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Indian Muslims: Looking forward with past in the hindsight
Friday, May 21, 2010 10:34:09 PM, Shahidur Rashid Talukdar
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Over seven hundred years of Muslim rule in India developed a sense of superiority among the Indian Muslims, as the ruler class, only to be washed away, later, by the British imperialism. The independence of India came along with a whole episode of bloody memory of communal disharmony and the ultimate partition. This added salt to the sores of Indian Muslims. The loss of family members, relatives, friends, and neighbors added to the loss of sultanate. And the worst of all, the partition left a void in the intellectual circle of Indian Muslims. As most of the academicians, scientists, and intellectuals left the country for the newly formed Pakistan, the Muslims became an
orphaned community in India with only a few to provide direction, a representation and advocate for them.
Aftermath of Partition
The remaining Muslims thus developed around them a fortress of protection by psychologically, socially, educationally, and to some extent, linguistically alienating them from the rest of India. The weak and isolated community faced many problems and one problem induced another. For instance, illiteracy and mediocrity affected job prospects, that induced poverty, resulting in another cycle of lack of proper education and hence, poverty. Lack of proper and deliberate initiatives to alter the situation facilitated the process of deterioration and helped create an everlasting pessimism in the community. This again, contributed to the alienation.
Consequently, the community started to regress constantly towards mediocrity, only to realize it later. Much later. This realization of laggardness has come at a time when the Indian Muslim community is already far behind nearly all other communities and across the boundaries of classes, in nearly all spheres of progress. Immersed in frustration and hopelessness, the community soothes itself by resorting to the memories of the past.
But for a reality check: Does the past glory conform to the present situation? Can the Muslim community see itself anywhere close to the mainstream India? The Sachar Committee Report clearly shows that the vast majority of the community stands nowhere close to the other communities, not even the backward and scheduled castes! It doesnít even need a Sachar Committee Report to know this. Just a glance at a typical Muslim neighborhood, at any government or private office, or even a typical community college or university will tell the story. Muslims everywhere in the public domain have a scarce presence, except the courts, where they often go seeking justice.
What are the reasons for our under-representation nearly everywhere from a community college to the parliament? The reasons are: partly because of the Muslim Communityís incapability to participate in and isolation from the pursuit of worldly progress and partly because of the inadequacy and indifference of the government initiatives which failed to drag the community to the mainstream.
This vicious circle of alienation and poverty has embittered the situation to its worst and pulled the community to the nadir from where an immediate recovery seems not only a mere dream but also an illusion. However, the question is that: How long the Muslim community can afford to live by the glory of the long past? How long the community can keep crying over what has been lost? How long the community can keep itself aloof from the developments around? How long can the Muslims of India suffer from poverty and indignity and continue to deteriorate? The answer is: Too long has been the nap of complacency. We need to cut it short. Everyone has been running fast. We need to rush to catch up with others.
Muslims must accept the fact that we, the Indian Muslims, are responsible for large part of our plight and need to make active efforts to ameliorate the situation. Else, there can be no way out. We have to take the initiative to break the vicious circle and come out of the constant state of decline and deprivation. Once we take the onus of responsibility on our shoulders to improve our lot, we have to figure out how we can bridge the huge gap between the Muslim community and the others.
Remove psychological barrier
First of all, in my opinion, the community needs to cross the psychological barrier of aloofness and reaffirm the fact that we belong to India not because of any accident or as a result of some historical process but because of a conscious choice. We need to remind ourselves that we belong to this land, we were born here, we want to live here and want to enjoy and share its bounties with all others who have the same feelings and enrich this land with our efforts by making valuable contributions towards its progress. At the same time we need to build the confidence that we can make a difference in our lives as well as in the lives of others by way of our contributions.
I stress this point because I feel that there are circumstances in which this confidence seems to wane before disruptive, communal and discriminating forces. But it is very important that we donít lose faith in ourselves and in the capacity of the democratic processes that together we can achieve a better state of not merely existence but of flourishing. In this sojourn we might have to face difficulties, we might have to fight with disruptive forces, but we canít afford to lose heart.
Since our very survival and progress is in question, we are at the stake. Expecting too much from outside, at this juncture, does not seem a good enough idea. A community paralyzed between the past glory and present indifference can very well go down towards the abyss. Over a century and a quarter ago, the great visionary and educationalist Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had noted: Muslims are plunging in, and no one is there to take them out. But to our utter unfortunacy, the situation does not seem very different, even now. We canít wait and repeat the same for centuries. We have to take the responsibility to pull ourselves out. We have to take the initiative change our plight, improve our lot and carry our mission ahead.
Convert yourselves into indispensable assets
Overcoming the psychological barrier is just one step. The next, and the most important step, is to convert ourselves into indispensable assets. Education has to play a pivotal role in this transformation process. Only education can liberate us from the vicious circle of poverty and isolation. We must acquire quality education not only to expand the horizon of our knowledge but also to equip ourselves with the skills required for newer innovations, the changing industry and evolving market.
We need a momentous drive to spread education among ourselves as well as to each corner of the society. We must identify why the Muslim community is behind all others in education. We need to figure out why is our literacy rate and the level of higher education among us is below the national average. We have to find out the reason for Muslim childrenís falling participation in higher education. In order to reduce the gap between our performance and that of the majority of Indians, we need to make the best use of the available infrastructure and resources. We need to demand adequate infrastructure from the government as well as take our own initiative to set up our educational infrastructure. We canít be totally dependent upon the public initiatives, we must make our own efforts to garner funds, gather academicians and develop infrastructure to disseminate education among the poor Muslim masses.
The process, not an easy one indeed, might be very cumbersome. A community which has been dormant for of centuries cannot be awakened overnight. It will take its time, but the need of the hour is that the initiative needs to be taken. We often grudge about lack of higher education among Muslims, about inadequate representation of Muslims in Government services and in industry. But in order to reach those arenas we need to have quality students coming out from schools. We need to ensure access to quality education to the poor Muslim children.
For this, we can adopt at least three measures. First, providing scholarships to the deserving students, on counts of both merit as well as need that is providing assistance to those children who already have access to a school but can not afford to study because of financial constraints. This is likely to have strong sustainable long term impact. Another such initiative would be to set up primary and secondary schools of high standard in underserved Muslim concentrated areas, particularly addressing children from poor families. And the last, is to set up special coaching and guidance centers in other areas where a school is not needed. Such a center can address the deficiency need by providing a focused coaching, career oriented guidance and motivation to excel. In such cases,
initially the level of success might appear low but there needs to be determined and persistent effort.
Success or failure of an endeavor depends on the kind of efforts made. In order for us to succeed, first of all, the schools need to maintain a high academic standard like those of ICSE or CBSE schools. And the coaching centers need to maintain the highest professional approach, emulating those of the best in the country. It is quite obvious that initially, in an underserved community, the parents might not be very much enthusiastic about their childrenís education. For them, helping in the family affairs or contributing to the narrow supply of income might appear more important. We have to create an environment as to how parents, even though they might be illiterate, develop a positive attitude towards education and ultimately own the responsibility to educate their children.
Doing this might be difficult but not impossible. We need to identify interest groups, motivated individuals, clubs, association or groups of progressive minded elders from the community itself who can mobilize the community to carry out the work at the local level. Muslim NGOs or any other organization interested to help the community with a track record of transparency and efficiency can be instrumental in such an effort.
Lack of credible NGOs maybe an issue, however, to start with, on a pilot basis; identifying a few NGOs wonít be a problem. Once a few organizations take the initiative and come up with a viable proposal, the government or non-government funding agencies can evaluate the same and grant a project. For monitoring, the implementing agency, the NGO itself will primarily be responsible. In addition, the local interest group will provide necessary inputs in terms of community relations, cooperation, and community mobilization. In the absence of such interested parties, at the grass-root level we need to have implementing and monitoring agencies.
Another important aspect of this movement will be to ensure funding. In this age nothing will happen without money. Although sincerity of intention and seriousness of will is absolutely essential to carry on our mission but money is quite instrumental. Money can provide solution to many of our problems. We need to pay for our infrastructure, for the teachers, and above all, for scholarships to the needy students. So we need a constant stream of money. Raising funds for specific occasions is fine but in order to plan and implement projects on a large scale and to ensure their sustainability, we need to have accumulated funds at hand. For this, we need to mobilize the institutional resources like the government fundings, the Waqf boards, other non-government funding agencies, in addition to the individual contributors. And equally important is to make sure that the money is in safe hands and reaches its destination that is the end user, on time. For this, we need a viable institutional mechanism -a funding agency.
Along with our integration to the mainstream and ensuring our educational progress, we must also ensure that we are contributing to the economy also not merely as consumers and labor force but also as entrepreneurs. Compared to the booming Indian industry, the contribution of Muslim industry is nearly insignificant, except a few. The true development of any community comes from its industry which is an outcome of strong entrepreneurship. We canít always look towards others to provide us opportunity, we have to create opportunities. Then only we can choose what we like rather than meekly accepting what others leave for us. High educational achievements will make us worthy as individuals and strong industrial and entrepreneurial presence will make us worthy as a community.
And last but not the least, contributing to the Indian social fabric is an essential task before Indian Muslims. We need to engage ourselves in meaningful social interactions outside the Muslim community, leaving the ghettos that we have created around us. We need to involve ourselves in the cultural and developmental affairs, not just of our own, but of all, in general. We need to contribute to the social progress, promote harmony, not divisions. We need to diversify our interests and aspirations. We need to speak for justice, for empowerment, for environmental protection, for cultural end ethnic diversity. We need to learn appreciating the composite culture rather than exclusively advocating for ours. This will help us form better links with others around us.
We need to make positive contribution to the secular character, not only for the interest of the Muslims, but for all. We need to speak out for other communities when they need for advocacy. We need to work for the underprivileged of any community. We need to develop a better understanding of the role of women in society. We need to promote their education and welfare. We need to learn to respect women, in practice, in real life. We need to ensure that Muslim women are not subjugated. We need to demonstrate by our action that Muslim women have a better social status, as opposed to quoting religious scriptures to prove it.
If we can succeed in doing all or at least some of the aforesaid, we will establish ourselves as better Muslims, better Indians, and better human beings.
The writer is a Ph.D. student at Texas Tech University, Texas, USA.
He is originally from Assam, India.
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