Thursday, March 5, 2009

Marginalized and Indian Democracy: A case of Muslims

There are a number of ways marginalized groups of people can be defined in India; often referred to as the excluded as well. These generic expressions, inherently suggest a systemic but mechanical manner in which groups of specified identities are driven away towards peripheries of democratic decision making institutions. They miss out from the benefits of protective and promotive public policy approaches, mostly due to lack of motivation amongst functionaries assigned with implementative duties. They often lack informational and institutional support structures that through community networks could claim their own space in governance and civil society. Put differently exclusion can occur due to the acts of omission and commission by the political and governance structures. The dimensions namely, political process, bureaucratic reach and drive for organized civil society initiatives are all essential to enable citizens seek fair access and achieve reasonable levels of outcomes in modern day developmental initiatives.

Given the complex maize of socio-cultural and religious pluralism and diversity in India, often population groups identified as dalits, tribals (notwithstanding constitutional guarantees), minorities (mostly religious), land less manual workers, migrants from rural and less developed regions and those living in inhospitable hinterlands are identified as marginalized or excluded groups. They generally do not carry political patronage, nor do they attract attention of developmental functionaries under routine setup, and are unable to organize themselves in the mould of civil society. In short they are easy to pry, mislead and even soft targets of exploitation.

In India we invoke general (national) elections every five years to choose 552 members to loka sabha (house of the people) in parliament. They along with members of rajya sabha (council of states) and state level legislatures select a Prime Minister as chief of executive, representing largest faction of elected representatives, and he in turn selects his team of ministers. Thus one finds a multi-level process and at each level the marginalized may experience the brunt of exclusion and suppression. Since the Indian democracy recognize and respect those who have support of the majority, which can be just over one half and often much less due to multiple contestants. In many circumstances those at the helm of governance do not in fact represent majority at all. In such a mechanism, those identified as marginalize and excluded cannot make inroads into functional democratic formations. Thus, executive and legislature in India seems to work for the majority not because institutional formations were based on majority but rather to an illusionary majority which is important to sustain power in future as well. Besides, one finds a declining share as voters, amongst the marginalized especially in case of religious minorities, which can further cause marginalization and exclusion.

It is absolutely necessary, therefore, that other institutional structures are available to protect the interest of marginalized and excluded. The judiciary is one such institution, which is part of the trilogy (along with legislature and executive) accounting for good governance. But judiciary acts only when approached and marginalized normally are incapable to reach out seeking redresses. Normally, judiciary addresses individual cases and only rarely accommodative to ponder over systemic and mechanical exclusion; and on its own it does not initiate corrective measures.

In India, there are other quasi-public institutions such as the human rights commission, the SCs and STs Commission, minority commission and so on; whose mandate is not well defined, and a look at their functioning suggests little attention towards three types of exclusions enunciated above. Such quasi-public institutional arrangements are involved in seeking redresses through the enactment of law; lacking are intuitional arrangements to ensure implementation of laws and program that promote inclusion.

The hope for democracy in India lies in the grassroots identified as the panchayati raj institutions. Even at this level same principle of ‘highest count wins the cup’ is utilized, which in fact pushes the identified communities further towards deepening marginalization, exclusion and distress. The concept of proportional representation was rejected at the time of formation of the Indian republic in 1947 on the belief that democratic selection through ‘highest vote gather’ method was good enough to address concerns of minority groups that were not capable of winning a place through votes. But as we experience now such expectations are not to be found. It appears, therefore, time is ripe to introduce some form of proportionate representation at the level of local self governments. For example, legislation in Andhra Pradesh in 2006 ensures nomination of two minority members to the panchayat sabhas across the state. Other states will do better by emulating this format and learn from experiences.

Although Indian has made a name for itself in the world as an emerging economy, production and consumption hub, and part of the global energy revolution; it is going through one of the lowest spiral so far as inter-community relationships are concerned. It has poor record in social policy of building safe and secure place of living for people who profess varied religions and social customs. Inter-community relationships must be addressed as the priority of this government and the government which will be formulated after impending general elections. It is a matter of ‘trust’, but the minority communities especially the Muslims and Christians are looked down upon by certain political thinking, which is corrupting the young minds. While other minorities namely Buddhists, Sikhs and Janis do not sufferer from such mistrust of the polity and establishment.

Security Concerns- In organized societies especially in a pluralistic context there can be physical threat to life if a dominant group intends to eliminate or reduce the civic power of the other group. But the legal structure and state security machinery such as the police, the army and other agencies are put in place to ensure security to all citizens. It is in this context and frame of governance that one needs to understand the physical security of the Muslim community in India.

In spite of democratic governance in place in India there is physical threat to life of many minorities – mostly Muslims and Christians; and castes such as dalits and adivasis.
Muslims especially face threat to life if they do not align their political ideology with the dominant community of a given area such as a constituency, a district or a state. Often organized threat to life of Muslims emerges from the State especially when those with deviant ideology assume power – For example in Gujarat. But such organize crime causing loss of life can be caused even in the so called secular regimes – thus such mass killings such as during the communal riots are mostly engineered and well planned in connivance with the security agencies of the state. The police force in the Indian context seems somewhat less concerned with the problems of the poor and excluded.

When there is a fear phobia amongst a community it affects practically all facets of human lives. While it generates a feeling of perennial insecurity in the minds of people, which in turn pushes them in to living in exclusive spaces and ghettos? Children, especially girls would not participate in normal and regular schools for fear of life as most often such facilities are found in living spaces where the Muslims do not reside. Muslim women will not come out to secure employment in common places such as the markets. Even the well educated and qualified Muslim men may not be employed in the private sectors, as they will be considered not trust worthy. Especially since the whole of the Muslim community across India is under the suspicion, it is not uncommon to find that the security agencies pick up Muslim youth at random and subject them to merciless killing just to create a terror phobia amongst the Muslims.

This is a national disgrace and needs to be set right. In this connection there is a need to establish the ‘equal opportunities commission (EOI)’ as recommended by the Sachar Committee, and appropriate legal mechanism through an enactment of law must be put in place to deal with religious discrimination. The EOI also helps strengthen grassroots level participation by reducing willful exploitation and exclusion of communities, socio-cultural or economic groups such as the wage laborers, temporary migrants, women, and minorities and so on. Maintaining diversity in public spaces was also recommended to be absolutely essential through extending a set of carefully crafted incentives and disincentives. Sachar report essentially is a review and record of success or failure of the democratic institutions intended to achieve social-equity, participation and inclusiveness. It is two years since the report was handed over to the parliament, but so far there has not been any discussion and debate on it. In a democracy, keeping issues under wraps, away from the public debates can defeat the very purpose and objectives of developmental governance. Although there are some gains with respect to enhanced sensitivity amongst the policy makers and bureaucrats with respect to excluded communities in this case the Muslims; no noteworthy policy shift has been noticed. Mechanisms to improve diversity in government employment, admissions in colleges and universities, and in institutions of local self governance have to be addressed on an urgent basis. Importance of information sharing and transparency in public debates effected though establishing an independent data bank and assessment and monitoring authority will go a long way in ensuring the fact that Indian democracy is moving towards maturity and that it meets the standards set by modern day democracies around the world.

The following initiatives will yield better results both at the level of State and National government frameworks:

Markets, Credit and Employment:

City/ town specific modernization, marketing and export schemes for products produced by artisans. Access to bank and cooperative credit to facilitate production, gradation, packaging and exports. Easy access to bank and micro-credit programs for promotion of self-employment.

Promote food-processing industries for export of meat, chicken and fish with participation of Muslims in backward and forward markets. Retailing, where many Muslims are engaged is now being hijacked by the organized sector.

Promote environment friendly leather industry with involvement of Muslims and SCs and STs in the backward and forward markets.

Strengthen the backward and forward linkages in both credit and product markets in hand loom and power loom sectors to promote production of cotton textiles and Silk.

Provide clearly identified urban space for undertaking vending operations for vegetables, fruits, flowers and other food products with proportionate share for Muslims.

Provide mainstream space to show case crafts produced and manufactured by Muslim artisans. The artisans are feeling the heat of technological inventions, and their livelihood is endangered.

Recognize self-help groups from amongst the Muslim communities. Enable registration of Muslim oriented civil society organizations.

Social Services:

Ensure ICDS centres in Muslim dominated area to be managed by Muslim Women and attach libraries and provide reading material.

Ensure presence of Muslim men and women in adequate proportion in local panchayats. Nominate Muslim women and men in panchayats where they cannot get elected due either to local political factors or due to smaller numbers.

Recruit Muslim men and women in regular schools as teachers, assistants and administrative staff in all types of public schools, not necessarily in schools for Muslim boys and girls.

Appoint Muslims in Police and other institutions meant for protection of public property such as the railways, border security force and so on.

Recruit Muslim men and women in regular rural health programmes such as doctors and surgeons, ANMs, health assistants, extension workers.

Draft Muslim men and women in public employment programmes. Promote inter-faith committees in all locations with Muslim concentrations. Promote membership of Muslims in the urban housing societies.

Muslim Community itself must take Initiatives of the following type:

In today’s time ‘knowledge’ is becoming central to all paths of progress and that is where Muslims have to strive hard. Chart out strategies and accumulate resources to promote educating amongst the poorer sections of Muslim community. Promote compulsory 7 years of education amongst both boys and girls.

Promote appropriate technical education (computer linked) such as the Indian Technical Institutes for those who are failed at the matriculation and pre-university levels.

Establish transparency in managing Islamic institutions such as the Wakf and Mosque committees. The resources including from Zakat and other donations along with Wakfs should be targeted to the poorest amongst the Muslim community. Welfare activity must not end at construction of mosques, but also to ensure measurable transfer of welfare gains to the society.

Establish small and medium enterprise program to promote manufacturing of goods such as, soups, shampoos, pulses, dairy, spices, edible oil, wheat flour, homemade pickles, homemade drinks, home made sugar, cosmetics, hatchery, skin processing, poultry, cattle feed, rearing of cattle, sheep & goat, garment manufacturing, lime kilns, gaur gum units, hydrated lime, plastic goods dyes, colour and chemicals, textile processing units, toothpaste, toothbrush, shaving creams, hair dyes, jewellery etc. and things which are being used in everyday life by common man. There is a need to eliminate the middlemen though the establishment of SHGs. All these products would be “halal” products and the whole community would be galvanized to buy these Sharia compliant products without much marketing efforts.

I Initiate an anti-dowry movement amongst the Muslim communities so as to become a model for the whole of population in India. Imbibe nationalism amongst boys and girls in young ages by promoting respect to national flag and national anthem. There can be a Muslim way to saluting the national flag and ‘sare jahan se achha hindustan hamara’ must be used as the national anthem along with ‘jana gana mana’.

There is widespread absence of civil society groups with a focus on Muslim advancement, who could play a vital role in the implementation and monitoring processes of various Muslim oriented programs. This challenge could be addressed by encouraging Muslims to set up civil society groups, and even offering some Masjid Committees to take over this role until a full fledged civil society group emerges in the locality as a meaningful alternative. But the latter decision need to be carefully made so that such initiatives should not result empowering Muslim clergy class who are often known for regressive interpretation of Islam denying gender equality to Muslim women. The secular development intervention needs to have enough space for Muslim girl’s education and advancement, without which addressing Muslim backwardness could be entirely impossible.

The intellectual and political leadership addressing the issue of Muslim backwardness is led by largely non-Muslims indicating consolidation of secular content of India’s public debate. The Muslim community must continue to engage one and all strategically so as get integrated into the mainstream democratic value system enshrined in the Indian constitution. Promote importance of protecting public property, community infrastructure and place of worship of all religions and castes.


sheik mohamed md said...

Assalamualaikum sir this article is very informative............i lile it........thanks for this article

sheik mohamed md said...

Assalamualaikum sir this article is very informative............i lile it........thanks for this article