Bias & Muslims: Unbiased Approach

Of late, some attention has been paid to bias Muslims, including celebrities, suffer on religious grounds. Yes, this is true. But would it be fair to analyze this issue from only a subjective angle conveying the impression that only Muslims in India are affected by such discrimination? Statistically speaking, Muslims constitute less than 14 per cent of the country’s population. If each Muslim was subject to extreme atrocities on religious grounds, would India have remained home to the second largest population of Muslims in the world? No. In the same vein, if emperors who ruled India during the medieval period were really fundamentalist and communal on religious grounds, as projected by some right-wing elements, Muslims wouldn’t have remained a minority in the country.

 True, there prevails a bias, but it would be unfair to assume that all Muslims are affected by this and that all non-Muslims hold a similar attitude against them. If this was really the hard truth, most probably no Indian Muslim would have dared to raise voice on it. And this is just a part of the issue. Where bias, discrimination and prejudice are concerned, Muslims are not the only ones who face this. Within all religious communities, including Hindus and Muslims, certain ethnic barriers prevail. What else explains continuation of reservation at various levels in government jobs and educational institutions, primary beneficiaries of which are Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.

 Let us not close our eyes to the hard fact that segregation along religion, caste and class lines is still visible in most parts of the country. “Honour killings,” a symbolic condemnation of inter-caste marriages within Hindu community and also of inter-religion marriages, have started hitting headlines only recently. These are just one of the many instances of strong, deep-rooted prejudices and bias restricting interaction among members of different castes. Rural India still stands witness to there being strong, unwritten rules regarding which well is reserved for which community. In village classrooms, it isn’t surprising to find students of different castes being seated separately. Even residential areas in rural as well as urban slum areas and JJ colonies stand marked by which community lives where.

 These points have been deliberately raised here to draw attention to the hard fact that bias prevails in India, but not only against Muslims. Certainly, there are certain issues where Muslims are primarily targeted. These include their being easily branded as terrorists, killed in fake encounters, arrested for no fault of theirs and so forth. The fault herein lies in law & order system, concerned authorities and degree to which these can bend or abuse rules, all for the sake of either a promotion or under some political pressure or due to communal mindset.

 But where bias on issues such as securing residence is concerned, Muslims are not the only sufferers. Even in the capital city, as mentioned earlier, residential demarcation prevails even in slum areas and JJ colonies. It isn’t surprising to find certain lanes occupied only by sweepers, largely Hindus and so forth. Think again, why did Congress legislator Rahul Gandhi made the effort, during his campaign, to spend some time at a Dalit’s residence in Uttar Pradesh. Of course, this may be viewed as nothing else but sheer publicity stunt as part of his electoral campaign. But by taking this step, he conveyed the message that he had no hang-ups about visiting Dalits, a community that still suffers discrimination from higher caste Hindus.  

Besides, this problem is not confined to only Hindus as caste factor has affected Indian Muslims too. In certain Muslim-dominated areas, it isn’t difficult to find localities, with different classes, that is Syeds, Sheikhs, Pathans and others having marked out separate places for themselves. In this context, how can increasing barriers, politically as well as socially, between Shias and Sunnis be missed? Likewise, how can anti-non-Maratha frenzy incited sometime back in Maharashtra be forgotten? The campaign targeted non-Marathas, irrespective of their religion, class and caste linkages. And this brings to light the point that even Delhi is marked by certain colonies known for only Bengali residents, some for Punjabi, a few for Muslims and so forth.  

It may also be noted, the tendency not to easily rent houses to Muslims prevails among conservative Hindus, basically due to cultural differences. The latter are against renting house to a non-vegetarian and also eating or drinking water in the house of a non-vegetarian, out of the cultural fear of their being polluted on ground of their being strict vegetarians. Fear of being “polluted” also prevents them from renting their house to members of their own religious community, belonging to castes which are known to be non-vegetarian.  

There is nothing wrong in taking note of bias Muslims face in India. But it is equally imperative to pay attention to its nature and whether they are only ones who face this. Ignoring this aspect amounts to studying the issue partially, that is adopting a biased approach towards it!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 August 2012 on page no. 11

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