33rd Annual Meeting of IOS General Assembly
Lecture on Socio-Political Situation of Muslims in India
September 1, 2019 at Institute Building, 162, Jogabai, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi
On the occasion of the 33rd annual general meeting of the General Assembly (GA) of the Institute of Objective Studies, a lecture on “Socio-Political Situation of Muslims in India” was organised at its conference hall on September 1, 2019. Delivering the lecture, Professor in the Department of Political Science, A.M.U., Aligarh, Prof. Mirza Asmer Beg, observed that the current debate was centered on issues concerning the Constitution, but there was no reference to Muslims who were at the receiving end of atrocities. He said that the rise of nation-states in Europe encouraged monocultural societies. The policies of these nation-states subordinated and inconvenienced members of minority communities. Minorities were expected to kowtow to the national culture, which did not echo their cultural ways. But India was a different kind of nation-state, which dared to experiment with a multi-cultural society. It led to the issue of minorities and their rights coming into sharp focus. However, since independence, national policies on language, education and cultural themes led to the neglect and disparagement of minority cultures. Given these conditions, particular community rights were needed for counteracting the forces of marginalisation of the minorities in the nation-state, and for protecting minority distinctiveness, he pointed out.
Prof. Beg held that the minorities experienced situations of extreme hurt and loss when they were told that their traditions were of no grant worth, and that they should assimilate with the dominant tradition. This open affirmation of majoritarian power inescapably led to a politically-changed situation for the minorities and they tended to organise, for they had no resource other than cultural autonomy, or the right to preserve their distinctiveness in the face of such majoritarian assertions. The politics of amalgamation thus gave rise to acute political tension, he said. Giving the reason why the members of Muslim community acted as a community, he said that it had to do with their collective experience of devaluation. He added that there was a need for providing safeguards for the minorities from the intrusion on their rights by the majority community. Referring to the operational strategies in contending with the minorities, he said that there were two approaches. The first approach could be termed as the protectionist approach, which had been practised by the Congress Party, including the policy of other centrist parties. These parties in secular India, in which people were treated equally, and in providing equal prospects to all groups, irrespective of their religious affiliations. The second approach, he added, pertaining to the problem of minorities was assimilation-based. This approach wanted the minority groups to subscribe to the mainstream culture. For it, the minorities should adopt the culture and philosophy of the majority group. According to this approach, the culture of the dominant group was to be recognised as the culture of the nation, and was to be emblematic of nationalism. Anyone holding divergent cultural interests was considered anti-national, and thus did not have any claim to the benefits enjoyed by the nationals, he noted.
Prof. Beg insisted that the Congress Party adopted a policy of protection towards the minorities. The communal groups which wanted to see India as a Hindu state, were kept at a distance and the minorities were treated as equal citizens. The policy of centrist parties, particularly the Congress Party, so far as attending to the emotional issues that guaranteed the support of the minorities in terms of electoral benefits and neglecting their socio-economic development, helped in strengthening the rightist parties in consolidating their support base. Muslims in India were faced with multiple problems and thus there was a need for devising a multi-pronged strategy to involve them in the process of nation-building. Owing to the apathy and insensitivity of governments, their real problems never figured on the agenda of the governments, and they had only been responding to pseudo-issues, which had time and again been thrust on them as their supposed agenda, he explained. He held that a basic reason why a number of well-advertised government initiatives did not yield results was the abysmally low budgetary allocation for programmes directed at socio-economic development of this historically disadvantaged community. Against this backdrop, he said, it seemed important that Muslim intellectuals should take the lead in articulating the rightful grievances of the community and communicating them to the government in the form of implementable proposals.
Commenting on the poverty of Muslims of India, Prof. Beg said that it could be dealt with in a big way by one single action, i.e., the development of Waqf properties. India had around four lakh acres of waqf land, half of which had been encroached upon or was under dispute. Even if the remaining half of it was properly developed, there would be no dearth of finances for the welfare of the community. He suggested the establishment of a statutory national/state community relations commissions for monitoring and resolution of inter-community conflicts, especially on ethno-religious issues as recommended by the NCM Report, 1999. He also stressed the need for the setting up of a statutory National peace council.
He remarked that since 1952, Muslim representation in Lok Sabha and state assemblies had been less than 50 percent of their proportional share, which had been noted by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution as well as by the Sachar Committee, which recommended the provision of effective Muslim voice in all bodies. According to him, a similarly important area of concern for Muslims was the issue of their security. Muslims had all these years reconciled to living as second-class citizens. Thousands of communal riots since independence had created such a fear psychosis among Muslims that they had not only shrunk in their physical ghettos in cities and towns, but their thinking also had been affected by this existential condition. Muslims had actually been viewed by political parties only as a vote bank, whose vote could be garnered by playing with the ever-lurking fear of security in their minds. Quoting the sixth report of the National Police Commission, that stated, “one main reason for the lack of objectivity on the part of the police force is the composition of the police force itself, which is heavily overweighed in favour of the majority”, he suggested that a multi-religious police force academy be set up which would be entrusted with the task of recruiting and training police personnel for fair and impartial policing. He explained that there should be a quota in the police force for different religious groups on the lines of Lebanon, Cyprus and Belgium.
Prof. Beg held that inquiries by official commissions and NGOs had revealed the fact that all acts of mass hate violence had been successfully carried out with the complicity of state agencies, especially a partisan police force on the watch of the political executive.
Referring to the educational backwardness of Muslims, he said that their share in skilled employment was very low. Some sections among Muslims complained that their share in government jobs was low because of the discriminatory attitude of the recruiting bodies. Under the circumstances, he proposed that in keeping with the governments stated emphasis on inclusive growth, provisions should be made for better representation of Muslims in jobs where their educational backwardness was not a handicap for them. Departments that gave better representation to Muslims must be given incentives for opting for diversity, and those who did not go for it, must be censured. Commenting on the climate of rising Hindu nationalism post 2014 election victory of the Bhartiya Janata Party, he pointed out that right-wing groups had been emboldened to step up attacks against religious minorities. The dissemination of hate speech through social media and vigilante attacks on people suspected of transporting or consuming beef, had become a routine affair. He said that the failure of authorities to prevent or investigate attacks against religious minorities had created a climate of impunity which, unless urgently addressed, was likely to escalate. He stressed that the government must ensure that the existing laws protecting rights of all religious denominations was enforced, and in some cases, strengthened, with the full commitment of police, judiciary and other state actors. The alienation of Muslims in public sphere over last few years had been so intense that Muslims had developed a feeling that there was something wrong with them. In the present times, confronted with the power and aggressiveness of the media, Muslims appear to have lost the capacity to represent themselves, even to express what they saw and knew as the reality of their lives. Muslims reality for the world had become the images on television and the countless hostile words in the print media. Since Muslims had no voice in the media, no platform, they could not object or explain, he added.
Prof. Beg argued that the obvious question which came to the mind of a Muslim was what he should do in this situation. Some Muslims who had been accommodated by the establishment argued that Muslims needed to assimilate in the mainstream. Some argued that the Muslims to have a voice should form their own party. Some others said that Muslims should keep away from electoral politics to avoid communal polarisation. Each of these arguments had its complexities. He said that in whatever way the Muslims would try to assimilate, it would never pass the litmus test of assimilation set by the Hindutva votaries which would keep on shifting the goalposts depending on the political expediency of the times. Regarding the temptation to think of a Muslim political party, he said that it was the most dangerous of arguments. He held that the best option for minority groups was to act as balance and support one of the players. By doing so, they might be able to maximise their gains. If they themselves became a player, this could lead to unifying the majority against them, thereby neutralising any advantage which they might hope to gain. In cases where minority groups were heavily concentrated in pockets, political parties which catered to them exclusively would have a good chance of taking advantage of the situation. Muslim political parties would need to gauge the ground realities of the electoral arena where they intended to test their strength before choosing between the all important options of excluvism and incluvism, he remarked.
Prof. Beg suggested that Muslims should participate in the electoral process, but their participation should be devoid of unnecessary noise. This meant that the community needed to be made aware of the dangers of interacting with the highly irresponsible and biased media, especially during elections. He opined that if Muslims could concentrate on their families and decided to work towards their educational empowerment, it would do them good. He also emphasised the need for contributing to structuring of an inclusive narrative for the creation of a humane society. Instead of talking exclusively about Muslims, the need was to talk about all the marginalised communities and sections of society. The fascist forces wanted Muslims to be standing alone while they tried to organise the Dalits, OBCs and others along with them under the broader umbrella of Hindutva to isolate Muslims. This game plan had to be seen through and Muslims had to refuse to be divided. Calling for inter-faith dialogue to dispel misconception about Islam and Muslims, he said that the struggle must be mainly directed against communalism.
Prof. Arshi Khan, professor of political science, AMU, who conducted the proceedings, highlighted the main points of the lecture. The chairman IOS, Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam, referred to the Institute’s initiative in the study of the system of Waqfs and suggestions for their effective functioning and said that a CD prepared in this connection was sent to the government of India for consideration, but it never reached the ministry concerned due to bureaucratic indifference to the issue. It did reach the then minister for minority Affairs, K Rahman Khan only a few months before the term of the government expired. It was a pathetic state of affairs that the welfare schemes concerning Muslims, whether scholarship or otherwise, were blocked by bureaucrats. Commenting on the negative role played by the media vis-à-vis Muslim issues, he said that anti-Muslim content in their coverage sold like a hot cake. Expressing concern over communal polarisation against Muslims, he advised the community to support a political party that was well disposed towards it. He disfavoured the idea of forming a political party exclusively for Muslims. He asked Muslims to get closer to Dalits and other marginalised sections as they had a commonality of socio-economic problems.
Assistant Secretary General, IOS, Prof. Haseena Hashia, held that Article 370 was abrogated without seeking the opinion of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. She also referred to the media hype that Muslims were not amenable to change.
In his presidential remarks, the Secretary General, IOS, Prof. Z.M. Khan, said that the institute had already published a book titled Muslim Situation in India based on the proceedings of a seminar held in 1986. He pointed out that the IOS was providing something substantial in terms of the study of Muslim representation in various sectors. Self-criticism and self-assessment was necessary for Muslims because they were running in a survival mode. They were second to none when it came to fighting against the British Raj during the freedom struggle. They were still doing their bit towards nation-building. He advised the community to think, work and develop a strategy for their own sake.
The Vice-chairman, IOS, Prof. Afzal Wani, extended a vote of thanks.
A view of audience