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Why this indifference to minority harassment
By Kaleem Kawaja, Washington

Kaleem KawajaToday 53 percent of India’s Muslims live below the poverty line, as opposed to 33 percent for India as a whole. Illiteracy among Muslims is 51 percent as opposed to 31 percent for India as a whole. Less than 4 percent of employees in either government or corporations are Muslims. In addition to the economic, social and educational backwardness far in excess of the national average, as a community, India’s Muslim citizens are hugely marginalized, discriminated against, stereotyped, and often suspect in their patriotism towards their motherland.

Even though an overwhelming majority of today’s Indian Muslims are the generation that was born after the country was partitioned in 1947 to create Pakistan, substantial and often respectable elements in the power structure, media and the middle class Hindus continue to hold them responsible for the partition of the country. Ignoring the fact that the 130 million Indian Muslims are as indigenous and their ethos as much home-grown as the majority Hindus, branding them as having foreign moorings became fashionable in the 1990s among the upper and middle class Hindus in India. A substantial number of today’s Indian Hindus are not willing to consider their fellow Muslim citizens as descendants of countless patriotic Indians of the past, such as Mogul emperor Akbar, Tipu Sultan; sufis like Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer or Nizamuddin Aulia of Delhi, or eminent leaders in India’s long freedom struggle like Maulana Azad or Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, or APJ Abdul Kalam - the creator of modern India’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Instead, they prefer to link the entire 130 million strong Muslim community to a counted few isolated instances of suppression of Hindus in the medieval period by a handful of tyrant Muslim rulers.

In countless cities in India, mosques and Hindu temples are found located side by side. That is a testimony to the coexistence of Muslims and Hindus and the tolerance of Muslim kings for hundreds of years. But substantial elements in the power structure and media prefer to exploit it in their mischievous propaganda as proof that Muslim kings converted temples into mosques.

Thus it was no surprise when on December 6, 1992, a well trained and organized cadre of about 100,000 fanatics, led by the top leaders of the BJP, with the open connivance of the Indian government, police and other government agencies, demolished the 485 year old Babri mosque in Ayodhya, on the false ruse that it stood at the same site where a temple commemorating the birthplace of Lord Rama once stood. At the same time, well armed fanatic groups launched anti-Muslim riots in a number of cities in India.

If some people thought that the demolition of Babri mosque, and the large scale bloodletting of Muslims and the destruction of their homes, businesses and mosques in 1992/93 was a catharsis that will finally allow India’s Muslims to live in peace, they were soon proved wrong. In the last three years, the BJP led coalition government in New Delhi has done everything possible to marginalize and isolate the entire Indian Muslim community from mainstream India, while at the same time maligning the community in every possible way. Also their efforts to convert India into a Hindu theocratic state where Muslim citizens will in effect be second class citizens, are moving ahead full steam. The opposition political parties eg Indian National Congress and the half a dozen regional parties that swear by India’s secular and democratic constitution are busy giving pure lip service to the large Muslim minority, while in fact they never take any action to correct the many gross instances of injustice and discrimination against them, when they themselves form a government.

In the last decade, some of the most renowned educational, religious and social institutions of Muslims in India have been raided with clockwork regularity by the police, on the ruse that they are dens of saboteurs and spies. The renowned Islamic institutions of Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow and Darul Uloom, Deoband; the internationally famous Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh; Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi, to name a few, have been subjected to humiliating harassment with use of brutal force against the peaceful Muslim students, teachers and administrators. The several hundred years old shrines of revered Muslim saints, eg Haji Malang, Bombay; Baba Bundagiri, Chikamanglur, Karnatak; Pirana Sahib, Ahmedabad, to name a few, are facing conversion by force into Hindu shrines by the Hindutva zealots, with the government agencies in full connivance.

The top leaders of BJP who were indicted by the Central Bureau of Investigation in 1993 for their criminal roles in the demolition of the Babri mosque and the anti-Muslim riots in 1992 - LK Advani, MM Joshi, Uma Bharti-are today some of the most powerful ministers in the central government in New Delhi. Even though the dispute over the site where Babri mosque once stood is still in the Indian courts, last December, AB Vajpayee the prime minister of India himself made repeated statements in the Parliament that the replacement of the Babri mosque by a Hindu temple represents the national sentiment of India. Also in the same session of Parliament , Prime Minister Vajpayee made a statement refusing permission to the Indian courts to proceed with legal action against the above named ministers, based on previous indictments and praised them profusely.

In January 2001, Bal Thakray, the head of the militant Hindu fundamentalist party that ruled Maharashtra, India’s most industrialized and modern key province, until six months ago, declared that the Indian Muslim’s right to vote should be revoked. Not surprisingly, only a handful of mainstream political leaders in India mustered enough courage to publicly decry an obviously fascist scheme. In a subsequent poll on Bal Thakrey’s viscous proposal conducted by Indian Express, one of the largest circulated dailies in India, fully 35 percent of Hindus agreed with the suggestion. What further proof is needed that a substantial number of well-educated, middle class Hindus in India are accepting the grotesque anti-Muslim propaganda as facts?

The fundamentalist groups and the ruling BJP, as a sign of their extra territorial loyalty, frequently cite the fact that the Muslims of India consider themselves an integral part of the universal Muslim Ummah. Yet, today after half a century of utter powerlessness and impoverishment, the Indian Muslims are neither willing to dilute their bonds with the worldwide Muslim Ummah, nor they are ready to give up their authentically indigenous Indo-Islamic identity as the price for equal say in the affairs of the nation. Also they are resolute in demanding equal rights as the citizens of India. It goes without saying that they are experiencing extreme anguish about their and their future generations’ right to live in dignity in their motherland with equitable participation in the mainstream.

The biggest tragedy is that in the worldwide forums and organizations of the Muslim Ummah and Muslim media one rarely hears any mention of the many instances of the very frequent persecution, harassment, organized anti-Muslim violence, impoverishment, violation of human rights and marginalization of 130 million Indian Muslims – the second largest Muslim community in the Ummah. Furthermore, in 53 years, Muslim countries from middle-east to Indonesia, who maintain friendly relations with India and on whom India is dependent vis-ŕ-vis its large energy needs and its large trade with them, have never made any attempt to use their substantial leverage to draw the attention of the Indian government, let alone ask the Indian government to take effective steps to stop the decades-long non-stop violation of the human rights of the large Muslim community in India.

The Prime Minister and other senior ministers of the Indian government routinely visit Muslim countries, affirming their friendship with the Muslim countries, while at the same time at home, as indicated above, they conduct well organized campaigns to marginalize Muslims in India in every possible way. The leaders of the Muslim countries are well aware of such chicanery and deception on the part of India’s Hindu politicians, but they never attempt to question the tormentors of India’s Muslim masses. Of-course the Western nations that champion human rights on a daily basis, decline to even acknowledge that the minority Muslim citizens of India have ever had any social justice problems in democratic India.

The writer, an Aligarian, is the director of the Association of Indian Muslims of America, Washington DC. q

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