Abdul Hafiz Gandhi for BeyondHeadlines
I was born in free India. I have no idea of who were responsible for the partition of the country. My ancestors with free will decided to be the part of this nation. And therefore, I refuse to carry the burden of partition.
I have two identities: Indian and a Muslim. Indian Constitution guarantees me rights for both of my identities. I enjoy all the fundamental rights as any other Indian would enjoy. But in addition to these, I have extra rights as the religious minority. The Constitution enshrines that I, as a member of Muslim minority community, have the right to preserve, protect and promote my identity, language, script and culture by establishing and administering educational institutions of my choice.
I thank the wisdom of the framers of the constitution to provide all this. These builders of modern India were perhaps worried about the minorities being excluded from the fruits of freedom. In a way these rights were conferred to strengthen the feeling of security in the nascent stage of a nation marred by communal conflagration during and after partition. The intention was to provide the minorities with full opportunities to participate in the governance and thus contributing in the overall development of the nation.
The picture which emerges out after six decades of freedom is contrary to the supposed intentions of the great visionaries of freedom movement. Constitutional promise for the protection of the interests of the minorities remains more or less a paper promise. As per one estimate of the Home Ministry, Government of India, a total of 13,356 serious anti-Muslim riots have happened between 1954 and 1992. It seems that the only concern for the Muslim minority (MM) is the security of person, dignity and property. And that’s what political parties promise them in lieu of their votes as if these parties will do some mercy by providing security. It’s their right as the citizen to which they are entitled.
In the last 65 years, MM has seen lots of Ups and downs in their social, educational and economic status. To diagnose the causes of such decline in their status Sachar Committee was appointed in 2005, which submitted its report in November, 2006 recommending many measures to uplift the status of MM. As per the findings of the committee, over a period of time the percentage of MM has seen a gradual decline in public sector jobs and educational institutions. Their representation in institutions of higher learning is almost negligible. The report says, MM were 1.3% in IIMs and 3.3% in IITs in years 2004 to 2005 and 2006. Muslims share in the students who complete graduation is only 3.4%. In civil services it is 3% in IAS, 1.8% in IFS and 4% in IPS. Taken cumulatively, its share is 4.9% in PSUs, Education, Railways, Judiciary, Health, Transport and Home Affairs. Muslims’ percentage in bureaucracy is just 2.5 % whereas they constitute about 14% of India’s population. Literacy level in the Muslims is just 59.1%, which is much below the national average of 65.1%. Not only this, unemployment rate among Muslim graduates is the highest among other socio-religious groups. This report captures clearly the deprivation when it observes ‘Muslim localities are not covered well with pucca roads, bus stops, medical and postal facilities’. People have started saying, if you want to identify a Muslim locality, you can easily do so by noticing the lack of basic civic amenities. Why this total apathy towards one community, when everybody is the equal citizen. We have been living in the ganga-jamuni tehzeeb (composite culture) since centuries, but the lack of concerns for the Muslims points to something fishy in the scheme of things of our policy makers and implementers.
One wonders, why Muslims only become the target of stringent laws. Our experiences with TADA, POTA and UAPA have been of extreme of pain and anguish. The data of number of cases registered under these stringent laws shows majority of Muslims as accused, who after going through trauma and sufferings were let off due to lack of evidence. By 30 June, 1994, the arrests under TADA had exceeded 76,000. About 25 percent of these cases were dropped by the police without even framing charges. Of the 35 percent cases that were brought to trial, 95 percent resulted in acquittals. The conviction rate for these laws was less than 2 percent. TADA and POTA have to go off the legal lexicons because of evidences surfacing with regard to targeting of Muslims and slapping false terror cases on them. The sad part is that, this politics of targeting minority youths still continues unabated.
Even after so many years of these laws going to the gallows, the situation more or less remains the same. The story of injustice remains the same only the characters are changing. A recent study of the Socio-economic Profile and Rehabilitation Needs of Muslim Community in Prisons in Maharashtra, 2011, Dr. Vijay Raghavan and Roshni Nair from the Centre for Criminology and Justice School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) points out that 96 per cent of the prisoners interviewed are not held under preventive detention charges. This means that they are not potential threat to law and order. The study also indicates that although as per Sachar Committee report Maharashtra has 10.6 per cent Muslim population but they comprise 32.4 per cent of the prison population. All this smells of the institutional bias against the Muslim community. When a Muslim youth is arrested, charges of carrying out terrorist activities at various places are put on him without going through a fair and deeper investigation. For instance in 1998 one Mohammad Aamir Khan aged 18 years was arrest in Delhi and was accused of 20 terror cases. It took 14 years to pronounce him not guilty case after case. In January, 2011 he walked out of jail only to find his mother paralyzed and friends deserting him because of terrorist tag on him. In another glaring instance, 70 Muslim youths were picked up and charged for carrying out Mecca Masjid blasts in 2007 at Hyderabad. After five long years, they were all acquitted and now government is giving them 70 lakhs as compensation. Here a question arises, can this compensation amount return the youthful age that they wasted in the confines of the jail. They had to undergo trauma of being a terrorist for no fault of theirs. This practice of injustice and violation of human rights must end.
To make the situation worse, Housing apartheid in urban India has become a reality. If you are a Muslim, you can find heaven for yourself but not a house on rent in the localities dominated by non-Muslim communities. This has forced Muslims to live in ghettos further alienating them from the mainstream and composite culture mosaic. If in a train or a bus or a government office a man with a beard and skull cap is seen, the reaction on the faces of the co-passengers or the public officers changes dramatically. They look at him as if an alien has descended on their private property. The bearded man’s only fault is that he belongs to the Muslim minority community. The alienation of the Muslim youths is not a good sign for a healthy democracy. Today, educated Muslim youths are leaving under fear psychosis. They are under the spell of fear all the time that any day they can be behind the bars under the false charges only to be released after decades, crumbling-down their aspirations and dreams.
Despite all the above-mentioned aberrations, I still see the light at the end of the tunnel. There is still a ray of hope. Everything has not come to an end. Things can be improved. The only thing required is that system should run as per the spirit of the Constitution. Biases and prejudices can only be removed if the bureaucratic and political set-up runs in accordance with the rule of law. Principles of fairness and natural justice must be adhered to in every situation. It is only then the confidence and trust of the minority community can be restored and strengthened. Inclusiveness should be the mantra. We cannot live in isolation or ghettos. Prosperous and peaceful India can only emerge from the contribution of all its citizens, whether majority or minority. I will feel proud of my Indian identity when my Muslim identity is kept intact and is provided every possible opportunity to develop myself socially, educationally, politically and financially. The gulf between two of my identities is striking. This has to be bridged.
(Abdul Hafiz Gandhi is Research Scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)