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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 19:30 GMT
Tense times for India's Muslims
Indian Muslims
India has a larger Muslim population than Pakistan
By the BBC's Martin Plaut

In the confrontation between India and Pakistan it is easy to forget that there are more Muslims in India than there are in Pakistan.

India is a secular country where religious discrimination is outlawed.

But how does the threat of war with its Islamic neighbour affect India's Muslims and the attitudes of Hindus and others in that country towards them?


Muslims know no matter what they do for the country ... they will always be suspected

Professor Rizwan Qaiser, Jamia Millia Islamia University
It is India's proud claim to be a truly secular, multi-religious society.

Old Delhi is home to many of the city's Muslim community. They are, they say, secure in their Indian identity.

"We are very much safe here and the Pakistanis are misguiding us that the Muslims are not safe in India, but it is not right. We are totally safe in our country and we love our country also," says one man.

But as India faces the threat of another war with its Muslim neighbour, Pakistan, the 135 million Muslims who live and work in India know they are being treated with suspicion as the crisis deepens.

Tension

"Whenever there is tension between India and Pakistan, there is always a fall-out against the Muslims because the Muslims are seen as fifth columnists, potential agents of Pakistan, says Syed Shahabuddin, editor of Muslim India.

Indian Muslims
India's Muslims fear they may be demonised in the media
"For example, you see, of late all our religious institutions - the little seminaries in every village, called madrassas - the little mosques, in every nook and corner of India - they were projected as dens of the ISI (intelligence service) of Pakistan."

The ISI is portrayed as the sinister hand, blamed for all of India's evils by the popular press.

But India has prided itself on being a safe home to those Muslims who chose to remain in India when Pakistan was founded as a Muslim homeland at independence in 1947.

The former Indian Prime Minister, I K Gujral, insists that any suspicion is wrong. He points to the fact that Indian Muslims did not volunteer to fight for Osama Bin Laden.

"Why did they not go? The government of India did not stop them, he says.

"Voluntarily they did not go because two things. One is the legacy of Indian freedom struggle and a faith in the genuineness of the Indian democracy ... [secondly] faith in the fact that Indian democracy does not distinguish amongst the people on the basis of religious beliefs."

Fundamentalists dominant

But India's current government is dominated by Hindu fundamentalists.


With its population of over 1 billion India has succeeded remarkably in holding together its diverse religious groups

Many backed the decision 10 years ago to level the mosque at Ayodhya that was said to have been build on a sacred Hindu site.

Some in government have links to organisations that wish to turn India into a Hindu homeland.

Since coming to power they have diluted their fundamentalist rhetoric but many Muslims are still nervous in a crisis.

"Muslims anyway also have got used to it, says Professor Rizwan Qaiser of Jamia Millia Islamia University.

"They all know, no matter what they do for the country, no matter what, you know, they think, no matter what contributions they make, they will always be suspected."

With its population of over 1 billion India has succeeded remarkably in holding together its diverse religious groups. But anger at the attack on its parliament, and the threat of war, could damage that achievement.

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