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June 12, 2011

Page: 10/38

Home > 2011 Issues > June 12, 2011

The Moving Finger Writes
Minorityism : A reflection of national disunity

By MV Kamath

THERE are some uncomfortable issues facing the nation today that deserve attention. One of them is minorityism that keeps haunting the country every now and then and one which is a source of embarrassment to those in power. Should one think in terms of minorityism at all? Do we, for example, need a Ministry for Minorities at the Centre? Are Muslims truly a ‘minority’ in the country? According to the 2001 Census, Muslims constituted about 13.4 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion population or just over 138 million. In an estimation done around 2005-2006, the Muslim population then was 157 million. Granted that the Muslim population is very unevenly spread, numerically, it is quite substantial.

But the point is made that it is not adequately represented whether in the Lok Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies and even in the administrative structure. Of the 920 candidates who cleared the 2010 Civil Services examinations, 31 were Muslim or about three per cent of the total number of candidates. Who is to be blamed for that? The Government of India? Hindus? The point is made that the poor representation of Muslims stands out starkly when compared to the performance of candidates belonging to other so-called ‘disadvantaged groups’. Thus, the 2010 list included 148 candidates from the Scheduled Castes groups, constituting around 16 per cent of the finalists or roughly the same percentage as their share in the country’s population.

Similarly, of the 920 candidates there were 74 from the Scheduled Tribes. Surely, the Examining body is not discriminating against the Muslim community? According to Oasam Imam, head of Burhani College’s Urdu Department, there is, among Muslim students, a lack of awareness about Civil Service examinations. As he put it: “Young people in the Muslim community, do not get a sense of how important services like IAS and IPS are in the administration”. But, according to a former (now retired) Muslim IAS officer, Muslim candidates suffer at the viva voce (interviews) because of “prejudice”. According to him “it may not be something against particular candidates but rather a disproportionate favouring of certain kinds of candidates”. That sounds like an extremely unfair remarks, but probably reflects general sentiments in the Muslim community.

Another similar complaint was recently heard at a meeting of the Akhil Bharatiya Beary Parishat held in Mangalore, headquarters of South Kanara district whose Muslim population is around 25 per cent. The complaint was that, population-wise the Karnataka State Legislative Assembly should have 74 Muslim MLAs, when the actual number is far below. But the question may be asked: “How long are we to continue in terms of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ communities?” Can’t Muslims think themselves as Indian first and last and try to become part of the mainstream of Indian life? Can’t Muslims make an effort to get closer to the Hindu community, participate in festivals and other non-Muslim community events, offering leadership, making no differences between one community and another in dress and deportment?

Do Muslim women have to wear the burqa? Do men have to wear a special type of white skull cap that says in effect: “I am a Muslim; I am separate from you”. Granted that not all Muslims observe a prescribed dress code. Granted, too, that a few Muslims do participate in cross-caste and cross-religion social events but the percentage is noticeably low. It is time for all Muslim communities to wake up to reality. For any one community or caste – like the Jats, for instance or the Gurkhas in West Bengal – to demand reservations in this day and age is to make a mockery of democracy. According to Mohammad Hanif, the ABBP president, the use of the word ‘reservations’ is wrong and the proper word to described the seats set aside for Muslims in education and jobs would be “representation”. It is not that Muslims are under-represented throughout the length and breadth of the country. Muslim parties have emerged as a potent political forces in recent Assembly elections in three states, one in Assam,

another in West Bengal and the third in Kerala.

In West Bengal, Muslims won the highest number of seats. The new Assembly will have a record number of 59 Muslim faces, most of them from the Trinamul Congress alliance. They include seven women, several former police officials, judges and civil service activists.

In Kerala, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) was a real winner, capturing 20 out of the 24 seats it contested and thus becoming the second largest party after the Congress that won 38 of the 82 seats it contested. Similarly in Assam, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) led by Badruddin Ajmal emerged as the second largest party winning 18 seats as against the ten seats won by the outgoing opposition Asom Gana Parishad. In Assam, incidentally, Nagaon district has a Muslim population of 51 per cent, Dhubri 74 per cent, Cachar 36.1 per cent and Kamrup 24.8 per cent. in Kerala, Malappuram has a Muslim population amounting to 68.5 per cent and Kasargod 34.5 per cent.

It is evident that where Muslims are in a majority, they vote for a Muslim, just as where Hindus are similarly to be counted, they vote for a Hindu candidate. Will a district with a predominantly Muslim population vote for a Hindu candidate, or vice versa? This calls for an enormous amount of political – and social – sophistication. Will the Congress Party, which presents itself as a secular party, nominate a minority Muslim to stand for elections in a predominantly Hindu electorate? In many urban areas, Muslims live in what are practically ghettos, the people seldom having real live contacts with people of other religions. That is not, to be fair to them, peculiar to Muslims. In many towns in South India it is not unusual to have Brahmin agraharams; this kind of exclusivism has to stop, but it will take time. Even in Mumbai certain landlords do not rent out apartments to non-Hindus. It is a fact of life that has to be admitted—and faced. Meanwhile minorities must make special efforts to be part of the mainstream, howsoever, difficult it may seem. After all, hasn’t the entertainment field shown itself open to all communities, especially in the matter of sports and cinema? Nothing is impossible, given the right kind of leadership which, alas, is presently missing. When inter-caste marriages are frowned, one can’t expect better social interaction among people of different religions. But change has to come, only our political parties must put change at the top of their election priorities. Some hope that!

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