By Arun Srivastava
Some Muslim scholars and intellectuals have been expressing concern at the backwardness of Muslim community and their lagging behind in education and employment. Their worry is not unjustified. They ought to raise their voice. But at the same time, instead of pointing fingers at others, they should urge the Muslim community to do some the introspection.
Who is to be blamed for their backwardness? The answer is very complicated. But one thing ought to be understood that it is the inherent politico-cultural fault line inside any community that makes the ruling establishment to neglect that community.
The problem for the Muslim community is that their leaders, instead of motivating the members to confront the contradictions within the community and society, put the blame on other communities and confuse the common Muslim. These people, who claim to represent the Muslim voices, instead of inspiring the members to think right egg them on to factional politics.
People who claim to represent the Muslim voice are often found to pursue their own personal interest; either for getting some government benefits or identifying with the powers that be. This approach has sent the wrong message that Muslims do not have their own leaders to solve their problems. The Muslim community has produced many stalwarts, scholars, politicians and statesmen. But they have failed to take up the cause of the community in earnestness. The result is that the community has ended up becoming a vote bank to be exploited by various political parties.
Like the upper caste Hindus who exploit the Dalits and the poor people on caste lines to serve their class interest, the rich Muslims, the Maulvis and Mullahs have been using the poor and downtrodden Muslims on communal lines to promote their class interest. If we look back, we will find that since Independence, the feudal elements in both religions have been using the lower rung of their communities to further their vested interests. In the case of Hindus, these feudal elements have been mostly associated with RSS, Hindu Mahasabha and later the Jana Sangh and now BJP.
The fact is like Hindus, the Muslims are also changing. But economic transformation is a time-consuming process. Today around 34 per cent of the rural poor are yet to get empowered. Incidentally, a significant chunk of the poor people are Hindus. In this backdrop it is naive to say that Muslims are the only poor people.
If we compare the poor Hindus with the poor Muslims, we will find that the poor Hindus are even worse off. Their social and economic conditions continue to be deplorable. The footpaths of almost all the main streets and roads across India are thronged by the Muslims as small-time hawkers or vendors and the community is relatively more enterprising. They do business by borrowing money, but manage to repay the loan within the stipulated period. This has meant the lifestyle of the Muslim youths has changed, along with their tastes and preferences.
In sharp contrast, the poor Hindus are still dependent on agriculture or depending on schemes like NREGA for their livelihood. Their earning is miserably low; they borrow from the money lenders to meet health and food needs of the family. For them productive borrowing is a delusion as they survive on subsistence support.
Muslim domiciles of Calcutta, Patna and even Moradabad boasts houses with modern gadgets. They are also making a sustained stride in the field of education. The situation within the Muslim community is no more as acute as it was a decade ago. Perhaps, one area in which they presently lag behind is employment. And this is mainly due to the fact that, being under the influence of the Mullahs and Maulvis, the common Muslims did not acquire a decent education. The children usually have to be content with Madarasa education. But this is also changing fast. Some of the famous schools and colleges in the cities are witnessing a steady stream of Muslim students who can afford such schools.
It would be wrong to say that Muslims have been sliding into backwardness and poverty since Independence. Muslims too have progressed along with the rest of Indians. It is the orthodoxy and the diktats of the Mullahs that have kept them backward. It is a good sign that the Muslim women have come to comprehend the reasons for the backwardness of their community society and have started fighting the orthodoxy.
The Sachar Committee report is a guidebook for the Indian government and it must also act as the eye opener for the Muslims. The community leaders must do introspection and find out how badly they have pushed their people on the brink of ruin. It is a lame excuse that successive governments could not do anything substantially positive for the fear of being accused of Muslim appeasement. Such actions invite slur only when they are carried out with the intention of getting Muslim votes.
With crucial elections approaching, the Muslim community is increasingly getting caught in vote bank politics. The BJP has tried to exploit the discrimination against womenfolk in the Muslim community to make political capital for itself and has been using the bogey of Muslim appeasement against Congress and other secular parties. The saffron brigade is now seeking to create communal polarisation over Rahul Gandhi’s alleged assurance to a gathering of Muslim intellectuals that Congress is a pro-Muslim party.
Common Muslims are free to blame others for their backwardness. But they have to be pragmatic. Since Independence a large number of Muslim leaders have descended on the political stage of the country. Muslims must analyse their role and quantify their contribution to the society. The secular and liberal political leadership has contributed a lot towards empowerment of the Muslim community. But unfortunately the religious leaders in their quest to assert their own identity on the political level have been feeding the wrong information.
Parameters for poor applied to the Muslims are the same as those for the Hindus. Both Hindus and Muslims of east and north east India are poor but their counter parts in south, especially below the Vindhyas are quite better off. The difference in the economic conditions of both the communities is not too big in poor states. It is the geopolitical situation and the economic conditions of the region that dictate the level of poverty. (IPA Service)