India’s Human Development Report 2011 cites only a minuscule improvement in the socio-economic status of Muslims in India compared with other excluded groups. Ayesha Pervez explores the government’s response to this situation and explains why the extreme deprivation and exclusion of Muslims continues despite these measures
The Planning Commission’s India Human Development Report 2011, which came out recently, focuses on SC/STs and Muslims. But the report has not looked at social development holistically; rather it has focused on a few indicators like income poverty, education, employment, health and infrastructure, giving us only a partial picture of the status of these excluded communities. The findings can, however, be used to assess the quantitative impact of various flagship programmes meant for excluded groups.
As regards Muslims, though the report shows improvement on a few indicators, the increase has been marginal and rate of growth still much lower than for SC/STs. The situation is more or less the same as that articulated by the Sachar Committee report. There is a high concentration of Muslims in urban areas, making the incidence of poverty more visible there. According to the report, in 2007-08, 23.7% of Muslims in urban areas and 13.3% in rural areas, were poor. Compared to SC/STs and other social and religious groups, urban poverty is highest amongst Muslims, and rural poverty amongst Muslims is also higher than that of other religious groups and other backward classes (OBCs).
The rate of decline in poverty has also been the slowest among the Muslim community (from 1993-4 to 2007-8): urban poverty has only declined 1.7 points, whereas for the SC/ST community urban poverty has declined by 28.2 points and 19.5 points respectively.
We see a similar trend with literacy figures when we compare 2004-5 with the 2007-8 reference period of the report. Urban literacy in general (from 1999-2000 to 2007-8) has increased from 69.8% to 75.1% and rural literacy from 52.1% to 63.5%. However, if we compare the rate of increase of literacy amongst Muslims with other social and religious groups, it is the lowest. Urban literacy in the SC group has increased by 8.7 points and among the ST group by 8 points. Among Muslims, it has increased only by 5.3 points.
Likewise health indicators: the decrease in the under-5 mortality rate for Muslims between 1998-9 and 2005-6 is 12.7 points whereas it is 31.2 for SCs and 30.9 for STs.
Such a gap in the rate of decrease in poverty, illiteracy, infant mortality rate (IMR), etc, when compared to other social and religious groups, reiterates the Sachar Committee’s findings that the socio-economic status of the Muslim community is not improving at the same rate as other social and religious groups.
The Sachar Committee report of 2006 was the first of its kind with reference to the Muslim community. It revealed the extreme deprivation of Muslims in India and the low status the community has been relegated to, coupled with other exclusionary situations of violence, insecurity, identity crisis, discrimination in the public sphere, suspicion from other communities, and being branded ‘unpatriotic’.
Let us revisit the major findings of the Sachar Committee report -- Muslims record the second highest incidence of poverty, with 31% of people below the poverty line, following SC/STs who are the most poor with a Head Count Ratio (HCR) of 35%. Not only was the literacy rate for Muslims far below the national average in 2001 but the rate of decline in illiteracy has also been much lower than among SC/STs. According to the Sachar Committee’s findings, 25% of Muslim children in the 6-14 age-group either never went to school or else dropped out at some stage.
In no state of the country is the level of Muslim employment proportionate to their percentage in the population -- in West Bengal where Muslims constitute 25% of the population, the representation in government jobs is as low as 4%. Not only do Muslims have a considerably lower representation in government jobs, including in public sector undertakings, compared to other excluded groups, Muslim participation in professional and management cadres in the private sector is also low. Their participation in security-related activities (for example in the police) is considerably lower than their population share at 4% overall. Other figures on Muslim representation in civil services, state public service commissions, railways, department of education, etc, are equally appalling.
A report by the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission, which came out in 2007, further emphasised the deplorable condition of Muslims on socio-economic indicators and strengthened the findings, arguments and recommendations of the Sachar Committee report.
These statistics show that Muslims have been denied equal participation in the development process (evident from poverty and discrimination indicators), have been denied fair and equal access to justice in the case of both targeted violence during communal riots as well as day-to-day identity-based discriminatory practices in accessing rights and entitlements.
In this scenario, it is important to reflect on the response of the Indian state in addressing the exclusion and whether the human rights of this group are being protected within a strong policy and legal framework. It is also important to reflect on how Muslims use the democratic space being provided to India’s citizens by the Constitution to articulate their demands and defend their human rights.
Government’s response to socio-economic indicators for Muslims
1 Exclusion from development schemes and non-implementation of policy suggestions
Following the Sachar Committee report, the government launched its flagship programme -- the Multi-Sectoral Development Programme (MSDP) -- in 2008, aimed at upgrading infrastructure in 90 minority concentration districts (MCDs) spread over 20 states of India (1) where minorities comprise 25% or more of the population. These 90 MCDs have been identified throughout the country and are relatively backward, falling behind the national average in terms of indicators for socio-economic and basic amenities. Under the MSDP, district-specific plans focus on provision of better infrastructure for schools and secondary education, sanitation, pucca housing, drinking water and electric supply, besides beneficiary-oriented schemes to create income-generating activities.
The exclusion of Muslims is evident in the planning, design and implementation of the Multi-Sectoral Development Programme. The government has failed to make Muslims a target group and brought the scheme in under the larger umbrella of “minorities”, despite the findings and recommendations of the Sachar Committee report that the Muslim community needed targeted interventions to bring it socially and economically on a par with the mainstream.
Also, the MSDP is flawed inasmuch as it leaves out a large number of Muslims from its schemes by concentrating only on districts which have a minority concentration. Most of the districts in these 90 MCDs have a Muslim concentration of less than 25%. Thus the MSDP covers only 30% of the Muslim population of India, completely ignoring Muslims in non-MCD districts (2). Another major shortcoming is that it takes the district as the unit of planning rather than villages or blocks with minority concentrations, thus making benefits available for all. How does the government justify its claim of improving the condition of its minority populations when Muslims, who constitute the largest minority (almost 70% of the total minority population) and who fare abysmally on socio-economic indicators, are significantly ignored in a development programme meant specifically for minorities?
Even for the small percentage of Muslims who are covered under the MSDP programme, there have not been very positive outcomes. In fact, the community has experienced exclusion in the identification of areas for development, allocation and delivery mechanisms. This identity-based discrimination was highlighted in a recent study by the Centre for Equity Studies (CES) in 2011, entitled ‘Promises to Keep’, which evaluated ‘flagship programmes’ for minority development initiated as a response to recommendations by the Sachar Committee (3). The study, which selected three districts in three states -- South 24 Parganas in West Bengal, Darbhanga in Bihar, and Mewat in Haryana -- says that despite the focus on minority districts, the Muslim community was not benefiting much as officials were often under orders to avoid Muslim villages, hamlets or urban settlements in plans designed by them. As a result, although money from this modestly funded programme is spent on districts with a greater proportion of Muslims, the study found that the programmes selected were neither located in nor benefited Muslim populations. In Mewat district in Haryana -- with a Muslim concentration of 80%, in a state in which Muslims constitute barely 5% of the total population -- there are less than 5,000 Muslim students in secondary school. When the research team visited a Muslim village they found the primary school had “a dilapidated building, barren courtyard and dingy classrooms”. Instead of spending MSDP funds to upgrade the school, the government preferred to spend money on a neighbouring wealthier non-Muslim village. This pattern was repeated in all the other districts the CES team visited. In Darbhanga, under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in 2009-10, 66 new primary schools were opened ostensibly to enhance access for children from minority backgrounds. Curiously, only seven of those were in Muslim-concentrated areas. The Mewat case also establishes that even when funds do go to a district with a high concentration of Muslims, the money fails to reach the community as the authorities’ deep-seated discrimination makes them divert funds to non-Muslim villages!
Further discrimination on the part of the government was highlighted when, in 2010, on the basis of reports and complaints received from the 90 minority-concentrated districts on ineffective implementation and the biased attitude of government officials, the central government appointed 90 national-level monitors to monitor implementation; they could find only seven Muslim monitors out of the 90! The state of Uttar Pradesh, which has the largest Muslim population in the country and the largest number of minority-concentrated districts, has only one Muslim monitor! This bias is well exposed by the Sachar Committee when it talks about discrimination and practices of exclusion in government structures, especially in security-related jobs -- defence, police and security forces -- where the percentage and number of Muslims is highly skewed.
Various key recommendations of the Sachar report share a similar fate. For instance: establishing an equal opportunities commission with a structure and membership along the lines of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to examine and analyse the grievances of deprived groups, and making equal opportunities a legal right; developing a ‘diversity index’, a statistical tool to measure exclusion in specific areas (education, housing, etc) which can be used for inter-institutional comparisons as well as to assess patterns over time which, in turn, will help in policy targeting; enhancing Muslim participation in governance.
Other minority-related schemes like the Prime Minister’s 15-Point Programme covering issues of education, employment, housing and credit have also failed to address Muslim deprivation, or deliver any benefits to poor Muslim communities. The programme is clubbed with existing welfare schemes like the IAY, ICDS, SSA, MGNREGA, etc, wherein it aims to locate a certain proportion of development projects in minority concentration areas and, wherever possible, earmark 15% of target and outlays under these schemes to minorities. Clearly, this suffers from the same drawbacks as the MSDP wherein the unit for planning is the district and projects can be located anywhere, not necessarily in Muslim-concentration areas. Also, vagueness in terms like “certain portion” and “wherever possible” allows ample room for biases to be activated and sustained. Moreover, individual beneficiary schemes like the MGNREGA or SGSY are demand-driven; therefore, 15% does not apply to it in practice.
The recommendations of the Ranganath Mishra Commission report (2007) for 10% reservation for Muslims in central and state government jobs and 6% within OBC quotas for Muslim OBCs, and the inclusion of Muslim and Christian dalits in the scheduled castes list, are yet to be implemented. Many argue that a large section of Muslims is being covered under reservations meant for other backward classes (OBCs). However, Sachar’s report has put paid to that myth. In the context of Muslim OBCs, the committee concluded that their abysmally low representation suggests that the benefits of entitlements meant for the backward classes are yet to reach them. The committee also concluded that “the conditions of Muslims in general are also lower than the Hindu OBCs who have the benefits of reservations”.
The report shows that up to the matriculation level in education, Hindu OBCs trail behind the national average by 5%, while the figure for Muslims in general and OBC Muslims is 20% and 40% respectively. When it comes to education up to the graduate level, general and OBC Muslims trail behind the national average by 40% and 60% respectively. In the field of employment in formal sectors, general and OBC Muslims trail behind the national average by a staggering 60% and 80% respectively. Even in landholdings, Muslims are far below the national average: general Muslims: 40% and Muslim OBCs: 60%, whereas Hindu OBCs is approximately 20% below the national average. Muslims score “better” only in poverty, as general and OBC Muslims are poorer by 30% and 40% respectively than the national poverty level, while Hindu OBCs are less poor by 10%. These statistics highlight how the reservation policy meant for OBCs has not benefited Muslim OBCs and clearly present a case for not bringing development programmes or affirmative actions for Muslims under the larger umbrella of ‘minorities’ and ‘OBCs’. Experience has shown that biases act on and thrive in the face of such blurred and indistinguishable planning in the context where inequality has its grounding in identity politics.
2 Ineffective minorities commission
The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) which was constituted by the Government of India to monitor the development of minorities in India has been ineffective in addressing the grievances and developmental gaps of the Muslim minority and has proved to be a mere symbolic affiliation. If one looks at the minutes of the meetings of the NCM that have taken place in the past 12 months, the actual functioning of the commission seems to be limited largely to issues like investigating complaints of encroachment of land at religious places, restoration of historical heritage buildings, issues related to minority marriage acts, holding seminars on social issues, neglect of Urdu, denial of holidays for a particular minority festival, research studies on minorities, hindrance in observing religious ceremonies, and hurting religious sentiment (4).
The NCM lacks both the financial and political autonomy needed for independent and effective functioning. In 2009-10, its budget was Rs 451 lakh, 72% of which went towards paying salaries (Rs 323.43 lakh). If one looks at the annual plan of action, there are 35 items of work listed to be completed during 2010-11. Most of the work constitutes preparation of annual reports, newsletters, updating of the commission’s website, etc. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and National Human Rights Commission have more political power than the NCM, and they are more independent. Reports from the NCM are not binding on the Government of India and are never tabled in Parliament. The apathy of the Indian state is evident in the fact that, till date, 13 states in India are yet to form state minority commissions (5). It is not surprising that Gujarat, a state where Muslims suffered a state-sponsored genocide in 2002 and are not only victims of communal violence but also of state impunity, is amongst those 13 states.
The NCM clearly does not address the critical issues of socio-economic exclusion and discrimination suffered by Muslims in India as evident from the proceedings of meetings or action taken by the NCM. The commission could have played a pivotal role in evaluating the progress of minorities, especially after the findings of the Sachar Committee. It has also not bothered to properly monitor the MSDP or the Prime Minister’s 15-Point Programme. Three years after these schemes were initiated, the NCM decided this September to present a statement of implementation of the Prime Minister’s 15-Point Programme every month in the commission, that too on the basis of reports from state governments. In relation to recent incidents of communal violence, all that the commission did was to seek reports from the state governments and then prepare its own reports on the events. Submission of reports and statements to the press is all that victims of communal violence could get from the NCM, an institution which was set up as a response to demands from Muslim organisations to check increasing incidents of violence and discrimination against them. In fact, Wajahat Habibullah, chairperson of the NCM, made a shocking statement on the communal violence that occurred in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, on September 14. PTI quotes him as saying: “Our concern is not so much about action against those guilty but restoration of communal harmony and confidence between the communities there. In our view that is most important. In our commission, we regard this as the precious heritage of India which has to be preserved at any cost.” (6) This comment is clearly detrimental to the human rights of the Muslim minority, and for that matter society as a whole, as it negates the pain and suffering of the victims of violence and derides the importance of justice for them. Clearly, for the NCM, justice and reparation do not hold any meaning. It has failed to respond, even symbolically, to the precarious and insecure existence that any community is subject to after targeted violence takes place.
3 Ineffective Ministry of Minority Affairs
Similarly, we see the limitations of the Ministry of Minority Affairs (MoMA) in delivering its mandate. The ministry was constituted in 2006 to improve the socio-economic conditions of minority communities through affirmative action and inclusive development. It is responsible for mainstreaming the minority community, initiating development programmes for the socio-economic uplift of minorities, coordinating between central and state agencies to implement minority-related schemes and programmes, and monitoring and evaluating the same. Since its inception, MoMA has taken some important and innovative steps like setting up the National Commission for Minorities, identifying minority-concentration districts, launching schemes like the MSDP, scholarships for minorities, reviving the Prime Minister’s 15-Point Programme, etc. Even so, it has failed to address the poverty and exclusion of Muslims. We have seen in the above discussion how faulty design exhibiting inequities and discrimination in MoMA’s schemes has deprived the Muslim minority of benefits, and how communal bias has affected delivery mechanisms.
The CES study also looks into the performance of MoMA and highlights its poor functioning. It attributes part of the problem to weak coordination with other central and state departments. The Prime Minister’s 15-Point Programme suffered the most because of this shortcoming: no one actually owns this programme as it only calls for earmarking 15% of outlay and physical targets for minorities in other selected welfare schemes, making it a top-up approach. The study also comments on capacity and ways of functioning where it says, the “ministry is ill-equipped to accept innovative ideas and ways of working, engage creatively with stakeholders to deliver targeted interventions for Muslims”.
What emerges here is that institutions and development programmes meant for minorities have not delivered much by way of addressing the exclusion of Muslims. Indeed, they have reiterated the bias and discrimination Muslims face on a regular basis. There is complete lack of will and commitment on the part of the government to address these issues.
Apart from faring abysmally on development indicators, Muslims live in an insecure environment where they face targeted and communal violence on a regular basis, coupled with day-to-day discrimination in accessing rights and entitlements. Let us reflect on how the government has responded to that.
Reflection on government’s response to rising violence against Muslims
1 Communal violence and ineffective response of the government
Targeted communal violence like the Mumbai and Gujarat riots are heavily publicised. However many lesser-known riots regularly take place in India, the most recent being the Moradabad riots in Uttar Pradesh in August, the Bharatpur riots in Rajasthan in September, and the Rudrapur riots in Uttarakhand in October. If we look closely at these recent cases of communal violence, we see the trend of police complicity wherein they have colluded not only with the dominant community but also with right-wing groups to perpetrate violence against the Muslim minority. The violence in Bharatpur claimed nine lives, all Muslims; 19 of the 23 grievously injured were also Muslims; a mosque was vandalised; and perhaps the most glaring aspect of this incident was that the police fired 219 bullets at the mosque and at Muslims. According to an assessment study done by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, the police colluded not only with the Gujjars but also with local cadres of the RSS, VHP and Bajranj Dal. Police atrocities against the Muslim minority were again evident within three weeks of the Bharatpur violence, when Muslims in Rudrapur (Uttarakhand) went to the police to complain about two incidents of desecration and burning of the Quran within a span of three days. Both times they were sent back with only an assurance that action would be taken against the miscreants. Not only did the police refuse to lodge an FIR, they also took no action against the culprits. When the group of Muslims protested and refused to leave the police station without an FIR being lodged and action taken, the police started a lathi-charge which resulted in stone-pelting by protestors. In response, the police opened fire at the protestors killing four Muslims and injuring many others. A Hindu mob that had gathered during the firing began destroying shops and setting vehicles on fire. According to a report by TwoCircles.net, almost all Muslim shops in the market were looted, torched and destroyed.
An important aspect to be noted here is that, in both incidents, Muslims merely approached the police to demand action instead of behaving as the miscreants had. Instead of controlling the situation by taking immediate action, the police played the role of catalyst in escalating the violence. The police’s response of not only denying justice but actually participating in the rioting against Muslims reiterates the communal bias entrenched in our police machinery. This kind of bias, if unchecked and left unaccounted, increases the level of mistrust felt by the minority towards the justice mechanism, and results in deep scepticism about the state’s protection and justice machinery.
India has faced communal riots since Independence. If we study the justice and reparation process of riots over the last 64 years of independence, we see that on most counts victims have failed to get justice and the perpetrators have never been held accountable in the absence of any strong and exclusive legislative tool to address this violence. In all these cases, existing IPC provisions have proven inadequate in addressing targeted violence.
These limitations have been addressed in the pending Communal Violence (Prevention) Bill. The most remarkable aspect of the proposed legislation is that it holds public servants accountable for their negligent behaviour or wilful failure in controlling riots. An officer can be prosecuted if he fails to act without adequate reason. Not only the complicit officer, his superior officer too can be punished for the omissions/commissions of his subordinate, if it can be proved that the superior had information about the situation and he failed to issue appropriate orders and directions to his subordinate. The bill will also give due rights to victims to be heard during the trial, and make the trial procedure more flexible and victim-friendly. This includes witness protection. Relief, reparation, restitution and compensation become the right of every victim of communal and targeted violence. Compensation and reparation will be in accordance with loss and damage; victims will have to be rehabilitated in their areas, and the state will have to ensure the safety and security of rehabilitated victims. The bill also defines the new offence of sexual assault which goes beyond the narrow definition of rape. Rape requires penile penetration whereas sexual assault includes causing harm to reproductive organs, disrobing a person or compelling a person to undress, exposing one’s sexual organs in front of a person or subjecting them to sexual indignity, exhibiting private parts, and inserting sharp objects into a person’s private parts. The bill also constitutes a National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation and a state authority of the same name whose objective it will be to prevent acts of communal and targeted violence, control the spread of organised communal and targeted violence, monitor due investigation, prosecution and trial of offences, and monitor relief, reparation and restitution in a fair and impartial manner.
The draft bill, which still has to see a debate in Parliament, has been attacked by right-wing groups calling it “anti-Hindu”. What they fail to understand is that Hindu minorities too are covered under the bill in states where they form a minority population. Further, it covers all religious and linguistic minorities in India and scheduled caste and scheduled tribe groups. Under the bill, relief shall be granted to all, including minorities, non-minorities, SCs, non-SCs, STs and non-STs affected by communal and targeted violence. We already have a similar legislative tool in India -- the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act -- which protects particular social groups like dalits and tribals. The new bill has been drafted along similar lines.
Although it’s clear that a specific bill to address communal violence is the need of the hour, whether this one will be translated into a reality is debatable. Any new bill or progressive piece of legislation will have to be executed by the same government and police machinery, institutions and actors that have a deeply entrenched bias against Muslims. It will be a challenge to make the bill effective in the given scenario.
Strong protective legislation is the “right” of the minority community to address targeted violence against them and hold the perpetrators and failed police and government machinery accountable. Minorities, especially Muslims who are targeted on a regular basis, need this in the growing environment of insecurity and fear. It is also important for reinstating trust in the government, and will empower the community to fight for justice and reparation.
2 Response to day-to-day exclusion of Muslims
In the midst of the debate around the Communal Violence Bill and its focus on targeted violence during riots, government and civil society at large have overlooked the need to address day-to-day discrimination, practices of exclusion, and insecurity faced by members of the Muslim community. The Muslim minority is clueless about how to deal with open or subtle discrimination when they attempt to access services and infrastructure such as banking; when they are denied access to mainstream society’s spaces and public spaces like housing, space for shops or businesses, etc; when they are labelled terrorists or supporters of fundamentalism, Pakistan supporters, etc; when they are denied justice, such as the police refusing to file cases, failure to punish perpetrators or being detained on false charges of terrorism, etc.
The Sachar Committee report mentions this identity-related discrimination. It highlights how Muslims are constantly looked upon with suspicion not only by certain sections of society but also by public institutions and governance structures. Muslim women in burqa complain of impolite treatment in the market, in hospitals, in schools, in accessing public facilities such as public transport, and so on. Apart from the reluctance of owners to rent/sell property to Muslims, several housing societies in ‘non-Muslim’ localities ‘dissuade’ Muslims from locating there. Muslims say they feel inferior as “every bearded man is considered an ISI agent”; “whenever any incident occurs, Muslim boys are picked up by the police” and fake encounters are common (Sachar report).
These factors play havoc with the morale of the community, especially in a scenario where there are no legal mechanisms to address such a dehumanising process. Dalits and adivasis in India are protected by a strong legislative tool like the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. As regards the dalit community, the bill goes beyond physical atrocities and also covers various dehumanising processes like untouchability and discrimination relating to identity under the definition of “atrocities”. Though the SC/ST Act has seen lopsided implementation, given the lack of political will in removing historical injustices and exploitation of dalits, it has at least provided a strong protective tool in the hands of the marginalised community, wherein all forms of exclusion and discrimination have been defined and covered under the political term “atrocities”. Muslims in India, despite having gone through similar experiences and faced with new forms of insecurity and marginalisation, are yet to see their day-to-day discrimination being defined, and any action and commitment on the part of the government.
One way would have been to widen the definition of communal and targeted violence under the Communal Violence Bill to cover day-to-day forms of identity-based discrimination. However, in the current scenario, where crucial and much-needed recommendations of high-level reports like those of the Sachar Committee and the Ranganath Mishra Commission are being ignored, it is difficult for the Muslim community to ask for such a “magnanimous” step from the government. These identity concerns, combined with security-related concerns, have only further ghettoised the community leaving little chance for it to raise its voice either against marginalisation or to demand rights, entitlements or protection from the state.
Reflection on whether Muslims use the democratic space to protest or demand
How should Muslims and larger civil society respond to this persistent exclusion? One of the main indicators of a thriving democracy is the “right to dissent” available to all citizens of a country. In India, agitations like rallies, dharnas, fasts, bandhs, rasta rokos, rail rokos, chakka jams are common tools adopted by its citizens to protest or to demand. If looked at closely, one sees an almost complete absence of the Muslim community in exercising the “right to dissent” in any of the above-mentioned forms. No such mobilisation of Muslims has taken place except with reference to perceived threats to Muslim personal law and minority identity from the Shah Bano judgment in the 1980s. Apart from fact-finding reports, journalistic articles and books, issues concerning the violation of human rights of Muslims never translate to agitations and public protest, not even in the state of Gujarat which has seen the most heinous form of identity-based violence in recent years. Muslims in Gujarat hardly come out onto the streets to demand justice, punishment of perpetrators, rehabilitation, or protest against the continuous exclusion and discrimination. Even the Sachar Committee report, which should have seen an emergence of Muslim civil society along the same lines as dalits, adivasis and women, remained confined to debates within intellectual circles and resulted in a top-down approach to address the problems highlighted in the report. Five years down the line, non-implementation of the recommendations and the slackness of government have also not created much uproar in the larger civil society, let alone protests and demands from the Muslim community.
There are numerous cases from all over India of Muslim youth and intellectuals being targeted on false security-related charges like terrorism. They are tortured and illegally detained in police custody. Still the Muslim community has not reacted the way any other community in India would have. This passivity of the community in an age of democracy where even an Internet-led revolution can kickstart a movement and change age-old regimes is disturbing and demands attention from all quarters. Though the question of why they do not come out in larger numbers and demand their rights is something that definitely requires a larger debate, nevertheless some elements that contribute to this passivity are “fear” and “mistrust”. There is no ambiguity about the fact that a large section of Muslims feel stigmatised and excluded and are aware that mobilisation of any sort could be perceived as a threat to national cohesion, and that any group formation would be looked upon with suspicion. The perception among the Muslim community of neglect and apathy on the part of the government has instilled a deep mistrust about ever realising rights and entitlements. Muslims are far busier dealing with the day-to-day discrimination they face and proving their identity as “good” Indians.
Clearly, the fundamental rights of equality and equal opportunity have not been actualised in the context of the Muslim minority in India, where various exclusionary forces are entrenched deep in the systems and mechanisms that have kept Muslims on the fringes of the development process and democratic fabric of this country.
The Indian state, till date, has not effectively been able to protect this minority, which is evident from the widening gap in development indicators, marginal rate of growth (slowest amongst all the social and religious groups), and absence of a strong policy and legal framework targeting the forces of exclusion. These factors have resulted in a high level of mistrust between Indian Muslims and the state. Democracy survives only in an environment of mutual trust between the governance structure and its citizens; clearly this seems to have become eroded in the context of Indian Muslims. To address this, the government has to act proactively to create an environment where, first and foremost, this minority community feels it is being protected and that it has access to strong legal tools and redressal mechanisms to address specific forms of exclusion and protection of human rights.
1 Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Orissa, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Kerala, Karnataka, Sikkim, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand
2 ‘UPA’s Promises and Priorities: Is there a Mismatch? Response to Union Budget 2011-12’. Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA). 2011
3 ‘Promises to Keep -- Investigating Government’s Response to Sachar Committee
Recommendations’. Centre for Equity Studies, New Delhi. 2011
5 The states which have set up state minority commissions are Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal
(Ayesha Pervez works on dalit and other human rights issues with ChristianAid, New Delhi)
Infochange News & Features, December 2011