Friday, 25 January 2013



Global Research

Coming to terms with India’s missing Muslims


The reality of exclusion and discrimination can no longer be denied. But the remedy requires political courage on the part of the Manmohan Singh Government and wisdom on the part of those claiming to speak for Muslims.

WHEN THE Justice Rajinder Sachar committee submits its report on the socio-economic status of Muslims, the full extent of the community’s exclusion will be obvious to all. Especially those who have made political careers out of the canard that Muslims in India enjoy special privileges and have been “appeased.”

Based on the data leaked so far, it is evident there are entry barriers Muslims — who account for around 15 per cent of India’s population — are unable to cross in virtually all walks of life. From the administration and the police to the judiciary and the private sector, the invisible hands of prejudice, economic and educational inequality seem to have frozen the `quota’ for Muslims at three to five per cent. Thanks to a hysterical campaign run by the Bharatiya Janata Party and some media houses, the Sachar committee was denied data on the presence of Muslims in the armed forces. But even there it is apparent that the three per cent formula applies.

This gross under-presence of Muslims in virtually every sector is presaged by substantial inequalities in education. Muslim enrolment and retention rates at the primary and secondary levels are lower than the national average and this further magnifies existing inequalities at the college level as well as in the labour market. For virtually every socio-economic marker of well being, the Muslim is well below the national norm — not to speak of the level commensurate with her or his share of the national population — and the evidence suggests these inequalities are not decreasing over time.

This bleak statistical picture is rendered drearier still by new trends visible in many cities. Muslims, for example, find it extremely difficult to rent and buy property outside of “Muslim areas” in some metros. Apart from several journalists, I even know of one former Muslim Union Minister in Delhi whose Hindu colleagues had to intercede to find him a flat. In Mumbai, the situation is perhaps worse. Many Muslim businessmen have problems accessing credit, besides having to run the gamut of uncooperative officials who look upon them with suspicion at every turn. Even in politics, as Iqbal A. Ansari’s recent book, Political Representation of Muslims in India, 1952-2004, has shown, Muslims have consistently been under-represented in the Lok Sabha and all State Assemblies since Independence except Kerala. Only half as many Muslim MPs and MLAs get elected as one might expect based on their population share. In the absence of our political parties throwing up a large enough number of Muslim elected representatives, clerics and obscurantists are only too willing to step into the breach.

The `war on terrorism’ has added a new layer to this already intolerable situation as policemen across the country give free vent to their ignorance and religious prejudice. The tendency of law enforcement agencies to target Muslims during incidents of communal violence is well known. The complicity of the police in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 was reprehensible but not so different from what the country witnessed at other times in other places. As for legal redress, neither government nor judiciary shows any sense of urgency. Terrorist crimes such as the Mumbai blasts are prosecuted energetically and this is a good thing. But no one is able to explain what happened to the cases stemming from the killing of Muslims in Mumbai in 1992 and 1993 nor why the Srikrishna Commission recommendations against erring policemen remain unimplemented.
The media are a corrective but only to a limited extent. If one section has sought to highlight the plight of Indian Muslims, another section is constantly ready to inflame prejudice by staging debates on irrelevant issues, giving undue prominence to ridiculous statements by unrepresentative `Muslim leaders’ or broadcasting marital disputes within Muslim families (as one channel did last week) as proof of `Muslim backwardness.’

In the U.S., the old journalistic adage was `Jews is News’. In India, it seems, anything that shows Muslims as ignorant or fanatical helps propel TRP ratings, while rational comment is frowned upon as unhelpful. A Muslim MP was asked recently to take part in a TV debate on whether there should be reservation for Muslims. He agreed, but added that he would argue against it. The channel’s reporter then tried convincing him that “surely your community needs reservation.” When he didn’t agree, the channel lost interest in putting him on air. One studio guest recently advised Muslims to shed their `persecution complex’ and to not forget that theirs were the “hands that built the Taj Mahal.” Though no one would dare accuse Dalits of “doing nothing” to uplift themselves, Muslims are blamed for their poverty and poor education. They are gratuitously advised to study hard, as if the problem of lack of schools, delinquent teachers, inadequate books, and poverty can be remedied by will power alone.

The reservation trap 

It is against the backdrop of this highly vitiated atmosphere that the Manmohan Singh Government must formulate a response to the Sachar committee’s findings. The reality of systemic inequality cannot be wished away and the Government must find the political courage to confront this situation head on. So serious are the implications of Muslim marginalisation that the Congress must open a channel of communication with other parties, including the BJP, to evolve a consensus on the necessity for urgent corrective measures.
Among the remedial measures to be considered, the least helpful in substantive as well as political terms will be reservation. Whatever they do, Muslim leaders and those who claim to speak in favour of Muslims, must avoid the trap that the demand for reservation is. Sixty years of affirmative action have led to some improvements for Dalits and Tribals but it is clear that the country and its rulers have used the sop of reservation as an excuse to do nothing about the persistent, underlying causes of caste-based inequality.
It is now universally recognised that the pursuit of “equality of outcomes” and “equality of opportunity” must go hand in hand. Even equality of opportunity has a formal and a substantive aspect. `Formal’ equality means ending discrimination on the basis of caste, religion or gender. `Substantive’ equality means overcoming the barriers (or benefits) children of equal native talent inherit from their parents so that none is advantaged or disadvantaged by birth. The India state pays lip service to the idea of equality of outcomes (through quotas) but completely ignores the necessity of crafting expenditure policies that can provide equality of opportunity. Nowhere is this more glaring than in the field of education where the increased notional access of Dalits and Tribals to university is undercut by high dropout rates and underperformance at the school level.

In a 2000 paper, Julian Betts and John Roemer model the amount of differential expenditure the United States government would have to make to provide equality of opportunity to its citizens. In a typology where they define four categories of males based on whether they are White or Black and whether their parents have `High’ or `Low’ education levels, Betts and Roemer conclude that the `equality of opportunity’ expenditure on education must be nine times higher for members of the `Low Black’ group than the `High Whites’. They also found that the `High Black,’ `Low Black,’ and `Low White’ groups must all receive more than their per capita share of educational resources if equality of opportunity were to be guaranteed.
Both in the U.S. and in India today, the actual allocation of educational resources is regressive in that those who are affluent and socially privileged corner a greater share of social allocations for education than their relative size in the population. In reality, then, existing affirmative action — or reservation — is for the privileged and the goal of public policy has to be to reverse that by using the target of public expenditure. An important finding in Betts and Roemer’s work is that economic targeting alone won’t alter the relative distribution of income across cohorts. The targeting has to be aimed at the discriminated or excluded cohort.
In India, the first task of the government must be to guarantee formal equality of opportunity by dealing firmly with discrimination in the labour, housing and credit markets as well as educational system. Without instituting a system of reservation — which would generate more political heat than tangible benefit for Muslims — the Government must send out a clear and unambiguous message that the social cohesiveness and future growth prospects of the country require government departments and private firms to encourage the recruitment of Muslims. But in order to generate substantive equality of opportunity and uproot inequality and exclusion from their roots, the government has to guarantee better access to education at every level for Muslims, Dalits, Tribals, and OBCs.

All of this is only a first approximation and much more will need to be done. What is important, however, is that we recognise both the reality of Muslim exclusion and the urgent need to do something about it. 
Siddharth Varadarajan is Associate Editor of The Hindu
When Did India Become Part of Israel’s Stable?

By Dr Paul Larudee

13 January, 2013

Amazing stuff, India ink. A few drops spread vigorously with a roller for several minutes on an iron plate are enough for eight sets of fingerprints and two sets of handprints on four ancient double-sided and folded Indian police fingerprint forms. By contrast, the mug shot was taken with a digital camera. After that, I was issued an official deportation order, for which I signed to acknowledge receipt. My passport remained in police custody until I got to the security check at the airport, when it was returned to me.

My crime? I had spoken to an audience of 22,000 youth at a Student Islamic Organization conference in Kerala State without having a visa that authorized public speaking or conference participation. India is perhaps the only “democracy” where free speech for foreigners depends upon the visa they are carrying. In fact, it is probably the only such country that has no visit visa category at all, and which has one of the most convoluted, bureaucratic and invasive visa application procedures this side of North Korea.

Not that the visa restrictions are always enforced. However, the myriad regulations and procedures (“for public protection”) permit the security apparatus to control individuals and events at their discretion without having to cite the true reasons for their enforcement. Every effective police state knows the drill.

In my case, I used a tourist visa, because the conference visa is a truly onerous procedure unless it is a state-sponsored event. In fact, that is the only type of conference participation permitted, because even private groups must seek state sponsorship in order to bring speakers from outside. In today’s India, however, state sponsorship is hardly a routine bureaucratic procedure.

It shouldn’t have been this way. India was supposed to have been the model for tolerant multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi-confessional societies. And when India was a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, carefully balancing its relationships among great and small powers and supporting those who might otherwise be a mere pawn in world affairs, this promise seemed plausible.

Regrettably, India has now become a home-grown Raj, choosing sides and fomenting discord between competing interests as a means of governing and controlling, in the best traditions of its colonial past. Thus, for example, conservative Salafist clerics are welcome when they attend conferences on tourist visas, while human rights speakers like David Barsamian, John Esposito, Yvonne Ridley, Wilhelm Langthaler and myself are unwelcome, and are denied visas or expelled, and/or their hosts are prosecuted.

The Salafist treatment is part of a Machiavellian formula hatched by India with its newest partner, Israel. Salafists deserve free speech as much as anyone, but the reason India accords more of it to them is on the advice of Israel. Israel promotes Islamophobia as part of its strategy of demonizing Palestinians and Arabs, a majority of whom are Muslims, and the Salafist brand of Islam fits Israel’s agenda of portraying Islam as an extremist ideology. This stokes the flames of the more extreme nationalist Hindu groups in India and plays on the fears of many other non-Muslim groups, as well. Since Pakistan is an external Muslim enemy, such demonization helps to unify non-Muslim India and permit popular tolerance of greater government control as well as encroachment of security forces on civil rights and privacy.

In fact, India has its own version of the U.S. Patriot Act, curbing the rights of its people. It is called the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), and while the title is more honest than “Patriot”, it is also a bit scary. It implies that people can be snatched from the edge of a sidewalk on the pretext that they were intent on jaywalking. No need for the infraction to happen first.[i] UAPA is an illustration of the degree to which human rights have been marginalized in the land of M.K. Gandhi and Abdulghaffar Khan.

Not that India doesn’t have real security concerns. Communal strife is as old as India itself and has sometimes risen to the level of genocide, which drove the 1947 Pakistan secession. However, it is one thing to use law enforcement to prevent fighting and quite another to use it to drive a wedge between communities with a view towards playing them off against each other.

A case in point is the role that Israel is playing. The self-proclaimed Jewish state is selling itself to India as a worthwhile ally on the basis that it is a) an experienced and effective leader in the fight against Islamist extremism and terrorism, b) a supplier of high-tech weapons and intelligence, and c) a means of access to U.S. support and cooperation. In effect, Israel is saying that both states have common friends and enemies and that Israel is in a position to provide what India needs.

India appears to be buying, and is currently the largest customer for Israeli military arms systems and services. Never mind that the expensive Iron Dome systems are effective less than 50% of the time against rockets from Gaza that use 16th century technology. Like most governments, India has been seduced by the promise of omniscient surveillance systems and the prospect of winning battles rather than preventing them.

This is obviously a devil’s bargain. True to the nature of such contracts, however, are the surprises that await the unwary. It is instructive to remember that Israeli agents once planted bombs in Baghdad synagogues to encourage Iraq’s Jews to emigrate to Israel. (It worked, and encouraged Iraqi thugs toward violence, as well.)

Since then, Israel has stolen nuclear weapon technology and weapons grade fissionable material from the U.S., conducted the most massive spying operation in U.S. history against its “ally”, and staged numerous assassinations and “black ops” actions outside its borders, including friendly countries. Questions currently surround the killing of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria and the putative assassination attempt on Israeli diplomats in India. Israel blamed both of these on Iran on the basis of flimsy evidence, possibly fabricated in collaboration with its allies, the violent Mujahedin-e-Khalq Iranian exile group.

India would do well to be more circumspect toward friends like this. Vilifying Iran is high on Israel’s current agenda, and Israel reportedly provided “evidence” and pushed the Indian government to prosecute the case. The result was the arrest of journalist Syed Mohammed Ahmed Kazmi, who anchors a news program on West Asia providing alternative views of events in the region. His open advocacy of better relations with Iran and his Iranian contacts were enough make him an Israeli target and an Indian suspect. After seven months of incarceration, however, the Indian government had to release him for lack of evidence.

Kazmi and I shared the podium at the SIO conference in Kerala and I was able to chat with him privately just prior to the event. He is a courageous man, willing to accept the risk of speaking in public so soon after his release, but appears to hold no bitterness. Peaceful dissent of this kind needs to be encouraged in India, which is well advised to heed John F. Kennedy’s warning that, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

Sadly, Israel sees violent revolution in foreign countries to be in its national interest, under the “divide and conquer” principle. However, one would think that India’s principle would be the opposite if it wants to remain a successful unified nation with a highly diverse population seeking assurance that all their voices are heard in a national consensus. Furthermore, there is no need for India to acquire the same enemies as Israel. It may be in Israel’s perceived interests, but is it in India’s?

My few days in Kerala were an inspiring glimpse of what is possible. I saw thousands of young Indian Muslims whose religious and social mission is to benefit all mankind, to alleviate the social ills of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, to promote interfaith cooperation and to create an umbrella that is inclusive of everyone.

Although this was a Muslim event, many who attended were not Muslim and were invited directly by their Muslim neighbors. I was invited to be the keynote speaker even though I am not Muslim and spoke more generally about human rights and about Palestinian issues, which are not specifically Muslim or Indian. Roughly 40% of the attendees were young women, in a society not always known for its success in promoting women’s rights.

These young people were politically aware, committed, well organized and motivated. Society is supposed to create models for young people, but in this case it was the young that created a model for their society.

Dr. Paul Larudee is a human rights advocate and one of the co-founders of the movement to break the siege of Gaza by sea. He was deported from India on 31st December, 2012.

[i] For a fictional treatment illustrating the absurdity of this proposition, see the film Minority Report (2002).

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