Uneasy Peace Prevails for India's Muslims

December 14, 2008

Author: By Henry Chu and Mark Magnier

Source: The Los Angeles Times


The Muslims of terror-plagued Mumbai know the drill.

First there is bloodshed. Then come the whispers, the accusing stares, the scarcely veiled hostility.

"They are going to say that all Muslims do this," restaurateur Naved Akhtar Mirza said, after gunmen, apparently Islamic extremists, stormed India's financial capital last month, shooting up a train station and killing hostages at two hotels and a Jewish center.

To their relief, no violence against Muslims has erupted, despite simmering tensions and several previous episodes of sectarian strife. Community leaders hope that a grudging sense of tolerance, if not harmony, will continue to prevail in the aftermath of the 60 hours of mayhem in which more than 170 people died.

But the uneasy peace masks the fact that India's 150 million Muslims -- about as many as live in neighboring Pakistan -- are often branded a fifth column and looked on with distrust and even disgust in this Hindu-majority country. Many live a marginalized existence in poverty-stricken ghettos, uneducated, unable to find work and sometimes abused or unfairly arrested by police, giving rise to resentment that observers warn could be exploited by radical groups.

Last weekend, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned bluntly of "an unacceptable rise in intolerance" that he said has made India "more divided, more angry and, tragically, more violent."

Seeking to keep a lid on any backlash, Singh declared that "it is the fundamental right of all to follow their religion, practice their culture and hold to their views. . . . It is nobody's right to deny anyone this right or to dictate faith and opinions to others."

Many Muslims in India, afraid of being cast as unpatriotic or even traitorous, have gone the extra mile to prove themselves loyal to their country as well as their faith.