Kerala Muslims the Nava Panchamas?

Shabir Khan

The past few weeks have vividly displayed the growing anti-Muslim worldview of a large section of the media and the entrenched communal elements in the state of Kerala, proving Swami Vivekananda right once again in his description of Kerala as a lunatic asylum. This has got nothing to do with the political ambitions of the Muslim League which is corrupt like any other political party, self-serving and utterly stupid in understanding the social dynamics or in responding to them.

NSS, BJP, a section of the Congress and the casteist media have virtually made Muslims the Nava Panchamas, the neo-untouchables, in the communal ambience generated by the opposition to the Muslim League demand for one more ministerial berth.

If we count the ministries of both the political fronts since the formation of the state, the sh are of Muslims who comprise 26 percent of the population, has been less than 14, which represents a negation of the founding principle of the Constitution: equality. And Muslims have sacrificed millions of lives since the beginning of the colonial onslaught to fight the foreign invaders, and particularly during and following the First War of Independence. Muslims boycotted the British education and colonial language as a mark of political protest. And they suffered not just from the ruthless onslaught of the colonialists but also through exclusion from public life, as British education and English language came to dominate public life, more so in the post-Independence period. This has subsequently been alleged as refusal to join the mainstream -- a classic case of blaming the victim.

This parade of ironies continues for Muslims. The media advocating the Hindutva line have carefully submerged the fact that the League was negotiating with its UDF partners as a constituent party with 20 MLAs. If Congress with 38 MLAs can have 11 ministers, isn’t it fair that the League with more than half that number of MLAs should have at least half that number of ministers? And about the level of representation of communities, how can one dare refuse the right of over a quarter of the population to be adequately represented while the Nair community constituting about 13 percent of the population has four ministers and the Speaker, although about 27 percent of the Congress membership in Kerala is Muslim, no central minister has been selected from this community, neither in the UPA government nor in the previous Congress governments, with the singular exception of Shri A A Rahim. None of the governors appointed from Kerala is from the Muslim community either. How skewed is the communal balance one needs to seriously contemplate. This amounts to discrimination, in glaring violation of the founding principles of the Constitution, namely equality and fraternity.

The state has multiple arms, including the political, executive, bureaucracy, judiciary, and the fourth estate too, as the media would like to describe itself. Historically, Muslims have been grossly neglected in all segments of the state. In a democratic, multicultural society founded on the hallowed ideals of equality and fraternity, it is a birth-right of every citizen to feel included and represented. The rainbow that Kerala is, its public spaces must reflect this brilliant rainbow and not a monochromatic caricature. What I am referring to is the all-powerful bureaucracy that runs our affairs. It is shocking that none of the 40 secretaries of government is from the Muslim community, making Muslims untouchables, excluding it from governance. Yes, the issue of communal imbalance is central to our socio-political discourse, as it had been since the Malayali memorial. By expelling the “foreign” Brahmins from government service, new savarna caste has taken over and dominated government jobs and they refuse to democratise governance by playing every game to keep out the under-represented. And if we have a civil service that does not reflect the multi-cultural attributes of the society, there must be something gravely wrong in the system that deliberately fails the constitutional objectives.

Even when there is no single Muslim among the 40-plus government secretaries who truly rule the state, there is no alarm raised. No government at any time has paid attention to this gross under-representation. There are three secretaries directly appointed by the governmenrt for law, legislature and science and technology. But even here the successive governments purposefully ignore the need to use these for at least marginally compensating for the communal imbalance. Since one-third of the IAS, IPS and IFS are recruited from the state service based on the state government recommendation, that gives opportunity for the amelioration of this imbalance but the successive governments pay absolutely no heed to this call. And this imbalance seldom comes up for discussion; the ‘dead horse’ does not care about these things either. How many experts from the Muslim community have been nominated as members of the Planning Board? In the past ministry, and in the entire history of the Planning Board? Once again you find shocking communal imbalance, outright discrimination, and institutionalised exclusion of the under-represented minority.

The picture in the autonomous institutions funded by citizens’ tax money, but recruitments are made in an arbitrary manner, which is shockingly all the same. Take for example, the case of organisations like Centre for Management Development or Kerala Institute of Local Administration, both of which have been under Muslim League rule for a large part of their life, but there is hardly any Muslim representation there. Will the champions of communal balance count how many attendants and drivers the seven research institutions under the science and technology department have? Hardly any. There is apartheid against Muslims in these institutions that are in a shambles going by independent professional opinion. Shouldn’t we have our institutions reflecting the wonderful plurality of our society. How about the Energy Management Institute, or the Institute of Management in Government, just for some more example. Appointments in such institutions are done on the recommendation of the kind of communal organisations where ministers and opposition leaders go and queue up for audience. This is a total failure of the democratic polity. And yet, nobody talks about these. Nobody even talks about instituting legitimate recruitment guidelines for the autonomous institutions under the government or on the pressing need to hand the recruitment responsibility to the PSC. The Dalits and Adivasis are also equally untouchables in these institutions. It isn’t any different in the appointment of members and recruitment of staff in the umpteen cultural bodies.

The media, on which a lot of public money is spent from subsidised imported newsprint to free bus/train travels for journos, is where this systemic exclusion is glaring. The four main print media belong to or are run by Nair, Ezhava, Christian and Muslims. Of these only the one run by Muslims has reasonable representation of other communities, while the ones owned/run by other communities hardly take on board any Muslims. We don’t have a single Robin Jeffry in our state to talk about this. And the schools and colleges run on government money and owned by communities also show a gross exclusion of Muslims. Not even attendants or sweepers from Muslim community are found in the colleges run by NSS that is now agitated about communal imbalance. In sharp contract, we could challenge NSS leaders to go and see how balanced are the few publicly-funded educational institutions run by Muslims. Communal imbalance is indeed the perennial issue here. Our democracy must sit up and address the problem, instead of bringing forth khap panchayats to rule the state.

As John Lennon said, they will provoke us in all possible ways. It is in our cause to refuse provocations of any sort, “because once they have got you violent, then they know how to handle you”. And we need to be alert about violence that would be generated by them to discredit us. For our strength is the Constitution of India, which they dislike or hate, for it is founded on equality which they cannot accept, and it has founded a Republic and not a kingdom to be ruled by the former servants of the British regime, for it is democratic giving rights unto the last citizen to participate in the governance of the country, for it is secular that denies the imaginary and human gods any role in statecraft. And this Constitution is often violated with impunity, including by those whose job it is to uphold it. And upholding this Constitution we must seek justice.

The current environment vitiated by communal forces and casteist media must be purified through alternative campaigns and, more importantly, by seeking through litigation in the courts and complaints to statutory bodies like the Human Rights, Minority Commission, Press Council of India, etc. on the recent public statements against the Muslim community by caste leaders and casteist media outlets. We must also nationalise the issue, for there are public intellectuals and activists outside the state who hold a worldview based on a sense of justice and secularism, unlike the sponsored ones we have in Kerala. We must also disseminate information, especially among the unsuspecting Hindu brethren (for they are misled by the casteist media), about the gross inequality within the system as vividly brought out by the Sachar Committee Report and the Narendran Committee Report, among others.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 september 2015 on page no. 11

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