By Kouser Fathima
Even 65 years after independence, Indian Muslims lack a strong political leadership, which would voice their concerns without polarising them. India has the second largest Muslim population in the world and one of the most diverse communities but Indian Muslims are poorly represented by their leaders.
The socio economic condition of Indian Muslims is not very encouraging. Illiteracy, unemployment, and economic backwardness are rampant among Indian Muslims. According to the Sachar Committee Report, 25% of Muslim children in the age group 6-14 are school dropouts. A large population of Muslim households in urban areas can afford to spend less than Rs.500 a month. Only 3% Muslims are selected to serve in the IAS, 1.8% in the IFS and 4% in the IPS. The employment rate of Muslims is only 4.5% in the Railways and 4.5% in the health sector. This work participation rate shows a sharp decline of Muslims in government and PSU jobs. The rate of illiteracy among Muslims has come down to 18.8% in 2009-10 from 36%in 1999-00 but is greater, when compared to the general category Hindus (5.7%). The dropout rates are the highest among Muslims: 67.7% of Muslims access secondary education but thereafter Muslims witness a sharp decline as only 9.8% reach higher secondary schooling and only 4% manage to graduate.
At the time of partition and post-independence, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad worked for the empowerment of Muslims and their inclusion in mainstream society. In 1912, Maulana started a weekly journal called Al-Hilal, which played an important role in forging Hindu-Muslim unity. In mid-1920, he felt the need to reinterpret the Quran in order to remind Indian Muslims about the need to fight against the British in partnership with their Hindu brothers. He developed and encouraged the concept of ‘composite Nationalism’ in which Indian Muslim and nationalist Muslim identities were mutually reinforcing, and Muslims could be both at once. Maulana also experimented with the Madrasa education system and helped in the creation of Madrasa Islamia in Ranchi. He rightly said: “I am proud of being an Indian. I am part of the indivisible unity that is Indian nationality. I am indispensable to this noble edifice and without me this splendid structure is incomplete. I am an essential element, which has gone to build India. I can never surrender this claim.”
Sadly, after Maulana very few Indian Muslim leaders could do justice to this daunting task. Due to vote bank politics, most Muslim leaders became pawns in the hands of political parties. The lure of power overcame their commitment towards community service. Secular parties gave tickets to Muslim leaders, who realised that a gullible community is easy to manage. These Muslim leaders did negligible work in the field of education and employment. Gullible Muslims behaved like a herd of sheep, who blindly followed their leaders without questioning them because of their need for security and safety.
Indian Muslims are a diverse community spread all over the country, with different cultures, languages, economic backgrounds and sects. Muslims from various parts of India did form regional parties as in Kashmir, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Assam. The Muslim community has produced some prominent political leaders such as Ghulam Nabi Azad, Salman Khurshid, Mohsina Kidwai, Farooq Abdullah, Azam Khan, Abu Azmi, Asaduddin Owaisi, to name just a few. But mostly Muslim politicians have sided with secular parties both at the national and state level. As a result, no single leader emerged who could represent the community on a strong platform. While it might be difficult for a single leader to express the aspirations of a diverse community, the alternative is to build regional alternatives which can create an impact on the political equation. For example, Badruddin Ajmal of AIDUF in Assam.
While most Muslim politicians won based on Muslim votes, they were later limited by party politics. No Muslim leader resigned from their respective party post or forced the party to take strong action after any riot or violence against the community (for example, after Gujarat and Muzzafarnagar Riots). Instead, most of their protests were in the form of long speeches or empty slogans.
Global political changes and Islamphobia have made it easy for Muslims to be targeted and victimised. In India, the weakening of secular parties, and the consequent rise of the BJP, has put additional burden on Muslims. In this context, Indian Muslims need a strong leader like Kanshi Ram, who worked with Dalits to make them a strong political force. He selflessly worked for the empowerment of the Dalit community. He followed an inclusive policy without further polarising them.
On the contrary, Muslim politicians try effortlessly to isolate and polarise the community. The Azam Khan fiasco after the Dadri incident (in which Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched) is a good example. He declared that he would approach the United Nations. Although Dadri was deplorable, his announcement was strongly criticised as it suggested that Muslims have lost confidence in the Indian state.
Most Muslim leaders are in news for silly comments and petty politics. Every controversy exposes how weak and vulnerable Muslims are as a community. While Muslims are constantly questioned on their loyalty and nationalism, our esteemed politicians shamelessly try to milk these controversies. The controversy regarding ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ is an example of this. The slogan was used by politicians like Owaisi and Abu Azmi to convey that Muslims were not willing to say BMKJ. Then they tried to use the situation for political mileage. Surprisingly the controversy faded away within days, leaving people wondering about the motive behind raising the issue.
The Indian Muslim community now needs to stop depending on their political leaders. Instead of running behind these political parties, the community should rather focus on education, employment and empowerment of their youth. The result will be an educated economically strong community after whom all the political parties would run. This is not an easy task; it’s not impossible though. The community must back itself up and stop looking toward political leaders to improve their quality of life.
Dr. Kouser Fathima is a Bangalore-based dentist who writes on issues concerning women, especially Muslim women. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @drkf_18
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