Assessment for Muslims in India
|Publisher||Minorities at Risk Project|
|Publication Date||31 December 2000|
|Cite as||Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Muslims in India, 31 December 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3a9165.html [accessed 10 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
The Muslims in India have two of the factors that increase the likelihood of rebellion in the future: persistent past protest, especially during the past decade, and a history of lost autonomy. Factors that might inhibit future rebellion include India=s tradition of democratic rule and its past efforts to reach negotiated agreements with disgruntled minorities. How the ruling BJP relates to the country=s minorities will be critical in the short-term. The BJP appears to have moderated its stance in recent years but it has not yet adequately addressed major issues such as the future of the Ayodhya site and the economic disadvantages that minority groups face.
The Muslims are widely dispersed across India but there are significant concentrations in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, and Kerala. The only Muslim-majority state in the country is Jammu & Kashmir (the MAR project lists the Kashmiri Muslims as separate group). There has been significant group migration across India due to voluntary movements, hardship, and the threat of or actual attacks by other communal groups.
The Muslims share a common language which is Urdu but they also speak a variety of regional languages depending on the area in which they reside (LANG = 1). Their belief in Islam is the primary difference between the Muslims and the majority Hindu population (BELIEF = 3).
Beginning in the 11th century, Islam entered the Indian subcontinent and its influence expanded under the rule of the Muslim Mughal empire. Mughal leaders did not traditionally impose their beliefs on the Hindu population. During this period, many low-caste Hindus converted to Islam in order to escape cultural, political, and economic discrimination by high-case Hindus.
British rule, which followed the decline of the Mughal empire, further politicized differences between the Hindu and Muslim communities. British divide-and-rule policies generally favored the Hindus in terms of employment in the civil service. The Muslims were at a disadvantage with regard to economic and educational opportunities.
The notion of a Muslim nation arose in the 1930s when Muslims began to politically mobilize to promote group interests. The Muslim League, led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, was concerned that Muslims would be dominated by Hindus in an independent India. The leadership of the Indian Congress, the major nationalist movement, primarily consisted of high-caste Hindus. The partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947 led to one of the largest ever transfers of populations as Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India and Muslims to Pakistan. More than one million people died in the violence that surrounded the partition.
The Muslims that chose to stay in India remain in a precarious position. Many Hindus view them with suspicion and consider them as "pro-Pakistan" despite the fact that they have resided in the area for centuries. The Indian Constitution does not provide any specific reservations for Muslims with regard to seats in the parliament, civil service jobs, or positions in educational institutions. Such provisions are available to the country's Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Muslims form just over 11% of the country=s population but by the mid-1990s, they only held about 3% of government and public sector jobs and had less than 3% representation in the police and paramilitary forces. Muslims remain concentrated in lower-level positions such as fishing, artisanship, and unskilled labor. Political and economic discrimination is due to prevailing social practices by the dominant Hindu community (POLDIS00 = 3; ECDIS00 = 3).
The major grievances of the Muslims include their limited involvement in political decision-making on both the federal and regional levels. Historical neglect of the Muslims has also led the community to be economically disadvantaged and this has generated group demands for greater economic opportunities in the economic and educational sectors. Social/cultural concerns primarily center on the freedom to practice their religious beliefs and culture and the need for protection against violent attacks by the majority Hindus.
Group interests are largely represented by conventional organizations but also by a few militant groups. There is no single organization that is supported by the majority of group members (COHESX9 = 3). The Indian Union Muslim League is the main political party while the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was alleged to be responsible for a few bombings in the state of Uttar Pradesh in the summer of 2000. Muslims had traditionally supported the federal Congress (I) party; however, after the destruction of the Babri Masjid (mosque) by Hindu extremists in 1992, Muslim disenchantment with the Congress led to creation of regional alignments between Muslims and low-caste Hindus.
There are not only political but also religious divisions among India=s Muslims. Violent clashes between members of the Sunni and Shia sects were reported during 1999 and 2000. The majority of the country=s Muslims are Sunnis as is the case in neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Relations between the Muslims and the dominant Hindu community have grown increasingly tense over the past two decades. A key point of contention is the site of the former Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Hindu-nationalist parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena contend that a temple to mark the birthplace of Ram, a Hindu god, was torn down hundreds of years ago so that the mosque could be built. In December 1992, hundreds of Hindu militants stormed the site and destroyed the Babri Masjid. Thousands of people died in the Hindu-Muslim riots that ensued in India, and in neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh. Since then, periodic riots have erupted as Hindu extremist groups are still attempting to build a Ram temple on the Ayodhya site. Violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims relating to other matters also occurred from 1998-2000.
The growth of Hindu fundamentalism in the past decade has raised serious concerns in not only the Muslim community but also among India=s other minorities including Christians and Sikhs. The Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made significant inroads in capturing power at the federal and state levels throughout the 1990s. The BJP currently rules at the federal level in a coalition with a number of regional parties. Muslim concerns about discrimination led to widescale protests during 2000 when India=s most populated state, Uttar Pradesh, sought to pass a bill that would require state approval prior to the construction of religious structures. Concern over the status of India=s minorities has been expressed by states such as Pakistan and the US and NGOS like Human Rights Watch.
India=s Muslims began to significantly mobilize to press for group interests in the early 1970s (PROT70X = 2). But it has been during the 1990s when more broad-based campaigns have been launched, especially in relation to the protection of their religious rights. In recent years, Muslim militant groups such as SIMI are alleged to have engaged in sporadic violent acts (REB98 = 2). For instance, SIMI members were arrested in September 2000 in connection with sporadic bombings in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
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