In India, Muslim Minority Complains of Rampant Discrimination

By Rohit Wadhwaney
150605-IN-worker-620 An Indian Muslim worker in Ahmedabad sews canvassing material for the Congress Party, April 4, 2014.

Newly minted MBA degree-holder Zeshan Ali Khan was stunned when he opened the e-mailed reply to his job application to one of India’s biggest diamond export firms.

“Dear Zeshan, thanks for your application. We regret to inform you that we only hire non-Muslim candidates,” the email from the Human Resources department at Mumbai-based Hari Krishna Exports Pvt. Ltd allegedly read.

Zeshan, 22, is among members of India’s Muslim minority who see workplace and other types of discrimination against members of their religion as a worrying trend.

“I couldn’t believe it … that in the 21st century a firm as big as this could respond in such a manner,” Khan, a Mumbai resident, told BenarNews.

Muslims comprise just 14.4 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people, but this deeply impoverished segment is the nation’s largest religious minority. More that 52 percent of Muslim men and 91 percent Muslim women in India are jobless, and many young Muslims, like Khan, strive to get a good education so they can advance in society.

But the graduation rate among Muslims is very low and the school dropout rate is high.

On May 19, the day he got the email, Khan went onto Twitter and posted a screenshot (see below) of the reply from Hari Krishna Exports.



His tweet went viral.

“More than demoralizing, it was confusing,” Khan said of the offending email. “It made me wonder if I would have to face such discrimination throughout my professional career.”

Two days later, he reported the case to police. That led to four managers from Hari Krishna and the H.R. staffer who sent the email to Khan being arrested. On May 27, a sessions court granted the defendants bail, DNA reported.

As the issue snowballed into controversy, Hari Krishna Exports Pvt. Ltd. issued an apologetic statement on how it had handled Khan’s application.

“It was a blunder and personal mess created by one of our trainees who has no decision-making power. We have 61 employees in our office [in Mumbai], including one Muslim,” the company said.

A constitutional promise

Experts believe it is unlikely that the defendants will be convicted.

In India, there is no anti-discrimination law, but Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the Constitution prohibit the state from discriminating against any individual or group on grounds of religion.

Yet since the diamond exporter is a private sector company and the case does not fall under the definition of state or the control of the Indian government, “it [the company] is free to discriminate on grounds of religion when hiring employees,” said Abhishek Sudhir, a professor at New Delhi’s Jindal Global Law School.

Last year, the Post-Sachar Evaluation Committee recommended that the laws should be changed in order to protect people against discrimination in the private sector.

“Non-discrimination is a promise made in the constitution of India. These constitutional promises against discriminatory acts require legislative backing in the form of anti-discrimination laws, and these must be extended to private and non-State spheres as well,” the Post-Sachar Evaluation Committee said last September.

The committee is a panel following up the work of the Sachar Committee, which was appointed by the Indian government in 2005 to examine disparities facing the country’s Muslim population. In 2006, the committee issued a report with recommendations for how to create fairer opportunities for Muslims in schools, the workplace and other areas.

According to Harsh Mander, director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Equity Studies, although the Republic of India was “founded on the ideas of fraternity and equal citizenship,” following the India-Pakistan partition of 1947 “some political and social formations never reconciled with the idea of Muslims as equal citizens.”

“This is root of today’s social divisions, prejudice and fear,” the Hindustan Times quoted him as saying.

‘The minority is feeling alienated’

Barely a week after Khan’s job application was rejected on the alleged grounds of his religion, Misbah Quadri, a 25-year-old media professional in Mumbai, said she was forced out of her prospective apartment because of her religious background.

“A few hours before I was to move in, I received a call from the broker saying I could not live there as I was Muslim," Quadri told reporters.

She said she ignored attempts to prevent her from moving into the housing complex, and did so anyway.

“But the broker kept harassing me, threatening to throw out my belongings if I didn’t vacate the apartment,” she said.

Eventually, she and her two flat-mates were evicted.

Shehzad Poonawalla, a Delhi-based lawyer and activist, is representing both Khan and Quadri in anti-discrimination cases they have filed.

In the past year alone, Poonawalla says he has filed 20 petitions in cases relating to discrimination and hate speech – including Khan’s and Quadri’s cases – with the National Commission for Minorities.

“Discrimination against Muslims is an extremely worrying trend for the country because the minority is feeling alienated,” Poonawalla told BenarNews

He, too, has had problems finding rental accommodation in Delhi because he is a Muslim.

“It is a grim reality. Muslims are finding it hard to get jobs, accommodation or even bank loans. That is why a majority of Muslims in India are self-employed,” he said.

“The need of the hour is to frame a fair housing and equal opportunity law, which makes it illegal to ask the candidate his caste, religion or, for that matter, sexual orientation,” Poonawalla said.

Opportunity knocks

Prime Minister Modi’s statement to Muslim leaders in New Delhi on Tuesday saying that he did not believe in politics that sought to divide Indians along communal lines, while promising to create jobs for minorities, means little to Khan, the job-seeker.

“It was by pure chance that I posted the company’s response on my Twitter handle and my case garnered national interest,” Khan said.

“I am certain there are thousands of other Muslims who have to face such circumstances every day without any recourse.”

Ten days after he sent out his tweet that lit up social media and stirred a nationwide debate, the young man got a job offer for an executive-trainee position with the Adani Group, a multinational conglomerate company headquartered in Gujarat, Modi’s home state.

Khan has accepted the job.

“All I want now is a normal and simple life without ever having to face discrimination again,” he said.

“Is that asking for too much?”


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