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June 20, 2000


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But aren't Muslims discriminated against!?

Poor Azharuddin, his last-ditch effort at staving some of the barrage of criticism that has come his way for years now by attributing it to him being a Muslim has earned him further opprobrium. And heartwarmingly, among those astounded by this statement are Muslims themselves.

The outrage is understandable. It is as if Azharuddin has suddenly discovered -- after being the toast of the nation for more than a decade -- that he really has been getting the rough end of the stick thanks to his being a Muslim.

As any number of comments have pointed out, both on and elsewhere, how can a man who has risen to the top in his chosen area of endeavour, almost effortlessly, under various administrations with disparate political persuasions, find out almost overnight that the dogs of war were out for him not because of any wrongdoing on his part, but because of the religion he professes?

Fair enough. But the case for the defence seems a little weighed down by the barracking brigades who believe that volume makes up for value.

After all, before we hang Azharuddin from the nearest lamppost, let us first shove the dogs away from its vicinity and focus on the reality.

First and foremost, what is the crime that Azhar is being tried for? Even though he is not being *tried* for anything by *any* law-enforcing agencies, let us accept that it is allegedly match-fixing. I say allegedly only because *no* prosecuting agency has come out and said openly that yes, the former captain, pride and joy of cricket aficionados everywhere, is involved in match-fixing. Forget being involved, let alone that he is *suspected* of being up to his taavis in whatever crime appears to have besmirched the fair name of cricket.

Till date, I have found nothing official about the miasma of charges that have been levelled against Azharuddin. Oh yes, there have been any amount of nudge-nudge wink-wink kind of allegations, of the 'I saw him pay Rs 5 lakh in cash for a wrist-watch' kind.

Another rope that is being used to hang Azhar is Hansie Cronje's statement that Azhar introduced him to some bookie somewhere, a statement which has acquired the status of the Gospel that the former South African skipper swore on not so long ago to establish his innocence.

To me, these don't seem like grounds enough for excoriating a man who has led the game in this country to great heights. But as my esteemed colleague Prem Panicker is fond of pointing out, why confuse his cricketing genius with what he does off the field?

Fair enough, so let us return off-field, to Azharuddin's outburst and the resultant outrage. The latter emotion in us is understandable, as I said earlier, but is it justified? Isn't it true that non-Hindus in general, and Muslims in particular, are discriminated against in India, whether it comes to education and employment, to name just two areas? I know of housing societies that won't allow a Muslim within a mile of them, so what are we talking about?

For too long have we gotten away by blaming the Muslim leadership -- ignorant, backward, yes, pile on the negative adjectives -- for the community's ills like poverty and lack of education. But at least a part, if not the major part, of the blame for the community's problems should be laid at the doors of the Indian establishment -- an establishment that is dominated by Hindus like me.

I will not quote official figures for the percentage of Muslims in the defence forces, or police forces across the country, or even government employment everywhere to buttress my argument that yes, for a Muslim it is doubly hard to succeed in India; these are facts that are well known and incontrovertible.

Instead, what I wish to say is that we Indians are ever-willing to believe the worst against Muslims, for it is already established in our minds that the Muslim has extra-terrestrial loyalties, that the Muslim is a born criminal, that they are out-breeding us. They are not *of* India, even though they maybe *from* India.

It is easier to believe that Azharuddin is involved with bookies in Dubai not because of anything else but hey, being a Muslim how can he but not be chummy with those baddies headed by Dawood Ibrahim, the patron-saint of Muslims in India?

When Outlook first ran a cover-story on match-fixing, with Manoj Prabhakar making the first of his veiled allegations about a former skipper, the nation jumped to the conclusion that it was Azharuddin, only because we had always suspected him of being crooked -- 'cos a straight Muslim is like a 3-rupee note! It was also the time of open season on the man, for he had been perceived to have abandoned his first wife in favour of a Bollywood starlet, like only these Mozzies can, and worse, gotten her to convert to Islam as well... The leap of faith from there to convict him in our minds was quite easy.

Which is also why we found it hard to believe when Prabhakar pulled the pin on the grenade he had been holding for so long and told us it was not Azhar he had been hinting at all along, but Kapil Dev who had wanted him to throw a match. For we had already hanged Azhar in our minds.

Of course there are any number of Muslims who have succeeded in India, apart from Azhar himself. But let us not run away from the fact that a Muslim has to overcome double the odds that the rest of us have had to en route in order to breast the tape.

Is Azhar guilty of whatever offence, crime? I don't know, but I sure would like the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth -- not of the Vishwa Bandhu Gupta kind of hints and nudges -- to come out. If he is guilty, fine, hang him. But the vilification campaign against him based on untenable comments, off-the-record slyness and the like is unfair. And yes, being indulged in because he is a Muslim.

I can fully empathise with his outburst. Merely because he has succeeded, risen to the top as a cricketer, doesn't mean he has had an easy ride via elevator, is no credit to us. There are any number of trophy Muslims we can all trump up at the drop of a hat. But let us not run away from the fact that if a Muslim has succeeded in India, it is no thanks to the rest of us who make up the land. Very often, it is despite us... There, I agree with Azharuddin one hundred per cent.

Saisuresh Sivaswamy

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