Arshad Shaikh delves into the issue of minority appeasement in India, highlighted by the Prime Minister in his Independence Day speech. Any serious and unbiased study of the state of Muslims in India resonates with the words “denial” and “deprivation”. Nevertheless, it goes to the credit of the right-wing forces that they were able to build a convincing narrative that Muslims have been pampered at the cost of the majority Hindu community by successive governments till they came to power. This myth of minority appeasement needs to be exposed for justice to prevail in our country. Else, it will continue to be used as a stick to browbeat minorities and become an excuse for majority appeasement.
The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi delivered his 10th Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort. He listed corruption, nepotism and appeasement as the top three evils confronting the nation.
In the words of the Prime Minister, “Appeasement has also stained the original thinking of the country, our harmonious national character. These people destroyed everything. Sarvajan Hitaya Sarvajan Sukhay. Everyone deserves to get his or her rights. Hence, it is very important to reinstate social justice as well. Appeasement has done the biggest harm to social justice. If anything destroyed social justice then (it is) this appeasement thinking, (and) appeasement-politics. Government schemes for appeasement have indeed killed social justice. And that’s why we realise appeasement and corruption are the biggest enemies of development.”
But, is this true? Have the minorities (read Muslims) been appeased in India? If yes, how have they been appeased and what have they gained in the last 75 years? Has minority appeasement destroyed social justice, original thinking and our harmonious national character? These important questions must be answered. We all agree to the slogan “Development of all, appeasement of none”, provided the issue is addressed in an objective and unprejudiced manner.
DATA DOES NOT LIE
Writing for the Indian Express (“The Myth of Appeasement” dated April 20, 2018), Christophe Jaffrelot and Kalaiyarasan collated data on the socio-economic data of Muslims in India using two rounds of the Indian Human Development Survey (IHDS) of 2004-05 and 2011-12. They selected two states per region for their study namely – UP and Haryana for the North, Gujarat and Maharashtra for the West, Karnataka and Kerala for the South and Bihar and West Bengal for the East. These states made 68.5% (17 crores) of all Muslims in India according to the 2011 Census.
Jaffrelot and Kalaiyarasan observe that the per capita income of Hindus is generally higher than that of Muslims across all states mentioned. In poorer states like UP and Bihar, the income gap between Muslims and Hindus is relatively smaller. Muslims earn around 91% of what Hindus earn in UP and around 82% of what they earn in Bihar. The largest income gap between Muslims and Hindus is observed in West Bengal, Gujarat, and Haryana. In West Bengal and Gujarat, Muslims earn only 63% of what Hindus earn. In Haryana, the gap is even more significant, with Muslims earning only 33% of what Hindus earn.
This disparity is attributed in part to the economic conditions of specific districts like Mewat, which has a Muslim majority and is economically disadvantaged, as well as the prosperous district of Gurgaon (now Gurugram) with a Hindu majority. In no state are Muslims better off than Hindu OBCs in terms of economic status. Muslims’ per capita income compared to that of Hindu Dalits in various states is as follows: Haryana (68%), Gujarat (69%), West Bengal (79%), Kerala (82%) and Maharashtra (87%).
The status of Muslims relative to Hindu Dalits has worsened in most states, except for Uttar Pradesh (UP), where Muslims’ income increased from 124% to 132% of Hindu Dalits’ income. In other states like Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar, West Bengal, and Karnataka, Muslims’ income as a percentage of Hindu Dalits’ income has decreased.
The decline in Muslims’ economic status is even more pronounced when compared to Hindu Other Backward Classes (OBCs). In 2004-05, Muslims earned more than Hindu OBCs in UP and Bihar, but this changed by 2011-12. In Gujarat, for instance, Muslims’ income was on par with Hindu OBCs in 2004-05 (97 % of their income), but this declined to 72% seven years later. Muslims are predominantly engaged in the informal sector and might have limited access to formal employment opportunities.
In the three states where Muslims are among the poorest (Haryana, Bihar, West Bengal) less than 10% of them have salaried jobs. Conversely, in two states where Muslims are relatively better off (Kerala and Maharashtra) more than 20% of them have salaried jobs. According to a Niti Aayog report, 11 of 20 most backward districts of India were Muslim-dominated.
THE POLITICS OF APPEASEMENT
Speaking to Radiance, veteran journalist, media consultant and political analyst, Prashant Tandon said, “The narrative of Muslim appeasement has been a political project for a long time. It has percolated in society very slowly. The turning point was the Shah Bano case. The challenge is that if we ask anybody who is not engaging with Muslims, who has not experienced Muslim society firsthand and has developed a stereotypical image based on WhatsApp messages, (he) feels that Muslims are only concerned with their religious identity and assertion. They do not bother about employment, education, etc.
“The other dimension of the problem is that politicians of all hues are only engaging with the Ulema (religious scholars) and “Sarkari Muslims” (those who toe the line of the government and ignore the genuine issues of the community) and ignore genuine community leadership. Religious leaders have their own agenda and role in society. They are not concerned about the worldly progress of Muslims. They are more interested in Personal Laws, Awqaf and Hajj facilities. The political class kept ignoring the real “bread and butter” issues of the Muslim community. One measure of which is the Human Development Index (HDI). There is no denying the pitiable condition of Muslims in India.
“The Sachar Committee Report exposed the myth of Muslim appeasement. The percentage of Muslims in Civil Services never exceeds 3% although they are 14% of the population. The poison of hatred and polarisation that has spread in society has to be removed in the interest of the nation. However, as this myth (of appeasement) has been accepted by the majority to be a reality, secular political parties are also maintaining a safe distance from Muslims and indulging in acts, events and statements that will sound pleasing to the majority. It is their “majboori” (helplessness) and Muslims have to look at the larger picture and play their political cards accordingly.”
By ridiculing those advocating for the rights of minorities and blaming the Muslims for the present-day problems and historical wrongs heaved on the nation, attention is deflected from the ground reality of majority appeasement and more specifically perpetuation of “upper caste” dominance in all domains of socio-economic-political life. The truth about governments catering to a particular caste and class is well documented. It is pulling our country to one of the most unequal societies in the world.
“The rights of minorities are the litmus test of a society’s commitment to justice and equality.” – Mary Robinson. At present, India is struggling to pass that litmus test.