Thursday, June 27, 2013

Treating Our Indian Muslims Right

I've received an email from a friend implying India should emulate Japan when it comes to keeping Islam in check and the Muslims at a distance.  The email includes a lot of the claims about Japan and the Muslims mentioned in this supposedly Muslim hating website "BNI" that instead refutes them. 

I'd instead like to see our Hindu majority to go out of its way to reassure Indian Muslims that they are a welcome and valuable part of the fabric of our society. This will strengthen our secular values and further distance our Muslim community from extremist elements.  I admired and appreciated Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's sponsoring in 2002 of prominent scientist Dr. Abdul Kalam (a Muslim) to be President of India.  This significantly reshaped my perceptions about Mr. Vajpayee's BJP party which has Hindu-centric origins and affiliations. 

Our Muslim community braces for silent suspicion and hostility towards them whenever there's a terrorist act in India by Muslim extremists.  This is in spite of most Muslims having no links or sympathies with such radicals.  Ideally, after any such incident our Hindu leaders and community figures should rush to declare that we know our Muslim community condemns these acts as much as anyone else.  And our leaders should follow through by exhorting their followers to make Muslims living among them feel as safe as possible.  Thomas Friedman in his Times columns speaks glowingly of Indian tolerance and minorities largely thriving and safe in our society, and we should remain committed to this ideal.

Then there are my personal experiences.  When I visit Mumbai in India I often happen to use cabs driven by Muslim drivers.  Mumbai residents are often compared to New Yorkers in their disinterested demeanor as both belong to large bustling cities and tend to mind their own business.  I'm sometimes surprised at how these supposedly impersonal Mumbai drivers warm up and become almost sentimental if I (who they think is Hindu) talk to them amiably and respectfully after knowing that they're Muslim. 

In Pune in 2008 we hired attendants for my in-laws (Daddy and Mummy) who were both hospitalized.  It didn't even register with me that one of them named Shabana was a Muslim until another of them referred to her as "woh Musulman" ("that Muslim" in slightly derogatory terms.)  When Daddy and Mummy left the hospital, on advice from our family and friends we asked if they were comfortable having a Muslim like Shabana working for them at home (along with three others who were Hindu).  They said yes.  Shabana turned out to be the most caring and kindest to Mummy, who passed away in Dec. 2010.  After we had to terminate her service Shabana came to visit Daddy three times in the next two years just out of fondness and concern. 

Daddy's favorite doctor in his neighborhood was the reputed Dr. Inamdar, a deeply religious Muslim, who has a very busy practice and sees over a hundred patients a day. He had no time for house calls but made an exception when I appealed to his sentiments and informed that Daddy and Mummy were in no condition to leave home.  From 2008 till they both passed away (Daddy in May 2013) Dr. Inamdar regularly and devotedly attended to them at home.  He would tell me how he was impelled in part by the respect and affection that Daddy and the rest of us accorded to him.

From time to time I get forwarded emails from friends and family in India faulting some political parties for pampering and pandering to Muslims.  Other emails are more vehement about Muslim teachings and customs that make this populace as a whole untrustworthy or prone to militancy. I'd urge more understanding, and regard a more relevant distinction to be between the zealots and bigots who make trouble, and the moderates in any religion.  Hindus comprise over 80% of India's population with Muslims at about 13.5%.  A little magnanimity on the part of our Hindu majority will counter some inevitable feelings of insecurity among our Muslim community and considerably help in their regarding themselves as Indians first.

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