There are nearly two hundred million Muslims in India, all of the citizens of India are constitutionally at par with their Hindu, Christian and Sikh brethren in every way. Yet they are discriminated against the most. How did this come about?
Initially, in the decades after the partition, it was the horrors of partition that kept mistrust of each other alive. The creation of Bangladesh should have put paid to the old suspicions and animosity. It did not. The government was responsible to an extent by giving prominence to the Muslim clergy rather than the moderate voices among the Muslims. The Shah Bano case is an example. Again after the 1971 War, Kashmir had settled down till the government of the day decided to rig the elections. The consequences are being felt today.
Later the Afghan imbroglio, the saga of Osama bin Laden and the rise of the Taliban divided Muslim societies all over the world. Muslims from every country answered the call to join the Jihadi groups. The rise of terrorism brought its own insecurities and suspicions. Terror incidents have almost become a way of life the world over. It places governments in a difficult position, maintaining religious harmony along with upgrading the security apparatus to deal with the problem internally as well as externally.
It is axiomatic that every time a terrorist attack takes place anywhere in the country security forces go into Muslim localities to locate the culprits. The thoroughness of the searches carried out caused resentment. And so the cycle keeps getting repeated. The terrorists gain from the resentment and try and find new recruits, largely unemployed and frustrated youths. Well-educated youth in well-paying jobs joining the radicals is a new phenomenon for which no satisfactory explanation has been found in any country struck by terrorist acts.
As if this were not enough the growth of Hindu right-wing extremism, if it can be called that, spewing venom against the Muslims in particular and Christians to a lesser extent further aggravates the situation. The point that is lost among the rising tensions is that the number of Muslims involved in what has been called anti-national activities or the extreme elements among the Hindus, hardly ever referred to as anti-national, is not as large as is being made out..The vast majority of Hindus across India are horrified and disgusted with the lynching of Muslims which neither the national government nor concerned state governments have been able to put an end to. How can the country or the government allow such small numbers to dominate the situation?
To mainstream Muslims (the other minorities are not required to be mainstreamed, they are already mainstreamed) the government has to have a serious re-look at its policies if the country has to really move ahead. The police in the states have to get off the back of the Muslims and stop detaining them on flimsy grounds like being caught listening to anti-India speech or cheering Pakistan or one of its players in a match against India.
Some or many of them might be aficionados of the game appreciating the player rather than the nationality of the player. Pakistanis have routinely been cheering players like Tendulkar, Kumble, and Kohli among others. None of them has had FIRs lodged against them nor have they been taken in for questioning. A clear direction has to be given to the police by the Centre or the Courts to keep their hands off those who prefer cheering for Pakistani cricketers or listening to external programmes criticizing India. It is not against the law.
Administrators and law enforcement agencies must realise that raising Pakistani flags is more a sign of frustration than any love for Pakistan. In their heart, practically all Muslims know that Muslims in India are far better off than their coreligionists in Pakistan or Bangladesh. One cannot imagine that any Mus- lim in India would like to go and settle in any of these countries. They should also know that it is easier for educated Muslims from India to go for further studies abroad than for those from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia or the countries in the Middle East. The reason is that they are Muslims from India.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right for everyone, Hindus as well as Muslims. Therefore well known and respected actors, writers and other public figures who voice their concern that they are afraid in India are expressing a genuine fear of the Hindu right. As simple as that. They should know that self-arrogated Hindu bigots are nobody to ask them to leave India. They should ask the former to shut up if it makes them feel better. Feeling that they should remain silent is not the answer when hundreds of Indians adore and respect them. That includes eminent people, writers, media people and even the police. India does not belong to these bigots in temporary ascendance whom the police are afraid to touch. They should take their cue from people like Javed Akhtar, Naseeruddin Shah, Salman Khurshid and so many others who exercise their right to free speech knowing that their right is no less than that of any other Indian.
Leaders of the ruling dispensation would know that Congress easily ruled the country for several decades after Independence. They were voted to power again and again by Hindus being over eighty per cent of the population because they had a far more liberal outlook that did not allow for the polarisation of the country that is taking place now. It is a national tragedy that the people of the country can collectively overcome not through vote bank politics but by ensuring that the balance between the old and the new is maintained in the field of politics.
India through the ages has always needed strong rulers at the centre that kept India free from marauders. Throughout the rule of the Mughals for nearly three hundred years no outside power was able to invade or ravage Hindustan. The English followed and whatever their ills they kept India united and strong. India again has a strong prime minister who is likely to remain for the foreseeable future. The moment he is able to convince the extreme right-wing of his party that unity indeed is strength, India will become one of the strongest countries in the world within his tenure. Failing this India will remain a middle-ranking power.
(The writer, a former Major General of the Indian Army is the author of Revitalising Indian Democracy.)