Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Another way to look

by Warisha Farasat

Not much has changed in Shining India for the 138 million (13.4 per cent of the population) Muslims. The Justice Sachar committee was appointed to examine the social, economic and educational status of Muslims in India. It has confirmed the uncomfortable fact that, comparing indicators of socio-economic development, Muslims fare worse than even the scheduled castes and tribes.

Who are the intended beneficiaries of the report? It is a community of millions who nurtured the dream of a ‘secular’ India and consciously made the decision to become Indians. It has been repeatedly brutalized during the communal clashes and has learnt to live with the “justice and trust deficits”. A community that has been used for furthering petty vote bank politics by the right and non-right alike.

The grim statistics speak for themselves. Only 59.1 per cent of Indian Muslims are literate, against the national average of 65.6 per cent. In the premier undergraduate and graduate institutions, Muslim students are only one out of 25 and one out of 50 respectively. As many as 31 per cent of Muslims fall below the poverty line and the community is the second poorest across all groups.

The share of government employment of Muslims in all sectors is extremely low. A mere 4.5 per cent of the employees of Indian Railways — which employs 14 lakh people — are Muslims. In the judiciary, with a dismal representation of 7.8 per cent, Muslims fall below the 23 per cent of the other backward classes and 20 per cent of the SC/STs. The civil services consist of only 3 per cent Muslim officers in the IAS and 1.8 per cent in the IFS . Of the other major departments: 6.5 per cent in education, 7.3 per cent in home, 4.4 per cent in health and 6.5 per cent in transport. After this, dare one talk about their representation in the private sector?

Steps forward

The findings correct some general misconceptions about Muslims. The community is not blamed for its socio-economic backwardness. The low female literacy is attributed to the lack of access to the educational infrastructure of the community in general and its women in particular. In a country where female foeticide is still widely prevalent, the sex ratio within the Muslim community is higher than the national average. The Hindutva machinery constantly propounds that Muslims will soon become a demographic threat. Analysing the available data and the current demographic projections, the Sachar report states that by the end of the century, the expected rise would not exceed 20 per cent of the total population.

Another contribution of the report is its emphasis on the oft-ignored aspect of socio-economic rights. Most earlier reports on the minorities by government-appointed inquiry commissions — such as the Sri Krishna commission — focused primarily on communal violence. This approach overlooked the inherently discriminatory nature of the existing structure vis-à-vis the minority community. The Sachar committee report proposes some concrete steps forward. It suggests affirmative action in the form of limited reservations. It promotes targeted schemes that will provide greater financial support and opportunities for education. Policy initiatives should aim at enhancing access to credit schemes and participation of Muslims in the business of regular commercial banks. Recommendations include recognizing madrassah degrees for competitive exams, and providing hostel facilities for minority students. If the recommendations are implemented, they can go a long way in improving the condition of Muslims.

The political parties must ensure that the recommendations are not lost in quota bickering. The government must not lose this chance to fulfill the commitment made to the minorities years ago at the stroke of midnight.


scruffysmileyface said...

How much of this is due to different prioroties within the Muslim community? I don't mean to imply that Muslims place a lower emphasis on education - far from it - but is there a different level of interest in public service?
Just a thought.

rama said...

Hullo! I couldn't reply earlier as I was travelling. Thanks for your query. My understanding is that Muslims in India want good education for their children as much as anyone else. But the poor state of the public education system, and the diificulty Muslims face in getting jobs in either the public or private sector has meant that children drop out of schools, and especially boys. Lack of jobs has also meant that an overwhelming section of the Muslim population is self-employed, e.g. as craftsmen and artisans. But these occupations are increasingly marginalised. Knowledge, capital, public policy - have not sought to empower them. The politics of the Muslim vote bank does not help either. That has a vested interest in keeping Muslims poor and backward. Better off Muslims - do care for their poor brethren. Thus there are many Muslim charities and foundations, as well as advocacy groups. But in a context of long-standing and institutionalised neglect and discrimination, the key role in empowerment must be that of the state. Most fundamentally, the plight of India's Muslims cannot be a matter of concern only for Muslims. In a pluralist, democratic society, this is something every citizen must be concerned about.