Militant Complex: Demarginalizing Indian Muslims

By Unni, Upasana | Harvard International Review, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Militant Complex: Demarginalizing Indian Muslims


Unni, Upasana, Harvard International Review


In the face of disenfranchisement and discrimination, Indian Muslims have turned to voicing their discontent in violent demonstrations. The recent wave of extremist fighting in India is often traced back to Islamic organizations, including Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based militant group with ties to the conflict in Kashmir, and the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), a supporting student organization. The Mumbai train bombings of July 2006, which set off a series of 7 explosions and killed 187 people, led to the arrest of 13 Indian Muslims linked to LeT. Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, another Islamic militant group, was credited with a series of bombings in the city of Hyderabad in August 2007.

The motivation for such violence could be socioeconomic. Over 60 years after the British Partition of India, the standard of living for Muslims is still substantially lower than it is for the rest of the dominantly Hindu population. According to the Sachar Committee Report commissioned by the Indian government in November 2006, Muslims are underrepresented in university attendance and loan procurement. The report also found that Muslims hold only 5 percent of government positions, despite the fact that they comprise about 13 percent of the population. The higher rate of poverty among Muslims contributes to these problems, but so does the government's traditional neglect of its non-Hindu religious minorities. Quotas are provided for lower Hindu castes to gain seats in civil service, but none are in place to ensure Muslim participation.

To explain the appeal of violence for Indian Muslims, some scholars cite the recent rise in right-wing Hindu extremism. Over the past decade, the secular Congress Party's loss of power and the growing dominance of the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in national politics have-heightened tensions between Hindus and Indian Muslims. In fact, several human rights groups have accused the Hindu state government of encouraging religious conflict. With the rise of Hindu nationalist parties, Muslims in India confront an increasingly unstable political environment.

Marginalization at home may not be the only source of recent militancy, as moving abroad opens another avenue to radicalism for Indian Muslims. For instance, exposure to radical Islam and ties to extremism can increase when young men settle in Britain. There they are more likely to feel kinship with fellow Muslims, including Pakistanis, than other expatriate Indians. Several Islamic Indian and Middle Eastern medical professionals were arrested in association with the Glasgow and London car bomb attacks in June 2007. …

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