Indore: New Year Spells A New Beginning

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

INDORE: The New Year spells a major step forward for Indore, a city known as mini-Mumbai of Madhya Pradesh (MP). It is for the first time in recent years that a major, large-scale conference is being held here. It is for the first time that American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI) – a philanthropic, service-based and issue-based organization- is hosting its annual international convention in Indore. The 18th convention is being held with cooperation of state-based groups: Rahat Charitable Trust and Taleem Convention. The holding of the two-day conference (January 2-3) in Indore holds special significance for several reasons. Indore is also known to be a communally sensitive region. It witnessed communal violence on July 3rd and 4th 2008, following the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)’s call for an all India “bandh” (shut down). With the state being ruled by a BJP government, for a brief while, it was feared that Gujarat-carnage may be repeated here.

Pushing the political differences and communal issues to the backburner, the conference marks opening of a new chapter for the people of Indore. Among the dignitaries participating in the conference are Union Minister of State (independent charge) for Corporate and Minority affairs Salman Khurshid.

The conference spells a new beginning for the city’s population, as for the first time in recent past, Indore is making news for positive, constructive and development-oriented reasons. In this context, the two-day conference holds special significance for Muslims of Indore and elsewhere, as for a change, they are not being deliberately targeted or attacked for wrong reasons. This point has been made as Muslims are known to be given greater media coverage and attention when they are labeled as “terrorists,” even if there may be no evidence of their actually being so.

Constituting more than 12 percent of the population, Muslims are viewed as an important electoral force here. Ahead of the conference, a rough survey of the city’s residents revealed that they welcomed it as it subtly gave a message they themselves were keen on conveying to the people outside Indore. “We (Indian Muslims) are not terrorists, we are not slum dogs. We are educated Muslims, moving towards our and the country’s development.” A few were concerned about the conference being held in a city known to be communally sensitive and a stronghold of the saffron brigade. Their fears were, however, allayed when they learnt that the focus of the conference was on educational development of Muslims and that invitees as well as participants were from all sections of societies.

With AFMI aiming to achieve 100 percent literacy, the issues expected to be actively discussed at the conference are creating educational opportunities for all, leaving no child behind. Though literacy rate in India has steadily grown to 66 percent, it remains well below the world average rate of 84 percent. Statistically, if adequate moves are not taken towards ensuring education for all, it is feared that by 2020, India may be home to majority of the world’s illiterates. Madhya Pradesh is one of the six Indian states, where more than 70 percent of the people are illiterate.

Against this backdrop, the participants are expected to deliberate on how can this scenario change for the better? With Indian Muslims having high dropout rates of literacy, what measures should be undertaken to ensure that each and every child secures the needed education in today’s competitive world. Though India has several institutions of higher education, with a minority (Muslim) status, the limitations afflicting these cannot be sidelined. Of late, they have hit headlines for the wrong reasons, exposing the apparent crisis that these, including the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) are suffering from. If this remains their status, their existence does not ensure guarantee of quality education to their students. Besides, substantial importance needs to be given to ensuring quality education to Muslims from the primary school itself. The participants are expected to deliberate on the dismal conditions of primary and secondary educational institutions in Muslim-dominated areas. They aim to consider measures which should be taken to combat this problem and strengthen the educational system from the grassroots level.

Ahead of the conference, the active interest displayed by citizens of Indore towards it being held in their city conveys an important message. The people here are keen to push their past record of communal disturbances to the background and move forward towards progress at all levels, educationally, socially and economically to project a positive image of Indore to rest of the world. In this context, the conference has not simply given them the needed platform to move in this direction but has also helped them, Muslims and Hindus, to take a major step forward, with their own message: “We are for education and progress. Don’t view us as terrorists, communal extremists and/or slum dogs!”