These three articles were published in April 2003, as a special report on the Muslims of Hyderabad.
On the march to modernity
ON MARCH 15 last year, during the height of the Gujarat killings, Hyderabad was bracing itself for its share of trouble. Many thought that this would be the end of Hyderabad’s decade-long era of communal peace. The police were out in full strength in and around the Charminar area where the Mecca Masjid is situated, to prevent any “untoward” incident after the Friday afternoon prayers. But the police are often part of the problem in such situations.
The `namazis’ started streaming out of Hyderabad’s largest mosque, shouting slogans against the killings in Gujarat and “police complicity” in the carnage. The sight of hundreds of armed men in `khaki’ did nothing to calm their tempers; the situation was on the verge of spinning out of control with the slogans getting shriller and stray stones flying through the air.
It was then that a few hundred women, many draped head to toe in `burqas’, came out, joined hands and stood their ground for peace between the slogan-shouting men and the armed police. They would not allow their young men, however angry, to resort to violence, nor would they allow the police to charge at them. And they stood till both the sides dispersed.
These women belonged to the Confederation of Voluntary Associations (COVA), an umbrella organisation of 18 NGOs active in the Old City area.
The incident was unprecedented and left both the protesters and police flummoxed. Women coming out in the open and taking a public stand in such a dangerous situation was something which Hyderabad had not witnessed since the heady days of the Telangana peasants’ armed uprising against the Nizam, when women reportedly hid guns under their burqas and carried them to their fighters.
Visitors who come to Hyderabad often comment on the large number of women in burqas. In today’s context, the burqa is identified with conservative, even fundamentalist, Muslims.
But, says university teacher and women’s activist, Rehana Sultana, “the purdah has not been a hurdle, but rather the means by which women are coming out of their homes”. Dr. Sultana, who has a doctorate from Osmania University, runs an educational institution in the middle and lower middle-class neighbourhood of Dabeerpura, a few km from the Charminar. “You see more burqas on the streets because there are more women coming out to study and work.”
Women, whose mothers and grandmothers spent their entire life indoors and remained uneducated, are going to schools and colleges and taking up jobs breaking every stereotype. And their social and economic compulsions are such that they could never have ventured out without the burqa, according to Dr. Sultana.
It’s not just that their men would have denied them permission, they also needed to wear `burqas’ to hide their “old and worn-out clothes”.
Despite the patriarchal control and poverty that this implies, she says “very real progress” has been made on both these fronts in the past decade-and-a-half. More and more women, even in the most deprived or conservative households, are getting an education.
Women are also increasingly taking a stand on domestic and marital issues. In one out of five marriages taking place in the Old City today, some level of choice is exercised by the girl, claims Dr. Sultana adding that this was unheard of even a few years ago.
The main factors driving this trend are increasing prosperity provided by thousands of young men migrating to the Gulf and North America, and a growing sense of confidence and security, the result of a decade-long stretch of peace and communal harmony.
Maulana Abdul Rahim Quraishi, secretary, All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, and president of the city-based Tameer-e-Millat, recalls that after the end of the Nizam’s rule, the Muslim community went through a phase of confusion, decline and impoverishment. Muslims lost their jobs in Government, faced violence and eviction from their properties, and a hostile Government.
In 1962, 28 per cent of Muslim rickshaw-pullers in Hyderabad were former employees of the Nizam State and 10 per cent were skilled workers who had lost their jobs during the 1950s, according to a survey quoted by Javeed Alam, professor in the city-based CIEFL.
This survey indicated that 47 per cent of these rickshaw-pullers were literate and two-thirds of them had been “gainfully employed” earlier. It was only with the sudden expansion of the job market in the Middle East and the parallel trend of starting educational institutions in the 1970s that this dour situation started changing. Muslims migrated to the Gulf in ever increasing numbers as also to North America, often to do the most common jobs.
But the money they saved and sent home changed the economies of hundreds of families. The message “stand on one’s own feet” propagated by different community-based organisations such as the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and the Tameer-e-Millat was slowly but surely internalised by the Hyderabadi Muslims.
Education quickly emerged as the best means to upgrade employment and increasing access to money sent from abroad spurred attempts to enter business and trades which Muslims in Hyderabad had never attempted before. Over the two decades and more since then, Muslims have successfully moved into various businesses and trades.
Education too has taken a strong hold on them and though census figures for Muslim literacy levels in the city are not available, most people agree that it has grown faster than ever before.
Bashiruddin Babukhan, a former Minister of Higher Education and member of the Telugu Desam Party, says that this prosperity, along with a long phase of communal peace, has led to the economic stabilisation of the Muslim community. The increasing level of economic well-being is, in turn, reinforcing the constituency for peace. He also gives full credit to the TDP Government for its “strong political will” to prevent any communal violence.
Mr. Quraishi also points to the role played by Hyderabad’s “high quality Urdu press”, led by the Siasat and the Munsif, daily newspapers, in fostering communal peace and social and educational reforms. Together they have close to a million readers, according to NRS survey data. The Urdu press is secular, well-informed and has ridden the wave of growing education and prosperity.
Over the years, the dailies have become intellectual pillars of the Muslim society, providing a platform for informed debate and crucial initiatives in education and relief. In the aftermath of the Gujarat killings, the Siasat raised over Rs. 3 crores from among its readers for relief and the Munsif raised close to Rs. 2 crores. Besides the newspapers, money and relief material were collected by a number of other organisations. Many truckloads of relief material were sent to Gujarat, houses built, kitchen equipment and textbooks distributed, medical camps held and many children who were orphaned in the killings were brought to Hyderabad for schooling.
“It is because we helped the Muslims of Gujarat to stand on their feet once again that our young men are being targeted as ISI agents and terrorists,” alleges Maulana Quraishi. “The BJP will fight the next elections on the issue of terrorism as it has failed on all other fronts… Muslims will be the target of this campaign too.”
K. M. Arifuddin, who heads a chain of Muslim educational institutions in the city, speaks about the ease with which the “ISI and Pakistani” label can be stuck on any Muslim without anyone questioning the Government or security agencies for proof. He accepts the positive impact that increasing prosperity and education have had on the Muslims, but adds that all this can be lost if the growing sense of alienation, fear and insecurity among them is not addressed.
The state apparatus is inherently biased against Muslims and Government efforts to reach out to them have too much symbolism and too little content, he rues. While the Haj subsidy is increased and Muslim holy days are declared as holidays, incompetent and corrupt”yes-men” are appointed to Government-controlled institutions which could benefit the community. Budgetary allocations for minority education and employment are meagre and often misappropriated, according to him.
Speaking of his experience in running his educational institutions, he says that “we do not get anything without going to court” and that it is becoming increasingly difficult to work with the Government machinery, which is “biased and insensitive to our needs”.
Government jobs still remain out of the reach of all except a few Muslims. Of the over 1,200 persons trained and coached for recruitment to security services and the military by the Siasat-run trust, only a handful have gained entry even in the juniormost levels.
This when Syed Ashfaq Hussain claims that unlike earlier, when they were eager to go to the Middle East, Muslim boys today want to work in the country and are willing to travel for that. Mr. Hussain is president of the Iqra Society for Career Guidance, which has been active in spreading entrepreneurial awareness among Muslim students, besides guiding students in career opportunity.
He says education has such a premium that parents are willing to sell household goods for their sons’ education. He reinforces Dr. Sultana’s claim that despite the patriarchal bias and prejudices against women, they are breaking out.
Women’s incomes have become crucial to the survival of many families and often hold the key to children getting an English education.
As Asaduddin Owaisi, Majlis leader, says “earlier, sheer survival, both economic and physical, was the issue for most Muslims in Hyderabad, but today it is economic improvement and social progress which is uppermost in their minds”. In this context, continuously charging Muslims with being “ISI agents”, “terrorists” and “fundamentalists” has the danger of pushing those at the receiving end to extremism and violence. Muslim leaders claim that hardly ever is proof provided for these charges and often those charged and arrested are killed in “false” encounters. They warn that this has the potential to undo much of the positive changes that the community is going through.
|The past decade has seen a veritable revolution in education, especially among the women.|
More and more Muslim women in Hyderabad are getting an education and taking up jobs.
DAUGHTER OF the murshad of a mosque in the Chanchalguda area of Hyderabad’s Old City, Sameera Khundmiri joined an M.S. course in Library and Information Science at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1998. Today, armed with her degree, she manages the various libraries of the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute.
Sameera’s is not an isolated example. She says that a cousin of hers is studying for her MBA in a college in London. What is remarkable about this is that not only do these women disprove the common stereotype regarding the reluctance of Muslims to educate their women, but that they are not stray examples in Hyderabad today.
The past decade has seen a veritable revolution in education among the Muslims of Hyderabad, led by its women. Significantly, many of them come from lower middle-class families, and their parents are just about matriculates.
Look at the figures. From 13 Muslim minority engineering colleges admitting 3,650 students in 2000, this year there are 33 such colleges offering 8,525 seats. Between 2000 and 2002, the number of Muslim students who passed the combined entrance test for engineering, agriculture and medical streams (EAMCET) rose from 5,108 to 6,200, while those qualifying for MBA and MCA rose from 3,813 to 5,700.
This expansion of education among Muslims is also evident in the increasing number of schools being started in lower and middle-income residential areas of the Old City and the demand for Urdu teachers in Government schools. In the past five years, nearly 4,200 vacancies for Urdu teachers were filled up by the Government. Zahid Ali Khan, editor, Siasat, runs a trust in the memory of his father, Abid Ali Khan, which has taught Urdu to nearly 4,00,000 students in the past six years.
These students are eligible to apply for Urdu Alim (matric) and Urdu Fazil (intermediate) exams, and last year 7,000 of them did so.
But increasingly, parents, even from low-income groups, want their children to study in the English medium schools. Rehana Sultana runs such a school in the Dabeerpura area near Charminar. She says that despite a strong lingering bias favouring boys’ education to the exclusion of girls, more and more parents are willing to educate their daughters.
Rafat Husain says that when in 1973 she joined the Princess Esin Women’s Education Centre at Purani Haveli she had to go knocking on doors motivating women to come and attend the vocational courses at the centre, but the response was weak. No one was interested in women’s education, even less in jobs. Today, the same courses are a sell-out.
When asked whether they would be willing to move out of Hyderabad and live alone if they were offered jobs, most girls attending the centre’s Pre-Primary Teacher Training Course chorused an enthusiastic yes. In fact, some of them have accepted jobs at the Atomic Energy Commission’s school in Mumbai.
This bubbling enthusiasm often comes face to face with difficulties which many face in getting Government jobs. K.M. Arifuddin, secretary, Madina Group of Educational Institutions, says that there is a feeling among Muslim youth that they stand very little chance of getting Government jobs, even as police constables. Despite attempts by various institutions, the number of Muslim youth entering Government services remains very low.
The expansion of education has been rather haphazard mainly because it has remained an almost entirely community-inspired affair with very little help from the Government.
This has made the Muslim-managed educational infrastructure “top-heavy” with a preponderance of engineering colleges and post-graduate professional colleges and not many initiatives at the primary school level. This may lead to problems and bottlenecks in the future or it may just be that this enthusiasm of ordinary Muslims for education may find a way through.
Holding them captive?
|The grip of the Majlis-e-ittehadul Muslimeen on the community remains strong, despite minor dents.|
WITH A Member representing Hyderabad in the Lok Sabha, four members in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, 36 corporators in Hyderabad and 75-plus members elected to various municipal bodies in Andhra Pradesh, the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is one of the foremost representatives of the city’s Muslims.
The Majlis was formed in 1927 “for educational and social uplift of Muslims”. But it articulated the position that “the ruler and throne (Nizam) are symbols of the political and cultural rights of the Muslim community… (and) this status must continue forever”.
The Majlis pitted itself against the Andhra Mahasabha and the communists who questioned the feudal order that sustained the Nizam’s rule. It also bitterly opposed the Arya Samaj, which gave social and cultural expression to the aspirations of the urban Hindu population in the Hyderabad State of those days.
By the mid-1940s, the Majlis had come to represent a remarkably aggressive and violent face of Muslim communal politics as it organised the razakars (volunteers) to defend the “independence” of this “Muslim” State from merger with the Indian Union.
According to historians, over 1,50,000 such `volunteers’ were organised by the Majlis for the Nizam State’s defence but they are remembered for unleashing unparalleled violence against Hindu populations, the communists and all those who opposed the Nizam’s “go it alone” policy. It is estimated that during the height of the razakar `agitation’, over 30,000 people had taken shelter in the Secunderabad cantonment alone to protect themselves from these `volunteers’.
But the razakars could do little against the Indian Army and did not even put up a fight. Kasim Rizvi, the Majlis leader, was imprisoned and the organisation banned in 1948. Rizvi was released in 1957 on the undertaking that he would leave for Pakistan in 48 hours. Before he left though, Rizvi met some of the erstwhile activists of the Majlis and passed on the presidentship to Abdul Waheb Owaisi, a lawyer.
Owaisi is credited with having “re-written” the Majlis constitution according to the provisions of the Indian Constitution and “the realities of Muslim minority in independent India”, according to a former journalist, Chander Srivastava. For the first decade-and-a-half after this “reinvention”, the Majlis remained, at best, a marginal player in Hyderabad politics and even though every election saw a rise in its vote share, it could not win more than one Assembly seat.
The 1970s saw an upswing in Majlis’ political fortunes. In 1969, it won back its party headquarters, Dar-us-Salaam — a sprawling 4.5-acre compound in the heart of the Old City. It also won compensation which was used to set up an ITI on the premises and a women’s degree college in Nizamabad town. In 1976, Salahuddin Owaisi took over the presidentship of the Majlis after his father’s demise.
This started an important phase in the history of the Majlis as it continued expanding its educational institutions, including the first Muslim minority Engineering College and Medical College. Courses in MBA, MCA and other professional degrees followed. The 1970s were also a watershed in Majlis’ history as after a long period of 31 years, Hyderabad witnessed large-scale communal rioting in 1979. The Majlis came to the forefront in “defending” Muslim life and property.
Salahuddin Owaisi, also known as “Salar-e-Millat” (commander of the community), has repeatedly alleged in his speeches that the Indian state has “abandoned” the Muslims to their fate. Therefore, “Muslims should stand on their own feet, rather than look to the State for help”, he argues.
This policy has been an unambiguous success in leveraging the Majlis today to its position of being practically the “sole spokesman” of the Muslims in Hyderabad and its environs.
Voting figures show this clearly. From 58,000 votes in the 1962 Lok Sabha elections for the Hyderabad seat, Majlis votes rose to 1,12,000 in 1980. The clear articulation of this “stand on one’s feet” policy in education and `protection’ during riots doubled its vote-share by 1984. Salahuddin Owaisi won the seat for the first time, polling 2.22 lakh votes. This vote-share doubled in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections to over four lakhs.
The Majlis has since continued its hold on the Hyderabad seat winning about four-and-a-half lakh votes each time.
Despite remarkable economic prosperity and negligible communal violence in the past decade, the hold of the Majlis on the Muslims of Hyderabad remains, despite minor dents. And despite widespread allegations of Majlis leaders having “made money”, most ordinary Muslims continue to support them because, as one bank executive put it “they represent our issues clearly and unambiguously”.
A university teacher says that the Majlis helped Muslims live with dignity and security at a time when they were under attack.
Asaduddin Owaisi, the articulate barrister son of Salahuddin Owaisi and leader of the Majlis’ Legislature party, compares the Majlis to the Black Power movement of America.
The Majlis that emerged after 1957 is a completely different entity from its pre-independence edition, he says adding that comparisons with that bloody past are “misleading and mischievous”. “That Majlis was fighting for state power, while we have no such ambitions or illusions”.
He stoutly defends the need for “an independent political voice” for the minorities, which is willing to defend them and project their issues “firmly”.
“How can an independent articulation of minority interests and aspirations be termed communal,” he asks and contests any definition of democracy which questions the loyalty of minorities if they assert their independent political identity. “We are a threat not only to the BJP and Hindu communalism, but also to Muslim extremism,” Asaduddin claims. “By providing a legitimate political vent for Muslims to voice their aspirations and fears, we are preventing the rise of political extremism and religious obscurantism when the community is under unprecedented attack from Hindu communalists and the state”.