What can Muslim Indians do for themselves?

By Syed Shahabuddin,

Individually and collectively Muslim Indians nurse deep grievances against the state, particularly the executive and the administration. In this state of mind they are excited by any fresh instances of denial of religious identity which they regard as step towards slow and steady assimilation and feel aggrieved when their dignity as a community is trampled. Not always articulate, when they do not receive just or equal treatment in any field, they are particularly angry when the government and the administration fail to protect their lives, honour and property.

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As a community, they are often profiled as terrorists and not infrequently many Muslim youths are apprehended, detained without cause, tortured to extract confession and prosecuted. Sometimes, communal violence turns into pogroms with the open collusion of state machinery. Living in a democratic regime, they charge the people in power with failure to safeguard their constitutional and legal rights, prevent or remedy discrimination and give them their due share in the distribution of the fruits of social, educational and economic development. They generally feel that they are apathetic, insensitive and even hostile, treat them as step-children and largely eat them stew in their own juice, in their hovels and slums frustrated and without hope.

The average Muslim lives in a state of fear and insecurity and is afraid to take any individual or group initiative to press his legitimate claim, as if he has lost all his will and capacity. Sometimes, with political intervention, the power structure is shamed into doing something to pacify their anger but even such action is undertaken halfheartedly. So, it fails to satiate his anxiety. Common Muslims, shout and cry, beat their breast and in private curse their fate, abuse the government and the politicians, blame the hostile forces, the ‘Janasangh mentality’, the ‘bad Hindu’. But they are convinced that such mentality permeates all level,lurks behind many masks and screens and they know they cannot change it. Sometimes when pushed to the wall, in desperation unable to publicly articulate their feelings, their frustration mounts to alienation.

Many citizens who believe in the secular order and are conversant with the growing schism between the state and the biggest minority group are inclined to sympathise and take up its cause and charge government and administration with neglect and acts of omission and commission. But, even such friends are inclined to respond that the Muslim themselves are largely to be blamed for their backwardness; they do not send their children to schools, they do not seek more remunerative occupations, their womenfolk waste their time, they do not participate in people’s movement or even take to democratic and peaceful agitation, for their right to share in progress and development. Thus, they fall behind in the race and find their place at the end of the queue. There are many small things that the community can do for itself, something in its own neighbourhood. Why should it waste its time and energy in criticism and in meaningless confrontation or conflict? Why has it become so sensitive to take offence at anything, which it could well ignore.

There is an element of truth in these friendly observations and advice. However, the common Muslims are so emotionally charged that even these statements appears to them as if the blame for their backwardness, deprivation and humiliation is sought to be shifted to them and the power structure, which has undoubtedly ill-treated them for 60 years, absolved and given a clean chit.

Government alone has Power and Resources

The reality is that in a developing country, government and administration alone have the power and resources to uplift the deprived, provide relief and rehabilitation in situations of distress, massively invest in social and economic development, and in a multi segmented society, give due share to all sections, to provide education and employment, to eliminate hostile discrimination, to protect the weak in social conflicts, to give hope of justice to the victims. No one else can match their authority. But the Muslims must realize that it is not only they but nearly 80% of the people feel that 60 years of democracy and growth has passed them by, without any movement of Social Justice. People no doubt have the right to vote. When election comes, they are in demand by the political parties and by their leaders and candidates. But, after the elections all other groups except those who form the core social constituencies of major political parties are neatly forgotten, though,the others may receive a morsel or two from time to time from the tables of power; some programmes and schemes may be formulated to make them happy and satisfy them. But all people know, and so do the Muslims, that nothing really changes. This is primarily because state power is essentially monopolized by the dominant groups and the state resources, are largely used for their comfort and progress. The political and electoral systems are so designed that the masses can exercise no real control to correct the course of politics and governance. What is worse, the administration is manned by the same groups. So, a combination of political , economic and social power gives just 20% of the people not only control over national resources but also the authority to determine the course and content of development. So the country progresses but the disparities widen.

In this situation, when there is no participation by the people in governance and the state is apathetic, what initiatives can the 80% of the people including the Muslims take? They live on a daily expenditure of Rs. 20, economically categorized as extremely poor, very poor, poor and ‘vulnerable’, They live from hand to mouth and wage a daily battle to keep their body and soul together. They have no surplus to meet even their basic human needs. How can such dehumanized people muster energy or stamina or time for their uplift and development or think of future of their children or assert their democratic and human rights.

The real problem is that the people with such low level of income and no social security umbrella, can never accumulate savings to invest in tomorrow while they shuttle between their gutter and the beautiful world outside, which they only enter for petty jobs.

But the remaining 20% who constitute the ‘rising and shining’ middle income and high income groups, the elite, live extravagant lives whose glamour adorns the mass media. They have little compassion, living in their ivory towers for those who wade through filth and squalor right outside their mansions and clubs, whose existence has been drained of all human meaning. It serves no purpose to promise them eloquently a new dawn of Democracy, Secularism and Social justice, and the glorious future that awaits everyone at the end of the rainbow. Politics based on the Preamble, the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principle of State Policy become a shell without substance. Proclamations to respect human rights calls for inclusive and universal development , guarantees of minimum welfare and fulfillment of minimum demands of human dignity is seen as hypocrisy and deceit.

My conclusion therefore, is that the people in general and the Muslims in particular cannot generate the minimum savings needed to take a meaningful step towards meeting their basic needs.

Yet There is Some Hope…

Yet, there is some hope, the community should not totally ignore the fact that slow and half-hearted efforts have been made by the Indian state to eliminate poverty, to generate employment, to expand education and to protect the weak against the oppression and injustice. In the long run this should open new opportunities for those who have fallen behind. Nor should Muslims lose sight of the fact that the people of India share a common destiny and that whatever the historical antipathies if the country goes a forward, the Muslims cannot be left totally behind. Nor, the hope that eventually they shall get a fair deal. In the meantime, if they try, they may also get some attention from and some promise from the powers that be.

The Muslims cannot absolve the state of its duties and responsibilities nor can they depend totally on it.

But new groups are emerging within the Muslim society to press for accelerating their progress and for doing whatever they can for themselves.

Agents of Development:

The first is the younger generation literate and conscious, which shall in course of time throw up new spokesmen and new leaders which will store knowledge about the overall national progress, the development plans, programmes and schemes and will not hesitate to knock at the right door repeatedly and patiently to access the administration for their due share. They will not be easily silenced nor overlooked, nor purchased nor ignored. They will receive some satisfaction, albeit in a small measure, e.g. under priority schemes such as the one to put every child in a primary school, through the community must itself ensure that the children do not drop out until they have done high school and then acquire a marketable skill and a certificate in hand to find a means of livelihood. They shall see to it that all those living in slums and villages are not bypassed by the public distribution system or by social security schemes. Some may defy pressure of their parents to start working at an early age and to support them. This age group of 10-25 is our precious investment for the future and can serve as the agents of development and change.

It may be noted that I am not highlighting the role of the professional politicians or the religious functionaries. No doubt, the community leans on them and seeks their support from time to time in situation of distress, when they have no one to turn to. But it well knows that the religious and political class are both parasitical. The first eats into its meagre resources to run ita institutions. The political class is too close to the power structure to speak for them. It acts as the ‘dalal’. Higher up, today the common Muslim is almost as wary and unhappy with the Muslim political leaders who remain silent spectators in legislatures and within their parties, and are too compromised to press governments.

The second category is a part of the middle and high income groups, the prosperous face of the Community. Increasingly they have broken through hurdles and made progress despite inbuilt handicaps. Many of them have migrated from villages to towns. Many receive remittance from their people outside India. Many have invested wisely, with government and bank loans to develop their urban properties. Some have even benefitted from government schemes to build commercial and mini-industrial enterprises. We have no count but there must be innumerable persons of means in the community.

Unfortunately, most of them maintain a distance from the poor and the unfortunate Economic gap also produce a social gap. But, there are also many who remember their past and who have the inner urge to help others, who can be motivated to give their time and energy and even resources, to help those who wish to climb aboard out of the slime of poverty. They infuse a hope that the community can indeed do something for itself. Thus, the younger generation of Muslim Indians specially those who have educational and economic profile are the future hope. They learnt the hard way how to struggle against the odds to operate the system and are prepared to help those who are eager to join.

Resources for Development:

In addition to the above, undoubtedly there are lakhs of well-to-do Muslims, who are orthodox and pay ‘Zakat’. Some of them, though, not all, shun extravagance and live austerely and moderately, to set apart a part of earning for’ sadaqat’, which have no prescribed limit. They are God–fearing and community-conscious. However largely Zakat gravitates towards ostensibly religious purposes like repair and construction of masjids and madrasas and there is little appreciation of the role that Zakat can play as the instrument to meet the collective need of the community to create a Muslim-friendly social environment. Thus to achieve a larger and higher social purpose. What we need is to make the middle class conscious that each mohalla, town and district can have a local Zakat Fund to meet both individual needs and the larger social purpose. The Zakat Fund account should be transparent and open to inspection by all contributors. This will attract all charitable persons to donate more of their savings for common welfare.

Resources can also be generated if the rich elite practice austerity in personal living, shun lavishness and show-off. Particularly they can avoid spending crores on marriages and other family occasions. Indeed good Muslim who regard wealth as divine trust cannot spend merely to satisfy their ego. To help real and long term collective needs of the community through selfless donation may be perhaps more meritorious in the eyes of Allah than performing Haj or Umra repeatedly

Other means of enlarging the savings are available through investment of frozen or surplus capital in equity/mutual funds or shares or in interest free banking. The Remittances from the Muslim Diaspora, after fulfilling minimum needs should be similarly invested and their savings utilized for generating more productive resources.

A great and persistent loss for the Community throughout 60 years has been the massive denial of public and private employment due to bias and prejudice and traditional caste affinities. In the absence of reservation in public recruitment, it has lost at least 10% share in the total emoluments and pensions paid by the govrnment which would amount to hundreds of thousands of crores every year

, If it is realized that at least 75% of total government expenditure goes towards payment of salaries, wages, allowances and pensions. If the Muslims had the share of public and private employment, resources flowing regularly and directly into the community would have changed its face its living and and economic pattern. Today, the Muslims share is of the order of 2-3%. So, through universal mobilization it must secure reservation at every level, its priority, at any cost.

A magnificent but unutilized internal resource that the Community possesses are the wakf properties which are often situated in urban areas and their commercial development can generate substantial resources for the community for development, particularly for education and mini-enterprises.

Finally, the Community should receive its due share in the award of government contracts, licences and supply and distribution agreements which are often manipulated and monopolised by the upper classes for their kin.

The short point is that whatever internal resources and savings are available they should be utilized with perception of collective responsibility and common weal, beyond purely religious purposes and family responsibilities, for example, relief and assistance at the time of natural and manmade calamities, supporting professional training and education, instituting Scholarship Fund for the coming generation.

Leaders of Change:

To operationalise all these, the Community needs a pool of experienced, dedicated, knowledgeable and trustworthy leaders at all levels from the village to the state who will rise above all sectarian fissures,caste cleaveges and political differences and manage all local religious institutions like Wakf, estates, Masjids with attached Maktabas, Qabristana, Madrasas and schools. This experience will enable young leaders at every level to suggest suitable changes in policies, programmes and plans through elected representatives and political parties and to push them to press the government and the administration to implement existing schemes and listen to complaints and grievances. Importantly, the local leaders of the Community must form Information and Facilitation Centres in all blocks and districts in order to monitor the share of the Community in the fruits of development, to inform it of various schemes and programmes, assist the eligible to file applications in time and following them up. Such Centre can be easily managed by a handful of dedicated young men who will acquire not only self satisfaction but confidence to take up bigger objective in future. All young activists who manage schools , masjids, qabristan, information centres or credit societies can pool their experience, rope in retired administrators, educators, legislators and officers even politicians to form and register NGO. At the state or national level they can tie up with various organizations of national eminence like the AIMMM, JUH, JIH, and human rights bodies.

Critical Role of Muslim Youth:

The younger generation, particularly those who are graduates, must participate in political and social activities of national interest. When the need arises, these local leaders will have the capacity to mobilize the whole community in support of national or Community demands. Such participation shall enable them to advise the electorate, at the time of elections whom it should vote for.

The new leadership, backed by self-confidence and consciousness of legitimacy, which enjoys the trust of the people and institutional support in terms of manpower and resource can achieve wonders, it can enforce the government and administration to ensure that no one in the community who is eligible under any scheme remains untouched and uncared for.

To sum up, the Community must recognize its inherent capacity and its inbuilt strength, mobilize its human and financial resources and despite shocks and disappointments, participate in the National March towards Progress and Development. If it remains an idle or dazed spectator, the caravan of progress will not wait for it but pass it by, adding to its sense of victimhood and increasing its distance from those who are at its head.