India’s Muslim precariat

Published December 8, 2023
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan

“Jaag mere Punjab ke Pakistan chala” — Habib Jalib

RECENTLY, Prof Christophe Jaffrelot, an authority on India’s Muslims, spoke on ‘The Plight of Minorities under Modi’s India’ at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. He painted a sombre picture.

Since 1947, India’s “democracy” had evolved through the Gandhi/Nehru phase of “conservative democracy”, to a post-Mandal more inclusive democracy, to today’s BJP-dominated “ethnic democracy”. This ethnic democracy had evolved from Savarkar’s Hindu rashtra (Hindu state) to Modi’s Hindu raj (Hindu rule.) Accordingly, India’s Muslims had been marginalised institutionally, economically, and educationally.

Statistics from 1978 to 2016 showed the number of Muslims in the Indian Administrative Service was around four to five per cent, although Indian Muslims were 14.5pc of India’s population. In the Indian Police Service Muslims were a mere 2 to 2.5pc.

The only institution where Indian Muslims exceeded their percentage of the population were Indian jails! As for the judiciary, there were only one or two Muslims among the 30 justices of the supreme court of India.

Although Jaffrelot did not mention it, Muslims in the Indian military have been reduced from a third at partition to 2pc today. However, he mentioned the bureaucracy of occupied Kashmir as being “de-Kashmirised.”

Indian Muslims have only 9.5pc of India’s wealth, whereas the Hindu upper castes, with less than half the population of the Muslims, have 36pc.

Politically, the ruling BJP which won two landslide electoral victories in a row did not have a single Muslim in parliament. After the BJP defeated the Samajwadi Party in UP the Muslim percentage in its assembly went from 17pc to 6pc.

It has been a similar story in the other states of India. West Bengal and Kerala have been partial exceptions. Despite the rise of the BJP in the south it does not rule in any of its five states and accordingly the Muslims are relatively better represented in their assemblies.

Economically, the Indian Muslims have only 9.5pc of India’s wealth, whereas the Hindu upper castes (Brahmin and Bania), with less than half the population of the Muslims, have 36pc.

Moreover, there is no difference in the percentages owned by so-called Muslim upper and lower castes, indicating a more or less wholesale communal exclusion — not unlike the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany even if widespread vigilante violence against Indian Muslims is still of a lower order.

The lack of access to government jobs is a prime reason for the poverty of India’s Muslims. Accordingly, 64pc of Muslims are either self-employed or work as casual labourers. Indian Muslims are by and large not part of the ‘salariat’ of India! The Dalits and Other Backward Castes of India have representation in the salariat mainly as a result of the BJP’s ‘positive discrimination’ to break the traditional dominance of the upper caste anti-BJP Hindus of the south.

Educationally, the Muslims are also losing ground. In Kerala graduates among Hindu upper castes are 22pc whereas among Muslims it is 4pc. In UP the percentage for Hindu upper castes is 50pc whereas for the first time ever graduates among upper-caste Muslims have declined from 14pc to 12pc.

Education provides access to the salariat and upward mobility but educational costs and the fact that Muslim students have the fewest scholarships prohibits their access to an adequate education.

Urdu, moreover, is dying in India. Only half of the Muslims in UP — the home of Urdu — speak and read it. Urdu has become the language of the south, because of Hyderabad, and of West Bengal because Mamata Banerjee panders to her Muslim voters.

Comment: In Pakistan we often tell each other we must save Pakistan as it is our only country. In Modi’s India the vast majority of Muslims have no country to call their own. This is their plight.

Jaffrelot suggested their only hope may lie in relocation to the south of India where prejudice against them is less virulent. This is totally impractical. Asked whether improved India-Pakistan relations could help improve the lot of India’s Muslims, he did not think so because Modi had dramatically changed India’s character.

Secular democratic inclusivity could no longer compete with Hindutva exclusiveness and majoritarianism as a vote-getter. The Congress party was adjusting to this political reality. (Modi’s India has indeed realised the fears of Abul Kalam Azad that the partition of India would reduce India’s Muslims to below the status of Shudras!)

Pakistan is legitimately concerned with the plight of Indian Muslims and India-occupied Kashmiris, as well as the communal and genocidal ideology of Hindutva and Narendra Modi.

The international community is well aware of Modi’s India. The West, particularly the US and the UK, while critical of India’s genocidal human rights violations against Muslims ignores them because India is considered an ally against China. This Islamophobic hypocrisy needs to be condemned in no uncertain terms.

Tragically, as a failing state, Pakistan has forfeited the possibility of having a globally influential voice. Accordingly, discussing India’s dismal minority rights record becomes an act of self-indulgence aimed at placating domestic public opinion rather than doing anything about it.

Sincerity in this regard would require Pakistan to first address its own minority rights situation in accordance with the Holy Quran, the Constitution of Pakistan, and the International Human Rights Charter.

As for minorities in Pakistan, we should honestly ascertain the relevant facts from our religious minorities such as Hindus and Christians; ethnic minorities such as the Hazaras, Baloch, Brahui, Chitralis, Pakhtun, Sindhis, etc; and political parties that represent a massive majority of Pakistanis who want democracy, instead of any praetorian hybrid system which is thoroughly unconstitutional.

We should also consult reports of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission and the UN’s international human rights organisations to know our ranking among nations on minority rights.

In 1972, the International Commission of Jurists stated “there is a strong prima facie case that particular acts of genocide were committed against the Hindus” — who were our East Pakistan compatriots in 1971. Shamefully, there have been no proper investigations, apologies or criminal prosecutions. In these circumstances, merely discussing minority rights in an ‘enemy’ country is no measure of our concern for human rights.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

ashrafjqazi@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2023

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