Monday, December 1, 2008

Uncomfortable facts

In this article, Asra Nomani criticizes the conditions of Muslims in India and points out that this is a disaster waiting to happen. While it may be tempting to dismiss criticism of the Indian government policy towards Muslims as being ill conceived and insensitive, coming as it does just after a horrific terrorist attack, the data on this is pretty damning. Over the last twenty years (i.e. roughly since the mid-1980s), Muslims have fallen behind even the scheduled castes and tribes in terms of socio-economic progress. This report as part of the Sachhar Committee report shows some of this data. At minimum, this shows that while India is progressing, for one reason or the other, Muslims in India are being left behind. For the Muslim community to fall off so dramatically, there really has to be widespread disengagement. This is particularly evidenced by the fact that unlike Dalits and other minorities, and despite being the largest minority in India, there is no effective political advocacy on behalf of Muslims in the political process. This is not to validate the demands of Muslims, but more to highlight the lack of effective democratic outlet for Muslims.

This is a great article by Fareed Zarkaria where he, among other things, points out that these issues need to be resolved not just by India but by the whole region, as the problems bleed from one country to another.

One of the readers comments in the Fareed Zarkaria article alleges that the Indian Army and R&AW routinely engineer these incidents within India and then blame Pakistan. Searches for reports on the Sabarmati Express, Godhra incident, Malegaon blasts, etc. reveals a pot pourri of allegations of this kind emanating from news organizations from Pakistan and India. As with all news, people selectively remember the reports that supports their view of the world.

The underlying problem for people like the commenter though is that there is no credible trustworthy impartial arbiter of truth in the sub-continent. Even in horrific cases such as the Godhra incident, there are contrary opinions issued by different commissions. These commissions are often designed to make political hay out of lamentable situations, and as a result, people are left with doubts. Even to this day the facts in most of these cases are unclear.

Adding to confusion are the often wild and baseless accusations and claims made by the Indian media and politicians, which never get rescinded and are then absorbed into the ongoing memes in the Indian consciousness. How many terrorists were there in the latest attacks? How did they get there? Where are they from? All sorts of facts and speculation have been bandied about.

Some of these are harmless. But often, these factoids, despite being blatently false, feed and justify the views of extremists.

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