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India awakens to its other pariahs: Muslims

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By almost any measure, Salam Mohsin has set himself up well to succeed in India. He has completed his primary education, he speaks a little English, and he is now attending business college. Yet every time he has looked to a future beyond the rickshaws and repair shops of Hyderabad's Old City, he has seen only closed doors.

When Mr. Mohsin applied for his retired father's old government job, not only was he rejected, but his father's pension was cut. Banks have repeatedly denied him loans for his plan to buy and reopen a derelict factory.

This, he says, is the life of a Muslim in India, And perhaps for the first time, this Hindu nation is beginning to believe him. For the past 60 years, Indian Muslims have more often been the subjects of blame – for terrorism and the 1947 partition with Pakistan – than sympathy.

Yet in November, a government-appointed panel suggested that ignorance and prejudice have now made Muslims an underclass on par with the lowest Hindu castes. Now, politicians who have long avoided the subject are openly talking of helping Muslims – potentially even setting aside quotas for Muslim admission into schools and political institutions.

It is an important moment. After two decades of increasing communal tension here, there is a growing acknowledgment that India can no longer afford to make Muslims feel like strangers in their own country.

"Now that things are calming down, people are beginning to see things as they are, rather than through prejudiced eyes," says Rajeev Bhargava, a political scientist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

The concern, he says, is "that if we don't do something, they'll be drawn to militancy."

Though some Indian Muslims have taken part in domestic terrorism, they have so far shown little inclination to the sort of global jihad that is more common among Pakistanis and Middle Easterners. A senior government minister said last week that there still is no Al Qaeda in India, despite the fact that its 150 million Muslims make India the world's third most populous Muslim nation.

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