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Christophe Jaffrelot on Indian Muslims after 72 years of Independence

By Rehan Ansari

Mohandas Gandhi, the father of the nation, said, in 1931, “A Nation’s Greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members and shows compassion to those who can’t protect and fend for themselves.” At a time when India is to celebrate 73rd years of its independence, it will be important to understand where the Indian Muslims stand.

This report is based on the lecture of Christophe Jaffrelot, a French Political Scientist specializing in South Asia especially, India and Pakistan, Author of many books, who talked extensively on the conditions of Indian Muslims and the way forward in a webinar.

He had dealt with two questions in his lecture organized by the BASE, West Bengal. With, government and his research data; he broke the Myth that Congress has pampered Indian Muslims. He also addressed the question that what kind of difference, the rise of BJP made to the Muslims in India?

Did Congress pamper Indian Muslims?

 He started analyzing the “Pampering of Muslim” with the Urdu Language as an entry point, interestingly, when Urdu, as mother tongue, is not included in the “New Education Policy” by the BJP government.

Urdu as an Official Language.

 After Independence, Urdu, being recognized as an Official Language, in different states of North India, UP, Bihar, MP, and Rajasthan. However, Hindu Traditionalist- Right Wing leaders of the Congress, who ruled these states, did not support Urdu to an extent that the central government had to investigate and appoint commissions. He said,
“Urdu speakers declined in UP and Bihar when the Muslims population rose.” The gap between the Muslim population and Urdu speakers is nearly 10%. However, South Indian states like Andhra Pradesh recognized Urdu and now there is a little difference between Muslims and Urdu speakers. He noted, “Map of Urdu Speakers, shows that the language born in North India, has become a South Indian language.”

Where were Muslims in the state apparatus during Congress Rule?

During 1951-2016, Muslim IPS officers never crossed 4% of the total IPS officers, despite increasing in the Muslim Population observed Christophe Jaffrelotte.  It has resulted in the increasing gap between the Muslim Population and its representation in this elite cadre.

The situation will be worst if you remove the data of Jammu &Kashmir, the only Muslim majority state (the status has been changed and J&K is now divided into 3 UTs).

The situation is the same in IAS officers, the other elite government officers of Indian.

Between the periods of 1978 to 2014, Muslims, representation never crossed 5% of the total IAS officers. “There should be overrepresentation if Muslims are pampered even if they are not able to qualify” question Christophe Jaffrelotte. He noted, “Under Representation of Muslims in this elite group is Constant with some ups and downs.”

Major Contribution of “Sachar Committee Report”
It’s the first report that paid a lot of attention to the jobs Muslims were doing and it is based on the data available mainly of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, Christophe Jaffrelotte said.

  • 8% of Urban Muslims belong to the salaried class when the national average is 21%.
  • 61% of Muslims are Self Employed as artisans, traders, much more than the Hindus.

Christophe Jaffrelotte noted, “It’s not only that they are not very well represented in the salaried people but they are particularly excluded from Public Sector Undertakings.”

Only 5% of Muslims are part of the regular salaried Non-agricultural sector against almost 20% Hindus.
In contrast, in the private sector, 19.70% of Muslims are part of the salaried people whereas Hindus are 22.16%” he said while presenting the data.
“Data reveals that Private Sector does not discriminate as much as Public Sector”
he concluded.
That is another indication that the Congress government did not pamper Muslims. On the contrary, Muslims are excluded from salaried class from and by the Public Sector including Railways, universities.

That is why Muslims are more represented in the informal sector than Hindus.

Muslims OBCs are less paid than their equivalent, Hindu OBCs, who also get the benefit of reservations among the Hindus, for the same kind of work in the public and private sector.

Status of Indian Muslims in Education.

 Christophe Jaffrelotte said “According to Census of India-2001, Muslims lag behind all the other religious categories in terms of education. However, the last census is not so bad but the gap is still there.”

Negating the stereotypes that Muslim women are the most suppressed he said, “It’s not because of Muslim women. Incidentally, 50% literacy rates among Muslim women are not Very much below 53% Hindu Women.”
This is because of the gap on the side of Muslim Men. 59.1 % among Muslim men are literate according to the 2001 census against 65.1% Hindus. This has been explained by the dropout rate in the Sachar committee report.

Up to the primary level, Muslims send their kids to school more than any other community 65.31% against 54.91% for Hindus.
“Dropout rates at Secondary and Senior Secondary level, gradually but in- exorbitantly makes the Muslims, the last” he noted. Only 4.53% of Muslim Boys & Girls are in the senior secondary schools. At graduation level, the situation is disastrous Muslims represent only 3.6% of total graduating students.


As a result, Muslims living Below the Poverty Line are substantial. In most of the cases in most of the communities, the percentage of people BPL is higher in the villages than towns and cities. But Muslims are the only ones where there are more poor people in urban Indian than rural areas; this has prompted us to work on the book “Muslims in Indian Cities “. This book explains that there is “A specific pattern of ghettoization among Indian Muslims in many cities.

Till 2005, Muslims used to have per capita income that was above the Dalits and not far behind Hindu OBCs but Muslims are the last ones till 2011-12 in terms of per capita income.

Muslims are not Homogenous in India, Situation differs from state to state, he concluded. Karnataka, UP & Bihar are the only states where Muslims per capita income is higher than Hindu Dalits.



What difference the Rise of BJP made to Indian Muslims, in the Socio Economical terms.

Although he felt, there are many issues, however, he chose to deal with two questions of the Marginalisation of Muslims in Assemblies and Discrimination of Muslims by the police in different states.

The marginalization of Muslims in Parliament and Assemblies.

Since the 1980s Muslim Representations in Lok Sabha are constantly declining. Quoting from the data he said, “In 1980 when Muslims were 11% of the society, 49 MPs were elected that is 9% of total Lok Sabha seats. It has been reduced to its lowest in 2014 when BJP won majority seats and form the government. 21 Muslim MPs i.e. below 4% of total Lok Sabha got elected, because, the BJP did not have a single MP.

The first time in Indian history the party who won the National election does not have a single Muslim MP. However, in 2019, Muslim MPs won 25 seats, a marginal increase from 21 to 25 but remain below 5% of total Lok Sabha seats.

What is true at the Lok Sabha level is equally true to the state assemblies.
Gujarat with 9.1 % Muslim population has only 1.6% of the Muslim MLAs. It used to be 6% in the early 80s.
Only 3.1% Muslim MLAs in Karnataka with 12.2% Muslim population, in the late 70s they were more than 7%.
Madhya Pradesh, with 6.4% of Muslim Population has only 0.4% of Muslims in the Assembly. Christophe Jaffrelotte said, in fact, only one MLA is Muslim. In the early 1970s, it used to be 2.7%.
Maharashtra, the Muslim population is more than 10% but only 3.1% of MLAs are Muslims. They used to be 9% in the mid-80s.
Orissa only 2% of Muslim population Muslim MLAs are only 0.7%. They were 2.7% in the mid-80s.
Rajasthan 1% MLAs are Muslim they used to be 5% in the early 80s.
UP is the most interesting case. He said, “Before 2017, till the BJP won, 16.9% MLAs were Muslims with 18.5% Muslim population.”  In 2017 the Muslim MLAs reduced to only 5.7% of MLAs.
The only exception to this trend is the West Bengal. “It is atypical, it’s increasing,” Christophe Jaffrelotte said. With 25.2% Muslim Population, Muslim MLAs are 20%. In 1985 only 2.9% MLAs we’re Muslims.

That’s the most obvious impact of the rise of BJP is the declining Muslim representations in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.

Discrimination of Muslims by the police in different states.

The other impact he focused upon is what he drew from a survey report of CSDS in 2019, that “the police was seen by the Muslims as biased”.
Muslims are more fearful of police than any other group; Dalits came second, after that.
When asked why?  It was usually said that “Police often implicate Muslims under forced terrorism charges. There are cases when young Muslims who have been jailed and spent years in jail for this reason.”

Christophe Jaffrelotte quoted last NCRB report released in 2015 that stated 21% of inmates in jail are Muslims, an over-representation in terms of their share of 14.5% in the total population.
He compared it with the blacks in American Jail. He said, “This over-representation is somewhat proportionate to the over-representation of “the Blacks” in American Jail.”

It is more interesting to know when you look at those, who are sentenced and not under trial, then the rate drops to 15.8% from 21%, directly proportionate to their population in India.
It means that, indeed, many Muslims have gone to jail because the Police suspected wrongly that were implicated in some crime. When the judiciary could look at the files they were made free.
Christophe Jaffrelotte concluded, “That is certainly another recent development that goes with the new Dispensation in Indian politics.
He also assumes that it is the reflection of the Muslims’ underrepresentation in the Indian Police.

The fact of the matter is that Muslims have not been pampered by Congress since 1947. If it would, then we would have different Socio Political profile of Indian Muslims.

He said, that the data, I have used suggest, “The fact, Muslim situation has deteriorated since the 1990s to 2000s and even more in the subsequent years. That is of course in parallel to the rise of the BJP that has not nominated Muslim candidates.”


Next Challenges and Way Forward for Indian Muslims.

Christophe Jaffrelot feels that CAA-NRC will be a challenge for Indian Muslims, in the short term and Education in the mid and long run. He said, “Muslims are among the social categories along with SCs STs OBCs, where you don’t find Birth Certificate of children under 5. It will be very difficult to prove Citizenship. It will be a challenge primarily in Assam then Elsewhere.”

The international community, in February 2020, for the first time, UNO has reacted to the transformation of rules to access Indian Citizenship. Whether it will have an impact or not remain to be seen.

Education, in the mid-term and long run, is the major challenge for Indian Muslims, opined Christophe Jaffrelot. What is troubling is the educated and elite Muslims are shrinking very quickly in India, noted Christophe Jaffrelot. He said, “Every community needs elite, young educated elites. They can somewhat change the course of history, the trajectory of the community because they are better placed than anybody to take care of these issues.”

Stating data he said, only 14% Muslim youth have done graduation in 2017-18 as against 18% for Dalits and 25% Hindu OBCs and 37% of the Hindu upper casts.

More worrying is, he said, “31% Muslim youths who are between the age group of 15 and 24 neither have access to education nor in jobs.” That is more than any other group and almost one-third of Muslim youths who are jobless and without any access to higher education.

Hindutva Politics in India.

When asked that all the political parties have abandoned Muslims as Hindutva become the ideological baseline of politics. He said, “This is exactly the Israeli Trajectory. In the past, there was a Labor Party, a leader Mr. Yitzak Rabin, the fifth Prime Minister of Israel, who was for peace and equality between Israelites. It was to be the dominant party, secular and progressive but gradually receded in the background. Gradually under Ariel Sharon especially, “the fear of the other” Of Muslims, of Arabs, of neighboring countries, fear of Iran has become so strong that there was No Room Left for Peace between Communities.

The Dominant Discourse became Mediterranean Discourse. A Security Oriented Discourse. Politics played a role and Polarisation became the strategy of the Likud party. Likud set the tone. You became illegitimate if you wanted to speak to Palestinians.
It may happen in India. There may be a time when nobody will dare to say that “Hindutva is not Hinduism” Hindu Nationalism is not Indian Nationalism, because the fear of the other has become so Pervasive, The fear of Pakistan, the fear of Islam is the Only Game in Town for the Hindutva Politics and if you don’t indulge in this discourse then you will be illegitimate.

We have seen this in many other countries, where National Populism is taking over. You delegitimize other and they can’t compete anymore. So there is only way out is to become Like a Dominant Party of course the soft version of it but it is only a Variant of it. That may be the Trajectory of India.

The alternative will be to shift from the Identity Politics to the Socio-Economic issues, to change the words and the Parameters, to shift Identity Politics to Interest-based Politics.

With the crisis that India is in now will result in this shift?  it’s too early to say. But if identity politics will be the order of the day, it will be very difficult to have an alternative discourse to Hindutva politics.

According to Christophe Jaffrelot, Electoral competition led to this “Otherisation of Muslims.” How do you polarize? By making the other, a threat to your identity, he said.

Certainly, there is a psychological dimension. Certainly, there is the traditional sense of vulnerability among Hindus and that was exasperated at the turn of the 20th century and the Khilafat Movement resulting in the making of RSS. Then everything gained momentum after many decades later when it became Electoral Instrument.

When the BJP could mobilize voters by polarizing they will. They could polarise in many different ways. To mobilize people on Ayodhya issue was one of them, to figure Riots is another one. In whatever way, they operated, whatever issue they raised, was primarily the Electoral Strategy and they made it worked.

Linguistic Nationalism does not need to be enshrined only in the SC, ST, OBC Muslims. It’s a reality that will certainly make the expansion of BJP, complicated, in some part of the country. It may work in Tamilnadu, Kerala, etc. But the way Hindutva had become a new identity for so many people, including former communists are fascinating. It shows that even W. Bengal, Kerala, can be conquered by this ideology. So linguistic nationalism may not be sufficient to stop religious nationalism.

India is a de facto ethnic democracy.

Why Christophe Jaffrelot does not feel that India is an Ethnic Democracy because the Constitution of India is still secular, unlike Israel which is a Jews State by its constitution.

He has used Lok Sabha and state Assembly Data to prove the process of discrimination, marginalization and exclusion of Muslims. No mainstream parties are prepared to give tickets for elections to Muslims today. He concluded, “At best, we can say that India is going in that direction and has become a De facto Ethnic Democracy and not De Jure.”

The rise of Muslim Parties like AIMIM & AIUDF.

In Maharashtra, Asaduddin Owaisi led AIMIM and Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar caused 20 to 25 seats to Congress and NCP in the recent state election. Muslims do not consider that Congress represents them well but if they move to Muslim parties then they will further weaken Congress.
“That is the Dilemma,” he said. This dilemma can only be solved if you look at the state level and constituency level and that your priority has to be clear. If your priority is to defeat the BJP candidate then you have to find out who is the stronger candidate to defeat and it may not be from the Muslim party.

Political Alliance of Dalit & Muslims.

It is possible if Socio-Economic issues staged a comeback in the national arena, and they may, because the situation is very bad economically, for the moment they are not.
However, now, Dalits and Muslims are not so close politically because of the two things. He said. “One because BJP was very good at using Sanskritsation mechanism for attracting Dalits and second the Reservations is the paradoxical mechanism.”  In most of the states, few Dalit sub casts have cornered most of the quotas. For example, Jatavs have cornered most of the SC quotas.  Alienating small Dalit Jatis, Valmikis, and Khatiks and so on. BJP has been very good at attracting these groups which are so resentful vis-a-vis BSP, vis-a-vis party representing the winners of reservations.

It is a very important point that the poorest Dalits are behind the BJP today. To ally with the Muslims are not in their Agenda at the Moment” he added. So there are many reasons why in terms of Identity but also in terms of Interest, many Dalits will not turn to Muslims.

The new middle class in Muslims.

CAA agitation for Christophe Jaffrelot was very revealing. The emergence, crystallization, of the middle class, that had been rather Apolitical till then. Executives, salaried people had not indulged in politics so far to some extent. He said, “The CAA agitations showed that they were prepared to demonstrate, to go the street and that is probably the most important development.

Among them, women, have played an amazing part. In this anti CAA movement, we have seen many Muslim women at the forefront, not only young but all kinds of women. He appreciated the fact that “the education level of Muslim women is not bad at all and it is in stark contrast to that of the stereotype of Muslim women.”
Rise of the Middle class is a ray of hope and the Politicisation of Muslim Middle class may help not only politically but also socially. He said, “Unity among all kinds of lines among Muslims, class, casts, and sects is the key. It may become much more obvious because there is hardly any way out at this juncture.

There are people in the community who wrongly think they will get away with it. They look at the poor as real casualties. Unity between Minorities will certainly help for Self Help. Unity between Casts, Class and Sectarian Groups.  Shias, Bohras and Again khanis may think that they are not Muslims but they are not seeing like this from outside.

Internationalization of Indian Muslim issues.

On the question of pleading in the international court, Christophe Jaffrelot said, “Internationalization of Indian Muslims is far- fetched. He said, “We have to follow closely the steps that have already been taken.”
Michelle Bachelet Jeria, UN Human Rights Commissioner is looking at this issue. It is not a UN court it’s a UN commission. She is more approachable than any court and a much more realistic step.
Foreign countries are also watching developments in India closely. US Congress has started to study, every year, what kind of freedom of religion was available in India.  The report that made to Congress is every year, more disturbing. So never underestimate the role of US Congress in American democracy.
Then the European Union, especially the European Parliament is following what’s going on in India, very closely.
Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE.  Interestingly, Modiji tried to get closer to these countries, of course, to get business and investment from there and secondarily to divide Pakistan from these countries. However, that is Boomeranging. UAE, IOC protesting against the way the Jammu & Kashmir issue has been dealt with.

International media is very active. New York Times, Washington Post, the Economist, they do a great job.

About Christophe Jaffrelot

Christophe Jaffrelot is a senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris, professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at King’s India Institute, London, and non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  He offers valuable insights on South Asian politics, particularly the methods and motivations of the Hindu right in India.

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