By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the hard reality that Indian Muslims are still at large subject to a bias against them, whether it is in the job market, their being held as â€œsuspect terroristsâ€ â€“ despite their being no substantial evidence against them, their not being accorded representation due to them in politics and other fields, the dayâ€™s politics carries a subtle but important development along positive lines. The new zeal with which Muslims across the country are projecting their demands carries several significant messages. They certainly donâ€™t seem to be faced by any fear forcing them to remain silent on issues, which strongly concern them. They have significantly come forward from the not too distant phase, when they primarily talked against being associated with terrorism. The latter was the phase when they also strongly condemned terrorists and their activities targeting India. During the present electoral season, Muslims have raised their demands on several issues with a new emphasis. Definitely this move is suggestive of their having decided not to remain mute spectators to their being ignored and also abused in their own country. In addition to opposing this bias, they have also at different levels prepared a charter of demands, which reflects their desire being focused on their development and progress as participants of the Indian community. This also indicates that the Indian Muslims are no longer going to be satisfied with only empty assurances and hollow rhetoric made loudly by politicians keen to win Muslim votes.
The apparent awareness of this major change in their approach made Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledge last week at a function that Indian Muslims â€œface a lot of difficulties.â€ He also accepted that â€œsometimes in the name of terrorists, Muslim youth are harassed.â€ Singh stated that while dealing with such cases, security forces should observe â€œzero toleranceâ€ for fundamental human rights violations. Yet, such remarks made by Singh, however genuine they may be, are likely to be viewed only as rhetoric to pacify the Muslims aggrieved by the â€œdifficultiesâ€ they continue to face.
Not surprisingly, Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid Syed Ahmed Bukhari lashed out at political forces for using Muslims only as a vote bank. In an appeal to Indian Muslims, issued last week (April 10), he said: â€œMuslims in this country have always been secular and have never voted on religious grounds. They have even voted for political parties whose leaders have been Hindus. They even supported the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 1977 and 1989 elections. However, none of the political parties who the Muslims have voted for have done anything for their welfare. This is why I think the community should launch its own political party.â€ Bukhari pointed out that Indian Muslims have lost faith in political parties. â€œPolitical parties use Muslims just as a vote bank. They are not really bothered about their rights or upliftment and welfare,â€ he said.
Lashing at the Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav for having shaken hands with Kalyan Singh, who was the Uttar Pradesh chief minister when Babari Masjid was demolished, Bukhari said: â€œAll those involved in the Babari Masjid demolition have become friends with Mulayam Singh. If he doesnâ€™t leave them, then the community will not think twice before withdrawing their support to the Samajwadi Party.â€ Not sparing the Congress party, Bukhari said: â€œIf the Congress party is really bothered about the welfare of the Muslim community, then why has it not acted upon the Sachar committee report’s recommendations? The report is like a mirror to them and the work that they have done.â€
While leaders such as Bukhari have made similar points on several occasions, the present phase is marked by students coming forward with their respective charters, clearly laying out their grievances as well as demands. These include the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islam-e-Hind, Students Islamic Organization of India (SIO) and a group of Muslim schoolgirls from Lucknow. They want political parties to include their demands in their respective agendas. Among those made by SIO, according to its president Suhail K.K., are: â€œThe recommendations made by the Ranganatha Mishra Committee for 15 per cent reservation for religious minorities, of which 10 per cent exclusively for Muslims must be implemented as soon as possible.â€ Besides, he said: â€œThe textbooks preaching hatred must be eliminated. The government should spend at least six percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for educational sector.â€ Demanding a judicial probe into last yearâ€™s encounter at Batla House, he said: â€œSpecial laws must be made to end human rights violations and communal witch-hunting under such circumstances.â€
The charter of demands prepared by Muslim schoolgirls, includes their â€œright to live with dignity.â€ They also want â€œa detailed social economic report (like Sachar Committeeâ€™s report) on status of women and girls. Opposing the manner in which Muslims are taken into custody and jailed â€œin the nameâ€ of anti-terrorism laws such as POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and TADA (Terrorism and Disruptive Activities -Prevention- Act, the little girls have firmly demanded â€œprotection of (Muslims)â€™ human right.â€ Clearly, the elderly, the young and tomorrowâ€™s Muslim voters have given a definite voice to their communityâ€™s grievances and demands, which have so far received largely only lip-service from concerned authorities. The Indian Muslims are no longer willing to let their importance be confined to being only a vote-bank.