessed in all the sessions of the seminar, it was without doubt, a successful and timely exercise.
In recent years, two reports have stirred the imagination of those who aspire to establish an all-inclusive, truly secular India. The Sachar Committee Report has officially authenticated the reality that was widely believed that the Muslims, in terms of educational and economic indices constitute the most backward segment of Indian society while the Ranganath Mishra Committee Report recommended a policy of extending reservations to all the religious minorities in jobs and educational institutions to bring them on par with other Indians. Needless to add that the two reports generated a great deal of heat as their proponents and opponents refuse to de-communalise the debate and treat the whole issue as a matter of uplifting a backward segment of society by means of affirmative action.
In the inaugural session, Prof. Zaheer Ali, the President of the CPDS and the convener of the seminar enlightened the large audience about the theme, rationale and structure of the seminar. Ali underscored that Muslim backwardness was the outcome of external and internal factors; he identified external factors such as exclusion of Muslims from educational, economic and political empowerment by the state and society while the internal factors like supremacist view of Islam, overemphasis on the life Hereafter and the consequent resistance to modern, scientific and technological education, religious orthodoxy etc. were created by the Muslim religious elite. Presented below are excerpts from observations by important speakers:
Prof. Mushirul Hasan, noted historian and former VC, Jamia Millia Islamia.
Muslims are lagging behind in almost all the fields compared to other communities. Sachar Committee provided the official legitimacy and recognition to their pitiable conditions. However, the corrective measures adopted by the Union Government were not implemented with sincerity and impartiality. There existed a bias against Muslims in society and state. Therefore, the title of the seminar should have been “What Ails Indian State and Society?” Muslims should participate wholeheartedly in the corporate life of the nation as responsible citizens of the country. Various problems of the Muslims could be solved by winning the confidence of the majority community. Muslims constitute the largest minority in India but are not confined to a particular region. They have a pan-Indian presence. Therefore, it was absolutely necessary for Muslims to identify with respective regional languages and cultures. They can find solutions to quite a few problems by becoming the part of the regional ethnicity in the state of their residence.
Prof. Zaheer Ali, President, Convener of the Seminar
On ‘Problems of Indian Muslims: Real and Peripheral (an overview)’
Muslims like any other religious community do constitute a monolithic social construct and because of it their problems too differed in terms of nature and magnitude. Security of life and property is the gravest problem of the Muslims and the state had failed miserably in offering protection. Muslims had witnessed three pogroms since 1947: 1- Hyderabad massacre in which as per Prof. Sunderlal Committee Report, about two lakh Muslims were killed by the Indian security forces. 2- Second Pogrom was the Hashimpura killing of 47 Muslims in cold blood by the PAC and, 3- the Gujarat genocide of 2001. Then there have been frequent communal riots in which 80% victims were Muslims. The passage of Communal Violence (Prevention) Bill and bringing about police reforms, the life and property of all the minority communities could be protected.
Irfan Engineer, social activist, Mumbai
On ‘Indian Muslims: Socio-Economic Conditions, Political Mobilization and Emerging New Challenges’.
Most Muslim of the subcontinent were converts from the sudra castes who were exploited by the upper caste Hindus and therefore embraced Islam. These Muslims came to be known as ajlafs. As opposed to the ajlaf, the ashraf were nobles and some of whom claimed to have migrated from the Central Asia. They generally held public offices, including the Mansabdars, Nawabs, landlords, Ulemas, etc. It was but natural that a vast majority of Indian Muslims were rooted in the local culture. There were many syncretic shrines where people of all religions prayed together. Besides Shia and Sunni sects, the Muslims were also divided among the Deobandis, the Barelvis, Ahle-Hadith and so on.
The middle class among the Muslims had always been a tiny one. The creation of Pakistan further reduced the number of people belonging to the middle class as many of them migrated to the newly created nation. In independent India, the Muslim leadership comprised moderate Muslims whose leader was Maulana Azad. However, after the demolition of Babri Masjid the moderate leadership failed and the community came to be led by the fundamentalists and political Islamists who aimed to establish Islamic State and enforce Islam, or rather rituals of a particular sect of Islam, through the state. Muslim salvation lies in education, participation in the democratic process, reforming Muslim community from within and shunning violence that could help Muslims to progress in India.
Prof. Fakruddin Bennur
Besides communalism, socio-economic exclusion, educational backwardness, denial of opportunities in almost all fields of life and anti-Muslim genocides and riots triggered by the BJP and Shiv Sena were the major factors for the plight of the Muslims. Hindu society witnessed a number of reformers from Raja Rammohan Roy to Dr. Ambedkar, but Muslims unfortunately remained under the dominance of orthodox Ulema who did not allow social economic and educational reforms. They overlooked the fact that 85% of Muslim Population consisted of local converts who inherited a mixed culture. However, the orthodox Ulema insisted on transplanting the Arabic social structure in the name of purification of Islam which led to alienation of Muslims from pluralistic culture of Indian society.
Dr. Zeenat Shaukat Ali, HoD, Dept. of Islamic Studies, St. Xavier College, Mumbai
On ‘The Dilemmas of Muslim Women in India’.
Sachar Committee Report though did not cover the concerns of the Muslim women, had observed that the low aggregate work participation ratios for Muslims were due to the much lower participation in economic activity by the women of the community. Despite backwardness the community had the best sex ratio among all Indians. In Islam the position of men and women was based on complementary functions. The spiritual-intellectual approach within Islam could re-establish its ideal of gender equality. The comparatively backward position of Muslim women in the temporary world was the result of lack of culture among the community rather than the precepts of Islam.
Prof. Shamsuddin Tamboli
On ‘Muslim Women and Social Justice’.
Plight of women in pre-Islamic Arabia was pathetic and it was the Quran that guaranteed social justice to women 1,400 years ago. But subsequently, different interpretations corrupted Muslim society as social evils like oral divorce, polygamy, veil, honour killing and so on became the hallmarks of Muslim society. Consequently, the social status of Muslim women all across the world was much lower than the women of other communities. In order to help Muslim women, in a democratic country like India, Muslim Personal Law should either be removed or reformed.
Mohammad Wajihuddin, senior journalist, Times of India, On ‘Media and Muslims’
The media shows bias while reporting about minorities, especially Muslims. Issues like burqa, fatwa, polygamous men, regressive maulavis, and myopic leaders making incendiary statements were issues highlighted by the media. Muslim youths should join the media in large numbers. There awareness about modern education, but focus was only on producing doctors, engineers and managers. Muslim parents and youth should also get trained in journalism and join mainstream media. I am personally opposed to have a separate media outlet for the Muslims because such a thing did not work in the past and would not work in the future.
Subhash Ghatade
On ‘Pawn In, Patrons Still Out’
I am opposed to all sorts of terrorism, Hindu, Muslim or State. A cursory glance at many terror acts committed by Hindutva activists would reveal two aspects of the phenomenon. First, the bombs would be planted at places where the targeted ‘others’ would be present in large numbers. The second aspect would be camouflaging the whole operation in such a manner that it would appear an act by some fanatic Muslim group. In this context Malegaon bomb blast of 2006 was a classic example. Hindutva terror was a serious threat to secular democratic polity. It had a pan-India presence and had been able to build international linkages too. Most of the people who had been apprehended were in fact planters or executioners of the terror acts while the masterminds or the planners were not touched.
Dr. Shuja Shakir, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad
On ‘Backwardness and Leadership Vacuum among Indian Muslims
There was need to go Beyond Sachar Report. Overall backwardness and leadership vacuum constituted the bane of Muslim community in India. Every political dispensation had treated the Muslims as ‘vote bank’. Instead of raising symbolic demands like permission to grow beards in government service and asking for acquiescence in matter of Muslim girls wearing scarf in school, there was an urgent need for the community to shun its historical and psychological baggage that made it believe that the entire world was anti-Islam. It was absolutely necessary for the community to extricate itself from the clutches of overtly religious leadership that thrived on pontification and little action. There is need to embrace secularism, which did not mean irreligiosity.
Dr. (Ms.) Sandhya Mhatre, Department of Economics, University of Mumbai
On ‘Implementation of Development Schemes for Muslims in Maharashtra.
There was need to allocate funds in proportion to the Muslim share in population in Maharashtra. Rs. 28,000 crores were allocated for the SCs even though their percentage of population was only 10.7. Similarly, Rs. 24,000 crores were allocated for the STs who had an eight per cent share in the population. Compared to these merely Rs. 1,000 crores were allocated for Muslims who constituted 11.5 % of the State population. Even the meager funds meant for Muslim development were transferred to other schemes and projects.
Dr. Quadri Syed Mujtaba, HOD, Political Science, Maulana Azad College, Aurangabad.
On ‘Social reforms among the Muslims in India’
Sir Syed played a pivotal role in the context of social reform among Muslims. Sir Syed was extremely critical of the Ulema whom he held responsible for destroying the original spirit of Islam. Instead of welcoming the reformist zeal of Sir Syed regressive sections of the Muslim hated him and fatwas were brought from Mecca and Medina to declare him a Kafir. Maulvi Mumtaz Ali of Punjab also championed the cause of Muslim women. Yet the Muslim women remained backward. The main difficulty in reforming Muslim society was the absence of people’s involvement in the process.
Dr. Bhalachandra Kango, Secretary, CPI State Council
Valedictory Address
The propaganda that Islam was not compatible with democracy was carried out by the enemies of Islam. Democracy in Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia and Egypt showed that there was no incongruity between Islam and democracy. It was the corrupt political practices that ailed Indian society because of which all weaker sections of Indians including Muslims suffered the most. In the era of globalization and the ascendency of neo-liberalism, the weaker, vulnerable people all over the world were forced to lead a life of misery and destitution. In India, Muslims who constituted the most backward segment of Indian society were the worst victims of globalisation and neoliberalism. Politics without all-inclusive development was a dangerous trend that should be countered by all those who believed in democracy and secularism.
The Seminar was inaugurated by Vice Chancellor Dr. Vijay Pandharipande. Justice Babu Marlapalle released the book, Reading History: A Bunch of Papers by S. H. Magrabi, edited with an introduction by Zaheer Ali and published by CPDS.
Dr. Afaque Khan, the Secretary of the CPDS, said the CPDS had conducted orientation camps for the youths, had organized a seminar on Sanghi Terrorism in Mumbai and a two-day conference in association with Asha Kendra on the theme of Challenges before Indian Democracy at Puntamba.
Dr. Intekhab Hameed Khan, Director of Maulana Azad Chair informed that his institution was running a one-year certificate course of communal harmony and national integration for a couple of years.
(This report compiled and sent to Islamic Voice by Prof. Zaheer Ali, has been edited and shortened for the purpose of publication.)