There are at least three areas which need to be focused: Education, employment and entrepreneurship
OZMA SIDDIQUI | Clarion India
PERHAPS never before have the Indian Muslims felt so insecure of their future or come to the sharp realisation that their fate is hanging in the balance. While there have been various instances of Muslim bashing over the decades following Independence, they have been few and far between.
The last significant episode was the Babri Masjid demolition in December of 1992 which was heavily censored on state-run television channel Doordarshan but which the international media ran live across the world exposing the assault on the secular fabric of the country. The first signs of the damage that an exclusive political ideology can do, was laid bare. Several court cases later, the opposition won the case and now there are celebrations in RSS pockets based in countries like the USA where big banners are announcing the stone laying ceremony for the temple at the Ayodhya site on August 5.
As the BJP, the fundamentalist, right wing ruling party enters its 7th year of Hindutva-led policies, the situation of Muslims in India grows more precarious. In the past year since 2019 to date, there have been several cases of Muslim lynching which are violent attacks on the poorer category who are accused of smuggling the meat of cows considered a sacred animal among the Hindus. This is regardless of the fact that a sizeable proportion of the Hindu community are avid beef eaters and that they have a thriving business of meat exports in the Middle East and elsewhere. Even as videos of the brutalities have gone viral on social media, the attackers are not punished, and in most cases, allowed to go scot-free.
However, it is not just the Muslims who are targeted, but other sections are also in danger, such as the Dalits and the Christians who are mostly poor, thus revealing another bias of intolerance of poverty as a characteristic of this ideology.
In his 2006 article entitled ‘Indian Muslims: Past, Present and Future’, Dr. J.S. Bandookwala offers some valid reasons for the current situation of the Muslims in India. He writes: “To close our eyes to the future, and live the present in a fantasy of a glorious past, is an ideal concoction for social disaster”. He further notes that the anger at losing the glory is not confined to India but manifests itself in antagonism against the West which brought about the downfall of the Ottoman Empire after WW1 and the colonization of Muslim lands, particularly the holy places of Makkah, Madinah and Jerusalem. The challenge the Muslims were faced with should have spurred them on to the path of modernity and Science. Instead, “they withdrew into a shell”.
There are at least three areas which need to be focused on for Muslims in India to progress in the post-Covid scenario: Education, employment and entrepreneurship.
The latest ruling of the NEP (National Education Policy) is of concern as it is ushering in the beginning of the eradication of all the Recommendations by the different education committees (Kothari Commission, and others) since 1944 when the first of these policies recognized the need for raising the standards of the marginalized communities, women and working children and the important role of education in doing so. One of the important recommendations was having a regional language alongside English taught in secondary schools with the recognition of the place of English as a world language. Not having this language formally taught in schools will further alienate the underprivileged from both the more educated in their society as well as the world at large as schools are usually the only institutions where the poor have access to English. The dividing of societies along classist lines are another negative feature of extreme ideologies like Hindutva or the fascist regimes like Hitler’s which promote an intolerance of the underprivileged evident in the victims of the cow lynching cases who are poor cattle farmers for the most part. The rewriting of history course books to eliminate Muslim contribution to the building of India, starting with the dropping of Tipu Sultan from the course is another dangerous trend and aimed at relegating Muslims to the state of ‘outsiders’. It is not enough that they are already labeled as ‘invaders’ and therefore not a part of India.
Mohd Kashif in a compelling article published in the online paper The Wisdom points out that the way forward for Indian Muslims is education. According to Kashif (2020), Islamophobia is no longer a myth but a palpable reality. One only has to look through any social media channel to see the phenomenon. While circumstances are contriving to keep Muslims out of the game, Kashif posits that Muslims are also at a disadvantage because of their poor contribution to the economy at large. “More than Islamophobia, Indian Muslims are the worst-performing community in India”. While some of us may choose to disagree, Kashif, provides some telling statistics quoted from the Justice Sachar Committee Report. According to the Report, the percentage of Muslims in the IAS and IPS are 3% and 4% respectively. Regarding the Muslim representation in the political arena, the numbers are suffering a steady decline while the Muslim population has risen from 10-15% between 1952-2021.
Bandookwala (2006) similarly recognizes that the decline of the Muslims is due to their neglect of education. “It is ironic that a religion, whose very first command was ‘Iqra’ meaning ‘Read’, is totally cut off from the pursuit of knowledge”. However, he discerns a silver lining and notes that the Babri Masjid debacle and later, the Gujarat Riots (2002) have brought home the important fact that education is the way forward. As a result, even the madarassas and the darul ulooms are incorporating Western education such as computer training and English in their curriculum. It is increasingly being recognized that “education is the best way to bridge the communal divide”. He also encourages the elimination of the Quota system or Reservation system at universities like the AMU, preferring instead to have students enter higher education institutions on their own merit. It is recommended that Muslim students take up the Sciences, Medicine and Technology rather than the Liberal Arts where the demand for Reservation is greater.
Highly qualified Muslims should aim at being recruited by decision-making bodies such as the army, judiciary and political sphere. Bandookwala may have a point when he says that the Reservation system churns out mediocrity whereas merited students will be in demand because it is in the interests of the army to hire competent candidates. The secret to success also lies in curbing our tendency to complain. Instead, Muslims should take the bull by the horns and compete with the rest on a level playing field. Muslims need to have a sense of belonging and this can only come about when they contribute to the progress of the nation. Currently, Muslims shun competition for jobs or admission to universities or avoid sitting down for an interview. Some reasons are that they suffer from feelings of inferiority, are not confident of their achievements, academic or otherwise, and think that the interviewers may harbour bias towards their Muslim profile.
To succeed in life, one must have either a qualification or a skill which is marketable. In many cases, Muslims have neither which leads them to nurture a mentality of being at the receiving end whether it is in terms of begging for a living or for favours in different situations.
Start-ups are an important alternative to the regular government paid or private jobs and should be encouraged. Start-ups in this case do not refer to having a food stall on wheels or parking at a street corner with a wok for pakodas and samosas to earn a daily living. This will only allow one to survive on crusts and force his family to do chores in other people’s homes or work as daily labourers.
The idea is to run a business with class, observing hygienic standards and delivering quality products and services. For one thing, they enable an independent mindset, and secondly, the individual taps into the needs of the society and fulfills them with the available resources. The great thing is that there is no danger of being fired or falling back on the meager savings that one has put aside for the rainy day. Muslims should look into this niche market. The Times of India has reported some cases of highly qualified Muslim engineers and computer whizzes who have left their well-paid jobs to start off their own businesses.
The idea of BookMEDS, for example, was started to deliver medicines to the people’s doorstep. With mobile deliveries picking up in the pandemic era, food catering and other services are worth looking into. Home cleaning services can be offered with online bookings, for example. A tie up with other companies can be had for a commission and one can expand to other cities as well. Current start-ups who have made a name are the UberEats, Tripadvisors, Godaddy, and others. One only has to research the market. It goes without saying that the more educated one is the better communication skills one has whether it is spoken or written. This brings us back to the need of the hour for Muslims: Education.
Bandookwala, J. (2006). Indian Muslims: Past, Present and Future. 41(14), 1341-1344
Kashif, M. (2020). Education is the way forward for Indian Muslims
Start-ups and the Muslim entrepreneur. (2016).
Ozma Siddiqui teaches English and is a social critic and writer based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The views expressed here author’s personal.