India at 60, Muslims Feel Left Behind
By Mubasshir Ahmed, IOL Correspondent
Singh listed poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and agrarian strife among the challenges still facing India
NEW DELHI — As the Indian tricolor unfurls on the historic 17th-century Mughal-built Red Fort in New Delhi marking the 60th anniversary of independence, many Muslims believe Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s dream of ending "inequality of opportunity" remains a dream.
"Nothing has changed in the last 60 years in the sense that in 1947 my grandfather was a powerloom laborer. Sixty years have elapsed we are still the same," Sajid Khan told IslamOnline.net on Thursday, August 15.
At the stroke of midnight on August 14, 1947, Nehru delivered his famous speech Tryst with Destiny.
"It is a fateful moment for us in India," he said eloquently, speaking of an "unending quest" and future.
"The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity."
While India has since became a heavyweight political, military and economic power, some sections of its society remain lagging behind.
"I don’t understand what you are saying," Khan said when asked about India’s nine percent economic growth rate.
"I measure growth in terms of equity Where is equity? We are not even paid the minimum wages fixed by the government," he lamented.
"Independence means nothing to me."
In a speech from the ramparts of Red Fort to mark the independence anniversary, Premier Manmohan Singh listed poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and agrarian strife among the challenges ahead.
"We need at least a decade of hard work and of sustained growth to realize our dreams. We have to bridge the many divides in our society and work with a unity of purpose."
Aftab Ansari, a hawker selling plastic Indian flags in the streets on the eve of Independence Day, is no less disgruntled.
"What Freedom and what Independence? I only sell patriotism once a year to my fellow countrymen," the 17-year-old told IOL.
Many Indian Muslims feel insecure in their home country.
"Indian Muslims are going through a terrible phase," Javed Anand, the co-editor of Communalism Combat, told IOL.
"Fifteen percent of India’s population still feels insecure. The findings of Sachar Committee report have been really shocking."
The Sachar Committee looked into the socio-economic and educational backwardness of Muslims in the country and suggested various remedial measures.
The recommendations included setting up educational facilities, modernization of madrasahs, creation of job opportunities and steps to increase the community's representation in public services.
Anand is skeptical the findings would be implemented.
"Unfortunately, track record of the ruling government has not been very reassuring," he recalled.
"It is behaving like any other previous government. Let’s keep our fingers crossed."
Mufti Mohammad Ismail, the chief of a newly floated political party called Indian Muslim Congress, regretted what Indian Muslims have come to.
"Muslims ruled India for almost 1000 years. It was our culture and heritage," he told IOL.
"There was a time when we were rulers and used to sit on thrones. Today things have come to such a pass that jail is the only place where we outnumber other communities," Ismail lamented.
"We fare poor economically. Eighty percent of Muslims are living below the poverty line. There was a time when we were the leaders in academics but now we are being led by others."
There are some 140 million Muslims in Hindu-majority India, the world's third-largest Muslim population after those of Indonesia and Pakistan.
Muslims complain of decades of social and economic neglect and oppression.
Official figures reveal Muslims log lower educational levels and higher unemployment rates than the Hindu majority and other minorities like Christians and Sikhs.
They account for less than seven percent of public service employees, only five percent of railways workers, around four percent of banking employees and there are only 29,000 Muslims in India's 1.3 million-strong military.
Mufti Ismail said Muslims were the true champions of India's struggle for independence.
"When British came here, it was the beginning of the age of slavery. We had been fighting for the independence of India since 17th century," he said.
"Hindus joined us only in the 20th century."
He complained that Muslims are not being given their respective rights.
"The descendents of the last Mughal King Bahadur Shah Zafar are begging on the streets of Kolkata. The family members of the martyred Tipu Sultan are rickshaw-pullers today.
"The widow of Abdul Hameed, who sacrificed his life in defense of the country, is on the brink of committing suicide. These are the people whose families have fought for the Independence of India. Government’s indifference is a class apart."
Indian Muslims complain of decades of social and economic neglect and oppression.
But Anand, the co-editor of Communalism Combat, also reserved harsh words for Muslim politicians.
"Muslim legislators are busy wasting their time in raking up fastidious issues which don’t have anything to do with the progress of Indian Muslims," he said.
He cited the recent attack on Bengali writer Taslima Nasreen, infamous for her anti-Islam writings, at a press conference last week in Hyderabad.
Television footage showed Muslim state lawmakers and activists hitting Nasreen with flowers and threatening to lob chairs.
"At a time when institutional bias has crept in our system, Muslim legislators are making a mockery of themselves," said Anand.
Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen leader-cum-legislator Akbaruddin Owaisi has been accused of "intimidation" after suggesting Nasreen could be killed if she returned to Hyderabad, a claim which he has denied.
"Muslims have become victims of the promises made by professional mullahs acting as agents of political parties," an angry Shamim Tariq, a researcher and columnist, told IOL.
"Muslims should be aware of the enemies within. Right-wing Hindu parties and ideologues pale in comparison to the enemies within," he argued.
Tariq spoke of two sects of enemies within.
"One is religious and acts as the mediator of political class and other is irreligious lot which takes pride in attacking Islam."
Navaid Hamid, a member of the National Integration Council of the central government, said young Indian Muslims were looking for direction.
"Young Muslim generation feels excited due to the pace of development," Hamid told IOL.
"At the same time, they strongly feel that they are being sidelined in governance; so there is a sense of confusion: what to do now?"
Hamid said young Indian Muslims have a strong desire to be part of the nation to serve this country.
"They feel that there should be equal share of opportunity in every walk of life. More than 55 percent of India’s population consists of youths and they are the big asset for the country.
"The Muslim community should be utilized for a strong, vibrant nation and a pluralistic society."
Hamid warned that young Muslims are being targeted for no fault of their own.
"Whenever some terrorist activity happens in the country, fingers are pointed towards them. There is an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. This is very harmful for any harmonious and pluralistic society."
Ilyas Siddiqui, a historian, believes that self-help is the best help.
"Sixty years ago, our own struggle and striving was beneficial for us," he told IOL.
"Even today we should follow the path of self-help by way of the concept of civil society. This is the biggest principle. There is no need to be dependent on anybody not even government."
Mufti Ismail has his hopes in secular-minded Hindus.
"In India, the world’s largest democracy, there are a number of secular Hindus who genuinely strive for the welfare of the Muslim community," he told IOL.
"They believe that India cannot progress as long as its largest minority is lagging behind. They know that such progress will be a lop-sided progress and not a real progress," added the Muslim politician.
"We must strengthen their hands."