By A. Faizur Rahman
July 14, 2018
Working with Muslims: Beyond Burqa
and Triple Talaq;By Farah Naqvi, with Sadbhavna Trust,
Three Essays Collective₹450.
The urgency with which a batch of
homologous petitions have been filed against Halala and polygyny this year, and
the media attention that instant Talaq received last year, would make anyone
think that these are big, and the only issues facing Indian Muslims.
The reality, however, is different. Instant
Talaq despite its atrociousness was never a major problem and its setting aside
by the apex court had rendered Halala too redundant. There is also no
statistical evidence to show that polygyny is widely prevalent among Muslims.
Thankfully, Farah Naqvi’s latest book Working
with Muslims: Beyond Burqa and Triple Talaq written in collaboration with
the Sadhbhavna Trust makes a spirited attempt to pierce the veil of nascence
shrouding real Muslim issues. It looks at the complex historical processes of
social exclusion which contributed to the economic, educational and political
decline of India’s single largest minority.
The book catalogues the findings of a
seminal study conducted between 2011 and 2013 of 359 NGOs working with deprived
Muslims in eight states and Mewat, a region that straddles Haryana and
Rajasthan. Naqvi’s reasons for profiling these NGOs are perceptive. She points
out that while Dalits and tribals were constitutionally defined as “development
subjects” to overcome the historical discrimination that had affected their
progress, Muslims were imagined as “cultural subjects” and constitutional
commitments to them were restricted to protection of their religious freedom
and personal law.
This allowed the state to absolve itself of
responsibility towards Muslims and instead locate the blame in the
“religious-community space” where the community is faulted for its own
backwardness. It is no wonder that even years after the formation of the
Ministry of Minority Affairs and release of the path-breaking Sachar Committee
Report, government attitude hasn’t changed.
To prove her point, Naqvi cites Amitabh
Kundu’s Post-Sachar Evaluation Committee report of 2014 which inter alia warned
that government interventions were not big enough to address the huge
deprivation of the Muslims and that implementation structures had not been
designed to directly and effectively benefit the minorities.
Hence, says Naqvi, there was never a
greater need for the NGO sector in India to take forward a long overdue
engagement with the Muslim community especially its women who are invariably
seen through the typical tropes of Shariah and hijab and never as persons
deserving education, health, employment and public representation.
In this context, her study explains the
difficulty of addressing Muslim deprivation in terms of their religious
identity. Naqvi writes that although NGOs do not discriminate against any
community on the basis of religion they were very reluctant to talk about their
work with the Muslims. Their fear was that they may come under the CBI scanner
or their funds may get frozen.
Climate of Fear
Some NGOs openly suspected the stated
objectives of Naqvi’s study. They thought her research team was spying for the
state and wanted to hide the fact that they were working with deprived Muslims.
In other words, the NGOs were able to “walk the walk” but did not have the
courage to talk.
Yet Naqvi and Sadhbhavna Trust were able to
locate 76 NGOs who primarily work with Muslims out of the 359 they mapped. The
rest worked with other groups including Dalits, tribals and Muslims. Working
with Muslims also contains 30 fascinating stories from across India of the
great work done by dedicated NGOs for the Muslims in areas such as women’s
rights, rehabilitation of sex workers, education, urban and rural development, child
and disability rights, health, access to credit, and democratic participation.
Nonetheless, Naqvi decries the climate of
fear under which the NGOs seem to be working for Muslims. She feels the
prevalence of such fear amounts to denying that Muslims face a development
deficit which polarises and isolates them selectively. Therefore, if a minority
community is subjected to such treatment on the basis of its religious identity
then that identity calls for secular recognition.
Naqvi’s earnest appeal deserves to be taken
seriously because secularism cannot be used as a pretext to ignore
discrimination on grounds only of religion or caste which is prohibited under
Article 15 of our Constitution, or to violate the spirit of this Article by
neglecting to make special provisions for the advancement of any socially and
educationally backward classes of citizens. Canadian political philosopher Will
Kymlicka in his book Multicultural Citizenship states that “a comprehensive
theory of justice in a multicultural state will include both universal rights,
assigned to individuals regardless of group membership, and certain
group-differentiated rights or ‘special status’ for minority cultures.”
In this regard, Working with Muslims is a
trailblazing contribution to the study of Muslim marginalisation in India. It
not just encourages the Indian state to not let religion hinder affirmative
action programmes for Muslims but serves as an invaluable source of information
for those genuinely interested in knowing if Muslims have issues beyond
polygyny, triple Talaq and Halala.