By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
NEW DELHI: With parliamentary elections likely to be held in two-three months, the Indian Muslims have started raising their voice with a new aggressiveness and force. The past week was witness to their protesting against being targeted in fake encounters as â€œterroristsâ€ and also holding a daylong convention demanding reservation in jobs and education. The message is simple and the timing appropriate. With Indian politics no longer dominated by a single party or only two/three major parties, the Muslims are strongly aware of the significance that their vote holds for numerous parties in the fray. They do not want to be sidelined or ignored any more. This has prompted them to raise their voice as and when needed with a new force rather than remain only mute spectators to ongoing political developments.
Displaying their anger and protest against innocent Muslims being falsely labeled as terrorists, at least 3,000 Muslims gathered in the capital city last week (January 29). They arrived on a train called the â€œUlema Express,â€ which started from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday (January 28), with number of demonstrators increasing during the 700-kilometer journey to New Delhi. They marched from the railway station to Jantar Mantar area, near Indian Parliament, the main spot where demonstrators gather. The protestors carried banners which said: â€œLet the truth prevail, bring the innocents out of jail,â€ and â€œGive us security, not tears and blood.â€
They demanded a judicial inquiry into the Batla House encounter in the capital city in September, in which two Muslims were killed, following which two were arrested. Azamgarh hit the headlines then, with it being claimed as hideout of the suspect terrorists. Several men from Azamgarh were arrested as suspects. Questioning these moves targeting Muslims, Maulana Amir Rashadi, a leader of Ulema council, which organized the rally, said: â€œWe want fake encounters like Batla House to end, We want innocent Muslim youth who have been arrested by the police to be let off in two weeks.â€
â€œWe will intensify our agitation if false arrests and harassment continues,â€ Rashadi said.
The protestors shouted slogans: â€œWe will not let another Batla House happen.â€ They are also angry at the Inspector M.C. Sharma, who died during the Batla House encounter, being honored. The government has rubbed salt into their wounds, by doing so, but there is nothing surprising about it, according to Rashadi. â€œIt is normal in Indian politics. The government has many faces,â€ he said. â€œAfter killing so many of our promising youths and dumping many more in jail, what kind of security can they provide us and what kind of trust do they expect from us,â€ he asked.
â€œWe want a judicial enquiry on the Batla House encounter. Innocent Muslims are being harassed by the authorities and are seen with suspicion by everyone. Muslims are the most patriotic of all, and we have proved our loyalty time and again. We are tired of being used as a votebank, and then backstabbed by the political parties,â€ Rashadi said.
â€œThe government has failed to give us relief. The police of every state are hanging around in Azamgarh. The Congress- led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has engineered a plot against us. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government in Uttar Pradesh is competing with the UPA in killing Muslim youths,â€ Maulana Tahir Madani, also a leader of Ulema council, said.
Though initially several legislators, including Akbar Ahmed (BSP) from Azamgarh, Ilyas Azmi (BSP) and Abu Azmi (Samajwadi party) â€œpromised to protect our boys and force the UPA to order a judicial probe in the encounter. But they did nothing,â€ Rashadi said. â€œAll parties have played with our problems, but they have never tried to resolve them. We now intend to emerge as a political force to have our say in governance, and will put up candidates from Azamgarh and Lalganj in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections,â€ Madani said.
The council had chartered the train. On this, Rashadi said: â€œWe paid Rs 1.4 million to the railway and chartered the train. We paid Rs 300,000 as security money at Azamgarh railway station. The entire money came through donations.â€
At the â€œNational Convention on Muslim Reservation,â€ organized by Joint Committee of Muslim Organizations for Empowerment (JCMOE), the participants raised demand for at least 10 percent reservation for their community in jobs and education (February 1). Describing Indian Muslims almost as backward as Scheduled Caste (SC)/Scheduled Tribe (ST) and more backward than non-Muslim Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the Muslim leaders expressed hope that their demand would be met. It is hoped that the â€œconvention will serve to accelerate achievement of our cherished goals in order to make the Muslim community a real partner in the development process, particularly to the benefit of its backward sections so that the economic, educational and social disparities that exist are reduced and national unity transformed into national fraternity, through justice and equality,â€ Syed Shahabuddin, former legislator and convener of JCMOE said.
With it being a hard reality that â€œMuslims have been consistently and universally underrepresented in all legislatures since 1950, on an average to extent of 50 percent measured by population,â€ Shahabuddin said: â€œBoth systematic and electoral reforms are needed not only to give the minorities their due but also to make our democracy more representative.â€
â€œMuslimsâ€™ unilateral demand is reservation, reservation, reservation,â€ which they have been making for very long, Saiyid Hamid, Chancellor Jamia Hamdard said. â€œThe demand cannot be ignored for too longâ€ nor â€œremain confined to paper,â€ he said. Countering critics describing reservation as â€œcrutches,â€ Hamid said: â€œThey forget that without reservation, the gap of inequality would only increase.â€
Drawing attention to repeated â€œassurancesâ€ being given by politicians having been forgotten, Justice (retired) A.M. Ahmadi said: â€œThis has led to confidence minority held in the majority being shaken.â€ He expressed the hope that those in power will not turn a â€œNelsonâ€™s eyeâ€ to Muslims demand for reservation.
Voicing strong support and commitment to Muslimsâ€™ demand for reservation, Minister of Chemicals & Fertilizers and Steel, Ram Vilas Paswan said: â€œThere should also be reservation for Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims.â€ Paswan, who is also Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJSP) chief, drew attention to reservation accorded to Dalit Hindus being withdrawn following their conversion to either Christianity or Islam. Conversion does not spell any increase in their economic stature so there should be reservation for Dalit Muslims also, he said.
The left bloc leaders voiced support for Muslimsâ€™ demand for reservation, stating that Indiaâ€™s development was not possible by ignoring the Muslims. It was â€œunjustâ€ to ignore Muslimsâ€™ demand for reservation, Debarata Biswas, general secretary, All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) said. The country will not progress without meeting their demand for reservation, Biswas said. In a similar tone, A.B. Bardhan, general secretary, Communist Party of India (CPI) said that â€œdevelopment of the countryâ€ can never be complete by ignoring the concerns voiced by Muslims.
Several speakers pointed out that â€œcreamy layersâ€ within the Muslim community should not be granted reservation.
During its draft resolution, the JCMOE declared launching of the â€œNational Movement for Muslim Reservation.â€ The resolution expressed â€œregretâ€ at Prime Minister Manmohan Singhâ€™s 15-point program for welfare of minorities having â€œnot been implemented in letter and spirit.â€ The resolution appealed to the Muslim community and all Muslim organizations for their â€œwholehearted participation in the movement, unitedlyâ€ for â€œrealization of their common long-cherished goals of progress and development of justice and equality for all.â€ The resolution also requested politically active Muslim organizations to â€œadvise and guide the Muslim electorateâ€ in coming elections to extend their support â€œunitedly and massivelyâ€ only to secular parties committed to reservation for Muslims and â€œfield adequate number of Muslim candidates, acceptable to the community in all Muslim-winnable constituencies.â€
Though there is no denying that Muslims are playing their role by drawing attention of national forces to issues concerning them, only speculations can be voiced on the actual impact this will have. It can only be hoped that importance given to them now is not forgotten soon after the political frenzy linked with parliamentary elections is over!