India has the third-largest Muslim population in the world. The Muslims who remained in India after the partition of the country on the basis of religion in 1947 are constantly struggling to keep pace with the majority community. Muslims make up 14% of the country’s population. But their huge absence in jobs and politics is not something to hide. Their complaint is that they are victims of far-reaching discrimination. According to a 2005 report by a government committee, the presence of Muslims in the country’s top jobs is below four percent.
The process of economic reform and privatization in the early 1990s paved the way for more employment for the country’s Muslim youth than ever before. Where in the previous decade, getting government jobs for Muslims was a matter of great fortune. Over time, a small and important section of the Muslim middle class has emerged as professionals. They have been involved in media, IT, and management.
Hasan Sarwar, a veteran Indian journalist in London, recently wrote a book. The title of the book is ‘India’s Muslim Spring: Why Is Nobody Talking About It?‘. In this book, he has highlighted the tendency of the Muslim community to wake up.
Another book is written by Mohammad Sajjad, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University. His book is titled ‘ Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours‘. In this book, he highlights the historical past, especially the situation of Muslims during the partition, and calls on them to compete.
Al Jazeera’s Saif Khalid recently (2014) interviewed the two writers to understand the ongoing variability of Muslims in India. The interview was translated for the readers of Natun Dak – Faizur Rahman.
Q: How strong is the effort to join the mainstream among Muslims in India? Is the current awakening enough to be suitable for the ‘Muslim spring’?
Hassan Sarwar : It is quite an admirable progress, as I have said in my book. However, it is not an organized movement. People are not moving towards any wave movement or revolution. Rather it is happening silently.
I have used the term ‘ Muslim spring ‘ metaphorically to emphasize that Muslims are finally waking up, with a touch of change in their thinking.
The low rate of Muslim attendance in education and employment is, of course, a different matter. But what I have said about the ‘Muslim Spring’ is basically a reaction. This reaction stems from the social and economic backwardness of the Muslim community. For this backwardness, the Muslim youth are blaming the government’s bias, the weakness of the Muslim leadership and the previous Muslim generation. All in all, Muslim youth now want to take responsibility for themselves. As a result, the state’s bias and weakness of leadership will be tarnished.
Mohammad Sajjad : The Muslim Awakening in India is now quite noticeable. There is now a deep urge within the Muslim community to climb the ladder of socio-economic development and political empowerment.
After the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, there was a strong realization among the Muslim community that the leaders were politicizing only on the emotional issues of the Muslims. This politics is still going on.
Such as politics with communal riots, politics with Muslim personal law, politics with the addition of Urdu language in government service, politics with the status of minorities in Aligarh Muslim University, how much more. As a result of this politics of the leaders, Muslims started organizing in different provinces of India, especially in Bihar. They demand the realization of their constitutional and institutional rights. Raises the voice of the state to reduce injustice and inequality.
These agitators are fighting for democracy and their rights in various places, especially in Bihar, despite their many limitations. They are raising their voices freely to alleviate their grief and increase their representation in the government service.
Q: What do you think could be the reason behind the decline of conservatism in the Muslim community?
Hasan Sarwar : There is a feeling among Muslims that we need to move away from wrong priorities. Another perception at work here is that if Muslims want to move forward, they must move away from the shadow of the backward tree.
Mohammad Sajjad : The educated middle class of the Muslim society has been steadily increasing since the independence of India. This may be one of the reasons for the decline in conservatism.
The success of Indian democracy is in reducing the country’s land reform, education, medical and social spending.
The formulation of the Open Passport Policy in the early 1970s, which paved the way for the employment of Muslims in the Middle East. A report by the Mandal Commission in the early 1990s recommended the inclusion of Muslims in government service. Some of these developments have increased the faith and connection of Muslims towards the constitution and the state. As a result, conservatism has decreased.
Question: The new generation of Muslims is more religious, but at the same time more secular and universal. Yet why do Muslims’ attire and dress attract the attention of others? How will the issue be addressed?
Hasan Sarwar: I have said a lot in my book.
The tendency among Muslim youth in India to brag about their religious identity is actually part of the Nine-Eleven discourse in the West.
It bears a striking resemblance to the history of American blacks. American blacks regarded their blackness as a symbol of honor. They were proud to give the ‘black’ identity. They say we are black, we are American, and we are proud to be black Americans. I think one culture should never be confused with another. No matter how progressive it may be. Most importantly, this trend among Muslim youth is in fact a reaction to post-Nine-Eleven Islamophobia.
Mohammad Sajjad : One’s religious beliefs and culture should not be interpreted as ‘conservatism’, ‘anti-nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’. Religion never breeds conservatism or teaches hatred to other communities.
In this age of globalization, in this age of modern free economy, a fear works in all the minority communities of the world. That is, they think their religious and cultural identity is under threat today.
As a result, they are relatively more focused on cultivating religious beliefs and culture. Globalization has made a section of the people worried about their identity. Gandhiji and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad have shown all kinds of plurality in India. He has shown that it is possible to move forward together while maintaining religious symbols and practices.
Question: ‘Mollah vs. Marxist’ – Do you find the use of this binarity suspicious? Are only mullahs responsible for the backwardness of Muslims?
Hasan Sarwar : I do not blame the mullahs alone. Progressive Muslims are no less responsible. Because they did not keep the diary of history in their hands. As a result, there have been attempts to keep the mullahs isolated from the society throughout the ages. In this way, insignificant politicians have come forward to fill the gap that has been created between the society and the mullahs. They are standing in this void and claiming that they are the leaders of the Muslim community, they are representing the Muslim community. That is not the case.
Mohammad Sajjad : This kind of binary mathematics has flourished due to misunderstanding and lack of knowledge among the educated community of the country. This kind of misconception is defeating the political interests of Muslims. Is undermining greater political unity. Conservatism is not only the mullahs alone, others are no less partners in it.
I think conservative politics is done not only by mullahs, but also by religious minorities. Politicians too.
In fact, if we compare mullahs with modern educated leadership, we will see that mullahs are meaningfully closer to the common man. The relationship of the mullahs with the common people from the cradle to the grave.
If we call the partition of the country on the basis of religion and resistance to colonialism an anti-progressive act, then we will see that in this case the mullahs were far ahead of the modern leadership. The record of the contribution of the mullahs was much higher than that of the modern educated. The scholars of Deoband fought for colonialism and separation at the same time. The Muslim League was their partner here only as a representative of the Amollas.
Question: In the electoral agenda of the Muslims, no progress has been noticed in the field of education, medical treatment and employment outside the security of life. Because riot is a name of terror for Muslims. How do you think the desire to stop this riot will be fulfilled?
Mohammad Sajjad : I think not punishing the rioters is a big failure of the Indian state and its criminal justice system. By placing the level of ‘progressive’ and ‘conservative’, Muslims have been kept in all sorts of political exploitation.
Instead of giving citizenship to Muslims, it is being used as a vote bank. Instead of giving them all kinds of legitimate rights, the security of life and property is being magnified by showing fear of communal riots.
As a result, this is becoming a big issue in the election agenda.
Another issue is why only Muslim minorities are responsible for extremism and terrorist activities. Right-wing groups of the majority Hindu community (such as Ramsena), leftists (such as Maoists, Naxals) are also carrying out extremist activities. Where, in their case it is not as loud as it is in the case of Muslims!
Q: Can the discrimination that Muslims face be compared to that of the minority Persian community?
Hasan Sarwar : The minority could be compared to the Persians, if the Muslims were a small minority community. Why should a community of 180 million people, who have enough confidence and a journey to progress, be comparable to others?
Mohammad Sajjad : My knowledge of the Persians is limited. So I will not talk about it. However, their low presence in the job market bears witness to the external discrimination against Muslims.
Most Muslim areas do not have government banks, hospitals or schools. The low rate of lending to Muslims in government banks is noticeable.
The condition of other financial institutions and state aid agencies is also deplorable. Specialized handicrafts such as silk from Bhagalpur, brass utensils from Muradabad, Lucknow, lace, embroidery from Delhi, etc. are being discriminated against in terms of government patronage. While others are turning into overnight merchants with government patronage, Muslim entrepreneurs are staying at a loss or margin profit.
Q: Will Muslims support Narendra Modi, who was directly involved in the 2002 riots in Gujarat, as Prime Minister? Doesn’t supporting him mean a shadow of pragmatism or critical political polarization?
Hasan Sarwar : Both. Personally, every Muslim should not be chased like a shepherd and should decide freely for his own great interests. If pragmatism demands a vote for Modi, then Muslims should move forward with their own thinking.
At the same time, voting for Modi means that Muslims have no other choice if they want to live in peace in Gujarat. It’s like buying security and sleeping with the enemy.
Mohammad Sajjad : If so-called pragmatism forces Modi to vote, I think it will pave the way for Muslims to shrink. In a word, it will be an example of the helplessness of the weaker residents towards the strong majority community. It is a higher political marginalization that will further accelerate the partition process.
Q: Doesn’t the media traditionally portray Muslims as a ‘fatwaabaj’ and ‘book-burning’ nation, a misrepresentation of Muslims?
Hasan Sarwar : Of course. I emphasized this in the first chapter of my book. In fact, the allegations against Muslims are wrong. If we consider Muslims as clones of others, it will not happen.
Mohammad Sajjad : One of the meanings of deliberately molding someone is to let them know about their deep-seated prejudices and lack of information. In most cases, the media only pays attention to the age-old greed of selling their news.
In fact, even in the history of partition, the media has failed miserably to portray the voices of Muslims in the anti-British movement from 1937 to 1947.
Even then the Muslims advanced. And you will find the culture of ‘book burning’ among Hindus, like a penguin book on Hinduism recently published by Hindus burnt down, vandalized by publishing houses.
Question: The Muslim elite had a special contribution behind the creation of Pakistan. How do the communal people in the Indian National Congress view them?
Hasan Sarwar : I will not discuss the reason for partition, nor in my book. My limited view is, why did the Muslim elite of India leave Pakistan behind the tail of the community?
Mohammad Sajjad : In my two books, I have tried to discuss the primary and fictional causes of partition with direct evidence, with a large quantum explorer historically. In fact, partition was the result of a communal rivalry created by colonialism. This communalism was not limited to the formation of communal political parties like Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS.
There was a flap of communalism in the leadership of the Congress at the provincial and district levels. They were against Bhagwatwara in the new structure of power.
But there was a promise of secularism and pluralism among the top leadership of the Congress. There was a feeling that no sectarian division would be acceptable in the Congress. That is why India has not become a Hindu fascist state even today. The Constitution of India guarantees the rights of religious minorities and people of all other castes.
Courtesy: Natun Dak