Saturday, June 22, 2024

The subtle victim blaming of Muslim community in today’s India

How to ensure continued deprivation of a community? Turn the truth on its head, create altered realities through the dominant narrative and keep feeding lies to the false consciousness of the masses. Victim blaming is not a new phenomenon. When a rape survivor files an FIR, the first gaze of police personnel is an exemplification of society’s unconscious need to hold the victim accountable for some part in the dehumanising act of rape. Similarly, when a person passes by a sewage-laden street in a Muslim-majority locality, the first judgement, and perhaps the last one as well, is that the Muslims are not hygienic. 

Melvin Lerner’s just world hypothesis (1965) demonstrates the latent tendency of people to put the onus of injustice and crime against the victims on the victims themselves. The just world believers believe that the people get what they deserve and deserve what they get. Every action leads to a predictable outcome and every outcome is a result of a particular action. Consequently, if a woman was raped, ‘she was asking for it’. Such an ignorant belief imparts them a false sense of security for themselves and an escape from their conscience that, otherwise, would have been forced to reckon with the fact that the rapist, if went free and unpunished, would have done the same to them.

A somewhat similar cause-effect narrative is being sewed around the continued marginalisation, exclusion, deprivation and stigmatization of the Muslim community in India. In a recent interview with a news television channel, Prime Minister Modi remarked on the need for the Muslim community to do “self-introspection”. “I am saying this to the learned section of the Muslim society, do self-introspection. The Country is growing. If there are shortcomings in your community, think what can be the reasons for that”. While the need to look within can never be questioned if a community has to grow, we also cannot ignore the fact that the same prime minister had labelled the Muslim community as “ghuspaitiye” (infiltrators) only a few days ago.

Such remarks, or, at least, the notion that the responsibility for the upliftment of a historically marginalised community rests on its shoulders are indicative of the clear abdication of responsibility on the part of the sitting Prime Minister of the country. For, the statement lacks any empathy for the structural hurdles that have consistently jeopardised the upward mobility of the community across political and socio-economic indicators. There is no dearth of studies, research and reports on the “reasons” why the Muslims in India have not been able to grow at the rate that the rest of the religious communities have grown over the past decades.

In 2023, data from the All India Debt and Investment Survey (AIDIS) and Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), mentioned that asset and consumption rates were lowest amongst Muslims, out of all the major religious groups in India. A 2013 survey by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, found that Muslims have the lowest standard of living in the country, with an average per capita expenditure of just rupees 32.66 in a day.

They are also the only community that witnessed an absolute decline in the gross enrolment ratio at the higher education level, according to an analysis of the All India Survey on Higher Education 2020-21 by Christophe Jafferlot and Kalaiyarasan A. As per NSSO’s 68th round (2011-12) labour survey, the number of Muslims availing education up to the secondary and higher secondary levels is lowest amongst all the communities. Housing, which directly determines the quality of life, is another area where Muslims have to face discrimination for their religion and food preferences. The denial of adequate housing, as it has become common in rental markets of urban centres, forces Muslim migrants towards presumably safer Muslim-dominated, ghetto localities, which in itself is a highly detrimental factor against their educational and employment prospects. 

When it comes to the political representation of the largest religious minority in India, the numbers fall appallingly short of meeting the foundational principles of representative democracy. Where are the Muslims? Nowhere, as far as the Council of Ministers of the incumbent Prime Minister is concerned. Their political underrepresentation cuts across all three tiers of government, with abysmally low numbers in the state legislative bodies and local government bodies, especially in the Hindi-speaking states of northern India. Further, the term ‘majority appeasement’ has become a reference point for the electoral politics of majoritarian creed, which has hugely stifled the efforts to bring into political mainstream the issue of Muslim political underrepresentation. It is, in fact, a taboo now to speak politics only in terms of the welfare of Muslims. Contrast this with the largely accepted Hindu nationalism in the country. 

However, such remarks, such as the one made by the prime minister, are not rare and seldom scrutinised. The political strategist turned politician, Prashant Kishor, has expressed seemingly similar views vis-vis the reason for the dismal state of Muslim politics in India. “I want to tell the Muslim community, you are responsible for your condition… a political Muslim today do not want to fight and struggle for political power; but, they want to be rallied behind (other non-Muslim leaders)”. The underlying assumption in the statement above is that the Muslims have stayed away from waging any genuine struggle for political power, and that is the reason why they are dismally represented. However, the data presented earlier tells a different story- a story of systematic neglect, discrimination and marginalisation of the community. 

The emerging discourse on the welfare and progress of the Muslims in the community is beset with blind spots that host counterproductive tendencies. By attributing their lack of political representation, economic power, and literary prowess to the community’s political behaviour, festival rituals, food habits, work ethics and religious customs, many people unintentionally, and a few people intentionally avoid responsibility, only contribute to the othering of the community as a whole. Victim blaming is felt at the individual level, which undeniably is being felt. Its effects on the community as a whole result in the feeling of embarrassment and lack of self-worth. Under such conditions, where the world is neither fair nor predictable, the onus lies on the state for the overall welfare, protection and promotion of the interest of the marginalised communities.

Huzaifa Khan is a student of International Politics and International Relations at Jamia Millia Islamia University.

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