Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

How Muslims are victims of secularism

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Let me begin with a question. Why have Muslims in India remained an underclass despite ‘‘secular’’ governments having ruled for most of our years of Independence? It is a question over which I have pondered long and deep because in the early years of my career as a journalist I had the misfortune of covering several horrific Hindu-Muslim riots. Bhagalpur, Moradabad, Meerut, Malliana, Mumbai — an unending tale of horror in which ‘‘secular’’ state governments allowed civil servants and policemen to get away with participating, actively or passively, on the Hindu side. Not even in Gujarat did we see paramilitary personnel fill a truck with Muslim men and open fire on them as happened in Malliana.

In the streets of Delhi in 1984, I experienced first hand the trauma of being hunted by mobs who grinned as they stopped the car I was in and waving their kerosene-soaked rags in my face demanded to know if I was a Sikh. Unlike Justice Nanavati, I have empirical evidence of Rajiv Gandhi’s deliberate refusal to call out the army until thousands of Sikhs had been massacred. I know from personal experience how alone Muslims feel when some idiot Islamist commits an act of terrorism in the hope of targeting the community as a whole. They know that the state will not protect them if violence breaks out.

This long preamble is necessary because I want to establish my credentials before I say something that political correctness prevents most other commentators from saying. Muslims must wake up to the truth that they remain an underclass because they have been made victims of secularism. And, they are currently being targeted again by the ‘‘secular’’ Sonia-Manmohan government.

In the name of strengthening secularism the Prime Minister constituted a ‘‘high-level committee to prepare a report on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community of India’’. The committee was notified on March 9, 2005 and is headed by that ancient ‘‘secular’’ warhorse, Justice Rajinder Sachar. The committee consists of an even number of Hindu and Muslim members and has as its Member Secretary an economist by the name of Dr Abu Saleh Shariff.

This high-level committee is already touring state capitals to report on the condition of Muslims and I happened to arrive in Jaipur a day after it made public, in a press release dated August 24, 2005, Rajab 18, 1426, its view that Vasundhara Raje’s BJP government was treating Muslims badly. This information was picked up by a ‘‘secular’’ national daily which concluded that life for Muslims in Rajasthan was as bad as Gujarat.

To me, what was interesting about the committee’s allegations against the Rajasthan government was that none of them related to anything the government could be held responsible for.

The committee, according to Rajasthan government officials, spent no more than a couple of hours with local Muslims before producing its eight-page press release from Camp Jaipur. It also behaved with unusual arrogance with some members refusing the state government’s hospitality on the grounds that state guest houses were not good enough for them.

As for the charges made against the Rajasthan government, they would be too ludicrous to discuss if the committee did not have the Prime Minister’s name attached to it. According to the committee, Jaipur’s Muslims complained of a ‘‘sense of insecurity’’ for the following reasons. They were finding it hard to buy ‘‘residential properties’’, public and private sector banks were denying them credit, they were not given ‘‘targeted technical educational programmes’’, there was a shortage of schools, and public health and sanitation facilities were abysmal.

Notice please that if private citizens are reluctant to rent their properties to Muslims there is little the Rajasthan Government can do. The only way to deal with specific instances of discrimination is to try and prove them in a court of law. If banks are being difficult about loans there is again little the state government can do other than complain to the Union Finance Minister under whom they fall. As for appalling education, health and sanitation facilities, did the committee not notice that Jaipur’s Hindus face the same problems?

State government officials I met in Jaipur said the committee had demanded information that no state government had ever collected. Which government knows how many Muslims avail of crop insurance schemes or how many Muslim school teachers and health workers there are. Rajasthan government officials told the committee that they did not have segregated development programmes and this was seen by the committee as an example of non-secular behaviour.

When the Prime Minister set up this committee did he not realise that instead of helping Muslims it would set them up as a target once more? Did he not remember the charges of ‘‘pseudo-secularism’’ that made L K Advani such a star in his Rath Yatra days?

Affirmative action may be a legitimate tool to redress social injustices but surely not when it takes the form of a committee of ham-handed activists who seem unable to distinguish between unintended injustice and deliberate state policy. In Rajasthan, if the committee had bothered to travel to villages near Nagaur, they would have thought they had stumbled into an Islamic country. All the women are veiled, all the children attend madrasas, almost the entire population of these villages is Muslim and the only people who might feel ‘‘insecure’’ here are Hindus. What would the committee like to say about this?

The Prime Minister needs to be careful that his ‘‘high-level’’ exercise does not end up targeting Muslims instead of helping them, and his committee needs to be careful that it does not once again turn Muslims into victims of secularism.

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