Indian Muslims and Terrorism – A Short Discourse

The majority section of Indian society, the ‘concerned’ Hindu citizens are demanding that the Indian Muslims must immediately start to speak out and take counteractive steps against the terrorist attacks instigated by fundamentalist and anti-national Muslim groups. They are outright critical about the attitude of common Muslims and Muslim organizations of the country for not doing enough to voice their protest and instead preferring to remain mere spectators of the spiteful events. They have raised a ‘valid’ question: is this not the ideal time for Indian Muslims to prove their loyalty to the Indian state? If they are honestly against these felonious acts of homegrown terrorists, if they genuinely feel that terrorists are demeaning the entire Muslim population and in the name of Islam destabilizing the Indian society, then why are they not coming out in flocks to express their concern? A lot of voices have been built up in favor of the above view. Therefore, it is worth probing the elements of this complicated topic in detail.

During the Partition of India in 1947, a substantial number of Muslim families decided to live in secular India instead of migrating to Islamic Pakistan. It was a difficult but cognizant decision, based largely on the official stand of the new Indian Government which wanted to be recognized as a secular state. The important part played by a significant section of their Hindu neighbors and friends must also be mentioned, those Hindus who did provide the required confidence and solace to their Muslim brothers and sisters to reside beside them. At that time it was not an easy decision for the compassionate Hindus either in front of large-scale killing and violence. Communal elements were present in both communities, feeding each other on an agenda of hatred and intolerance. The Partition dusts settled down in time but left a deep scar on the face of the newborn nation. Today’s younger generation of Muslims were born and brought up in a secular-democratic India and has little or no mental connection with the Partition period’s assault of communal violence on their ancestors. They live and share the democratic milieu of this country equally with their Hindu counterparts.

Is it then beyond question that by having an equal stake in the system with their Hindu counterparts, the present day Indian Muslims should have no basis to be apathetic to the country’s democratic values? To find an answer to that we should look into the actual conditions wherein majority of the Indian Muslims live.

As per 2001 census estimates, India has roughly 150 million Muslims, constituting 13.43 per cent of the Indian population. They represent the second largest Muslim population in the world, behind Indonesia (190 million) and just ahead of Pakistan (about 140 million). The Indian Muslim community is larger than the entire population of Arab Muslims (about 140 million). Despite such a huge presence, Indian Muslims by and large are living in appalling socio-economic conditions. All post-independence commissions set up by the Indian government in an effort to find out the social, economic and educational status of Muslims – from the 1983 Dr Gopal Singh Commission to the 2006 Rajinder Sachar Commission have shown a dismaying portrayal of the community. The latest report by Rajinder Sachar Commission has established the following disturbing statistics:

1. 48 per cent of Muslims older than 46 years age can’t read or write. In the age group of 6 to 14 years, 25 per cent of Muslim children are either dropouts or have never attended school. As far as enrolment ratio in schools are concerned, the share of Muslim children is lower compared to the schedule caste and schedule tribes.

2. Primary, secondary and higher secondary – at every level the dropout ratio is the highest among Muslims. Only 3 per cent of Muslim children attend the madrasa. Out of the total Muslim population of around 14 crore, only about 4 crore Muslims have received some education – 192 lakh are educated till primary level, 105 lakh till secondary, 73 lakh till higher secondary and 24 lakh till graduate level. A large section among the Muslims is Urdu speaking, but the infrastructure to teach Urdu is miserable.

3. 52 per cent of Muslim men and 91 per cent Muslim women are unemployed. Representation of Muslims in government jobs is far below their proportion in total population. They hold only 7.2 per cent of government jobs and only 3.2 per cent of the jobs in the country’s security agencies (namely, CRPF, CISF, BSF, SSB etc). In some states like Delhi, Tamilnadu, Bengal, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, the percentage is even lower.

4. In towns that range in population between 50 thousand and 2 lakhs, Muslim per capita expenditure is less than that of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

5. Although they make up only 13.43 per cent of the total population, 40 per cent of the prison populations in India are Muslim.

Except if one utterly believes the Hindutva apologist’s propaganda that the Sachar Commission report is ‘full of prejudices’ and ‘politically motivated’, there should be little doubt from the above data, that the condition of common Muslims in India is not at all promising and needs a drastic change. Muslims in India have fallen behind the rest of the population, especially in employment opportunities and education. Large section of this Muslim populace is living under extreme poverty. In urban areas most of them are raised in ghettos near to posh neighborhoods, lacking the basic infrastructural facilities like clean water supply, sewage or sanitation system, banks and schools. In almost every three Muslim dominated villages, one does not have a school. Nearly 40 per cent of the Muslim dominated villages do not have proper roads, drinking water and health facility. A large section of ordinary Muslims are low status or downtrodden. A sizable section among them is former dalits, converted to Islam. Their conversion over the centuries has not helped them to realize any noticeable socio-economic uplift.

The Hindutva apologist’s obviously have very strong disagreement to this report as it has bluntly shatter their circulated myth about Muslim ‘appeasement’ by the ‘pseudo secular’ political class of this country. On the other hand, the report has also exposed that since independence, the main political parties have mostly ignored elevating the community in socio-economic terms. Time and again these political parties and leaders shed crocodile tears and in the excuse of ‘helping’ Muslims, compromise with the most reactionary elements among them. Time and again it was observed that these leaders and political parties erase out the community from their mind without actually carrying out any enduring benefit to them once their political goals are achieved.

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From the education perspective, the situation of Muslims in India is rather depressing. From a very young age, Muslims who attend the madrasas (although only 3 per cent as per the Sachar report) receive orthodox religious teachings and throughout their lives earnestly follow it. The normal teaching trend in the madrasas is to minimize the intellectual and rational sciences and stress on purely religious orthodox disciplines, the dos and don’ts of Shariati laws and so on. The conditions of the dropouts or those who have never attended school (25 per cent as per the Sachar report) are even pathetic. They are the most wretched and deprived in the community, their outlook and values of life develop straight from their downcast and conventional social upbringing. The psyche of a larger section of young Muslims are shaped by these conventional and orthodox lessons of Islam, most of the time interpreted by the ulemas in such a way that learners are bound to incline towards a dogmatic approach in life, always suspicious to modern liberal values. The religious beliefs and practices form a blind faith on religion and thus it becomes easy for conservative minded religious Muslim leadership to draw the community’s agenda in strictly religious terms, neglecting the importance of socio-economic empowerment of the community. Modern rationalistic approach towards life is absent in this rigid religious atmosphere. As a result, it becomes obligatory for the inhabitants to learn Urdu, the women to adopt veil, children to receive Islamic orthodox teachings and to grow up with all sorts of conservative values.

The role of Islamic organizations in India is also not beyond criticism. These organizations are less concerned about social and educational reforms but instead spend most of their energy and resources to organize the community in religious lines. By stressing on an identity related threat, they try to segregate the minds of common Muslims from secular lenience to religious fanaticism.

The increasing communal polarization of the Muslims has aggravated after the speedy growth of Hindutva ideology in Indian society following the Babri Masjid demolition on 6 December, 1992. This event and the subsequent communal propaganda set off by the hydra headed Sangh Parivar was responsible for strengthening the anti minority bias in all sections of Indian society and was successful to manage a parliamentary victory in the national elections for its political wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Upbeat after the electoral victory, the Parivar and its offshoots started to systemically unleash sporadic attacks on the minorities in many parts of the country and forced them to gradually segregate from the mainstream. While under direct or indirect communal attacks, the socially alienated ordinary Muslims cling more towards religion for comfort and support. Communal elements among the Muslim community have also added fuel to the fire. These elements equally contributed the increasing communal polarization and have stirred up a widely shared perception among the community that their identity is being undermined by the systemic propaganda and actions of Hindu communal forces. The degraded conditions of the ordinary Muslims were bit by bit gathering all the right ingredients for extremist Islamic ideology to spread its root among them.

Just when the Gujarat riots happened.

Immediately after the terrible incidence of Godhra train burning on 27 February 2002, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi called it “a one-sided collective terrorist attack by one community”. The following day, his speech was broadcasted on Ahmedabad Doordarshan where he remarked, “…we will set an example that nobody, not even in his dreams, thinks of committing a heinous crime like this.” From 28 February onwards, in the pretext of the ‘terrorist’ label, Hindutva communal fanatics with the active support of the state police unleashed an unprecedented collective violence upon the entire Muslims in the state. The pogrom was like a moral compulsion to the perpetrators that their robust action was the right reaction to Godhra train burning and was essential to cleanse the Indian society from the evils of radical Islam – to ‘defend the Hindu religion’. Numerous Muslim houses, shops along with people were gutted; mosques and shrines were damaged or destroyed and in the place makeshift Hindu temples were built. The large scale violence did not spare women and children; wealth and status could not shield the victims. The chief minister, instead of controlling the situation justified the pogrom by saying “it was a spontaneous reaction of the people against the terrible events of Godhra”. According to official estimate, 1044 people were killed in the violence – 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus (including 58 victims of the Godhra train fire). 1,50,000 were left homeless.

Who were beside the victimized Muslims when Gujarat was burning? It was some Muslim voluntary groups and few social activists. On ground, not a single political party dared to confront the killers or has protected the traumatized Muslims. Literary critic and activist Ganesh Devy at that time had bitterly remarked, “There is no political or ideological divide in Gujarat on the Muslim question; even the Congress hates Muslims.” The government looked the other way when its healing touch was required the most. Under brutal attack perpetrated by the religious majority, the hapless Muslims cocooned into grungy relief camps for years and were fixed more ardently to their faith. This is a perfect time for fanatic ideas to creep in. There is always an immense possibility that extremist radical thought could infiltrate and influence the victims and their kith and kin, mostly youths, when they find their whole surroundings including the civil society, government agencies and the hate factories of vernacular media are totally against them only because they belong to a particular religion. A compassionate social attitude and a concerned government could have arrested this risk but it was an absurd expectation from a society completely polarized on religious line, where a mere 9.1 per cent are Muslims. Gujarat riots of 2002 were a slap in the face of a country which proclaims to be the biggest secular-democratic state of the world.

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Gujarati Hindus are arrogantly proud for what they have done in the post Godhra days. ‘Gujarati Asmita’ (Gujarati pride) was finally been legalized when the first part of justice G T Nanavati Commission report was made public recently. The report supported the chief minister’s claim that Godhra was a ‘terrorist conspiracy’. It also hinted to give a clean chit to the Gujarat government when it says that there was no evidence of any lapse on the state government’s part, “in providing protection, relief and rehabilitation to the victims of communal riots or in complying with the directions given by the National Human Rights Commission.” The Nanavati Commission exclusively adopted the version of the Gujarat government’s investigating officer Noel Parmar’s report in the Godhra train burning case. Interestingly, Parmar’s same report was earlier not accepted by the Supreme Court which on March, 2008 has ordered a fresh investigation of the post-Godhra violence. Earlier, two riot cases were transferred outside Gujarat to Maharashtra by the Supreme Court because the court understood that it is impossible for Muslim riot victims to get justice from the judiciary of Narendra Modi’s Gujarat.

No one in Gujarat now talks about or recalls the 2002 riots as if nothing of that sort has ever happened there. The events are supposed to be too ‘sensitive’ to talk about. The collective Gujarati mind has been shaped so perfectly by the Sangh Parivar’s systemic propaganda that even a mention about the riots is confronted with stiff resistance from the common people of Gujarat today. Even the most effected Muslims have adjusted with the situation and try hard to ‘forget’ about the carnage they faced. Instead, their keen effort now is to motivate themselves by the vibrant Gujarat dream.

Apart from the Muslims, India also comprises other minority groups like Christians, Sikhs and Zoroastrians (Parsis). In 1999, a missionary Graham Steins were burnt to death by Bajrang Dal goons along with his two minor sons in Orissa. The Christians were also targeted in Gujarat where similar incidents of church burning and brutal killing took place precisely like what is happening today in Orissa, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. And why not? Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Guru M. S. Golwalkar had marked out Muslims and Christians as ‘internal enemy No. 1 and 2’. Are they not ‘foreign invaders’ aimed to annihilate Hindus? The charge against Christians is for forcibly converting people. In the contrary, the census figures show that the number of Christians in India has dropped from 2.5 to 2.3 per cent. Guru Golwalkar had put in plain words that:

“The foreign races in Hindusthan must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e. of the Hindu nation, and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or [they] may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment – not even citizen’s rights.” (M. S. Golwalkar: We, Our Nationhood Defined, 1939)

Today Guru Golwalkar’s loyal disciples, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal are just complying with this treatise. Minorities can live in India but only at the mercy of the Hindus. If they speak out about their grievances, their concerns and aspirations, they will be dubbed as ‘anti-national’ or humiliated as being ‘appeased’ too much. When Professor Mushirul Hasan, the Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia University offers legal aid on behalf of the University to the students accused for terror acts, he is harshly blamed for ‘supporting’ terrorists. At that point the accusers completely close their eyes to the fact that it is a constitutional right of the accused students as citizens of India to be entitled for legal help until their crime is proved in a court. When the same Professor Hasan was targeted by Muslim fundamentalists when he took a stand against banning Salman Rushdie’s controversial book Satanic Verses – the same people has hailed him for taking a courageous position.

Who is a terrorist? Those who meticulously plan and blast bombs in crowded public places, attack temples with automatic weapons and brutally kill innocent lives in the name of Islamic jihad or those who butcher innocent lives, violently evict the victims from their homes and turn them into refugees, rape the women, destroy mosques and burn churches in the name of Hindu nationalism? Both are dangerous, both are malicious. Both are foreign funded, both have their own versions to justify their acts. Both are terrorists.

The utter hypocrisy with a section of our so called ‘concerned’ and ‘patriotic’ middle class is that they consider all secular voices as pseudo secular and thinks that condemning both Islamic and Hindutva fanatics is like ‘falling in a trap’. They are severely critical against jihadi homegrown Muslims but covertly supportive to the fanaticism of the vicious Hindutva forces. After independence almost seven decades has passed but still they never miss a chance of Muslim bashing by relating them with the 61 years old Partition day mayhem of 1947. However, these very same people carefully ignore the 16 year old Babri Masjid demolition of 1992 and purposely forget the only 6 year old Gujarat pogrom days of 2002. It has also become their obligation to glorify the headship of Narendra Modi as the potential savior of India. Their perception of democracy is selective. Muslim terror in the name of Allah is loathsome, Hindu terror in the name of Ram is explicable.

Ordinary Muslims should realize that only a fresh liberal outlook acquired from modern education can elevate them from their misery and disorientation. The reasons behind their socio-economic backwardness in large parts of this country are primarily due to this social stagnation and educational marginalization. The Muslim youths today who have been motivated as jihadi and opts the terrorist path are truly misguided. The solution to homegrown terrorism mostly depends on how the state and society as a whole, efforts to do something about the grievances of common Muslims and thus prevent their youths to be misguided by lethal influences. The state and society should also realize that until provocation is barred and the rule of law is evenly established, the problem will persist and keep India susceptible to more serious damages in future.


by Susanta Bhattacharyya