Sunday, September 20, 2015

Muslims must introspect themselves to counter discrimination

Manf-e-at ek hai is qaum ki nuqsaan bhi ek
ek hi sab ka nabi deen bhi iman bhi ek
harame paak bhi Allah bhi Quran bhi ek
kuchh bari baat thi hote jo Musalman bi aik

-- Allama Iqbal

The framers of our constitution envisaged to provide equality in all respects to all citizens. Addressing the 50th anniversary of the All India Majlis-e-Mushawarat, Vice President Hamid Ansari said, “the Independence of India in August 1947, and the events preceding and following it, cast a shadow of physical and psychological insecurity on Indian Muslims. They were made to carry, unfairly, the burden of political events and compromises that resulted in the Partition.” Muslims’ plight in today’s India is alarmingly disturbing, and their status as per Sachar committee report is below the conditions of Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes. It’s not only the political neglect that contributes to this social and economic malaise but the causation factor also stems largely from identity politics, and Muslims have allowed themselves to be used as a vote bank. A high percentage of Muslims fall either in Schedule Caste status or OBC status. These are two broad categories of reservation; however Muslims are inadequately admitted into these categories. The new government in Maharashtra justified the lapse of an ordinance that gave 5% reservation to Muslims as it doesn’t believe in reservation on the basis of religion. Under Art. 15 (4) and Art. 16 (4), the state is responsible to make such arrangement that the inadequately represented and the backward are given opportunities to uplift themselves. The government’s inclusive development policy ‘sab ka sath sab ka vikas’ will now need to be put to test. 

"Upon giving a closer look at the social scenario, we realize that more than even the idea of Muslims being terrorists, it's religious politics that has brain washed people in India into believing that every Muslim secretly wants to be a Pakistani. I'm a Kashmiri Pandit. Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims was brotherhood beyond anything. Muslims were brainwashed, and they burnt our homes. Even now when I meet Kashmiri Muslims, they've undying affection for me when they learn that I'm a Kashmiri Pandit. No body thinks of extremism as a problem. Everyone has become an extremist," Saburi Pandita. 

I had a chat with Zeeshan Ali Khan, who was denied a job by Hari Krishna Exports Pvt. Ltd. for being a Muslim. We tried to understand the sociological underpinnings for the discrimination meted out to him.

F: The company reverted to you saying that they don’t hire non-muslims. What was your immediate reaction?
Z: At first, I thought it was a joke by a friend because I was told about the job opening on a WhatsApp chat. I had to check the address and tally it with the one provided on their official website, and I felt horrible. I told my sister about it. She asked me to screen grab it and send it to her. From there on, the spark ignited. Facebook and WhatsApp turned it into a huge blaze of fire. It raised a question on my identity. I kept asking myself, is it a crime to be a Muslim in this country? Whose sins am I being asked to pay for? Why are people doing this to us?

F: When you had applied for the job, did you have any such prior discrimination experience?
Z: Never. It's not everyday you face racism in a metropolitan city like Mumbai.

F: What did you have in hindsight when you had applied for this job? 
Z: I was anticipating a positive reply. I had faith in my God and myself. I knew I'm qualified for the post and I can execute the task pretty well. But a rejection only because of my belief was uncalled for.

F: Zeeshan, the economic and social health of Muslims in this country is worse than Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes. What is your opinion in light of the fact that as per the recent The Economic Times' report Muslims constitute 14% of India, but just 3% of India Inc. 
Z: If you go through the Sachar Committee report, Muslims are the most impoverished community. Muslims deserve reservation. They are left out. If not on religious lines, then at least on the basis of economic conditions.

F: Do you think that your religious inclination can hamper your productivity? 
Z: Never. The core religious values are here to strengthen the spirit not in this world but also the hereafter. I would recommend every Muslim to read the works of Sir Muhammad Iqbal. He has beautifully elaborated how we can keep the Dīn in our heart and strengthen our focus on work.

F: In a largely Hindu dominated land, how should a today’s Muslim be? 
Z: They should acknowledge their culturally rich heritage but also keep the very message of Tawhid deep inside their heart. They should pay due respect to their ethnicity and language. Learn and absorb Hindi and local languages but at the same time offer Namaz on time.

F: Education, poverty, employment are all pressing issues for the community. Don’t you think that they must push themselves more and work harder to prosper? Since we've examples of other communities which are way smaller, such as the Parsi, the Bohra Muslim and they have all progressed and are therefore better placed in the society. 
Z: You have pointed out pretty well. Education and Health are two areas where Muslims need to put great efforts. And the ultimate uplifting lies in education of the masses.

F: You told me that you're born and raised in Kurla, and you've not experienced any discrimination earlier. We've areas such as Mumbra, which is openly called as mini Pakistan. Mostly all such areas where Muslims take habitation are laden with haphazard development, poor infrastructure and poorer access to amenities.
Z: True. Well pointed out.

F: The discrimination, which you’ve experienced, has become a common place for someone not so lucky like you, someone who has not had liberal education, someone who perhaps has no access to judicial remedy or to evoke public discussion on social media.
Z: This could have gone unnoticed.

F: Why aren't then educated, modern youth like you and me able to deduce the causation factors to such anomalies in our society? What do you attribute this widespread discrimination to? 
Z: Well, better late than never. The community is definitely lagging behind but also moving at a snail's pace. Primary factors are within the community. They are just exploited by politicians I don't wish to name.

F: I feel that we Muslims live in a Disneyland - our comfort zone. Yes I know that's what Gujaratis, Marathis and several other communities do, they live together exclusively in one area and dominate it heavily. Why should we not choose to disintegrate, co-habit with other communities, even if we have to compromise on certain levels? It’s ambitious, given that we read about Muslims being unwelcome in several housing societies almost every day.
Z: Cogito ergo sum. It's time to put an end to ghettoization. The companions of our beloved Prophet never sat behind in Mecca or Medina. They left their home behind and traveled far away. That’s what we need to do.

F: Do you also agree that we've to focus more on family planning and provide better opportunities to our children, principally good education.
Z: Yes we do need to.

F: Since you've largely been in agreement with me, then I assume, you'll also believe that we must uphold the secular nature of our constitution and uphold secular values and respect plurality of ideas.
Z: Of course I do. I believe in societal equality and not societal hierarchy.

F: We must then cease to look at ourselves as a fragment at the edge of our society, but push ourselves to the core. This cannot happen unless our youth receives good education. And you've also agreed with me on this. Do you think that Madrassas can extend that level of education, which our youth requires?
Z: Modernization of Madrassas is an issue, which has kept me bothered since early days. Their standards must be raised and brought at par with intermediate education.

F: The discrimination towards Muslims stems in the fact that there is a social problem at the core of our community and we've just discussed about them, the issue of unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, and of course a largely non-existent representation in civic and administrative authorities. Do you agree with me?
Z: True. During the years this representation has fallen despite a growth in Muslim population. And it has gone from bad to worse since the Lok Sabha elections of 2014.

F: So now coming to my understanding, the community has been for a long time misunderstood by those who observe us from afar. I've more non-muslim friends than muslim ones, and I'm often queried by them as to why I'm not like most of the Muslims. What I've realized is that there is a communication gap - a giant one. It’s capable to foster dangerous misconceptions about Muslims. We've failed to explain ourselves. It's also a neglect of non-muslims when they paint all Muslims with the same brush, which they use for lunatics. Therefore, you hear about a thirteen year old Ahmed taken to police for making a clock, and another MBA graduate being denied a job for his belief. It’s a global problem.
F: Don't you think a person without much bent towards sociology will just look at us from what they see in media?
Z: Yes there is a high level of alienation. People still stereotype Muslims. But I feel with the penetration of Internet, this will change. 

F: Their perception is incorrect, and that this perception has been created in the first place, as a result of our disturbing social standing in the society. I'm looking at it objectively, I would not want to indemnify Muslims, I don't see you as my vote bank.
Z: It takes two sides to build a bridge.

F: So when Hari Krishna Exports rejects your application, although unconstitutional, inconsistent with basic human rights and natural justice, it isn’t only their mistake but am I right to see it as a social problem, the causation of which is also because we've not done what we should have ideally done to further ourselves in a pluralistic society, where fair competition and subsequent success must result economic, social prosperity.
Z: You are right to see it in a larger perspective. And deep within we are to blame ourselves. Like I said primary reasons lie within us. We are just exploited by politicians for political gains.

F: Do you think Hari Krishna Exports would not have denied you an offer, were the present situation of the Muslim community different?
Z: Yes, if Muslims of India were dissolved with the mainstream, this might not have happened, I think. I may be wrong.

F: What would you like to say to the readers of this post and those who may in the future be subject to such discrimination? 
Z: To all the readers, don't fall for politicians. They don't care about us. They are here for their personal gains. Question everything and everyone and cast your vote wisely. To people who may face discrimination, please speak up. Don't stay silent. Take a stand and fight for your right.

With inputs from Saburi Pandita and Jasmeet Singh at the eleventh hour. 

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Faraz Salat

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Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Admirer of all things that make up a global human society.