September 10, 2014, 4:21 PM IST Minhaz Merchant
With assembly byelections in Uttar Pradesh due on Saturday, September 13, communal polarization is already a reality. But what are the roots of polarization and how can we pull them out of their fertile communal soil?
As I’ve written before, the two real enemies of ordinary Muslims are communal politicians masquerading as secular leaders to win votes and Mullahs deliberately misinterpreting the holy book to retain power over their followers by imprisoning them in a medieval mindset. The two form a natural alliance. Together they have enriched themselves but impoverished India’s Muslims, materially and intellectually, in the name of secularism.
That brings us to the third angle in this infamous triangle: the liberal, secular Hindu. Where does he stand in all of this? He is swayed by the plight of fellow-Indians who happen to be Muslims: impoverished, illiterate, ghettoized, discriminated against. For every Azim Premji and Aamir Khan there are lakhs of weavers in UP and spot boys in Mumbai who have no place in India’s organized labour force.
Liberal, well-meaning Hindus ask: why? Yet the liberal Hindu doesn’t dig deeper. The more politicians sequester Muslims into vote silos, the more the middle-class Hindu (not the liberal, privileged Hindu) resents them. Discrimination, petty or large, mounts.
The real culprits – communal politicians dressed up as secular leaders – get away scot-free in this narrative. The liberal, secular Hindu’s anger against anti-Muslim communalism is therefore misdirected – far away from these real culprits.
Influential sections of the media, suffused with hearts bleeding from the wrong ventricle, are part of this great fraud played on India’s poor Muslims: communalism behind a secular veil. The token Muslim is lionized – from business to literature – but the common Muslim languishes in his 67-year-old ghetto. It is from such ghettos that raw recruits to the Islamic State (IS) are most easily found.
As ordinary Muslims get pushed further into silos, they become fodder for polarization. The pull of the Islamic State and its make-believe Caliphate has already attracted an estimated 100 radicalised Muslims from India to Syria and Iraq. Leading clerics have denounced IS but after decades of misleading their flock, the resentful Muslim hears what he wants to hear, and less and less of what the Mullahs tell him.
Muslim intellectuals in India rarely speak up in favour of modernity. Creative, influential Muslims – in business, film and the arts – are among the worst offenders. Their silence can be mistaken for complicity – or at best callowness.
Poor Muslims are meanwhile more sinned against than sinners. Their insularity is a defensive reflex. Bereft of education, of direction and of icons, they are vulnerable to the politicians and clerics who prey on them.
The ghettos they are confined to are breeding grounds for criminality. Terror modules thrive here. Indian jails have a disproportionately high percentage of Muslim prisoners and undertrials.
Unemployment is rife. Madrassas do not prepare young Muslims for jobs. Some drift towards extremism. Jihadis, rather than B-schools, recruit from this teeming, seething mass.
Indian politicians have misused religion to do grievous, long-term harm to the cause of Muslims by treating them as votes rather than a minority in need of education and empowerment to help build a plural, peaceful and prosperous India.
In Western UP, this Saturday, some of the most communally sensitive constituencies go to the polls. Their outcome will be a pointer to how India’s 177 million Muslims, many of them talented and patriotic, can become an asset to India’s growth story rather than surly bystanders misled by clerics, politicians and faux secularists.
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