Where do Indian Muslims go from Here
By Kaleem Kawaja
Milli Gazette Online
30 May 2006
From Moghul emperor Akbar to Bahadur Shah Zafar - the hero of India’s first war of independence, to Maulana Azad - the pre-eminent freedom fighter, to PJ Abdul Kalam – the creator of India’s missile program and beyond there is an illustrious unending string of Muslims who contributed substantially in the building of the Indian nation over the centuries.
Yes, there were several tyrants and plunderers like Ghouri, Ghaznavi and Nadir Shah among the Muslim kings during the 600 years that Muslims were in power in India. But by and large Muslim kings were moderates who held power by forming alliances of Muslims and Hindus.
During most of the 300 year Moghul empire it was a political alliance of Moghuls and Rajput Hindus that held power in North India. Together, they spent decades to extend their hold into South India waging continual wars against the Bahmani sultans, the Golkunda dynasty, the Qutubshahi dynasty - all of whom were Muslims.
Most Muslim rulers and their noblemen in India forsook the ethos of the West Asian nations of their origin and integrated themselves with the culture and soil of India to create the Indo-Islamic civilization. Much as in ancient times the Aryans of central Asia integrated themselves with the same Indian soil to develop the Hindu civilization.
Indian Muslims are justifiably proud of their Indo-Islamic heritage. It is a genuinely Indian civilization that the people of India belonging to different religions created by merging the culture of the Muslim immigrants from West Asia with that of the Hindus of India.
At the dawn of independence while a sizeable number of Muslims migrated to Pakistan, about 60 million at that time chose to stay in India. Without a doubt these people rejected the two nation theory, considered the formation of Pakistan a disaster for the Muslims and India, and believed in the secular and diverse milieu of India.
It can not be forgotten that a majority of Muslims in the provinces that remained in India supported Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Valabbahi Patel and Maulana Azad in their opposition to the partitioning of India.
However soon after independence in 1947 Muslims in India found themselves the victims of the backlash of the formation of Pakistan, an action that they had opposed strongly. They found themselves excluded from the mainstream and suspect in their nationalism, in the midst of people with whom they had grown up as youngsters.
Today there may be some Muslims in India who sympathize with Pakistan in preference to India. But their number may be no more than about one percent of the total Muslim population. The overwhelming majority are those who consider being Indian as important as being Muslim. A majority of them are people who were born after independence and for whom stories of India’s partition is something that they heard from their parents. Of their own free will Muslims vote for secular parties rather than for Muslim parties and candidates, who are not secular.
The result of the last election indicates that of the about thirty members of the Indian parliament, all of whom stood from constituencies with sizeable Muslim population, only three are from Muslim parties. Muslims in India never associate with any separatists or anti-national elements. As for the Kashmir problem, it is not a Hindu-Muslim problem. It is the result of years of mismanagement by successive governments in New Delhi and Srinagar, that allowed the festering impoverishment and deprivation of Kashmiris to acquire an anti-Indian establishment color.
In-spite of their being 140 million strong and their overwhelming festering impoverishment, Muslims in India have no leadership worth its name, no coherent direction and no roadmap to break out of their sixty year old state- of- siege. The number of Indian Muslims living below poverty level has remained at 50 percent for decades, compared to the 35 percent national average. Similarly 45 percent of the Muslim community continues to be illiterate compared to 36 percent for all Indians. 50 percent of Muslim women are illiterate compared to 40 percent for all Indian women.
The blight and squalor of Muslim townships in India’s many cities reflects the contempt with which successive federal and state governments have treated the Muslim community for decades. The very acute shortage of schools, medical clinics, parks, paved roads, sanitation facilities and the large number of unemployed youth in Muslim localities is a gnawing reality. In most Muslim high schools there are either no libraries and laboratories, or they are in shambles. Despite many surveys, commissions and recommendations that successive federal and state governments have promulgated, the very poor condition of the basic civic infrastructure in Muslim townships flies in the face of the impressive modernized infrastructure in the rest of the country.
For decades a variety of political parties, e.g. Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Communist Party of India and others that proclaim themselves as sympathetic to Muslims, have continued to exploit the Muslim community for their votes with empty and meaningless promises that have remained unfulfilled, even though waves of elections have come and gone. While these parties have given tickets to Muslim candidates for parliament and state assemblies, and some of them have won, these powerless Muslim representatives in the political infrastructure have no voice in bringing development to the Muslim townships. Over a decade ago these parties proclaimed repeatedly in UP and Bihar that Urdu – the mother tongue of Muslims in those states – will be the second language. But after more than a decade hardly any Urdu teachers have been hired for the numerous schools, and Urdu with which their heritage is directly linked continues to die.
In such circumstances it is indeed strange that some political parties and politicians are campaigning on the theme that successive governments have appeased Muslims.. This misleading propaganda has so charged the atmosphere that today every legitimate Muslim grievance, be it an appeal for financial relief for victims of communal violence, or basic infrastructure uplift, or better schools or preservation of Urdu, or protection of mosques and shrines, or freedom to retain their Muslim identity , is advertised by the obscurantist political forces as Muslims’ attempt to seek special privileges.
It is also feeding the frenzy that is resulting in grievous anti-Muslim violence that occurs regularly. While the Muslim community itself has to do a lot to resolve many of its problems, these problems can only be resolved if the Muslims take a bold lead and the Hindus in the power structure help them.
If the Indian Muslims are trying to retain their Indo-Islamic identity then so are all major ethnic groups in India. Punjabi Hindus have very different social practices than Tamil Hindus; Bengali Hindus have totally different social practices than the Gujarati Hindus; UP/Bihar Hindus have completely different cultural practices than the Andhra Pradesh Hindus. So why interpret the attempts of the Indian Muslims to retain their distinct identity as lack of integration and nationalism? Why not lend a helping hand to help break their state-of-siege?
Kaleem Kawaja is President of Association of Indian Muslims of America, Washington DC. He can be reached on: