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Indian Muslims – Beleaguered and Alienated

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  • mohammad imran
    Indian Muslims – Beleaguered and Alienated By: Amit Pandya February 11, 2008 Pandya2-11-08Islam has been a significant presence in India for longer than a
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 22, 2008
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      Indian Muslims – Beleaguered and Alienated

      By: Amit Pandya

      February 11, 2008

      Pandya2-11-08Islam has been a significant presence in India for longer
      than a millennium. Any roster of Indian accomplishment, in politics,
      arms, the arts and philosophy, would reflect a huge proportion of
      Muslims. Even were we to subtract those geographical or intellectual
      elements that separated themselves into the independent nations of
      Pakistan and Bangladesh, we would still find that modern India - its
      struggle for nationhood, its articulation of national identity, and its
      life as a modern sovereign nation – is inextricably tied to its Muslim
      citizens and their beautifully variegated cultures. The forms of music,
      poetry and architecture that Indians consider quintessentially Indian
      bear the indelible stamp of Muslim cultural influences and antecedents.
      Even the most vital elements of non-Muslim Indian religious faith and
      practice bear the imprint of Islam’s long presence alongside Indian

      Late in 2007, voters in Gujarat state returned a government led by
      Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),
      variously described as “Hindu nationalist” or “Hindu chauvinist”. There
      is no disagreement that under a BJP government, a state-sanctioned
      pogrom took place against Muslims in Gujarat in February 2002. More
      than 2,500 Muslims were brutally massacred and many Muslim women raped.
      The state machinery (police, and voter rolls and other records) was
      used in a calculated plan to identify and target Muslim neighborhoods
      and homes. The Chief Minister and lower level thugs have been open and
      unrepentant about their role in this. The courts have hardly been
      effective in holding culprits accountable. In this context, the
      electoral return to power of the state government responsible suggests
      a degree of popular acquiescence or tolerance among non-Muslim voters.
      Most troubling in this election was the absence of a secular
      alternative to the BJP. The BJP’s Congress Party opponents had espoused
      a milder version of the same anti-Muslim chauvinism.

      These events reflect a broader and more systematic erosion of Muslim
      security in India. An extreme anti-Muslim prejudice is taking hold in
      the warp and woof of the Indian body politic and in Indian attitudes.
      Beginning with the destruction of a 16th Century mosque in Uttar
      Pradesh in 1992, events have since seen a series of physical attacks
      against Muslim communities. Textbooks increasingly ignore the
      substantial Muslim elements of Indian history, and offer simplistic and
      tendentious views of Muslims as not quite Indian. Non-Muslim political
      discourse and popular attitudes increasingly associate Muslims with
      disloyalty and terrorism. This despite the fact that Indian Muslims
      have generally been patriotic and loyal, dissociating themselves from
      the radical rhetoric of their co-religionists elsewhere, and
      distinguishing themselves in sporting competition or war against
      Pakistan. Their political behavior, seeking and making alliances with
      various types of secular political parties, has reflected their
      willingness to integrate into the body politic, and engage in interest
      group coalition politics like all other Indians. Nonetheless, the
      proportion of Muslim elected officials is approximately half the
      proportion of Muslims in the population.

      Recent findings of a national commission, the Sachar Committee, echo
      the findings of at least two previous high level inquiries. Indian
      Muslims are consistently at a disadvantage economically, educationally
      and socially. Their share of government employment, at all levels, is a
      fraction of their proportion in the population as a whole. The figures
      for literacy, school graduation, and female school attendance are
      consistently lower than those for non-Muslims, lower even than the
      figures for the lowest caste and tribal populations. Their poverty
      levels are among the highest of all Indian social groups; higher in the
      rapidly growing urban population than in the countryside.

      At its best India remains a complex mosaic of regionally varied Muslim
      and non-Muslim cultures. At their best Indians respect and honor the
      Muslims among them and their shared Muslim heritage. However, at the
      level of official policy and popular perception, India’s cultural
      identity is rapidly being simplified, and Islam’s role airbrushed out
      of historical consciousness.

      There is a real danger that social and political marginalization of
      India’s Muslims may undermine India’s security. Part of the Hindu
      chauvinist political toolbox has been the promotion of criminal and
      anti-state violence by thugs. This is hardly beneficial to public
      order. Moreover, younger elements in the Muslim community, albeit a
      miniscule number at present, are responding by adopting a more militant
      stance of resistance. By maligning and mistreating a patriotic
      minority, the Hindutva ideologues are in fact creating the threat they
      claim to defend against.

      photo credit: Meena Kadri,

      Amit Pandya directs the Regional Voices: Transnational Challenges
      project at the Henry L. Stimson Center.
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