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Muslims: New untouchables in the city
Wednesday January 1, 2014 7:17 AM, Ajmal Khan

Inter community relations and intra community relations in India has gone through an unprecedented change from the past two decades. This has to do with continuous communal violences, conflicts, political propaganda and tensions in India , as well as the other international political developments.

When a news flashes about any bomb blast or so called "terrorist" attacks in the TV and news papers, the beat of fear and anxiety in the minds of the Muslim youth in general and youth of the cities in particular reach its height.

In Mumbai, the witch hunts after bomb blast in the Muslim dominated areas of the city has taken place almost across the Muslim dominated areas and ghettos of the city. This made life difficult for the Muslim youth in the city, youth and being a Muslim is an excellent combination for more further interpretation, explanations and popular imaginations.

When Bollywood actors like SRK or Imran Hashmi are denied a flat at some of the " esteemed locations" of the city on account of their Muslim identity, it get news value and get celebrated by the news channels. But what does it mean for an ordinary Muslim when he or she gets identified as a Muslim especially those who live in the known ghettos of the city like Mubmra, Mira road, Shivaji Nagar or Cheeta Camp? Is it the same story for all the youth in the city?

A study by TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences) looking at the Muslim prisoners of Maharashtra had found that, the Mumbai central and Thane central Prisons together house 52 per cent of the undertrial Muslim prisoners. Muslim prisoners belong to the age group of 18-30 years, accounting for 65.5 per cent of the total Muslim population in prisons in the state, while Maharashtra has only 10.6 percent of the total Muslim population.

The study has also stated that, biased attitude of the system against the Muslim community is responsible for their repeated arrests. The bias against them is greater against the people who have migrated from Northern India. It needs to be highlighted that the majority of the respondents had negative experiences with the system. (Raghavan and Roshni-2011)

This is how even public systems works here. I was in hunt to meet some of the Muslim youth in the city for a small research project, especially from the locations where Muslims live as a huge mass which a sociologist would call a Muslim ghettos.

For Nizam (name changed to protect the identity), one of the enthusiastic youth who live in a slum beside one of the richest part of the city, it does not matter that, whether he go for Namaz (daily prayers) or not but he has to find money for roti when he come back home. When it is evening, thoughts of his mother and father starts to flash in his mind, if he is not able to find the money family will find it difficult to pass the night.

He has completed his SSC and started to work as a helper in a restaurant that one of his distant relative runs. He had to support his family and father, so he didn't continue education. He worked in some other hotels and shops as a helper, sales man and some other petty jobs. He was looking for a better job always, that is the time when one of his friend informed about a job in a textiles shop in Bandra. Since he had some work experience as salesman in a textiles shop, he was offered the job over a phone conversation and he was told to come for work from the next week. But when he came for work in the next week as agreed before, he was treated very differently.

"They got to know that I am a Muslim, I keep my beard and I might have looked like a typical Muslim guy. That must have been a problem for them" . he was said to go home and said that "we don't have work for you people".

"It was clear that they are not comfortable in employing me there. Wo log bol rehe the ke hum miya hain, ye logon main vishwas nahi kar sakta hain. Main risk lene ke liye thayyar nahi hain. (They are Muslims, they can not be trusted and I am not ready to take a risk as of now).

He explains this painfully that "even if they say that we don't have a job here, I would have been happy but, their reason for this made me sad and it was very shocking for me.

He says, it can not be taken as the attitude of all people, some are not comfortable with something, it was really humiliating experience for me indeed. Neither they or we are not the culprits for this, the minds of people are such that they are not comfortable in mingling or co operating with the other communities".

This is not only his story, there are many youth in the city who have encountered number of incidents same as this. At the very moment one gets identified as Muslim whomsoever he or she, they have to encounter bitter experiences, for this Muslim does not mean weather he or she is a practicing Muslim or, Mullah, a non believer and atheist with the Muslim names, or any other categorization.

The identification of being a Muslim has created much more meanings and imaginations. Muslims as a homogeneous category are increasingly becoming a new class of untouchables, the new untouchables of new era.

[The writer, Ajmal Khan, is a freelance journalist.]

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