Indian Muslims: Identity Crisis?

Who is to be blamed for the impression held about Indian Muslims suffering from an “identity-crisis,” which is partly linked with their “ghetto-type” mentality? Before probing into this view, it would be relevant to analyze the degree to which Indian Muslims really suffer from an identity-crisis. In fact, the present period is reflective of their becoming more conscitious about asserting their religious identity. What else is indicated by Bollywood actors giving greater importance than before in using Islamic greetings as well as phrases such as “Subhan Allah?” Of course, Bollywood is not the only area where success achieved by Indian Muslims cannot be missed. They are not far behind in sports and games, including cricket. The same can be said about heights reached in fields such as academics, politics, bureaucracy, business and even media also, among numerous others. So, would it be fair to associate success of Indian Muslims with “ghetto-mentality” linked with them? It may be mentioned here that significant numbers of Indian Muslims who have achieved success in their respective fields are fairly strongly conscious about their religious identity.

Well, rather than limiting this analysis to only heights reached by celebrities such as India’s missile-man, former President APJ Abdul Kalam and others, it would be appropriate to include Muslims of other classes too. Signs such as 786 on three-wheelers, the skull-caps worn religiously by quite a significant number particularly on Fridays, the time taken out by most, including tailors, shopkeepers for Friday prayers and Iftar during Ramzan, cannot be missed. Now, should the success of these Indian Muslims be linked with the “ghetto-mentality” they are assumed to have? It may be pointed out that whether these Muslims are tailors, hair-dressers, meat-sellers or engaged in other professions, they have many more non-Muslim customers than Muslims. Just as Muslim film stars’ success would not have reached great heights were their fans confined to only Muslims. The same stands for Muslims in other areas too. So if this success is linked to their “ghetto-mentality,” the term also applies to all responsible for the same, including their fans as well as customers.

In other words, prior to accepting the label – “ghetto-mentality” – it is pertinent to probe into what does it really suggest. While using the label, little importance was apparently given to successful Indian Muslims, from top to grassroots. The same people also gave practically no attention to Indian Muslims being positively assertive about their religious identity. In fact, this tendency is prevalent among majority of all Indians, irrespective of their religious identity. It would be erroneous to hold religious consciousness and/or pride of any Indian, whether a Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Sikh or of any other religion, as suggestive of his/her “ghetto-mentality.”

Of course, herein arises the question of why have only Indian Muslims been perhaps deliberately chosen for being linked with a “ghetto-mentality?” There may have been some logic in this labelling if only Indian Muslims across the country were lagging behind in literacy, belonging to impoverished sections and/or conservative in their approach. Indian Muslims constitute less than 14 percent of the country’s population. As per the World Bank estimates, more than 40 percent of the total Indian population lives below the global poverty line. Statistically, all the Indian Muslims do not belong to poor classes. Even if they were viewed as such, greater percentage than Indian Muslims would still belong to the impoverished classes. It would be pertinent to view other problems linked with Indian Muslims, including illiteracy from the same lens.

The tendency to instantly link terrorism with so-called “ghetto-mentality” of Indian Muslims has in recent past been shattered by several right-wing, Hindu extremists being held for a series of terrorist-incidents.

True, there are elements among Indian Muslims as well as non-Muslims who have yet to catch up with progress made by other citizens. This aspect, however, is more strongly linked with regional, class and ethnic norms demanding priority from them. As for instance, female infanticide, dowry-deaths and other such problems are not linked with Islam or Muslims. If they still prevail in certain areas, laxity in law and order system is to be blamed as much as the people – whatever be their religious identity – practicing the same. The label – “ghetto-mentality” – can be used for these sections too.

Overall, today’s Indian Muslim gives no impression of suffering from any identity-crisis. The community is moving ahead, gradually but definitely as a part of the national mainstream. The question of his/her having any “ghetto-mentality” has no relevance from any angle. Considering the importance he/she gives to interaction with non-Muslims, whether as a politician, tailor, academic or in any other field, the term “ghetto-mentality” does not fit in. In this context, the term was apparently stamped on the Indian Muslim without probing into its relevance. It would perhaps not be wrong to hold  those who indulge in such mindless labelling as suffering from an identity-crisis, which may be linked to their own “ghetto-mentality.”