Delicate in the best of times, and often volatile, India needs to de-escalate politics around communities and focus on welfare
Students at the Darul Uloom Deoband campus in 1946, wearing khadi and Gandhi caps
Democracies are governed by a majority vote, but perhaps no better indicator of the health of a democracy can be found than how the rights of the minorities are upheld within its structure. It’s within this dichotomy that India has acted out the legal and ethical imperatives of a rainbow society.
Hijab-clad girls at a computer lab in Malegaon, 2008
The political history has been volatile, not the least because modern India’s birth was accompanied by a bloody Partition conducted on religious grounds.Pakistan was carved out, on its east and west, explicitly as a Muslim nation—since split into two. But that still left the world’s second largest bloc of Muslims in India. Presently, they form 14.2 per cent of its population, largest among the six big minority groups, but dwarfed by the 80 per cent majority Hindus and partaking of a disproportionately small share of the national wealth, institutional spaces and power structures. Majority-minority relations, often conflictual in recent decades, also exert a disproportionate force on electoral politics.
Meanwhile, the social field, which attracts less attention, is beset by another set of challenges. In economic terms, the six groups—Parsis, Jains, Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists, besides Muslims—exhibit quite a bit of diversity. Across all socio-economic indicators, Muslims lag behind. Among them, as well as among Christians and Sikhs, caste plays a further role in internal stratification and immiseration. The ideal way forward: de-escalate the politics, focus on targeted initiatives for a uniform model of growth.