'Development Deficit' Among Minorities

By N. Gunasekaran

For more than two decades, inter-ethnic hostilities have intensified all over the world. The minority communities have been the main victims and in particular, Muslims, wherever they form important minorities, suffer a lot. They are humiliated by the fanatics of majority communities and discriminated against under the prejudiced state and judicial machinery. Their patriotism is scrutinized with suspicions, and in many cases, they are the targets of murderous attacks.

Racial hatred and discrimination against religious minorities exist for a long time even in the fairly democratic societies. But the phenomenonal increase in recent times, instead of subsiding -- which is logical in the course of the civilization's progress -- is an offshoot of the corporate globalization. India's socio-political trajectory is evidence to this development.

India's secular character is by and large preserved, even after the bitter days of partition. However, in the late 1980s, when India adopted the structural adjustment policies of global corporate capital, the increased communal frenzy had also become a greater challenge with the unprecedented surge of the Hindu Right. The discontented impoverished Hindu working people were pitted against the minorities, as if minorities were the real enemies for their drudge life. This hatred campaign culminated in the tragic carnage in Gujarat in 2002, which took more than two thousand innocent lives.

In both the developed and under-developed world, the profit-mongering corporates squeeze all working people, including the minorities. This creates fertile ground for exclusivist, fundamentalist forces. What is a way out from this tangle? Only the united people's movement is the real solution. That was what precisely happened in India in 2004. The people effected the change of guard through the ballot box. The neo-liberal and Hindu fundamentalist Bhartiya Janata Party-led coalition was thrown out of office.

With the Congress Party-led coalition at the helm, supported by the Left, the question of the improvement in the status of about 150 million Indian Muslims came to the forefront. A high-power committee headed by Justice Rajinder Sachar was appointed by the prime minister to deal with this question. Last year, the committee released a very comprehensive report.

So far, the debate on Muslim communities revolved around the questions related to Muslim identity and their security, not on their economic and educational conditions or on their rightful share of opportunities. The Hindu chauvinists over the years, had been accusing the secular parties of following the policy of minority appeasement. The Sachar Report exposed this malicious myth and showed that the Muslims, living under widespread poverty, fared poorly on all socio-economic indices. They are severely under-represented in government employment -- a mere 4.9% -- compared to the percentage of their population of 13.4%. Only 3.4% of Muslims get higher educational opportunities, whereas the corresponding figure for Hindus is 15.3%. While the national average literacy level is 64.8%, Muslims could reach only to 59.1%.

About the status of Indian Muslim women, the Sachar Report attested what Zoya Hasan, professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, already wrote, "Muslim women are disadvantaged not because of religious conservatism but because they are poor, are women, and Muslim, which together aggravate the particular disadvantages of any one of these identities." The poor men and women are increasingly deprived of their jobs since the big multinational corporations' surge destroys the small occupations and industries, including retail trade.

The Sachar committee suggested many remedial measures, like setting up an "Equal Opportunity Commission" to solve the grievances of deprived groups, and recommending some affirmative actions for the poor.

The discourse of mainstream politics, identifying the entire Muslim community with terrorism, and the US invasion of Iraq and its aggressions in the Middle East, have all contributed to the intensification of psychological trauma among Indian Muslims who have already been the targets of attack by domestic right-wing Hindutva forces.

The Rajinder Sachar Committee report, as was noted by Professor Javeed Alam, would give rise to some kind of "upsurge" creating a new phase at the level of mass politics. Not only in India, but all over the world, the ruling classes have to find democratic solutions to the problems of the marginalized minorities.

Pew Research Center, in its recent survey found "the marked decline in the acceptance of suicide bombing" among many in the Muslim world, "with broader rejection of extremist tactics." So it's high time for the governments of, both the developed and developing countries to take serious measures to improve the socio-economic and educational status of minorities. And this will be the most effective counter for terrorism.

N. Gunasekaran is a political activist and writer based in Chennai, India.

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2007

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