New government must realise that Muslims don’t need preferential treatment. They want equal chances
Recently, the six-year-old granddaughter of a friend returned from school in tears. Some of her classmates had asked her if she was a Muslim and then commented, “Humme mussalmaan se bahut darr lagta hai.” These innocent, guileless voices most poignantly reflect the pathological distrust and incomprehension that separates the two communities — an antipathy embedded in the tortured history of the subcontinent. Narendra Modi-baiters ceaselessly pillory the prime minister designate for his alleged inaction in 2002, overlooking the more disturbing phenomenon of thousands of people spilling onto the streets of Gujarat following the horrific Godhra train burning and that mass mobilisation was provoked not by love but visceral hate.
So long as the governing class remains inured to this subtext of communal antipathy, our country will continue to be a tinderbox of communal flare-ups and social discord. Curiously, nobody seems alarmed about home ministry data that there has been a 25 per cent increase in communal incidents in 2013 compared to 2012.
It is axiomatic that the communalism of one group feeds on the communalism of the other, but only majority communalism can alter the nature of the Indian polity. All too often we are reminded that in time of communal strife, the instruments of state collude with the majority — Gopalgarh, Dhule and Muzaffarnagar are recent examples. It is also undeniable that the poor on both sides of the communal divide are savaged by riots even as the political class calculates how best to capitalise on each grisly event.
Minorities for their own sake have necessarily to show greater social responsibility than others because in our fractured society, similar actions and behaviour are viewed through different prisms. The rant of a Pravin Togadia is viewed as an aberration in an otherwise liberal Hindu ethos, whereas the hate-mongering of an Imran Masood reinforces the stereotype of the fanatical, intolerant Muslim. Every intemperate statement by a Muslim increases the social estrangement of the community.
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Realism demands a radical transformation in the agenda for the Muslim community. The new government must eschew the phoney secularism of the earlier dispensation, which was guilty of allegedly “secular” actions that have only exacerbated the alienation of Muslims. The announcement that the Centre would provide legal assistance to those jailed on “doubtful charges” in terror cases; the communal violence bill, which is perceived as an instrument of discrimination against the majority community; the ill-conceived equal opportunities commission, which envisages protection of only minority interests; the aborted proposal to earmark a 4.5 per cent quota for minorities within the 27 per cent OBC quota — these vote bank enticements have further polarised an already divided society.
Unfortunately, the major focus of the Muslim leadership is centred on peripheral demands like reservation in government jobs, institutions of higher learning, bank loans, Haj subsidy, etc. For any job in the organised sector, the minimum requirement is high school pass, and considering that only 13 per cent of Muslims are educated beyond middle school, the clamour for reservation seems elitist. The Haj subsidy is an insult to the poor Muslim. Last year, those who went on the Haj pilgrimage utilising the so-called subsidy had to pay Rs 2 lakh each to make the trip. The government should scrap this un-Islamic subsidy, which is actually in place only for supplementing the expenses of well-off Muslims and for boosting the revenues of Air India.
By myopically viewing electoral politics as the sole determinant of group interests in society, Muslim leaders, with their exclusionary vision are corroding inter-community relations and further isolating Muslims. Their recent call to the community to vote en bloc provided justification for a matching appeal for Hindu consolidation, which is precisely what Hindu organisations have done. In Bihar, even Nitish Kumar’s worst critics acknowledge that his government has done remarkable work for the Muslims and yet, they flocked en masse to the RJD. The moral of the story is that you do not have to do anything for the community as you can win their allegiance by keeping their fears alive.
Muslims need to send a message to the government that they do not want preferential but only equal treatment. Building social solidarity across communities has to be the predominant concern. Sociologists have observed that targeted programmes meant for only a particular section are poorly implemented, especially if the preferential treatment is for a group that is traditionally a victim of majoritarian prejudice. Targeted programmes for Muslims are not only poorly implemented but increase their alienation and result in discrimination against them in other spheres.
Most importantly, the new government must seriously address the problem of entrenched institutionalised injustice against minorities in certain spheres. Instead of meaningless gestures of “appeasement”, the government should ensure a level playing field in access to social benefits, the job market, before the law. A recent study by the Institute of Objective Studies shows that even in Delhi there is palpable discrimination against Muslim-majority areas in the provision of basic civic amenities by government agencies. Health and education are the most critical requirements for ensuring equal participation in growth and development but here, again, Muslim-dominant areas are at a disadvantage. All that Muslims want is a system that ensures equal opportunity — for education, for health, and for livelihood. These are the issues that the new government should tackle.
Views are personal