From Mohamed To Mohandas: Ghettoization Of Muslims In Cities Like Mumbai
06 January 2014
Tariq A. Al-Maeena
Secular India suits only the Hindu majority in India
or so it seems according to some of the minorities
living there. Democratic principles rarely apply to
the minorities making it a sham to refer to India as
the world's largest democracy. Members of minority
communities are often maligned and under pressure.
A recent report by Al-Jazeera highlighted how some of
these pressures are subtly applied to everyday living.
Shaikh Azizur Rahman, a writer for the multimedia
organization, illustrates a peculiar phenomenon by
which minorities are ostracized. He writes: "Begum, a
Muslim, changes her appearance every morning before
she leaves her home, 50km east of Kolkata, to travel
to the West Bengal capital where she works as a
housekeeper in a private hospital."
Begum, a female in her 30s said: "Through the day in
the hospital, I maintain this Hindu appearance.
Everyone there knows me as Hindu and calls me 'Lakshmi'
- a popular Hindu moniker. When I did not succeed in
getting a job, I followed the advice of some friends
and posed as a Hindu. Soon I landed this job in a
She also declared that the hospital administration had
asked her to recruit more female housekeepers from her
village. "When I told them there were Muslim women who
were looking for jobs, they said it would be better if
I brought non-Muslim candidates," she said.
Shaikh also highlights the situation of Noorjahan
Khatoon, 42, who lives in a suburban slum and works as
a domestic cook in a Hindu household in an upscale
Kolkata neighborhood. She says that none of her close
relatives even know where she is employed.
Khatoon, who dresses herself up with conch bangles and
applies vermilion powder on the partition of her hair
to keep up a Hindu appearance, says: "My children do
not know in which colony I work, let alone the
identity of my employer. I don't share any information
about my workplace with anyone. I am sure if my
employers learn I am Muslim, I will be fired."
These two cases are not unique in India. Muslims
throughout India claim that they face "religious
discrimination in the country's Hindu-dominated job
market." The Muslims who have secured jobs pretending
to be Hindus by changing their names or appearance
"are fiercely secretive about their place of work."
The unfortunate death of a domestic helper in the home
of a member of parliament in New Delhi led to the
discovery by police that the victim was a Muslim woman
from West Bengal working there while wearing Hindu
The Al-Jazeera report asserted that
"during interrogation, the manager of a New
Delhi-based private placement agency told police he
had introduced the woman as a Hindu, and he had done
likewise with several other Muslim candidates to get
them jobs in the national capital."
The manager of a domestic help placement agency in
Kolkata, Sudhin Bose, admitted that a large number of
Muslims find employment in the city by pretending to
be Hindus. "Nearly all clients in my agency are Hindu
and most of them prefer not to employ Muslims. More
than half the job-seekers our agency placed were
Muslims from nearby villages and city slums. Often we
introduced them as Hindus to our Hindu clients - and
they got the jobs. I am sure many placement agencies
adopt such secret policies out of mutual interest to
help Muslims find jobs in the city," Bose added.
The charges of religious bias are given credence by a
study of a government appointed commission in 2005 to
determine whether Muslims were disadvantaged in
social, economic and educational terms. The
commission's findings revealed that "the
socio-economic condition of most Muslims in India was
as bad as that of the Dalits, who are at the bottom
rung of the Hindu-caste hierarchy, also referred to as
Ayesha Pervez, an activist on minority issues who has
conducted studies on India's Muslims in the
marketplace, says that "job-seeking Muslims face the
hurdle of discrimination in most sectors."
"The discrimination, which is nothing but religious
identity-based exclusion, exists in organized
government sectors too. In West Bengal, Muslims
constitute 27 percent of the population. But their
representation in state-government jobs is as low as
four percent," Pervez asserted to Al Jazeera.
"Workplace discrimination forces Muslims to adopt fake
Hindu identities. Because of this discrimination, most
Muslims are unable to upgrade their standard of
living. Widespread prejudice against Muslims also
keeps them from living in urban India," Pervez added.
Apart from the economic barriers, minorities have
faced "increasingly hostility" in several states in
the past couple of decades. This is the result of the
increased aggression of Hindu nationalist
organizations, claims activist Ram Puniyani.
Following the 2002 communal violence in the state of
Gujarat when more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims,
were killed in brutal ethnic violence while the state
chief minister Narendra Modi sat idly by, several
right-wing Hindu organizations were encouraged to
begin a public campaign asking that "Hindus boycott
Muslims in all day-to-day dealings."
Puniyani says that "such a phenomenon leads to a fear
psychosis among the targeted community. This feeling
of insecurity among Muslims is intensified by the
increased economic challenges to make both ends meet -
with livelihood issues on one hand and a social
divisiveness, leading to ghettoization on the other.
Such ghettoization of Muslims in cities like Mumbai
and Ahmadabad clearly shows how the mutual trust among
communities has vanished. And so the socio-economic
enhancement of the minority community has stalled."
Such steps toward the marginalization of minorities do
not provide a positive outlook for a democratic and
secular India. Only when the rights of all are
protected, and a Mohamed is not forced to change his
name or his ways to a Mohandas to earn a living, can
India liberate itself from such shackles and
rightfully assume the mantle of a democracy.
– The author can be reached at email@example.com.
Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena