S.Q.R. ILYAS, President Welfare Party of India; Convener Tafheem Shariat Committee, Delhi, and Member Working Committee of All India Muslim Personal Law Board; is also Editor Urdu monthly Afkar-e-Milli, and Member Central Advisory Council and Representatives Council of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. In an interview with MOHD NAUSHAD KHAN he said the main cause of our problems is that we are not politically empowered.
In the present context, what is the meaning of minority?
When we look at it in the context of entire India, we are the minority. State-wise there can be difference but overall Muslims are considered minority in India. If we don’t consider the Hindu society as a monolithic society as it is divided on the bases of caste, tribe and class, the ratio of population may change. But as efforts are on to consider them all in an umbrella of one monolithic society, the division is very distinctive between minorities and the majority. Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists and Parsis are officially considered minorities. There is a psychological impact of being a minority. In terms of size and presence, Muslims are a sizeable minority.
What kind of constitutional protection have minorities in India?
The Constitution has provided some protection for minorities. Fundamental rights are applicable to all, minorities and the majority. There are also some special provisions for minorities in the Constitution. For example: Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all irrespective of their faith. It provides that all persons in India, subject to public order, morality and health are equally entitled to freedom of conscience, and have the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion. As per Article 26, people of all religions and sections thereof shall have the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, manage their own affairs in matters of religion, own and acquire movable and immovable properties and administer such properties in accordance with law.
Article 29(1) provides all citizens and groups having a distinct culture, language, and script the right to conserve their culture and language. And as per Article 29(2), State shall not deny any person admission to educational institutions maintained or aided by it on the bases of race, religion, caste, language, etc. This right is given to individuals and not to any community.
According to Article 30(1), all religious and linguistic minorities have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice anywhere in India. And as per Article 30(2), state should not discriminate when granting aid to any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority.
To what extent the constitutional rights of minorities appear to have been realised on the ground?
When we talk of minority rights, it is true that the Constitution guarantees some rights to minorities. It is only in written form but the minorities have not realised them on the ground the way they have been enshrined in the Constitution to safeguard the interest of the minorities. The rights are on paper but in practice they change from time to time. In terms of safety and security Muslims have been discriminated. For example: The Sachar Committee Report claimed that Muslims are educationally backward and financially very far behind as compared to others. The question arises: How did Muslims become backward as compared to other communities? Today in government jobs Muslims are only about 2 per cent but before Independence Muslims were above 30 per cent. It seems there has been discrimination against Muslims.
If we take education, it is the responsibility of the Government to provide educational institutions everywhere. But if we look at the minority-concentration areas, the Government has not established primary, secondary or senior secondary schools in the manner and numbers they were required to be. The minorities even face a lot of problems in availing of their constitutional rights while setting up minority institutions and running them. They have to struggle to get minority status and even if they get minority status, there are lots of interferences. A community can realise its constitutional rights only when it is politically strong, has presence in legislatures and has say in decision and policy making process. We are not politically empowered and this is the main cause of our problems. If we wish to get rid of our problems, we have to become a political force.
The so-called secular regional forces have deliberately kept Muslims in a backward state for the simple reason that as long as they are deprived, they will continue to support them and vote for them.
Another important factor is that whatever presence we have in assemblies and parliament, it has not been effective. Our representatives remain loyal only to their parties and hardly think of their communities. There were instances where these leaders did not support in very serious matters pertaining to the community. For example, when Babri Masjid was demolished, none of the Congress leaders from Assemblies or Parliament resigned.
The successive governments have neglected minorities and treated them as vote bank. Political parties of Muslims have no clear vision as to why they are in politics. A Muslim political party is expected to represent all communities but so far in practice it has not happened. Their agenda has been limited and most of the time they talk only of Muslims and their issues.
In the present atmosphere, what are the challenges before minorities?
The first challenge before Muslims is that their stand on national issue pertaining to societies should become clear. They should become voice of weaker sections, Dalits, the marginalised and downtrodden and backwards. Muslims should also try to solve their own issues and problems. It is the need of the hour that Muslims should have a political plural political party. It should be led by Muslims but should have representation of all communities and work for all communities. The party should have clear perspective and vision for the country and they must be aware of which direction they want to take the country forward. If a political party comes into fray with limited vision, they cannot do something very meaningful for the people and the country.
The second challenge is a psychological impact of being a minority. Islamic history proves that being lesser in number has never been an impediment in the way of development and advancement. Therefore, it is imperative that Muslims should come out of their minority syndrome and play a pro-active role in every sphere.
The third challenge is that Muslims who are divided on the basis of sects or groups. They should come on one platform on a common agenda and work accordingly.
The fourth challenge is that Muslims do not identify priority areas. They should identify them and work upon accordingly, considering that there is lack of resources, infrastructure, manpower and skilled persons. Or the work areas should be distributed to groups and organisations based on the identified priorities. There should not be duplication of work.
The fifth challenge is that Muslims hardly recognise the contributions of fellow Muslims. If an organisation does good work, it should be appreciated, supported and encouraged.
Many believe that efforts are on to make minorities irrelevant politically, socially and culturally. How would you like to respond to that?
Yes, BJP is doing that. The problem is that our religious organisations have restrained from active politics and as I have already said most of the problems have taken place due to Muslims’ non-participation in active politics. As far as politics is concerned, the most we think is to cast vote for secular parties and not more than that. On the other hand, BJP has many tools with which they easily divide votes. The move to make minorities irrelevant should be countered. And this can be done by increasing in vote percentage of Muslims. In many places, around 15 to 20 per cent names of Muslims are missing from the voter list.
Another tragedy is that only 50 per cent of Muslims vote. Votes of Muslims are easily divided and Muslims are therefore not seen as a strong political force. Those who want to make us irrelevant are trying to make our votes insignificant because they believe once the Muslims are politically irrelevant, they would become untouchable for all other political parties. BJP has made Muslims untouchable and all political parties are trying to keep from Muslims and are even afraid to talk about them and their issues. In Uttar Pradesh, we can see Congress, SP and BSP are not talking of Muslims. They talk of sab ka saath but at the same time they don’t want to talk about Muslims. Muslims are taken for granted that they will vote for the secular parties as they don’t have any other options.
The Muslims should try to overcome this situation. Unless and until Muslims become a challenge for political parties, their voice will not be heard. Muslims should be in a strong bargaining mode, saying: Look! If you work for us, we will vote for you; only lip service won’t be sufficient. At times, BJP has won election even from a constituency where Muslims are more than 50 per cent. Muslims should be educated to ensure that their votes are not divided and social and religious organisations should work in the direction to ensure that votes of Muslims are not divided.
How has the relation between minorities and the majority evolved during the BJP-led government?
In the past seven years, the BJP has isolated Muslims and has created an atmosphere of hate against them. The BJP has enthused in the mindset of the majority people that Muslims during their rule ‘demolished Mandirs, did forced conversion and married Hindu women’. We all know that the claims made are false but they have been able to convince most of the people in the majority community. We don’t have anything to counter it. We try to create various platforms to promote peace and brotherhood but the need is to make inroads among the people at the grassroots level and try to make good rapport with them to diffuse tensions and misconceptions about the Muslim community. Intellectual efforts can bring relief which can be visible after long years.
Unless and until we become a mass movement and connect with the people on the ground, hatred and animosity will prevail. We have isolated ourselves; we don’t interact with others or raise the issues of other communities in the desired manner. We are also not actively involved in civil society. Muslims should come out of their pre-defined boundaries and become pro-active in matters related to all communities and share their part in the nation building.
We all know how the gap between majority and minority was created on the perception that a Muslim ruler had built Babri Masjid by demolishing a Mandir. The very perception created against Muslims was demolished by the Supreme Court. But even then we failed to reach out to people to say that the negative perception created against Muslims has been proved wrong by the Supreme Court. We all know how Mughal ruler Aurangzeb has been demonised. But the fact is just the opposite. Scholar and historian, Dr. Bishambhar Nath Pande once wrote to the head priests of the various temples in the country. He requested photocopies of any firman issued by Aurangzeb that they might have in their possession. The response he got was surprising. He received the firmans from several principal Hindu and Jain temples, even from Sikh Gurudwaras. The firmans, issued between 1659 and 1685, related to grant of jagir (large parcel of agricultural lands) to support regular maintenance of these places of worship.
It is also true that we don’t make policy intervention. For example: In the protest against farms laws, we keep aside Uttar Pradesh where Muslims have also protested. But overall no Muslim organisation except Jamaat-e-Islami Hind took part in their struggle. Why is it so?
Similarly, we have not taken part in crimes perpetrated against women in the desired manner. We Muslims should intervene strongly as and when required.
On November 26, which is remembered as the Constitution Day, do you think we have lived up to the expectation of our Constitution or would it be proper to say that we have failed it?
Yes, we have failed it. The Constitution foresaw an image of India where all basic needs of the people would be fulfilled and all would be provided jobs. It was also envisaged that people would have their rights in true sense and no one would be discriminated against. There will be equality; there will be a welfare state. It was also believed that democracy was not meant to have only elections after every five years but rather it would be a government of the people, for the people and by the people. We gave the concept of inclusive and participatory democracy.
Today there is no place for dissent and those who have raised their voice have been silenced through sedition and UAPA. Dissent is considered to be the safety valve of our democracy but today there is no place for any kind of dissent.