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Communalism: An ignored malady

by M K A Siddiqui, 2 November 2008

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The Statesman, Festival issue 2008

Retarded development or persistent downward mobility of a minority,
particularly of ethnic character, within a participatory democratic system,
and its recession in the fields of education, employment as well as its
frequent subjection to acts of barbarism, reducing it to a grossly
disempowered group, should normally be a matter of concern for a civilized
society. The situation will demand attention of all fair minded people, not
only in the interest of the suffering humanity, justice and fairplay, but
also of peace and tranquility and larger interest of the country.

A general awareness of such a reality, its identification and development
of a consciousness of its potential harm to the social system, coupled with
a persistent endeavour to develop a genuine concern for the suffering
humanity, are some of the essential prerequisites for the ameliorative and
corrective measures. This is however, not an easy task, though it remains
an unavoidable necessity, and inadequate attention to the problem must be a cause for despair.

Observing the case of Muslims in India one will find a situation not
dissimilar to this. Constituting country’s largest minority their persistent
disempowerment has been so steady and systematic that it has assumed a
pattern which has begun to be deemed as natural and normal. Attempt to seek a change in the established pattern is rendered difficult.

What is most regrettable is that any voice against this raises eye-brows
branded as ’un-secular’ and ’anti-national’. Criticism from outside the
community is termed as ’pampering’ or ’minorityism’, while those from within as ’parochialism’ and ’communalism’, having the objective of frightening against voicing grievances. The anxiety for not being accused for violating the ’secular norms’ and fear of being branded as parochial, if the set norms get violated, is exemplified by what Qurratulain Haider, a prominent literary figure and recipient of the nation’s most prestigious awards said. When asked to write on the happenings in Gujarat, she replied "who will speak the truth these days"? Does it not tell a lot on the prevalent socio-political situation in the country, particularly when it comes to issues relating to minority?

Dominant – minority relationship within Indian socio-political system
presents a variety of situations. Numerically significant minorities are
watched with greater anxiety or apprehension, as a result they are subjected to unfair competition, censorship and conscious denial of opportunities and resources, while numerically less significant ones pass on unnoticed, and in some cases receive more than their due, and often happen to excel beyond proportion.

The demographic feature of comparative ’numerical significance’ and the
cultural feature of ’disjunction’ as opposed to ’conjunction’ with the
culture of the dominant, are not positive factors in favour of the numerically significant Muslim minority in India. These are, however, not
the sole factors behind strong negative feelings against them. There are
several other factors which are positive, including racial and linguistic
affinities between the majority and the minority – as well as shared values
and manners and customs which remain obscured and forgotten. The colonial historiography which continues to be part of our curriculum of resulting in a communal perception of history, the persistence of the irrational attitude of identifying Muslims with medieval rulers and most importantly, the comparatively recent development of the utilization of divisive policies in the sphere of politics and gaining power. This naked self - interest keeps the negative feelings alive and motivates them to burst into violence whenever it is needed.

Communal violence has become so frequent and so brutal that it has a
deadening effect on the soul and seems to have stopped pricking the
conscience.

The pressure and persistence of strong negative feelings and their
manifestations in attitudes and behaviours of the relevant sections of the
dominant, having adverse effects on the socio-economic and political life of
the minority, does not appear to be a cause of concern in relevant circles,
though it is recorded in authentic official reports such as Gopal Singh High
Power Panel and Sachar committee, as also a clear indication of the
disastrous effects of this attitude on the socio-economic condition of the
community. It is difficult to persuade the dominant to believe that
basically *Muslims have a vested interest in communal peace while an
influential segment of the dominant has a vested interest in communal
discord*. The latter in collusion with the Western forces is bent upon
maligning Islam and Muslims, ignoring its own long term interest as well as
that of the country as a whole. Method and techniques adopted for this
purpose are ingenious and innovative.

Factors directed towards a systematic disempowerment of the Muslim minority are so clearly visible that they do not need elaboration. Only a few well known facts may make the point more clear. Disproportionately higher percentage of Muslims may be found among the inmates of the jail, while their number in government jobs is far below the percentage of their
population. Concentration of Muslims below the poverty line is much larger
than of other country men. Muslim youths are quite often hounded by law and order machinery, usually on false pretexts and baseless grounds. Cases of subjecting Muslims to false encounters are not unknown and even women are not spared. Cases of discrimination in matters of humanitarian aids and compensation to victims of communal violence are not uncommon. It takes decades to sanction compensation to riot victims and its delivery is made complicated, difficult, time consuming and sometimes impossible.

Does it not sound incredible that in this great metropolis of Calcutta the
illiteracy rate among the Muslim population is higher that what it was in
1947, on the eve of independence? 92 per cent of the of children of school
going age do not have schools to go, and not more than 4 per cent of them
are enrolled in recognized schools, while over 80 per cent of those enrolled
drop out before reaching the Madhyamic level. The miserable condition of
the community, which is among the oldest settlers in Calcutta and
concentration of their vast bulk in marginal occupations including
handicrafts, would indicate that they are a forsaken lot.

Whatever is being done in the name of their development and welfare is
extremely inadequate and leads then to no where.

Endeavour for self-improvement, including in the field of education is
covertly discouraged. There are examples of their being dislodged from
several economic niches. Rules and regulations for establishing much needed educational institutions through self-endeaour are not easy to observe.

Thus the yawning gap between the majority and the Muslim minority is ever widening. But what is a matter of greater concern is the basic factor of negative feelings that lie behind the attitudes and behaviours and has a
disastrous effect on the minority, remains out of the focus of our
attention. There is no positive programme to educate people to respect
plurality and tolerance of diversity, no effort to sensitize and positivise
the curriculum, and exclude the echo of divisive colonial history, replacing
then with the scientific reality of racial and linguistic affinities and
quite a large number of shared cultural values. This will perhaps be
possible only when we recognize and acknowledge the presence and depth of negative feelings and realize the necessity of evolving our society into a
cohesive nation, through diverse ways, including reforming education.