'Muslims in India need education, capacity building'
Muslims in India should bridge the gap between the person they elect to public office and their community by focusing on education and capacity building of their youth, said an academic.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency in Istanbul on the sidelines of a conference, Varsha Basheer, an expert on religious pluralism at the University of Kerala, said the distance between a lawmaker and a common man in India is so wide that if he "thinks of bridging that divide, he cannot".
India is currently holding general elections to vote for the new prime minister and members of the parliament. The multi-phased polls which started on April 11 will end on May 19.
The main contest is between right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, a fresh face of the oldest political dynasty of India.
She said there were wide divisions in the Indian Muslim community, owing largely to their conservative traditional practices, which has alienated and ghettoized them.
Quoting an example from a 2005 official report on the state of Muslims in India, she said "the Sachar Committee report shows us how dismal their status is on all counts."
Its findings showed a dismal image of living, educational and economic status of Muslims living in India.
Basheer said the Muslim community leadership should be able to negotiate with the government, hold politicians accountable and remind them of their promises.
"So that kind of community leadership and that kind of community negotiation happening with the policy makers is the only way Muslims can bring about some kind of pressure on the government," she said.
"Only crying and making Dua won't do… that is half of it… Then Allah says you have to work on it."
Basheer said that education and capacity building play a major role in the process.
"Indian Muslims need to allocate funds on developing capacity of their youth who can make policy changes and present demands of the community to their public representatives."
Commenting on the ongoing general elections, Basheer said that the Indian Muslim has already seen five years of right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rule and "what it brought forth; brutal lynching [of Muslims] throughout their strongholds".
"From what the BJP is saying right now, what they have put in their manifesto, the kind of sloganeering they are using in the [election] campaigns, there is a clear message [in it]," she said.
According to Human Rights Watch, India has witnessed increase in communal rhetoric since 2014 spurring violent vigilante campaign against beef consumption.
Data recorded by online Factchecker on lynching in India shows 46 people were killed since 2012 in the incidents which pre-dominantly targeted Muslims.
Cows are considered sacred in the Hindu religion and since Modi came to power in 2014 there has been a rise in attacks on Muslim cattle owners by Hindu nationalists, with several self-styled cow protection groups emerging in the country.
Basheer said the economy was in tatters and the BJP was not focusing on the issue.
"All they promise is that they will clamp down on Muslims. If this is not an open call to divide the society on communal lines, what is it? They are trying to define 'who an Indian is'," she added.
On the other hand, she said, the Indian National Congress, a secular party founded by independence leaders of the country, has come up with an election manifesto that promises an "equal footing to all the poor and destitute in the country and that gives hope".
"But that does not mean we forget that it [Congress] was ruling all these years and that is when the major riots that were anti-Muslim pogroms happened (in 1969, 1983, 1992)."
However, she concluded that if the Congress comes to power Muslims will have "at least a chance of negotiating a better settlement".