Muslim rule over large parts of northern and western India, which began in the 12th century, brought about wide-ranging military, technological, economic, administrative and political changes in Indian society. Muslims introduced several economic, military and technological innovations in the country, including right-angle gearing, an important mechanism for water-lifting, pedals in looms, which accelerated the speed of weaving, windmills, sericulture, new techniques of irrigation and water harvesting, the use of artillery and gunpowder, town planning and urban development, paper, carpet weaving and the art of lacquered papier-mache.
Muslim groups which migrated to India from Iran, Central Asia and the Middle East were greatly influenced by local languages, customs and traditions. An overwhelming majority of Muslims in India – over 90 per cent – are of indigenous origin, whose ancestors converted to Islam at the hands of Sufis and the ulama at different points of time.
Indian Muslims have made highly significant and wide-ranging contributions to architecture, arts and crafts, music, language and literature. Monuments of Indo-Islamic architecture reflect a creative synthesis of Persian, Central Asian, Buddhist and Jain architectural styles and motifs. Muslim engineers, architects and artisans introduced arcuate and brick construction by the use of the arch, construction of domes and cementing by lime and gypsum. They invented new techniques of brick work, tile work and wood carving.
Indo-Islamic architecture had a pervasive and far-reaching impact on architectural styles and designs across large parts of the country. The architecture of temples, palaces and public building in many parts of the country reflects the influence of Indo-Islamic architecture. Muslims made a monumental contribution to music, both instrumental and vocal, and this syncretistic tradition in Indian music remains vibrant even today. Muslims made a notable contribution to the development and enrichment of Indian languages. Some Muslim kings patronized Sanskrit scholars and poets. Some Muslim kings commissioned the translation of Hindu sacred texts, including the Vedas, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Upanishads, into Persian. As a result of an extensive process of cultural and linguistic interaction and exchange, thousands of Persian, Arabic and Turkish words found their way into the vocabulary of Indian languages.
Amartya Sen has aptly spoken about inclusive, interactive openness as one of the distinctive features of Indian civilization. The fabric of Indian civilization has been woven from strands of different textures and hues drawn from a variety of sources. Rabindranath Tagore, who is widely regarded as an authentic representative of India’s civiliztional ethos, has stated that he and his family were the product of the confluence of three cultures: Hindu, Muslim and British. He grew up in a family atmosphere in which a deep knowledge of Sanskrit and Hindu scriptures was combined with an appreciable understanding of Islamic traditions as well as Persian literature. A notable feature of India’s composite civilization is that Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and other religious and cultural communities shared a great deal of social and cultural spaces, including a collective sense of regional and linguistic identity, which often transcended the boundaries of religion, ethnicity and caste. Muslims, particularly Sufis, poets and men of learning, played an important role in the evolution of India’s composite civilizational ethos and in fostering tolerance and inter-cultural understanding. Sufi shrines, which are spread over the length and breadth of the country, are visited and venerated by millions of people, including Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, continue to serve as focal points of cultural integration.
Nationalism in India, which emerged in the second half of the 19th century, was essentially of indigenous inheritance and was rooted in the resistance against British colonial rule. It was inspired by the campaigns of Tipu Sultan, ruler of the kingdom of Mysore (1782-199) against the British, the Uprising of 1857 and the martyrdom of Rani of Jhansi, who died fighting the British in 1858. Hundreds of thousands of Indians, including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs participated in the 1857 Uprising, which was led by the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. The British considered the uprising a “Muslim conspiracy.” The Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, a representative body of Muslim ulama in India, actively supported the Indian National Congress in the anti-colonial movement.
Muslims in India have been substantially influenced by the culture of the surrounding Hindu population. This is reflected in social stratification, kinship, marriage customs and ceremonies, languages and dialects, material culture, food habits, dress patterns and customs and festivities.
The constitution of India guarantees to all citizens of the country, irrespective of the distinctions of descent, religion or caste, inalienable fundamental rights, including freedom of conscience, freedom of religious and cultural expression and freedom to practice and propagate religion, equality before the law and equality of opportunity, and common citizenship. In addition, the constitution protects the community-specific rights of Muslims and other minority groups, including family laws, Islamic endowments and the right to establish educational institutions. The constitution allows Muslims to construct mosques and Islamic schools and to observe Islamic feasts. There are no restrictions on the wearing of headscarves and veils in schools, universities, offices and public institutions. The feasts of Eid al-fitr, Eid al-adha, the birthday of the Prophet and Muharram are declared public holidays. Muslims are prominently reflected in public life, including trade and commerce, politics, civil society institutions, music, sports, arts and crafts, modern professions and popular culture.
Muslims in India are faced with a number of grave problems, including widespread poverty and deprivation, discrimination in employment and housing, a deep sense of fear and insecurity due to frequent communal riots, economic and educational backwardness and marginalization, poor representation in public institutions and political marginalisation. A number of official reports and surveys, such as the Gopal Singh Minority Panel Report (1982-83), surveys carried out by the Planning Commission and the National Sample Survey Organisation, the Ranganath Mishra Commission and the Report of the Sachar Committee, have documented and highlighted the economic and educational backwardness of Muslims in India. The report of the Sachar Committee, appointed by India’s former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, pointed out that the condition of Muslims in the country was worse than that of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, who are at the lowest rungs of Indian society. According to recent estimates, the rate of progress among Muslims in India, as reflected in literacy rates, education, participation in the workforce, food security, consumption expenditure and immunization, has been below the national average since the past decade. The report showed that the share of Muslims in the formal sector in urban areas was only 8 per cent, as against the national average of 21 per cent.
The literacy rate among Muslims is far below the national average and even lower than that of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The enrollment of Muslim children in schools is the lowest among all marginalized groups. Almost 25 per cent of Muslim children in the age group of 6-14 years have either never attended school or have dropped out after a few years. The representation of Muslims in public institutions is much lower than their share in the population. Their share in the civil services is around 2.5 per cent, in railways 4.5 per cent, in the police 6 per cent and in the armed forces 2%. Muslims remain largely excluded from various state-sponsored employment schemes and development programmes.
The benefits of the various government-sponsored schemes, aimed at improving the economic, social and educational conditions of the under-privileged sections of society, have not accrued to Muslims in any significant measure. The various schemes and programmes launched by the Central government to remove the economic, social and educational impediments for Muslims have remained mostly on paper. This has been admitted in a recent report submitted to the Ministry of Human Resource Development by an officially appointed Evaluation Group. Following the acceptance of the findings and recommendations of the Sachar Committee report, the Central government announced a number of ameliorative measures for the empowerment of Muslims. These included earmarked allocation in various welfare schemes, multi-sectoral development plans and scholarships to deserving students, among others.
A detained analysis and evaluation of these measures by a Delhi-based advocacy group, Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, shows that these measures have failed to meet their goals. The report of the group points out that the government did not allocate sufficient financial resources for the plans and that the funds that were earmarked for the purpose were only partially spent. Only 64 per cent of the Rs. 8,690 crores allocated to the Ministry of Minority Affairs for the purpose were actually spent between 2007-2011.
Eight years after the submission of the Sachar committee report, the Government of India appointed a post-Sachar evaluation committee, headed by Amitabh Kundu, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi in August 2013. The report of the committee, submitted in November 2014, noted that though a start had been made in addressing development deficits of the community, large numbers of Muslims continue to remain marginalised. The committee noted that poverty levels among Muslims remained higher than the national average between 2004-05 and 2011-12. In terms of consumption expenditure, Muslims are third from the bottom — after the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes.
This is a summary of the Kundu committee report:
* It chronicles the phenomenon of “exclusionary urbanisation” with a decline in the share of Muslims in the rural-urban migration that was first noted in the 1990s and continues unabated. The percentage increase of Muslims in the urban population is low and the community is particularly under-represented in smaller urban centres where social factors and discrimination restrict mobility. The share of minorities in government employment remains low – less than half of the share of their total population in the country. The committee has recommended “government-led planned and targeted recruitment drives in a time-bound manner.”
* The committee notes that the natural advantage which Muslims have in initial health indicators like sex ratio, higher life-expectancy at birth, better child survival, are squandered away because of lack of equal health care access and amenities. “Inadequacy of health care infrastructure in Muslim areas, as highlighted in the Sachar Committee report, has not been addressed despite initiating specific schemes.”
* Schemes under the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme are plagued by lack of funds. Ministry of Minority Affairs (MoMA) asked for Rs 58,000 crore under the 12th Five-Year-Plan but the actual outlay was fixed at only Rs 17,323 crore. The committee recommends expansion of the 15-point programme to Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana.
* Of the 37 government ministries and departments whose employment data was analysed, the minorities, on an average, constituted 7.5% of new recruitment in Group A services between 2006-07 and 2012-13, 9.1% in Group B Services, 8.6% each in Group C and D services.
* Priority sector lending to Muslims remains an issue. The committee noted: “MoMA reports that the share of PSL to minorities has increased to 16.09% in 2013-14 of total PSL by banks in the country. However, Muslims could get only 44.31%, while Sikh had 24.58%, Christian 21.87%, Buddhists 2.06%, Parsis 2.23% and Jains 4.96%… This shows that except Muslims and Buddhists, the two most deprived minorities, other minorities are able to corner larger share in PSL. This distortion needs to be corrected at the earliest.”
* Despite lower levels of literacy among Muslims than Hindus, Muslims have lower gender disparity in terms of education. Outcome indicators for Muslims at all levels of education are closer to the ST community. Though enrolment of Muslim children in primary schools is high, there is also a very high dropout rate so the community, irrespective of gender or rural-urban residence, is less likely to attain secondary and higher secondary education.
Christophe Jaffrelot and Laurent Gayer, in their recent study Muslims in Indian Cities: Trajectories of Marginalisation, focus on the socio-economic backwardness of Muslim communities living in India’s towns and cities. The book is mainly based on the findings of a survey jointly carried out by a team of 12 Indian and French researchers in 10 cities, including Ahmedabad, Aligarh, Bangalore, Calicut, Mumbai, Jaipur, Delhi, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Cuttack. The survey broadly confirms the conclusions of the Sachar Committee about the socio-economic marginalization of the Muslim community in India.
Comparatively, Muslims constitute the most urbanized community in India, with the exception of the Parsis. According to the 2001 census, less than 28 per cent of India’s population lives in urban areas. However, nearly 35.7 per cent of Muslims live in town and cities. More than half of the Muslim population in India is concentrated in towns and cities in seven states: Tamil Nadu (73%), Maharashtra (70%), Madhya Pradesh (63.5%), Chattisgarh (63%), Karnataka (59%), Gujarat (59%) and Andhra Pradesh (58%).
The survey found that Muslims living in urban areas are increasingly experiencing marginalization and exclusion. The proportion of the poor among Muslims is greater in urban areas than in rural areas. About 37 per cent of Muslims living in towns and cities live below the poverty line as against 27 per cent of Muslims living in rural areas. The corresponding figures for Hindus are 22 and 28 per cent. The Sachar Committee report showed that only 8% of Muslims living in urban areas were integrated into the formal sector as against the national average of 21 per cent. A large majority of Muslims living in towns and cities make a very modest living as artisans, repairers, hawkers, mechanics and peddlers. Jaffrelot and Gayer take cognizance of regional variations in respect of the socio-economic marginalization of Muslims. Muslims in the southern states, for example, are comparatively better off than those in the northern and western states.
Jaffrelot and Gayer note that a highly significant indicator of the socio-economic marginalization of Muslims in urban areas is ghettoization. Ghettoization is generally perceived as the manifestation of a tendency on the part of Muslims to live apart from mainstream society in segregated ethnic clusters. This is then mistakenly interpreted as separatism and isolationism on the part of Muslims. The fact of the matter is that ghettoization is largely the outcome of an atmosphere of insecurity and vulnerability. Jaffrelot and Gayer rightly emphasise that the main reason for ghettoization in the case of Muslims living in urban areas is communal violence. During the outbreak of communal violence, Muslims living in the midst of the Hindu population or in isolated pockets are often the easy target of attack. It is therefore natural on the part of Muslims to live in safer neighbourhoods or to shift to areas predominantly inhabited by the members of their community. The safer neighbourhoods may include areas in the walled city, as in Hyderabad, Bhopal and Jaipur, or on the periphery of the city, as in the case of Ahmedabad or Mumbai. In Ahmedabad, a substantial number of Muslims have been forced by frequent communal riots and an endemic atmosphere of fear and insecurity to move from the walled city to the peripheral areas.
Another common misperception is that ghettos are primarily inhabited by the poorer sections of the Muslim community. In Juhapur in Ahmedabad, for example, there is a large ghetto, which is inhabited by nearly 4 lakh Muslims. The residents include not only poor and illiterate Muslims and slum-dwellers but also a substantial number of educated Muslims from the middle classes, including IAS officers, lawyers and businessmen. The marginalization and exclusion of Muslims living in Juhapur has been compounded by the step-motherly attitude of the state. There is no bus service between Juhapur and the city centre. The poor state of infrastructure and public amenities in the area betray the callous and partisan attitude of the administration.
The BJP won the 2014 parliamentary elections with a comfortable majority on the wave of a divisive political campaign and communal polarisation Since the assumption of power by the BJP-led government in July 2014, the various organisations affiliated to the RSS – generally known as the Sangh Parivar – have become conspicuously vocal, strident and aggressive. Ironically, shortly after taking office as Minister for Minority Affairs in the Modi government, Najma Heptullah said that “Muslims are not a minority.” One of the accused persons in the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh in 2013 is now a minister in the Modi government. The Sangh Parivar has launched a well-orchestrated campaign of vilification and demonization against Muslims and Christians. Some BJP MPs and ministers have indulged in venomous and irresponsible utterances against Muslims. Mahesh Sharma, a minister in the Modi government, while lauding Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, a former President of India, said that he was a nationalist and a patriot “despite being a Muslim.” Emboldened by the triumph of the BJP in the general elections, some extremist Hindu organisations launched a campaign to convert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism, often through fraudulent means. The leaders of the campaign – euphemistically called ‘home-coming’ (ghar wapsi) – argue that the forefathers of Muslims and Christians were Hindus, who were forcibly converted to Islam and Christianity by Muslim rulers and Christian missionaries. At least five BJP-ruled states have enacted anti-conversion laws, which stipulate that if a Hindu wants to convert to Islam or Christianity, he has to take permission from the state government, which is a tedious process and is often circumvented by the authorities. Those who convert to Christianity or Islam are often harassed, beaten or imprisoned with the connivance of the local administration and the police. One of the organisations that is actively involved in the campaign claims to have converted more than 400,000 Christians and Muslims to Hinduism over the past 15 years. Muslims and Christians are living in a state of fear and insecurity.
In the past few months, the issue of beef has come to be surrounded by a great deal of controversy and has been used as a pretext for attacking Muslims. MPs and organisations affiliated to the Sangh Parivar have demanded a complete ban on beef eating across the country. A few months ago, Sakshi Maharaj, a BJP Member of Parliament, called for the enactment of a law prescribing death penalty for cow slaughter. The MP said that he was willing to kill and be killed for protecting the cow. Panchjanya, a mouthpiece of the RSS, in its October 2015 issue, justified the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq on the grounds that the Vedas, one of the sacred texts of Hinduism, order the killing of “sinners” who slaughter cows. On 15 October 2015, the chief minister of the state of Haryana, who belongs to the BJP, said that if Muslims wanted to live in India, they should give up eating beef. Sushilkumar Modi, a BJP leader from the state of Bihar, which is currently holding assembly elections, publicly declared that the state elections were between beef eaters and protectors of cows.
The cow is held sacred by the Hindus and upper-caste Hindus as well as Hindus from the intermediary castes do not eat beef. However, Muslims, who constitute 14.23% of the population, Christians (2.30%) and a majority of Dalits or Untouchable castes (16%) and tribals (8.2%) eat beef. The slaughter of cows is banned in most parts of the country. However, some states allow the slaughter of bulls. Cow slaughter is legal in Kerala, West Bengal and the Northeastern states, which have a substantial concentration of Christians. Ironically, the chief minister of the state of Goa, which is under BJP rule, said in March 2015 that beef would not be banned in Goa because it was an essential part of the food habits of minority communities (Christians and Muslims), who constitute about 40% of the state’s population.
Bisara is a small village in the sub-division of Dadri in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, about 30 kilometres away from the capital Delhi. The village is mostly inhabited by upper-caste Hindus, with some 30-40 Muslim families. On 28 September 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq, a 55-year-old Muslim man living with his family in Bisara, was brutally attacked, dragged out of his house at night and lynched by a violent Hindu mob. His son was grievously injured while trying to protect his father and his 75-year-old mother sustained injuries on her eyes and face. The attack and the lynching were spurred by the rumour that Akhlaq had stored beef in his house. Forensic reports later confirmed that it was mutton, and not beef, that was stored in the refrigerator.
In that fateful night, a Hindu priest publicly announced in the village temple that a cow had been killed and that Akhlaq had stored beef in his house. An angry and aggressive mob, led by local Hindu extremist leaders, rushed to Akhlaq’s house, ransacked the furniture and the family’s belongings and killed the head of the family in cold blood. When the police started arresting youth who were involved in the attack, including the son and other relatives of a local leader of the BJP (the ruling party at the Centre), they were attacked by the villagers. Media persons who tried to cover the incident were chased away and attacked by Hindu mobs, including local Hindu women.
Police investigations and reports of civil society groups revealed that the carnage was part of a well-planned campaign carried out by extremist Hindu organisations to ban beef eating and that for four months before the incident, extremist Hindu groups were trying to whip up religious passions among the Hindus in Bisara over emotive issues like cow slaughter, loudspeakers atop mosques and the existence of Muslim-owned shops in Hindu areas. According to the police, extremist Hindu groups are involved in spreading false rumours about the killing of cows – held sacred by Hindus – by Muslims with a view to foment communal riots. A panel from the National Commission for Minorities has concluded that the lynching of Akhlaq was premeditated and not spontaneous and that a Hindu temple was used to exhort the local Hindus to attack the hapless family.
Leaders of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) sought to underplay and even justify the lynching and blamed Akhlaq for hurting the sentiments of the local Hindus. Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, extremist Hindu organisations affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), have offered legal aid to the accused.
On October 17, a 20-year-old Muslim truck-driver in the state of Himachal Pradesh was falsely accused by a Hindu mob of transporting slaughtered cows and was beaten to death. In Karhel village in Mainpuri district of Uttar Pradesh, four Muslim butchers who were skinning a dead cow were attacked by a Hindu mob on 9 October 2015. The son of a local Hindu leader, who had given the dead cow to the Muslim butchers, spread the rumour that the butchers had killed the cow. Hindu mobs rampaged through the village, looted and vandalised shops owned by Muslims and attacked Muslims. The rumour was spread by WhatsApp groups through messages and videos on Facebook and Twitter. Media reports suggest that the violence against Muslims in the village was planned for weeks.
In Agra, a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh where the famed Taj Mahal is located, extremist Hindu groups demanded a ban on the sale of beef during the 9 days of the Hindu feast of Navratri (October 13-21). Nandkishore Balmiki, a local Hindu leader, threatened to let loose 100 pigs in the city’s central mosque if the beef ban was not enforced.
Associations of beef merchants and some NGOs have filed petitions in courts against the beef ban, contending that the sale and consumption of beef is a matter of personal choice and freedom, which is guaranteed by the constitution, and that the state has no right to dictate to citizens what they should eat or should not eat. The matter is pending in courts.
The growing atmosphere of intolerance in India has been viewed with concern and apprehension by a growing number of writers, poets, artists and public intellectuals as well as by the international community. US President Barack Obama, who visited India in January 2015, said, “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith.” On 6 February 2015, he said in Washington, “I returned from India, a country full of diversity, but where in recent months, religious faiths have been targeted. Intolerance that would have shocked Gandhi.”
On 19 October 2015, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, President of India, expressed his concern over the growing intolerance in the country. He emphasized the need for protecting the country’s diversity and added that it is pluralism and diversity that have held the country together for centuries. He expressed his deep sense of anguish thrice in the span of a month. In the past month, more than 50 eminent writers, poets, artists, film makers, public intellectuals and scientists have returned their state awards in protest against the rising atmosphere of intolerance in the country and the failure of the government to protect the freedom of citizens. Writers from 150 countries from around the world have expressed solidarity with Indian authors and poets who have returned their prestigious awards. PEN International, the world’s leading association of writers that works to promote literature and to defend freedom of expression, has called upon the government of India to uphold citizens’ freedom.
On 28 October 2015, 135 senior and eminent scientists of the country signed an online petition, addressed to the President of India, against “the systematic spread of intolerance and communal hatred in the country.” They declared solidarity with writers and poets who have returned their awards. On 29 October, more than 50 well-known historians of the country came out strongly against the Prime Minister for not making any reassuring statement about the “highly vitiated atmosphere” prevailing in the country. Some prominent business leaders have expressed anguish over the growing atmosphere of intolerance in the country, which has made the minorities feel insecure.