Indian Muslims Cannot Afford to Fall Behind Again

By Tanvir Salim,

Incidents of bomb blasts in its cities and other such upheavals notwithstanding, India is quickly becoming a player among the world's powerful nations. It is ready to join the "Big-Boys League". Everything about it might not be quite as shiny as Indians would like to claim, but no matter! After all, there are dark spots on the moon as well. And yet the moon captivates.

We have seen the march of India over the last fifty-plus years. It has gone from being an underdeveloped country to one that is galloping ahead economically and grabbing attention. During the journey, some mistakes have been made. Some opportunities have been lost along the way. There has been injustice, and worse still, many who were undeserving were hoisted up to positions of power and influence. But such is life. We learn from our mistakes and take the next step forward.

For the Muslims, the journey has been no different. Against all odds the determined and hardworking among them have succeeded. There has been discrimination against their community, but opportunities have been forwarded as well.

Most of us Muslims were unable to utilize those resources to our best advantage. And we have been guilty of waiting for opportunities to be handed to us. We didn't avail of the government schools and universities as much as we could have, preferring to be educated in our own Muslim supported institutions. And thus we lost considerable energy reinventing the wheel.

The news is better now. The Muslim middle class is on the move and participating in every walk of life. However, those at the lower level need help, and lots of it.

It is the better placed among our community who have to make a difference in the lives of those not quite as fortunate. We have to share what we have been blessed with and what we have attained. Sadly, our disunity prevents agreement over the measures that are to be taken. This did not hurt our cause as much in the past. Zamindars and the Taluqdars, who had plenty, shared some of their wealth for services rendered. That is no longer the case.

The Revolt of 1857 brought about a dramatic change. Since the Muslims had taken an active part in the mutiny, they were punished by the British and forced onto the sidelines. Muslims also played a major role in the subsequent Freedom Movement, but they could recover fully from what happened to them in the aftermath of the 1857 revolt. The reasons for this are many. The fact remains that over the last century and half, it has been a downhill slide for the Muslims in India.

This dawn of the 21st century has brought along a new attitude and opportunities for each and everyone in India. We are also witnessing changes in the mindset of the Indian Muslim. Indian Muslims have traveled widely and settled in many parts of the world. At some places they are struggling. At others, they have made a name for themselves.

These successful ones are in a position to do their part, however small, to change the lives of their less well-off "brothers and sisters" in India. As a Hindustani saying goes: "Boond boond se sindhu bana hai, sindhu sindhu se yeh saagar". In America they say in the same vein that "every dollar counts."

The good news is that we Muslims abroad are indeed trying to help out. The not-so-good news is that so far it hasn't been enough.

We do not seem to be good advocates for ourselves. And unfortunately, images and sound-bytes tend to capture all the attention. It is the reason why, e.g., comments are made on tennis player Sania Mirza's dress but not on her game. On the more important issues, there is too often no more than a lukewarm response. And part of the fault lies in the issues not being raised forcefully enough, and not dramatically enough.

Not too long ago, I had raised the prospect of funding for a school. There did not seem to be much support. Perhaps I should have brought out pictures of malnourished children squatting on cold, hard floors. Other communities have used such imagery when advocating their causes, and made good progress.

We have to adopt these "tricks" and "tools of the trade" too. We are short on resources and have woken up late to the plight of the Indian Muslims. We need to do better.

Tanvir Salim


  1. Tanvir,
    Well said. Oportunities abound, problems are there; but it is upto peopel (And communities) to leverage, learn, and succeed. I would say muslim leaders have done gerat injustice by segregating them and focusing on less important items like independence of madrasa, reservations etc..Objective should be to create Azim premjis and NArayan morthys, kalams and veghese, etc etc


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