HomeArticleMuslims and the Politics of Discrimination in India

Muslims and the Politics of Discrimination in India

Zoya Hasan

Discrimination has been a central category in understanding inequality and exclusion in most societies. But exclusions vary in their scope and also in the specific socio-political ideologies underlying them. India has been on the whole more aware of discrimination than other countries but this awareness is for the most part restricted to caste based discrimination. It does not extend to recognition of discrimination against other groups, especially religious minorities even though there are significant differences in key outcomes between various social groups differentiated by religion and caste.

It is important to recognize that religious identity remains an important axis of discrimination in India and today even more than before. Resentment and prejudice against minorities, particularly Muslims is common in India, as indeed in many developed and developing countries, but we have simply not acknowledged the sheer existence and scale of prejudice and discrimination. Hence, there has been little public debate or empirical analysis to establish the presence of discrimination against Muslims and/or identify its sources. Here’s the crucial point.

The exclusion and discrimination of Muslims is not episodic: it is both everyday and institutional. It runs across all sectors and runs so deep that it appears normal to most people who perhaps don’t notice it or are unaware of it. This paper seeks to analyses social discrimination against Muslims and its manifestations. It has two main objectives. The first objective is to examine the concept and relevance of institutional discrimination with regard to the experience of Muslims in India, and to argue that the fight against institutional discrimination involves not only ideological/pedagogical struggle but also practical policy and legal measures to eradicate it.

The second objective is to understand to what extent the ideology of majoritarianism has an influence on public institutions by delving deeper into the institutional bias of public policies and institutions. This is examined through two issues: the claims for Scheduled Caste status by Dalit Muslims and the recent decision of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate complaints of Hindu exodus from a town in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. At the theoretical level, the paper examines the viability and implications of excluding religious minorities from the discourse of development and policy making in the context of the buildup of a new axis of majoritarian politics and the wider social and political context in which religion and religious communities have come to dominate public discourse in India, and yet governments disallow any policy that could ameliorate the socio-economic neglect of religious minorities. Oxford Scholarship Online

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