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Published in the 16-31 July 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

ISSUES
Muslims oblivious of basic duties
By E. Yasir  

Andhra Pradesh has been in news in recent times for more than one reason. An unprecedented spate of suicides by farmers was the main newsmaker from the hitech state. Economic policies adopted in the past decade have forced the farmers to take the extreme step. They were under severe stress owing to debts accumulated over years. This is an attempt to analyse the response of the Muslim community and Islamic movements towards this national disaster and other similar issues.

What is happening in AP is a total collapse of the system. This should have been sufficient to draw the attention of Islamic movements and Muslim organizations. But nothing of this sort happened. Every Muslim leader should be ashamed for this callous response to a tragedy. It is often heard in our country that Muslims, by and large, are highly subjective. They are conscious of issues that exclusively affect them. Events and Muslim reactions prove this allegation. It is pretty common to see that Muslim never try to disprove this charge. Even if some attempts are made somewhere, they are too limited and confined to get highlighted and noticed.

What happened in AP was not sudden. It was an outburst of depression and desolation that continued for years affecting the poor and marginalized. It was a negative development of a deliberate policy shift. In short it was the failure of the system. A system that failed its people, the masses who voted it into power. Several times this callous system has been on the verge of collapse. The system is not limited to a particular state. Same syndrome was repeated in the neighbouring state of Karnataka, though in lesser magnitude. Parallel incidents were reported from Punjab, the so-called heartland of Green Revolution and in the remote districts of Kerala, a state known for its higher human development index and literacy.

It is still possible that we may find this phenomenon duplicated in the rest of the country for the simple reason that all sates have followed similar economic and agrarian policies that cause disaster. Neo-liberal economic policies have reversed the agrarian credit system totally disowning the poor. The State has failed to promote agriculture and has withdrawn from the space of custodian of the poor and the marginalized. This policy shift has undermined the concept of the welfare state, envisaged in the Constitution. Distribution of seeds, fertilizers and pesticides has gone to the private sector. As a result seeds are costlier, pesticides and fertilizers are spurious and adulterated. The consequence was a total catastrophe for the farmers. On the one hand, poor farmers were bound to approach local moneylenders to find additional money to buy costlier seeds. These sharks charged 20-60 per cent interest on the loan. On the other hand, adulterated fertilizers and pesticides resulted in poor yield. Cost of production was enormously high and the price of the products was too low to repay the credits. The declining price of the agricultural products in the open market poured oil onto the burning fire of the farmers. Above all, absentee landlords were waiting for their due to be extracted from the already paupered farmers. Fat Shylocks were in the wait to take their due flesh! All these developments made farmers to take recourse to the ultimate. This was the failure and collapse of the societal system. 

Responsibilities of Muslims during turmoil 
What are the responsibilities of Muslim movements during such times of turmoil? How does Islam guide them to act in difficult times? To many, Islam is a comprehensive way of life which promotes the welfare of the whole humanity. It does not stand for “some”; indeed it cannot. If it speaks anywhere of “some” it is only for those who are marginalized and justice denied. 

An analysis of Muslim strategies and priorities in the post-Independence era will disclose that Muslims almost never stand for the common good. The analysis would betray that they raise their voice only in situations where they have something exclusively to gain. Some may disagree on this point arguing that the case is otherwise. My humble reply to them would be: "you are not bold enough to see what is obvious."

In circumstances similar to that of AP, Islam expects quite a lot from its followers. From the sociological point of view, there may be three broad strategies, viz. developmental or promotional, preventive, and curative. 

Promotional activities bear the elements of a movement. It does not permit something unwanted to happen in a society. It is a continuous process of safeguarding the welfare of the people and social harmony. Preventive measures are the steps followed after the prediction of social scientists about the possibility of some ill-fated happenings in the future. These efforts work as a protective cover from looming catastrophes. Curative steps are meant to heal the syndrome once it is afflicted the society. In all the three paradigms, Islam anticipates creative involvement of the community for the common good.

In the promotional field, the Muslim community is supposed to establish interest-free loan schemes and emerge as credit providers to the farmers by establishing a viable and just credit system. They can act as leading distributors of seeds and fertilizers. This will eventually reduce the exploitation in this field. the Muslim community can generate financial resources to help out poor farmers. It has a good tradition of generating funds and helping people but only during riots and natural calamities. This is not enough. The Muslim community has to do something for the common good, crossing communal boundaries. It is the responsibility of the Muslim community to mobilize and lead the people if any official policy victimizes the whole or any section of the society for no reason. Logic for this argument is plain. Islam is as much a liberation force as it is a spiritual message. Islam is a unique system among religions as it has the inherent capacity to mobilize masses, to caution governments and ultimately lead the society into a world where man has more choices and less suffering. 

There are Islamic organizations, which support this argument with a bunch of theoretical literature. They are busy in translating this bunch into regional languages but without putting them to practice. The response of Muslim community in such circumstances is indefensible. It is the role of Muslim society to lead on issues which concern both Muslims and the general public. Apart from organizing and mobilizing the masses, they have the responsibility to take the issue to the policy-makers and mount pressure on them to change inhuman policies. Correcting wrong public policies is a fundamental responsibility. It is the Qur’anic responsibility bestowed upon the community. 
Governments draft policies for the good of the people. In the neo-economic reforms era, policy-markers are least concerned about the voiceless, marginalized and destitute. All major policies are meant for the welfare of the urban middle and higher classes. But Muslim organisations failed first in analyzing these policies and also in predicting the consequences that obviously follow from such “reforms”. 

There is no deliberation among Muslims over these issues. They kept on harping for Babri Masjid and against Uniform Civil Code. No single Muslim organization attempted to expose the ruthless exploitation and treacherous malpractices that prevailed in the agricultural sector after the so-called economic “reforms”, especially after the privatization of the distribution system of seeds and fertilizes in AP. 

The Muslim population in AP is not behind from our national average. The percentage of educated Muslim youth is quite large in that state compared to their proportion in other states. Muslims never raised their voice against the departure of commercial banks from offering credits to farmers and abolition of subsidies by the government. The reason is simple. Muslims in AP are not agriculturists. They are predominantly a business-class or wage employees. These policies are not going to directly affect their lives. And therefore they don’t protest. Moreover, this issue does not carry any emotional element to arouse the masses. It is only emotional issues that can take our community to the streets. Being an integral part of the Indian society they cloud have approached the private sector companies and warned them against the immoral and unethical trade practices. the Muslim community still has to learn the basics of pressure group tactics which yield results for the voiceless and the marginalised.

Muslims have to learn a lot even to shielding their “own” interests. They represent a defenceless community which knows only to make noises for emotional issues.

There are several Muslim organizations actively working in AP. Some national Muslim organizations are more active in AP than in other parts of the country. Then why does this happen? Why this withdrawal syndrome and exclusivist culture is more visible here?

Another dimension leading to the solution of the problem would have been implanting self-motivation and reinforcing the faith in God among the farmers. During the time of distress, religion and faith can help reduce the degree of stress which in turn would help them to overcome the suffering and provide them with a fillip to work harder. This could have prevented them from committing suicide. To bolster hope is one of the many functions of religion. This basic lesson was to be taught to the farmers and the poor so that they could withstand the pressures. This is an area where no Muslim origination and individual would disagree. This dimension was not even thought of by the community. 

Very close to this dimension is the question of reverting of poor farmers to Islam. During the turmoil, several Dalit farmers collectively and individually reverted to Islam (Frontline, July 2, 2004). They were observing that only Islam bestows self-respect and individual dignity. But unfortunately no Muslim organization came forward to address the issue and provide them with more inner strength and confidence. Contrary to other dimensions of the problem, this issue should have carried the emotional dimension for Muslims. But even this emotional content failed to enthuse the community. Psychological support is the minimum that one can offer to the people during times of such trial. The community failed to deliver even this. Farmers’ suicide in AP and other states is just an illustration to understand the deep malaise. There are hundreds of where social scientists can pinpoint where the community failed to rise to the occasion. This needs wide attention of Muslim social scientists.

In a nutshell, the Muslim community still does not seem to be committed towards the broader social concerns which Islam enjoins to them to be powerfully engaged in. The Muslim community is yet to deliberate on the economic reforms and their consequences. It is still community-conscious oblivious of the demands of its ideology demands in times of social tension. The community has belied its cherished value system. the Muslim community has to change itself a lot if it really desires to fulfill its aspirations and duties. This is the way Islam teaches. This is the way through which social harmony can be made a permanent feature and substance of the Indian social system, ensuring in the process the respect and acceptability Muslims seek in this country. Redesigning of priorities and strategies in the light of Islam in the national context is most desirable for the community to emerge in a more creative role.

The author is a research scholar in Jamia Millia Islamia. 
He may contacted at  yasir12@rediffmail.com
 

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