Why are Muslim zealots the media favourites?

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed,

It has been seen over the years that all political parties cash in on the Muslim mandate but later they ignore the issues that affect the community, using it like tissue paper.

However, even the media keeps in limelight those who are of nuisance value like the Shahi Imams, Owaisis and Shahabuddins, owing to their vitriolic remarks and rabble rousing as such things give colour to the reports and put the community and Islam to shame.

The Congress-led government has been hoodwinking the Muslim community regarding upliftment of their masses. Like all previous governments, there haven't been any concrete policies to achieve this.

The field of education provides the evidence. If India's literacy rate is 63.07 percent, Muslims are way behind at 41.27 percent. The literacy rate among Muslim women is just 21.66 percent as against the national average of 40.54 percent, according to surveys carried out by Friends for Education.

Not more than two percent Muslims are in government jobs. Of the 479 judges at an all India level, only 30 are Muslims - that makes it just 6.26 percent. Of the 3,284 Indian Police Service (IPS) officers, just 120 are Muslims.

The government-backed Sachar Committee and the Planning Commission report the pathetic educational state of Muslims in India.

On the electoral front, despite having substantial numbers - such as constituting about 20 percent of Uttar Pradesh's population and around 10 percent in other important states, Muslims have not really mattered in electoral politics.

History has proved that reservations on communal lines are not in the interest of national unity. Muslims should understand that the ostrich mentality is never going to help them.

Muslims today are aware that their leadership has lost its voice and its utility. Because of their leaders and the petty politicians who represent them, Indian Muslims live today in a system of unofficial apartheid.

Hindus and Muslims have developed separately - very often wholly ignorant of what is in the other's mind. This ghetto existence has allowed the rise of a class of political middlemen who serve as interlocutors between the Muslim masses and the rest of Indian society.

It's very sad that Indian Muslims have been snowballed into one controversy or the other like - jehad, kufr, triple talaq, Vande Mataram, Darul Harab, family planning, textbooks, purdah, Ameena, Gudiya, Imrana - none of them really being the real problem. This reinforces stereotypes and widens the gap between the two communities.

In this ghettoised situation emerged the churlish political middlemen as interlocutors for communities picking on sensational issues that would apparently tighten their stranglehold on the people they pretend to represent by diverting the attention from real bread and butter issues to Shah Bano, Babri Masjid, Jamia Millia and AMU's minority character, and Salman Rushdie.

Utter educational backwardness, women's education, social stagnation, communalisation of the police force and absence from the mainstream were never addressed by these self-appointed interlocutors with the same emphasis as the Babri Masjid.

This leadership has completely failed to understand the aspirations of youth aiming for excellence for an enlightened future. A desire to compete rather than grovel and grope for quotas and special favours, a passion for modern education, questioning the clergy and coming out of the veil are now some of the altered ground realities for Muslim youth who have all been disillusioned by the likes of Ghulam Nabis, Shahi Imams, Najmas, Shahabuddins and Salman Khurshids.

According to senior lawyer M. Atyab Siddiqui, India's 150 million Muslims, the largest religious minority, have contributed umpteen and grand successes since Independence in 1947.

Many of the Muslim icons are present in all walks of life, including leaders of India's freedom struggle, politics, cricket, film and academics. What is unfortunate is that despite Muslims having repeatedly asserted their identity as Indians, they find their patriotism being questioned.

During the Babri Masjid imbroglio, while in New York, I reacted instantly as an Indian to the telecast of the Babri Masjid demolition while the American newspaper headlines shrieked: Hindu terrorism. Nevertheless, the community must come out of the Babri illusion and educate their children.

I wrote to the American papers and gave an interview to the US Today TV network. I argued that just because a section of the Hindu community had demolished the mosque and indulged in rioting, the entire Hindu populace could not be labelled as terrorists.

Many socio-economic problems Indian Muslims face are the same as faced by others. But there are other issues that affect only them like their backward Urdu medium schooling system.

That Bollywood has confined the portrayal of Indian Muslims to bearded men in sherwanis, burqa-clad women, skull-capped mullahs, inebriated nawabs and dancing girls is just a symbolic indicator of this harsh reality.

The dargah (shrine) of Moula Ali in Kolkata, for instance, is believed to be frequented more by Hindus than he Muslims. In rural Bengal, there are many shrines, which are worshiped by Hindus by one name and by Muslims by another name .

Any honest assessment would suggest that 90 percent of India is secular. The example of this fact is that the likes of (Pravin)Togadia have today been sidelined. India happens to be the safest place for Muslims - even safer than Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Anger against Muslim zealots is common among younger educated Muslims since they feel upset about the fact that the media is not giving place to liberal Muslims and is taking them to be the spokespersons of the community.

(Firoz Bakht Ahmed is the grandnephew of freedom movement leader Maulana Azad and a community worker. He can be contacted at firozbakhtahmed07@gmail.com)


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