India's Muslims Still Waiting for Modi to Deliver on Promise

By Masuma Parveen
2015.05.26
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150526-IN-muslims-modi-620 Indian Muslims greet Narendra Modi (seated), then chief minister of Gujarat state, in Ahmedabad, Sept. 17, 2011.
AFP

When he took the oath of office as prime minister a year ago on Tuesday, Narendra Modi vowed to lift all segments of Indian society out of poverty, regardless of faith, caste or race.

But a year into the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s tenure at India’s helm, Indian Muslims say they have yet to see any progress. Although Muslims represent only 14.4 percent of an Indian population of 1.2 billion people, they are the country’s largest religious minority – and a deeply impoverished one at that.

“It's been a difficult year for us,” said Mohd Ryaz, a Muslim who runs an auto repair shop in Kolkata.

Inter-communal tensions have long existed between Muslims and India’s Hindu majority.

In 2002, they flared into deadly riots in the state of Gujarat, where Modi was then chief minister. When he came to power as prime minister on May 26, 2014, people like Ryaz anticipated that Modi’s inauguration would usher in a new phase of anti-Muslim hostility.

“Not that anyone came with an open threat, but you can certainly smell the distrust in the air,” Ryaz told BenarNews as he fixed a flat tire. “I fear someone may come some day and order me to close down my shop. Being a Muslim is not easy."

Growing alienation

Analysts agree that the condition of Muslims has not improved under Modi. They see no signs that things for the minority will change for the better in the near future.

"Muslims are the largest minority in India and they've been perpetuated to underdevelopment,” Ananya Chatterjee, a Kolkata-based sociologist, told BenarNews.

The BJP, he noted, was the first party to win a majority in the lower house of parliament (Lok Sabha) without a single elected Muslim representative. In his view, the fact that none of the BJP’s seven Muslim candidates won a seat in the Lok Sabha marked a prelude for the social alienation of Muslims that followed last year’s general election, he said.

After the election, members of the minority faced threats and derogatory remarks in their own localities. The June 2014 murder of Mohsin Sadiq Shaikh, a 24-year-old Muslim IT professional, allegedly at the hands of BJP workers, terrified many people in the community.

“Some Hindu leaders purposefully put forward the notion that India could prosper without the Muslims and they were made to feel unwelcome,” Chatterjee said.

He cited some examples.

“The suggestion of declaring ‘The Bhagavad Gita’ India's national book, and making Hindu religious rites compulsory in schools in several states did not go down well with the minorities," he said.

Troubling incidents

There was no communal rioting during Modi’s first 12 months in office, but several incidents throughout the course of the year pointed to a dangerous trend.

Minorities in India were subjected to "violent attacks" and "forced conversions" after Modi’s government took power last year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in its annual report for 2015.
“Hindu nationalist groups announced plans to forcibly ‘reconvert’ at least 4,000 Christian families and 1,000 Muslim families to Hinduism in Uttar Pradesh on Christmas day as part of their 'Ghar Wapsi' (returning home) program,” the report said.

“Additionally, the Muslim community reports that its mosques are monitored and young boys and men are detained indiscriminately under the pretext of countering terrorism,” USCIRF added.

“Muslims also complain that most Indian states violate their religious freedom by restricting or banning cow slaughter, which is required for Muslims during Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice).”

Lagging behind economically

Muslims are one of the most economically deprived segments of the population, Kolkata-based scholar Miratun Nahar said.

“Don't look at them as a religious group. Instead, focus on their backwardness. The Modi government did nothing substantial to empower them socially and economically. I wonder if that, coupled with the process of social exclusion, would take India forward," Nahar commented.

Abhijit Mukhopadhyay, a senior economist at the Economic Research Foundation in New Delhi, concurred.

"It is not that the Muslims will only face the music, but the entire economy will get affected. If there is unrest, especially along religious lines, no private party will invest here,” he told BenarNews.

BJP: ‘Every citizen of the nation is growing’


Responding to the criticism, a senior BJP leader and a member of Modi’s cabinet said the government was striving toward the nation’s overall development.

“When a nation grows, it means every citizen of the nation is growing directly or indirectly – whether he is a Hindu or Muslim, or belongs to any other community,” Babul Supriyo, minister of state for Urban Development, Housing and Poverty Alleviation, told BenarNews.

To back up his assertion, Supriyo reeled off a list of programs aimed at ameliorating the lot of minority groups, especially Muslims.

These included improving access to school education, greater resources for teaching Urdu – the language spoken by Indian Muslims – self-employment for the poor, and improving people’s skills through technical training.

So far, however, the programs have not yielded any tangible results for Muslims.

Such programs are nothing new and whether they will ever translate into concrete benefits remains a major question, experts say.

“If 15 percent of the population is discriminated against, then along with economic inequality, social unrest and violence will also erupt, which would impede overall development,” Mukhopadhyay, the economist, said.

“Economic inequality also breeds alienation, which will make the community an easy target for the fundamentalist forces."

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