Indian Muslims At Grassroots

Paradoxically, of late, a lot of noise has been made about Indian Muslims at grassroots. But, in essence, has any attempt really been made to understand their national, political as well as religious identity? Frankly speaking, they appear to have figured nowhere in numerous conferences, conventions and other gatherings which have been organised of late with greater frequency than in the past. It would also be incorrect to assume that their significance is confined to statistics. This is simply because, as a rudimentary survey indicates, quite a number of them do not have voter’s ID cards. A significant percentage of those on the electoral lists have rarely voted, either because they have not given it much importance or during elections they have not been in constituencies from where they are supposed to cast their votes. This also implies that socially Muslims at grassroots have far more importance than statistics actually suggest.

They don’t need any diplomatic assurance from United States Special Representatives such as Farah Pandith or lip service from the country’s political elite. Pandith was here on a short visit as a part of her job to reach out to Muslim communities in different parts of the world. One is only left wondering as to how many Indian Muslims, she interacted with here, really represented the community. Literally none. Certainly, her visit carried some importance as a part of US diplomatic drive to improve the US administration’s shattered image among Muslims. She tried to  convey a message of reconciliation during her brief addresses at a few conferences here and there. The gatherings, comprising of educated and elite sections, heard her but by and large, her visit carried little significance for Indian Muslims at the grassroots. Besides, it had little influence in changing the opinion of even Indian Muslims who attended her conference. She came, delivered the message and went. And that was it.

Even if Muslims at grassroots learnt about Pandith’s visit through the media, they probably weren’t too bothered about her “mission” being to reach out to them. Why should they? The Indian Muslim at the grassroots, viewed as down-trodden, backward and also illiterate, has learnt from his/her own struggles of life about how to move on- keeping his/her religious identity intact. This is clearly indicated by the number of mosques located in most Muslim-dominated areas, which may be populated by largely socially and economically backward classes. Also, when it is festival (Eid) time, a remarkable gaiety is visible in these narrow, clustered lanes with religious-fervour literally adding a new zeal to their life-styles.

Yes, these are typical Indian Muslims at the grassroots who have not waited for the government or high flying visitors to fulfill their promises. They are not waiting for concerned authorities to start taking action on findings and proposals outlined by various commissions formed by government on issues concerning them. Their confidence in their religious identity has not been decided by movies such as “My Name Is Khan.” Not surprisingly, their areas are dotted by a number of “halal” meat shops and also non-vegetarian dhaba-type eateries. Their business-joints, though fairly small in size, loudly display their names, be it: “Khan Auto-Works,” “Salim Tailors,” “Mohd. Carpenters” and so forth. The message is simple, loud and clear. The Indian Muslims at grassroots are proudly and confidently taking care of their economic life and also making sure that their religious identity stands out prominently.

Even before the government and elite sections became aware about their socio-economic problems, the Indian Muslims at grassroots learnt about how to handle the same. In other words, they have smartly not allowed themselves to stagnate till the so-called leaders reached out to them with their “promises.” Rather, having accepted and understood that education after a point was not likely to guarantee them jobs, they ventured to take to professions which would assure them and their family members a regular income. What is remarkable about these Muslims at grassroots is that they have also paid ample attention to promoting their religious values. This point is being deliberately made as in certain sections there is the perception about “poor” Indian Muslim minority community lacking confidence. Well, it is time that this perception was corrected. If Indian Muslims lacked confidence and suffered from some kind of fear-complex, the Eid and also Friday-prayers would not have witnessed such large numbers collecting together. Nor would the areas strongly populated by Muslims at the grassroots also been marked by a significant number of mosques. They have created a niche for themselves in society by their own socio-economic and religious fervour, with ample confidence and pride in their identity as Indian Muslims. It is time, elites such as Farah Pandith, Bollywood stars and other leaders gave some importance to understanding this message from Indian Muslims at the grassroots!      

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 March 2010 on page no. 14

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