Law and Society

Options Before Muslims in ‘Hindu’ India

Naresh Chandra Saxena


Hindu-Muslim unity is certainly needed for achieving our country’s goal of a cohesive and plural India, but Muslim leaders must ponder in what manner to go about the same.

Despite adequate provisions in the Constitution guaranteeing justice and equality for all, Muslims in India have unfortunately faced immense problems since Independence, such as violence, ghettoization, and discrimination. The status of Muslims has further worsened after the BJP came to power in 2014, as its leadership has openly promoted hatred against Muslims, a strategy which has brought immense political gains to the BJP, in form of polarization of the Hindu Community. Polarising the society on religious lines diverts the attention of voters from other pertinent issues such as employment and the state of the economy. The voters then judge the performance of government not on whether they have prospered economically, but whether Muslims have been adequately ‘punished and shown their place’. 

Unfortunately the focus of Muslim religious and political leaders in the last seventy years has been on seeking distributive justice through exclusivity and reservations, which further heightens Hindu fears against them. This article therefore argues that rather than focusing on the political fight for a separate Personal Law and job reservations, Muslim leadership should take steps to reduce the Hindu bias against them, which is the root cause of the success of propaganda against them. The problem is more social than political.

As is well known, local administrations have been grossly unfair to Muslims in the handling of communal violence during 1960 to 1996, though in almost all such cases, the Congress party was in power. For instance, The Bhagalpur Inquiry Commission Report in 1995 remarked, “We would hold Dwivedi, the then superintendent of police, Bhagalpur, wholly responsible for whatever happened before 24 October 1989, on 24th itself and after the 24th. His communal bias was fully demonstrated by his manner of arresting the Muslims and by not extending them adequate protection.” (Saxena 2019). 

Another instance was during the Meerut riots of 1987, Police picked up some forty innocent Muslim youth from Hashimpura that had seen no rioting, loaded them onto a truck, drove them to a canal in the neighbouring Ghaziabad district, shot them dead one by one, threw them into the water, and then returned to their camp as though they had executed a routine job (Rai 2016). 

Bias against muslims influences day-to-day administrative decisions too. It is significant that in the city of Moradabad (UP), where the two communities have equal shares in the population, educational institutions tend to be located in Hindu dominated areas but most of the police stations and Chowkies (outposts) are located in the Muslim majority areas. It would appear as if the Hindus need education and the Muslims need the police Danda! Government schools in Muslim-majority areas have low grade staff and their performance is not adequately monitored. Municipal staff too neglect such areas. Muslim traders involved in the trade of buffalo meat, though perfectly legal, suffer a great deal of harassment, even violence. Most leather tanneries in Kanpur are closed since 2018 rendering about 6 lakh Muslims and Dalits out of business. 

To what extent prejudice against Muslims is responsible for their poor performance in education and government employment? In a survey of nine Inter-Colleges of the town of Rampur (UP) which has 72 per cent Muslim population, their share in those students who passed the class XII examination was only 20 per cent, and their share in those who got 1st Division was a paltry 5 per cent. A.R. Sherwani, an educationist and ex-Chairman, Minorities Commission, who had done this study, concluded as follows:

‘And all this while, the Muslim leaders and the Hindu secular leaders have been telling the Muslims they are not getting jobs because of discrimination. I do not deny discrimination. We Indians are the most discriminating people on earth. The Agarwal Bania discriminates against a Gupta Bania, the Sarjupari Brahmin against a Kanyakubja Brahmin and so on. But the position is that the Muslims are not even giving anyone a chance to discriminate against them in worthwhile services. Anyone can discriminate against the Muslims only when they qualify and compete. How many Muslims are competing? This no one tells, neither the Muslim ‘leaders’ nor the secular Hindu leaders who go about as the best friends of the Muslims.’ 

Muslims believe that their low share in government jobs is primarily due to discrimination against them. While Hindu bias does affect Muslim employment in private jobs as well as in housing, the reasons for their poor representation in government employment are more complex and need dispassionate analysis. As against their share of roughly 14 per cent in population, Muslim share in Class III and Class IV jobs varies between 6 per cent to 9 per cent. However, for Class I and Class II posts, where recruitment is absolutely free from bias and made on the basis of written examinations followed by interview by Public Service Commissions, the figure is much lower, between 3 per cent to 4 per cent (Saxena, 1989). The very fact that Muslim share in civil services recruitment (IAS etc) through the UPSC during the last six years of BJP rule has gone up from 3.5 to 5 per cent shows that selection is done largely on merit with no bias on either side.

What needs to be done?

For the past decades, Muslim political leaders have been demanding adequate share for Muslims in political power. However the Indian Constitution does not recognize religion as a category for affirmative action. For this reason even the Sachar Committee did not recommend formal reservation for minorities. Muslim leadership has been harboring under the notion that the economic well-being of the community is dependent on its achieving due share in political power. Unfortunately, the geographical dispersal of Muslim population renders it difficult for them to convert their cultural identity into a political pressure group. 

The primary responsibility of providing security and discrimination-free environment to Muslims as individuals lies with the administration, but Muslim leaders too should dispassionately analyse why the hindu comunity is easily swayed by the RSS and Bajrang Dal propaganda. Unfortunately, as our ex-Vice President Hamid Ansari said, any agitation against discrimination can arouse the very emotions that foster discrimination and is therefore self-defeating (Noorani, 2004). 

As long as bias continues in the Hindu mind, even a ‘secular’ government would be inhibited in initiating a policy that would be perceived as pro-Muslim. In 2013 the National Advisory Council (NAC) that was set up by the Congress government recommended a new Communal Violence Bill that would have provided adequate protection to religious minorities when communal violence broke out. In face of a strong opposition by the BJP, the Congress government later rejected the NAC’s recommendation fearing a Hindu backlash.

Muslim ambition of getting declared as a protected minority (akin to the scheduled castes) has boomeranged. It has further alienated them from the majority community, and has brought to power a political party which is extremely hostile to them due to ideological and electoral considerations. The path of agitational politics, so effective in a liberal democracy, is not likely to benefit Muslims as long as hatred dominates the Hindu community. 

The muslim community suffers from four serious handicaps – Hindu bias, BJP in power, geographical dispersal, and the Indian Constitution not recognizing religion as a category for group rights. This leaves little choice for Muslims, except to look within and achieve success on merit. Rather than pressuring the government which has now become counterproductive, the community must search within and reflect how it can improve its socio-economic status by pooling its resources, a strategy that would invite admiration rather than animosity from the majority. This needs a new kind of leadership that would kick off a fresh social movement amongst Muslims towards excellence through self-reliance. There have been many such movements amongst the Hindus – Bhramo Samaj in Bengal, Arya Samaj in the north, and Justice Movement & SNDP in the South, and time is ripe now for a similar initiative within the Muslim community. 

Fortunately, despite their hostility to Muslims as a group, Hindus admire those individual Muslims who do well on their own merit, such as Bollywood’s three endearing Khans, musicians Bismillah Khan and Naushad, and cricketers Pataudi and Azharuddin. Bollywood has been full of successful Muslims as producers, directors, actors, and singers, and few have accused the public or industry of evaluating them negatively on the basis of religion. 

Hindu parents aspire to send their kids to Christian convent schools, why not to Madarsas? Why not promote English medium Madarsas and open them to others too? Muslims need a mass movement in which basic thrust should be on qualitative aspect of education (Zaidi 2001). If institutions controlled by Muslims – and this includes Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Milia – could become world class, image of the community would certainly improve. The community needs to increase Muslim share in elite professions, but also to improve their image, which would happen if in the next 20 years the best doctors, teachers and administrators in the country are Muslims. Why should their excellence be confined to the entertainment industry? 

Muslims till now have allowed themselves to be led by religious and political leaders who promised to get them group privileges. Unfortunately it remained a mirage, and further deepened Hindu hostility. Syed Shahabuddin for instance, a former diploment and the tallest Muslim leader in post-Independence India, worked effectively for the community’s interest, but did not direct his energies for internal institutional reforms. ‘This was a great difference from Sir Syed’s line of thinking as Sir Syed always emphasized reforms and modern education, and politics was his later priority but Shahabuddin Saheb was so much passionate about the politics as if his sole aim was to polarize Indian society and this was the most negative contribution of his political activism in India’, observed P. Mohammad (2013).

The views expressed are personal. 

Dr. Saxena has served as Secretary, Minorities Commission in Government of India, and as District Magistrate at Aligarh and Agra in UP. He retired as Secretary, Planning Commission in 2002. He recently authored a book, ‘What ails the IAS & Why It Fails to Deliver? An Insider’s View’, published by Sage.


Mohammad, P (2013): An Intellectual Debate in Delhi and Washington over Syed Shahabuddin, at

Noorani, A.G. (2004). Muslims of India : Past and present’, on the occasion of the 12th Asghar Ali Engineer Memorial Day at the Constitution Club in Delhi on 23 November

Rai, Vibhuti N. (2016): Hashimpura 22 May, Penguin 

Saxena, N. C. (1989). ‘Public Employment and Educational Backwardness Among the Muslims in India’ in Moin Shakir (ed.), Religion, State and Politics in India, pp. 155-99. Delhi: Ajanta Publications.

Saxena, N. C. (2019). What Ails the IAS and Why It Fails to Deliver: An Insider’s View. Sage Publications India.

Zaidi, Naseem A. (2001). Muslims in Public Service: Case Study of AMU Alumni. Economic and Political Weekly, September 22

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