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This post is directly inspired by/in response to Ranjan's post on Living in India. It'd help if you read that material before continuing.

Growing up in what is one of the world's great cosmopolitan cities with a sizeable Muslim population I don't recall being discriminated against, I wasn't even aware of there being a difference between myself and my classmates except for the fact that we attended different houses of worship. I've always believed this was true not just for Bombay but for most of the country and I'm pretty sure I'm right in that regard, there are undoubtedly people of both communities who do not share this view but more or less it has been a large happy family. Till the day the riots begin that is, be it the organized demolition of the Babri Masjid, the horrifying series of bomb blasts in Bombay, the Godhra train burning and subsequent riots, or the bloody partition fifty five years ago, we as a people have demonstrated an amazing ability to metamorphose into bloodthirsty savages, worse than the wildest, filthiest of beasts. We have shown ourselves capable of an incredible degree of heartlessness, willing to sacrfice our brothers on the altars of the Gods we've chosen as our ultimate saviors.

Coming to the statistics Ranjan cites, they seem to be more of perception than fact. First, India's population consists of approximately 12% Mulsims, rather than 20% (Source: CIA World FactBook), which, as an absolute number, is the third highest number of Muslims in any country after Indonesia and Pakistan. Second, that 12% is in no way evenly distributed, the Valley of Kashmir, the big cities, Bombay, Pune, Bangalore etc will themselves account for a fairly uneven portion of that percentage. If you took a sampling from Bombay and another from say a small village in Madhya Pradesh (or Orissa, or wherever), you are highly likely to see substantial deviation in the percentage of Muslims in the chosen samples. This may have accounted for Ranjan's not having come in contact with too many Muslims during his school days. Third, a statement I found most amazing, the idea that Muslims are being educated in Madrassas, this, without the benefit of any statistical backing at the moment, I can without hesitation assert, is an entirely mistaken notion. Madrassas are not a means of mainstream education for Indian Muslims, they are a source of Islamic education, which more or less consists of learning to recite the Quran, without even the benefit of understanding it, an issue that has rankled me in the past. Except perhaps for the state of Uttar Pradesh, even those Muslims who do not attend schools where the medium on instruction is English, go to schools which teach in Urdu. Fourth, the Godhra riots were not a one-off tragedy as Ranjan states, I'm suprised he says this in the face of incidents I've already cited, we seem to be capable of horrendous carnage, from trains filled with the bodies of men, women and children during the partition years to the train compartment being burnt down in Gujrat, such tragedies seem to have become a part of life, as if the tension is always simmering under the lid and bursts open like an angry storm every six or seven years.

Obviously Ranjan has a vision of seeing the larger Muslim populace live up to its responsibilities as India marches toward a glowing and very promising future, and the enjoy the fruits of that prosperity alongside Indians of every creed, belief and leaning. I've never doubted the power of education in transforming peoples, and that is the tool I hope is used liberally in this struggle. Indian Muslims are having to grapple with not only their own social, economic and religious issues but also with the larger issue of Islamic fundamentalism and Islam's relationship with the West. There is a crying need for reform, a leadership that knows how to reconcile the Islamic identity with a citizenship of the world, not just of India and that leadership cannot be left to the mullahs or the imams. Thankfully, Indian Muslims have less suffered the corruption of that group than Muslims elsewhere but this is small consolation for the need for responsible and ethical leadership remains, like a festering open wound. One of my big concerns is the degree of ignorance I've had to face from otherwise well meaning friends, "So, does you dad too have two wives?" one of my friends asked me once, "Do you support Pakistan or India in this whole Kargil thing Ubaid?" asked another, questions I deemed too inane to merit a response. No, Indian Muslims do not believe in a special kinship with Pakistan, or any other Muslim country for that matter, the only brotherhood we have with them, as with anyone else, is the brotherhood of man. As Ranjan says, there are bothersome stereotypes that need to be dealt with as Indian Muslims stand up and do their part in our nation's march toward prosperity.

Note - This post also appears on Living in India, here.

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