Muslim Future in Indian Homeland

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 9 Oct 2023

Moin Qazi - TRANSCEND Media Service

“The Constitution is not for the exclusive benefit of governments and states… it also exists for the common man, the poor and the humble… for the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.”

These words of Justice Vivian Bose effectively sum up the entire piece of philosophy. The premise challenges the (erroneous) notion that some carry: that the Constitution of India is a document for the elite and the well-off.

Constitutions were made for modern democratic societies like the scriptures were made in pre-modern traditional societies. But while everyone had a clear idea of how the ancient religious texts worked for everyone in the older societies, few people have a clear idea of how the Constitution can work for the marginalised; only the executive, legislature and judiciary respect the spirit that animates it.

It is an appreciable feat that the Constitution offers remedy even to the most marginalised people in society, and equally commendable is the fact that these people put enough trust and confidence in the Constitution that they move the courts seeking to enforce their rights.

   Other faiths were accorded equal status. Islam, unlike Marxism, continues to be deeply rooted and still present in everyday life and profoundly influences various societies and ideologies. Islam remains a system of values by which Muslims live. It is robust enough to survive the complexities that have buffeted world civilisations in the past and has the answer to even those potential threats hovering around in the social environment.

Therefore, life in a plural age should be welcomed because we can pursue our paths and learn from others. Only, it’s not that simple, of course. And in truth, this is the most demanding form of pluralism.

It means that I must take responsibility for my commitments and do so in a particular way: by recognising that they are commitments others do not share.

At the same time, this diversity safeguards our humanity. If everyone were to follow the same path, if utopia were found, then there would be no more questions, no more questing, only subsistence living. It’s often forgotten that Thomas More’s “utopia” coinage means “no place”. A philosophy of pluralism, though, represents a real place because of the grit of others. Others protect my humanity; their truth sustains my truth, and their difference enhances my singularity. Ramadan continues.

But perhaps the most challenging characteristic of this version of pluralism is that it is not so much a political philosophy as a philosophy of life. At its heart, it relies on the individual and how we will be with others.

The political idea of pluralism is often limited to where people can tolerably exist based on various groups and beliefs. But we need to close much beyond this threshold. There are divergent strands in public discourse that must be recognised and harmonised. We may argue, or we may disagree. But we cannot deny the actual prevalence of a diversity of opinions. The plurality of our society has come through the assimilation of ideas over centuries. Secularism and inclusion are a matter of faith for us. It is our composite culture that makes us into one nation.

We have to rethink the very ideas of Islam and modernity to end the confusion caused by the controversial or ideological use of the terms, which makes them two antagonistic forces. Muslims are India’s most significant religious minority. Muslims have considered India their home for more than a millennium. They have become so seamlessly integrated into its social mainstream that several strands of their culture and tradition have subsumed into the national fabric. But the tragedy is that Muslims are so marginalised that their presence in critical public spheres is almost invisible. Most of them are poor, semiliterate, and driven into ghettos.

The Conflict between Islam and Modernity

Muslims continue to suffer significant political, social, and economic deprivation. Their situation is so dire that economic reforms precede all other amelioration policies. Improvement in their social and educational conditions, as well as the much-talked-about gender reforms, will automatically follow their economic uplift.

They lag on almost every measure of success—the number of Muslims in the IAS, the police and the army, the number of Muslim-owned companies in the top five hundred Indian firms, and the percentage of Muslim CEOs or national newspaper editors far behind their statistical entitlements. And then millions of Muslims live in abject poverty.

The backwardness of Muslims deprives the country of nearly one-fifth of its valuable talent. Economic problems cannot be solved with civil rights remedies but can be relieved with public and private action encouraging economic redevelopment. The government has aggressively been pursuing the agenda of reforms in the personal laws of Muslims, alleging genuine concern for Muslim women. But economic backwardness is a much more complex and bitterer reality for Muslim Indians. The state can’t turn its eyes away, mainly when training many telescopes on the community’s social issues.

It amounts to questioning the purity of the nationalism of Muslims, the same way the so-called upper castes have questioned the purity of the spiritualism of the so-called backward castes. But Muslim Indians have neither compromised nationalism nor abandoned religion. India is depriving itself of one-fifth of its valuable talents by keeping Muslims backwards. The economic problems cannot be solved with civil rights remedies but could be relieved with public and private action encouraging economic redevelopment.

The economic agenda is more urgent for the community than most of the reforms the government is contemplating. The whole chorus of gender and other social reforms gives the impression that civil society faces multiple problems today. Most Muslims see these social reforms as a subterfuge for deflecting attention from the community’s most pressing discrimination on the economic front.

The relative economic condition of Muslims has suffered significantly compared to everyone else despite spectacular growth in the country’s economy. It makes for both good economics and politics if a fraction of new economic gain can correct the negative trajectory of the Muslim reality in India. Poor Muslims are much poorer than poor Hindus and can easily be bracketed with the lowest Hindu castes, Adivasis, and Dalits. Muslims are stuck at the bottom of almost every economic or social ladder.

All political parties at the helm of government have resorted to “strategic secularism” to secure the so-called Muslim vote bank. For this reason, Indian liberalists have always couched Indian secularism in more progressive terms, namely, from a constitutional framework focused on supporting religious minorities to one that promotes community development, social justice, and cultural diversity.

Economic development cannot happen in a vacuum. It survives only in a conducive atmosphere where all the pillars of businesses work in coordination. The comprehensive result is possible only when we have the rule of law, social harmony, equality before the law, respect for religion, and tolerance for diversity.

In theory, politicians and preachers have always extolled a grand vision—that India historically has been a place of religious tolerance where settlers found a welcome melting pot in which everyone was free to practise their faith. This approach has stoked resentment among many of the country’s Hindus while doing little to improve Muslims’ well-being. This resentment will hit India’s Muslims particularly hard, with further social and political marginalisation undermining their economic prospects. The size of India’s Muslim population is bound to drag down overall development. In post-independent India, the state has paid lip service to this comforting tableau of the nation’s pluralism.

The Demonisation of Social Groups

Demonising minorities through bigoted policies and holding them responsible for all the national ills have become a favourite narrative.  

This script has repeatedly played itself out in history with disastrous consequences. Fundamentally, the state is trying to reconfigure the concept of Indian identity to make it synonymous with being Hindu. The right-wing is trying to dismantle India’s secular traditions and turn the country into a religious state as a homeland for Hindus. The Muslims can see a shadow world creeping upon them. This dangerous game will pull apart the diverse, delicate social fabric that has existed in India for ages. India’s founders advocated an Indian brand of secularism designed to hold the country’s disparate communities together under one roof. Indeed, Jawaharlal Nehru pronounced India’s composite culture as one of its greatest strengths.

Indian secularism is the by-product of a whole civilisation. According to the famous novelist and member of the Nehru family, Nayantara Sahgal, “We are unique in the world that so many cultures and religions enrich us. Now, they want to squash us into one culture. So it is a difficult time. We do not want to lose our richness. We do not want to lose anything. All that Islam has brought us, what Christianity has brought us, what Sikhism has brought us. Why should we lose all this? We are not all Hindus, but we are all Hindustani.”

The BJP has a history of using religious fault lines as a political tool to expand its constituency. Hindu or Hindutva chauvinism continues to drive India dangerously away from its pluralistic moorings. It is trying to recast the story of India from that of a secular democracy accommodating a uniquely diverse population to that of a Hindu nation that dominates its minorities, especially the country’s Muslims. The core philosophy rests on a combustible idea: those only followers of the so-called Indic religions (which it will define) can genuinely be Indians. These regressive policies are seeding long-term domestic instability, undermining interfaith harmony, and tarnishing India’s reputation for peaceful coexistence. The BJP government at the centre and in the states keep targeting Muslims with incendiary messages, encouraging and emboldening vigilante violence against them. Such violence is typically followed by state inaction and seeming bias.

The aptest description of a communal frenzy—and we had hundreds of them—came from Justice Madon, who enquired about the infamous Bhiwandi riots. Summing up his report for the Maharashtra government after the riots in Bhiwandi and Jalgaon in 1970, Justice Dinshah P. Madon wrote,

“It was a lonely, arduous, and weary journey through a land of hatred and violence, prejudice and perjury. The encounters on the way were with men without compassion, lusting for the blood of their fellow men, with politicians who trafficked in communal hatred and religious fanaticism, with local leaders who sought power by sowing disunity and bitterness, with police officers and policemen who were unworthy of their uniform, with investigating officers without honour and scruples, with men committed to falsehood and wedded to fraud and with dealers in mayhem and murder.”

The mood among India’s Muslims is bleak, and they see their position being undermined steadily by the new “nationalism” gripping the country. Indian Muslims face more pressing issues. Various surveys have highlighted their poor economic and social conditions.

Muslims have traditionally been craftsmen, and most craft skills have been overtaken by mechanisation, rendering most artisans’ skills obsolete under the prevailing political economy. These people have lost their traditional livelihoods and cannot regain them in export markets, for instance, without government and business support. On the contrary, Hindu traders and business people have prospered from the country’s booming economic growth.

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Moin Qazi, PhD Economics, PhD English, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment and a member of NITI Aayog’s National Committee on Financial Literacy and Inclusion for Women. He is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker. He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades in India and can be reached at moinqazi123@gmail.com.


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 9 Oct 2023.

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