By Kaleem Kawaja
Sub utho, main bhi uthoon, tum bhi utho;
Koee khirki is deewar main khul jaaeygee…Kaifi Azmi
(Everyone stand up, I stand up, you stand up; A window will open in this wall.)
In India Muslims number about 180 million and are found in good numbers in most regions. After ruling for a period of about 600 years (1200 to 1857), during which beginning from limited footholds in north India they expanded their rule, the followers of their faith and their distinct culture through most of the Indian subcontinent, from the Khyber pass in the west to Assam in the east, and from Kashmir in the north to Kerala at the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. At the end of the British colonial rule in 1947, when the Muslim population formed about one-third of India’s population, the subcontinent was divided between a Muslim majority Pakistan and a Hindu majority India.
Following the partition and the formation of the new India, the situation of the Muslim community, whose population was reduced to about 14 percent, has continued to decline. While discrimination in various walks of life from the government as a reaction to the partition of the country is a major factor for that, the lagging behind in education at all levels and the poor condition and standard of education in the community and the community’s schools has substantially reduced the ability of Muslims to compete with others in various walks of life. The educational backwardness is a lot more pronounced among Muslims in north and west India compared to south and east India
Since 2014 when BJP acquired power in New Delhi, the overall progress of Muslims has declined further due to substantial increase in governmental bias against them. However, every so often one comes across instances of remarkable successes. It is interesting to note that more Muslim young women compared to men are doing well in education thereby joining the ranks of high achievers.
In the last few decades several professional women in India have reached leadership positions in government jobs and private sector companies but it is very rare to find a Muslim woman among them. There are two main reasons for this. One is the bias of the government authorities against Muslims and the other is the fact that a large number of Muslim families do not encourage their women to seriously focus on attaining leadership roles in their professional careers. Muslim families are happy with women becoming teachers or principal of a girl’s school.
One bright instance that warmed my heart recently is the story of a young woman by the name Waseema Sheikh of village, Sanghavi, district Nanded, in Maharashtra. Waseema is among four children of a Muslim farm laborer in the village of Sanghavi. Her mother is also a farm laborer and they live in a small hut in the village. Her father has been sick for a few years and her mother is shouldering the responsibility for the family in these years. Waseema’s village is plagued with the problem of men habitually drinking liquor and indulging in violence. Waseema is a brilliant student who topped the list of successful candidates in in Nanded taluka in the Maharashtra State Secondary School Certificate examination. In 2015 studying on scholarship she obtained the BA degree from the Yashwant Chavan University, Nanded.
Then she sat in the tough competitive examination of the Maharashtra State Public Service Commission for an officer job in the state. To prepare for the competition she needed training from a coaching center and additional books that cost money, that her mother could not afford, especially since her brother was also studying for B.Sc. degree. To help Waseema with the coaching center fees, in her quest, her brother dropped out of college and started driving an auto-rickshaw. Waseema did succeed in the competitive examination but did not achieve a high enough rank. Due to that she was selected as a Class II sales tax officer for the Maharashtra Sales Tax Office in Nagpur.
However, both Waseema and her mother wanted that in view of her brilliant academic record she should get a better Class I Maharashtra State civil service job, like a Deputy Collector. Although her extended family members pushed her parents strongly that she should be married now, her mother encouraged her to try the State Public Service Commission competition one more time. While working as a government Sales Tax officer Waseema prepared for and sat in the competition again in 2019. With her salary she also put her brother back in college to complete B.Sc. degree. This time her perseverance and merit paid off and she achieved third rank from top among all women competitors in Maharashtra. And just last month she has been selected for the position of a Deputy Collector in the state of Maharashtra.
Meet Alisha Ansari of Lucknow, who scored 94 percent marks, secured first position among all successful students in the big city of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, and ninth position among all students in the large U.P. state, in the 2020 High School examination of the UP Board. She is one of three children of a teacher in a local college. She is a student in the Hindu majority school called Bal Nikunj Inter College. The principal of her school, Kanti Mishra is all praise for Alisha’s -dedication and hard work and single-minded pursuit of academic success.
Alisha’s goal is set to compete for admission in a medical college in a few years and go on to become a high- grade doctor. Her parents and her school principal are expressing full support to help Alisha realize her dream.
On our part we Indian Muslims must strive to give better high quality educational opportunities to promising young women and men from our community. Women must be encouraged and helped as much as men to try harder and achieve higher levels of success. There is no reason why a young woman cannot wait for marriage until her mid or late-twenties, when she completes her education. That is the only way the Indian Muslim community is going to overcome the intense discrimination, injustice and deprivation from economic opportunities that they are facing now in India.
The writer is the executive director of the Association of Indian Muslims of America, Washington DC.