Saturday, March 18th, 2006
New Delhi – Leaders of India’s Muslim minority gathered here Saturday to forge nationwide unity to fight for the community’s rights, voicing support for the Kashmiri cause for the first time.
Attending the meeting in the premises of the 17th-century Jama Masjid, the country’s largest mosque, was Abdul Ghani Bhat of the Hurriyat Conference, the moderate wing of the separatist grouping in Jammu and Kashmir.
‘We are gathered here to unite the Muslims of India,’ Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of the historic mosque, told IANS at the start of the day-long conference that drew some 300 delegates from all over the country.
‘Actually the community’s rank and file has always been united, but the leaders have not been. Our attempt is to bring them together to put up a united fight for Muslim rights,’ Bukhari added.
‘Until now we have only begged for what is due to us. We shall not do that any more. We are ready to fight (for our rights).’
Bukhari, who often takes a hardline stance on issues related to Islamic affairs nationally as well as globally, is the main force behind the conference, which was presided over by his wheelchair-bound father, Shahi Imam Abdullah Bukhari.
The 140 million Muslims in India constitute the largest minority in the Hindu-majority country. While the community has many common problems, it has generally kept away from the separatist conflict raging in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989.
Also present at the meet were prominent Muslim leaders including Zafaryab Jilani, the Lucknow-based convenor of the Babri Masjid Action Committee that is at the heart of a legal dispute over the ownership of the site in Ayodhya where Hindu mobs built a temple after destroying the Babri mosque in 1992.
Jilani, 56, explained separately the purpose behind the meeting.
‘Our main agenda includes Jammu and Kashmir, Muslim rights in the fields of education and employment, and an end to discrimination against the community in all walks of life,’ he said.
Jilani said the ‘All India Representative Conference’ opposed ‘all sorts of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, whether by the government or individuals.
‘We want that the government should take the Hurriyat Conference into confidence and work for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir problem.’
Jilani said Indian Muslims needed more job guarantees because of their social and economic backwardness and asked the central government to ensure the continuance of the minority status of the Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh.
‘What is important is that the Muslim community is not adequately represented in the decision-making process in the country despite its large numbers. Be it bureaucracy or whatever, there are very few Muslims.
‘There is also discrimination at every stage of life against Muslims. It is not that everyone is anti-Muslim, but many people are.
‘The other tragedy is that rightwing groups in this country are always opposing anything good the government tries to do for Muslims. They also pollute the minds of the media and ordinary Hindus in the process.
‘Such forces need to be isolated, and this is the job of the government and secular parties.’
Jilani made it clear that Muslims needed a larger share of political power, considering that India was home to the world’s second largest Muslim population.
Shahi Imam Ahmed Bukhari agreed: ‘It is a question of power sharing. A few nominal Muslims do not make for adequate representation. We must get what is due to us.’