Thursday, December 14, 2006

Reflections: 1

The Sachar committee report has documented the abysmal condition of India’s Muslims. Download the report here. Backwardness of the Muslim community is most acute in West Bengal. The report has only corroborated what grassroots activists and researchers in India have been crying hoarse about for years, only to be labelled “communal”.

The govt has appointed a high-level committee to look into the recommendations of the Sachar committee, its deadline being 30 January 2007.

Across the western border, Pakistan has decided to change the history texts and discard the “two nation” theory, and speak instead of the deprivation suffered by Muslims in British India. But the Sachar report can also be seen as vindication of the view that Muslims could not get their just share in society in India. And that therefore a separate nation was necessary. It may have to be admitted by Indians that the human and social development enjoyed by Muslims in the subcontinent is largely the result of first Pakistan and then Bangladesh being created. Acute poverty and disparities exist in Pakistan and Bangladesh; but whatever social and economic fruits are being enjoyed by the people of these countries are surely only the result of their independent nationhood.

Awesome advances have been achieved by India too. But the Muslims of India have been left behind. All the achievements of India are rendered hollow for that.

Sight cannot be described to the blind. Similarly, it is impossible for educated Hindus, including highly educated and socially, economically and culturally empowered people, to realise how bigoted, prejudiced, and communal they really are. The very notion of “Muslim appeasement”, so widespread and deep-rooted in the Indian Hindu upper caste psyche is proof of this. The reality of Muslims in India has been laid bare before us. So much for appeasement.

Every kind of indignity, closure, discrimination has to be faced by the average Muslim in every sphere of life. But to mention “Muslim” as a specific entity to focus on in development efforts and benefits – is called “communal”. But clearly the non-communal, purely “human” definitions and directions have not worked as far as Muslims are concerned. So why are Muslims dropped from “human”? Obviously for the same reason that a pogrom aginst Muslims was unleashed in Gujarat: to eliminate and crush them.

After assuming that at least some people, among those I knew, would have humane and dignified perspectives, I am perpetually surprised by finding this and that person also being full of his / her own hate. Its only among those one knows that one feels comfortable to say what one feels. Otherwise we don masks and play deceits. So I don’t have to look far to find such people. They are there in my family, in my friends and social circle. I have stopped being bothered about this. I simply see it as a deformity in the people, something to ignore. I will not waste my time in any serious discussion about socio-cultural-economic matters with them.

The very mention of “Muslim” – conjures up for them someone about whom all kind of stereotypical notions are emphatically believed. And what is the source of the person’s beliefs or knowledge? Simply received wisdom, gossip, socialisation, hateful bigotry. Very few go through the experience of observing their own habitual embrace of various notions; or examining honestly and systematically the extent to which these believed notions are true. They do not see anything wrong about all this.

The average Hindu, upper caste, educated, middle or upper class person – those who have enjoyed in full measure the fruits of India’s development – would typically not know a single Muslim in any intimate fashion. Though Muslims are all around him, he chooses not to see the reality of the acute poverty and deprivation suffered by Muslims. The Muslim areas - outside which they are not allowed to live in Hindu India - are not places where the "respectable" ever go to. But he doesn’t think that this disqualifies him from holding forth on the peculiarities, idiocies, irrationalities, obscurantisms, cussedness of Muslims / Islam.

The media has of course played a demonic role in this regard. The education system too has failed. More fundamentally, India has failed to even consider the questions of how to be a plural nation; how to educate children to live in peace and partnership with other communities; how to co-exist and thrive amidst diversity.

Pluralism allows communities to see themselves through one another's eyes. And thus grow in stature.

Do we want to be a plural nation? Do we want dignity and justice for all? If we don’t, then further partitions may be the result. Just as crime and terrorism are natural outcomes of the deprivation suffered so far.


irving said...

What a sad commentary! It is unfortunately true in many nations, where people of color, class, race, etc are discriminated against and reduced to low status, opportunity, education, poverty and injustice.

Ya Haqq!

Deb S. said...

I learned something new today. I also agree with Irving. Thanks for shedding light on this important issue.

Yves said...

I have the privilege of living in the district of my town which houses most of its Muslims, a district in which they have built a mosque. Though I am one of the Anglo-Saxon English, with Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Australian ancestry, I find the Muslims of this town, the ones who were not born here coming from Pakistan and Kashmir mainly, extremely good neighbours, more peaceful, often more honest to do business with, than my white compatriots.

When I was about 8, I learned from Robert Ripley's Believe it or not Omnibus that there were more than a hundred religions in India, two hundred languages (I forget his figures exactly) and that everyone got along peacefully together. Some exaggerations there, surely. It was written in the Thirties. I also learned about fakirs who grew their fingernails 10 inches long, or stared at the sun from sunrise to sunset till they went blind, or performed the celebrated Indian Rope Trick, or played tunes which caused cobras to rise out of baskets and dance. I learned about them lying on beds of nails, walking on fiery coals (perhaps this was not India!) and pierce their bodies in the Thaipusam Hindu processions.

To me, it was a pluralist society, a status later confirmed by my reading of Rudyard Kipling's stories.

Of course, no country stays the same. Britain has changed immeasurably since Indian Independence in 1947 and so has India. It is impossible to define India.

But in the significant changes now taking place in your great country, which I now mainly know about through Rama's blog, it is absolutely necessary that people speak out fearlessly against any injustice and oppression by government and big business.

Those who have no voice must have a voice.

bey said...

Very interesting blog, good issue to comment, regarding pluralism. Many thanks to share it...Good posting...Basically muslim is not terorist or something like that, same as yves, my neighbours in Indonesia also proof it.