Reserved For Muslims?
By Farzana Versey
09 November, 2006
an Indian Muslim I might like to state that there ought not to be reservations,
because Muslims have traditionally been a convenient vote-bank (and
not just for politicians, but for anyone wanting to make a 'liberal'
point). The result is that they are accused of purportedly suffering
from a victim syndrome only because others are weeping over their freshly-dug
Watch how everyone is flinging
figures in our faces from the Sachar Committee Report on the current
status of social, economic and educational condition of Indian Muslims.
This has only led to further stereotyping.
Television tends to reduce
everything to the lowest common denominator. It was therefore a bit
disconcerting to watch Madhu Kishwar talk about how Muslims are not
backward because most weavers and craftsmen come from the community.
What really does this mean? That they should remain in those jobs? What
value is placed on such professions?
They are crassly exploited,
as anyone in such work is. The kaarigars barely get any money, and all
the zardozi that you see on designer wear gives them a pittance in return.
The apathy towards their
plight and destiny was revealed during the riots in Mumbai in 1992-93
when most of them had left, that is if they weren't affected physically.
A small tour of the areas would show that many of the migrants to the
city had lost their sustenance. So, how does their talent really help
Instead of salivating over
the statistics that say there are more illiterates among the Muslims
than even the scheduled castes and tribes, it might be prudent to ask
whether reservations can solve the social problem. Would it not result
in further alienating the community into a 'super-appeased' slot?
The fact is that the point
about ghettoisation is brought in time and again. "The problem
is Muslims are ghettoised," is the refrain.
It is time to take a reality
check on this. A ghetto is a group of people that gets together due
to some common identity, be it religion, occupation, social affiliation.
The Communists formed their communes and it was considered perfectly
legitimate. The elite form theirs and again no one raises an eyebrow.
Let me give you a personal
example and it is a fairly recent one. We had been looking for an apartment
due to some renovation work that was to be undertaken at our present
residence. This is in what is a cosmopolitan and elite neighbourhood.
I called up an estate agency. It had a business-like sounding name.
The gentleman who I was giving
the specifications to stopped me mid-way. "Ma'am, don't mind, but
what community are you from?" I had given my first name.
"How is that important?"
"See, are you Muslim?
I am Muslim too," he said by way of reassurance.
"Does that make a difference?"
"I am sorry to say this
but there are problems. The apartment you want to see is not possible.
I can show you some others."
As it turned out, the choices,
even for the so-called elite in a city like Mumbai, are limited. The
deal was Muslim will sell to Muslim. Some builders may not directly
tell you, but there are sudden retractions. Therefore, a Muslim builder
who sells his property to everyone has become the only hope for Muslims.
It suddenly struck me: would
it also not be easy to target such habitats far more easily?
For one accustomed to living
with people of all communities, I was completely disoriented by the
thought that suddenly one would be surrounded by people one had nothing
in common with except a flimsy religious identity.
This may be seen as the luxury
of multiculturalism that some of us can afford, but what about the ostentatiousness
of pennant-waving that has become a part of posh communities in equal
One has heard of instances
about how the Malabar Hill-Napeansea road belt (the most prized and
pricey areas of Mumbai) are being take over by the Jain-Marwari business
families. Old Parsi bungalows are being bought just to ensure that the
particular part of the city is left pure for a group of people.
Christians too have begun
to form their own buildings, so do Parsis and Gujaratis and Sikhs. But
these are not called ghettoes.
Why, then, must Muslim-populated
areas be deemed ghettoes?
What is wrong with madrassas?
Some commentators are declaiming that Muslims must be taken out of madrassas
and be given 'mainstream education', whatever that means. It is completely
forgotten that madrassas are merely religious-run educational outfits,
not religious-indoctrinating institutions. Religious education is imparted
in educational institutions run by all communities. And wasn't it the
BJP government that wanted astrology as a part of the curriculum?
Where jobs are concerned,
all Muslims need is equal opportunities; perhaps co-operative movements
at the grassroots level could ensure that.
The more educated will have
to stand together with the rest; there is no doubt a sense of alienation
and discrimination. It reveals the malaise that besets our society.
Names, like rabbits from
magicians' hats, are taken out from the world of cricket, cinema, and
business to showcase how Muslims are 'accepted'. That is not the idea.
There is no question about anyone accepting another who is accomplished.
But not everyone has a head start.
It would be foolish to remove
religious leaders at this juncture from the process of upward mobility.
The reason being that they need to be co-opted as they too are a part
of the community; besides, where are the liberal Muslim voices that
have been talking about the veil and Islamic terrorism?
It is disturbing to find
that even on a subject that concerns Muslims, the commentators are either
the more rabid Islamic faces or intellectuals from the majority community,
which once again reaffirms a stereotype: WE are tolerant lot; We have
no problems if Muslims are given a bit of the share of the pie.
Reservations are far less
patronising than this sort of colonisation of the Muslim mind. Be it
sops or sympathy, the message is the same. Muslims need to become a
part of the mainstream. The idea that they 'need to', emphasises what
ought to be disabused: That they aren't.
The mainstream in contemporary
India is not a stagnant pool of historical rights and wrongs. Therefore,
no one community can define it or circumscribe it for others. It is
time for everyone to get out of the ghettoes of their minds.
(Farzana Versey can be reached
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