Nov 30, 2006
By Palash Kumar
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India's minority Muslims feel they are seen as unpatriotic and need to constantly prove they are not "terrorists", a study ordered by the prime minister said on Thursday.
"They carry a double burden of being labelled as 'anti-national' and as being 'appeased' at the same time," the report, which was presented to parliament, said.
India's ruling Congress party, which proudly flags its pluralist identity, has been accused by opposition Hindu nationalists of "appeasing" the country's 138 million Muslims, who make up over 13 percent of the population.
Hardline Hindus say Muslims should not be allowed to follow their own personal laws with regards to inheritance, divorce and marriage as at present.
While many Muslims feel a need to constantly prove they are not "terrorists", the alleged appeasement has failed to improve the community's social and economic status, the widely leaked Sachar report said.
Analysts said it was a bold step by Manmohan Singh, a Sikh, to have commissioned the report, and called it a wake-up call.
"This is the largest Muslim minority on earth. Treating Muslims as monsters or victims is not the answer," commentator Mahesh Rangarajan said.
Eighty percent of the population of officially secular India is Hindu, but it contains substantial minorities of Christians, Buddhists and Sikhs, as well as the world's third-largest population of Muslims.
Hindus and Muslims have often clashed since India's independence from British rule in 1947 and the formation of Pakistan. Thousands of Muslims have been killed in riots, with police often accused of turning a blind eye to attacks on them.
In recent years, police have arrested Muslims for attacks in India, most recently the July serial blasts in Mumbai which killed at least 186 people.
Hundreds of Muslims were detained after bombings in police sweeps but the vast majority were released without charge.
The study, ordered last March, revealed that being dressed as a Muslim was enough to create suspicion.
"Muslim men donning a beard and a 'topi' (skull cap) are often picked up (by police) for interrogation from public places like parks, railway stations and markets," the report said.
Muslim women wearing a face veil or full-body burqa complained of facing hostility at markets, hospitals, and schools and found it hard to get a job.
"There has to be very serious and effective public action particularly in education and employment as well to prevent discrimination against Muslims," analyst Rangarajan said.
Muslims are severely under-represented in the police, the army and are almost non-existent in the country's spy agencies.