Muslim empowerment a must for India’s progress
By : Seema Sengupta
The new Indian Minority Affairs Minister Dr. Najma Heptullah has an arduous task at hand. The lone Muslim face of Modi’s Cabinet represents a party which not only earned itself the reputation of inciting communal tension every now and then but also known to nurture a leadership that prefers to turn a blind eye to anti-minority especially anti-Muslim violence. Heptullah’s course will be even more tortuous given her party’s unequivocal reservation about the very existence of her ministry. Almost everybody in the now ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) believed till the other day that this ministry dealing with minority welfare was actually created to appease Muslims and that it is no more than a political tool in the hands of secularists.
Besides, a social development report prepared by eminent Muslim intellectuals has exposed the ministry’s misplaced focus of minority-oriented programs. Perhaps, it is a blessing in disguise that the grandniece of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad — who fought diligently for the upliftment of disadvantaged people throughout his life — will be at the helm of a concerted effort to bring the socially and economically laggard segment of Muslim community on a par with wealthy and privileged Indians.
Notwithstanding her personal inhibition about reservation, Heptullah will surely recognize the urgent necessity of providing the Muslim community with better economic and educational opportunities and other forms of support to dig them out of the abyss of backwardness. Despite the emergence of a sizeable Muslim middle class over the last decade, she must take into account the innumerable data that brings to light the harrowing reality of Indian Muslims being more economically disadvantaged and dissatisfied as she embark on a challenging journey.
Indeed, India’s Muslims have the lowest living standard in the country on a per capita basis. This has been adequately reflected in several government surveys and reports. A Pew Research data reveals that Muslims accounting for approximately 15 percent of India’s population spend on an average Rs32.7 a day, which is far less in comparison to other minority groups. Also, the average monthly per capita expenditure of a Muslim household is no more than Rs1,000 — again subjacent to their fellow citizens from other faiths. India’s vast rural hinterland too offers no better prospect for Muslims as they are at the bottom of the chart in terms of wealth and spending in countryside.
The Minority Affairs Ministry must strive to bridge the trust deficit at the ground level. Why is it that only 7 percent of Muslims are part of the established workforce in India? It is time for the nation to acknowledge that it has something to do with our mindset of stereotyping the community and consolidating a surreptitious process of ghettoization.
Let us for heavens’ sake admit that India is indeed living together separately. Muslim families are not only finding it difficult to rent houses in areas dominated by Hindus, communal categorization has robbed Muslim youths of their educational rights in the mainstream system and with it the prospect of having a prosperous future. We will be doing ourselves a great disservice if we are to deny that Muslim community has been socioeconomically deprived and marginalized since independence.
This discrimination is gradually taking a toll on the social status of Muslims in India. Even eligible Muslim youths are not getting jobs that are commensurate with their educational qualification due to bias in the system. Perhaps, Modi will do well to candidly confess that in spite of being the largest religious minority group, Muslims have suffered the most in terms of economic disenfranchisement.
According to the National Council of Applied Economic Research in India, Muslims are in no position to breach the poverty threshold in the present circumstances compared to other minority groups. A spurt in religious prejudice ensures that they are more likely to live in a shrunken space without basic opportunities and less likely to qualify for institutional grants simply because of their faith. Will Modi let this widespread discrimination against Muslims continue or personally intervene to usher in an era of genuine goodwill? Given his past record and reluctance to apologize for the 2002 Gujarat riots from the bottom of his heart, Modi will surely find it difficult to convince the Muslim minorities that he has a dream of an India that is no longer bogged down in religious strife. By this time — having been acclimatized to the intricacies of the prime ministerial post and its protocol — Modi has surely realized that he cannot move an inch without shedding the image of an unapologetic firebrand Hindu nationalist.
Perhaps, a moderated Modi, fettered by institutional and constitutional constraints, will now recognize that a rising sense of estrangement between Hindus and Muslims has far reaching consequences for a pluralistic nation like India. That the relations between the two communities are not normal at the subaltern level should be a matter of concern to everybody.
It is time for introspection and Modi and his ideologues in the Rashtriya Sayamsevak Sangh (RSS) needs to re-examine their version of cultural nationalism in the context of the present day societal tension arising out of communal segregation. Modi must be reminded that unlike the religiously homogeneous West, secularism in India has its plinth in a multi-religious society.
As Modi’s spiritual influencer Swami Vivekananda once advocated, India must fight against caste hierarchy and religious bullyism of the majority community simultaneously to ensure equal participation of minorities in nation building.
Seema Sengupta is a Kolkata-based journalist and columnist.