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Joining the Missing Links: Towards Shaping a Better Indian Muslim Community

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Over 700 years of Muslim rule in India developed a sense of superiority among the Indian Muslims as the ruler class, only to be washed away later by the British imperialism. The independence of India came along with a whole episode of bloody memory of communal disharmony and the ultimate partition. This added salt to the sores of Indian Muslims. The loss of family members, relatives, friends and neighbors added to the loss of sultanate. And worst of all, the partition left a void in the intellectual circle of Indian Muslims. As most of the academicians, scientists and intellectuals left the country for the newly formed Pakistan, the Muslims became an orphaned community in India with only a few to provide direction, a representation and advocate for them.

The remaining Muslims, thus, developed around them a fortress of protection by psychologically, socially, educationally, and to some extent, linguistically alienating themselves from the rest of India. The weak and isolated community faced many problems, and one problem induced another. For instance, illiteracy and mediocrity affected job prospects. That turn of events induced poverty, resulting in another cycle of lack of proper education, and, hence, more poverty. Lack of proper and deliberate initiatives to alter the situation facilitated the process of deterioration and helped create an everlasting pessimism in the community. This, again, contributed to the alienation.

Consequently, the community started to regress constantly towards mediocrity, only to realize it later" much later. This realization of laggardness has come at a time when the Indian Muslim community is already far behind nearly all other communities, and, across the boundaries of classes, in nearly all spheres of progress. Immersed in frustration and hopelessness, the community soothes itself by resorting to the memories of the past.

But for a reality check: Does the past glory conform to the present situation? Can the Muslim community see itself anywhere close to the mainstream India? The Sachar Committee Report clearly shows that the vast majority of the community stands nowhere close to the other communities -- not even the backward and scheduled castes! It doesn't even need a Sachar Committee Report to know this. Just a glance at a typical Muslim neighborhood, at any government or private office, or even a typical community college or university will tell the story. Muslims everywhere in the public domain have a scarce presence, except the courts, where they often go seeking justice.

What are the reasons for our under-representation nearly everywhere from a community college to the parliament? The reasons are partly because of the Muslim community's incapability to participate in and isolation from the pursuit of worldly progress, and partly because of the inadequacy and indifference of the government initiatives which failed to drag the community to the mainstream.

This vicious circle of alienation and poverty has embittered the situation to its worst, and has pulled the community to the nadir from where an immediate recovery seems not only a mere dream, but also an illusion. However, the question is this: How long can the Muslim community afford to live by the glory of the long past? How long can the community keep crying over what has been lost? How long can the community keep itself aloof from the developments around? How long can the Muslims of India suffer from poverty and indignity and continue to deteriorate? The answer is: Too long has been the nap of complacency. We need to cut it short. Everyone has been running fast. We need to rush to catch up to others.

Muslims must accept the fact that we, the Indian Muslims, are responsible for a large part of our plight and need to make active efforts to ameliorate the situation. Else, there can be no way out. We have to take the initiative to break the vicious circle and come out of the constant state of decline and deprivation. Once we take the onus of responsibility on our shoulders to improve our lot, we have to figure out how we can bridge the huge gap between the Muslim community and others.

First of all, in my opinion, the community needs to cross the psychological barrier of aloofness and reaffirm the fact that we belong to India, not because of any accident or as a result of some historical process, but because of a conscious choice. We need to remind ourselves that we belong to this land, that we were born here and we want to live here and enjoy and share its bounties with all others who have the same feelings, and enrich this land with our efforts by making valuable contributions towards its progress. At the same time, we need to build the confidence that we can make a difference in our lives as well as in the lives of others by way of our contributions.

I stress this point because I feel that there are circumstances in which this confidence seems to wane before disruptive, communal and discriminating forces. But it is very important that we don't lose faith in ourselves and in the capacity of the democratic processes that together we can achieve a better state of not merely existing, but of flourishing. In this sojourn, we might have to face difficulties, we might have to fight with disruptive forces, but we can't afford to lose heart.

Since our very survival and progress is in question, we are at the stake. Expecting too much from outside, at this juncture, does not seem a good enough idea. A community paralyzed between the past glory and present indifference can very well go down towards the abyss. More than a century ago, the great visionary and educationalist Sir Syed Ahmad Khan noted: "Muslims are plunging in, and no one is there to take them out." But to our dismay, the situation does not seem very different even now. We can't wait and repeat the same mistake for centuries. We have to take the responsibility to pull ourselves out. We have to take the initiative to change our plight, improve our lot and carry our mission ahead.

Overcoming the psychological barrier is just one step. The next, and most important, step is to convert ourselves into indispensable assets. Education has to play a pivotal role in this transformation process. Only education can liberate us from the vicious circle of poverty and isolation. We must acquire quality education -- not only to expand the horizon of our knowledge, but also to equip ourselves with the skills required for newer innovations, the changing industry and an ever-evolving market.

We need a momentous drive to spread education among ourselves as well as to each corner of society. We must identify why the Muslim community is behind all others in education. We need to figure out why the literacy rate and the level of higher education among us is below the national average. We have to find out the reason for Muslim children's falling participation in higher education. In order to reduce the gap between our performance and that of the majority of Indians, we need to make the best use of all available infrastructure and resources. We need to demand adequate infrastructure from the government as well as take our own initiative to set up our educational infrastructure. We can't be totally dependent upon the public initiatives; we must make our own efforts to garner funds, gather academicians and develop infrastructure to disseminate education among the poor Muslim masses.

The process, not an easy one indeed, might be very cumbersome. A community which has been dormant for centuries cannot be awakened overnight. It will take its time, but the need of the hour is that simply this: the initiative needs to be taken. We often grudge about a lack of higher education among Muslims, inadequate representation of Muslims in government services and in industry. But in order to reach those arenas, we need to have quality students coming out from schools. We need to ensure access to quality education to the poor Muslim children.

For this, we can adopt at least three measures. First, providing scholarships to the deserving students, based on both merit and financial need. This is likely to have a strong, sustainable long-term impact. Another such initiative would be to set up primary and secondary schools of high standard in underserved Muslim-concentrated areas, particularly addressing children from poor families. Finally, we need to set up special coaching and guidance centers in other areas where a school is not needed.

Such a center can address the deficiency need by providing focused coaching, career-oriented guidance and the motivation to excel. In such cases, the initial level of success might appear low. Regardless, there needs to be a determined and persistent effort.

Success or failure of an endeavor depends on the kind of efforts made. In order for us to succeed, the schools must, first of all, maintain a high academic standard like those of ICSE or CBSE schools. The coaching centers need to maintain the highest professional approach, emulating those of the best in the country. It is quite obvious that initially, in an underserved community, the parents might not be very much enthusiastic about their children's education. For them, helping in the family affairs or contributing to the narrow supply of income might appear more important. We have to create an environment wherein parents, even though they might be illiterate, develop a positive attitude towards education and ultimately own the responsibility to educate their children.

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Having graduated from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in 2006, Shahidur Rashid Talukdar moved to USA for higher studies. After completing MS (in Mathematics) from Youngstown State University, he joined Texas Tech University as PhD student in (more...)
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