‘Minorities could at least speak up, protest and be heard under UPA’

“Crimes against minorities are not new in this country; what is new is the immunity the criminals enjoy now,” says Chairman of Delhi Minorities Commission, Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan.


Dhairya Maheshwari

Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, the chairperson of Delhi Minorities Commission, squarely blames the increasing political impunity enjoyed by rabble-rousers allied with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine for surging religious inequality in the country.

The veteran journalist says that the previous United Progressive Alliance government was same in substance on social policy toward minorities as the current Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government, but the right to protest under former PM Manmohan Singh meant that minorities could be heard.

Edited excerpts from his interaction with Dhairya Maheshwari:

1. A 2016 report on caste-based discrimination by the UN special rapporteur on minority issues noted that caste-affected groups continue to suffer exclusion and dehumanization. The World Report 2017, compiled by Human Rights Watch, claimed that attacks on religious minorities, often led by vigilante groups that claim to be supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are an increasing concern in India.

In the backdrop of these reports, would you say that India’s minorities are apprehensive about the motivations of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government?

A. Yes, they are apprehensive as never before; and their apprehension is only increasing with every passing day. Crimes against minorities are not new in this country; what is new is the immunity the criminals enjoy now. The system, from government to police and judiciary, helps them and finds loopholes for them. They are seldom arrested and even if arrested, they are treated leniently and alibis are found for them. This is very clear in the incidents of lynching which have become the new normal since BJP returned to power in 2014.

2. Who all would you blame for the current state of minorities in the country?

A. The RSS and BJP and the plethora of organisations attached to them, like VHP, Bajrang Dal and Hindu Yuva Vahini, are to blame. A mindset has been painstakingly created over decades which believes that the minorities only deserve what is meted out to them.

3. As editor of Milli Gazette, you had been critical of AYUSH ministry for not appointing Muslims as yoga instructors. Have there been more instances in recent past when you have seen the government following such discriminatory practices in official appointments?

A. Statistics of any government organistion will prove this fact. Sachar Report is replete with these figures and the situation is getting only worse every passing year.

4. Since 2014, we have seen Muslim dairy farmers being attacked on regular basis by vigilante groups in the northern states, which has created a sense of fear in the larger community. Small-time tanneries and meat traders, many of them owned by Muslims, have been catastrophically impacted due to the beef ban and demonetisation, leading to the worsening economic situation.

Has economic exclusion contributed to further marginalisation of the Muslim community?

A. These attacks on sources of Muslim livelihood, like meat and hide trades, have certainly impacted hundreds of thousands of households. Demonetisation and GST have also hit Muslims who are mostly in small businesses because they cannot get proper jobs.

5. Do you believe that moves like the temporary ban on cattle slaughter, advocacy of the triple talaq law, targeting the Rohingya refugees and more recently, the drafting of the NRC, have shaken the confidence of Indian Muslims in their government?

A. People and outfits affiliate to the current government are all the time searching ways to make life difficult for certain minorities, especially Muslims. Since 2014, we have seen periodic attacks on mosques, graves, churches; sometimes in the name of Ghar Wapsi, sometimes in the name of Love Jihad; sometime in the name of cow protection and war on meat trade. Triple Talaq (we do not support it but it is very rare) has been used as a handle to beat Muslims with and divide Muslim families by appearing to favour women. Very recently, UP government has impacted hundreds of thousands of mosques by ordering them to get permission to use loudspeakers within a very short period of time. You don't know what ploy will be used next.

6. Have there been any significant changes as far the government policy under the Modi government is concerned, when stacked up against the UPA government?

A. The two governments were not different from each other in terms of substance but minorities could at least speak up, protest and be heard under UPA. Now even protest is outlawed and no one is there to even listen to you. Bridges have been burnt between the government and the Muslim minority.

7. In your view, is the majority community behaving differently than they used to at the time of UPA?

A. The majority community in general is behaving as it used to under UPA and Muslims have no problem with it. But the lumpen elements, which have jumped on the BJP bandwagon, are having a field day to attack, loot and kill at will in trains and buses, on roads and in Hindu-dominated areas.

(The interview was first carried in this week’s edition of NH on Sunday).

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