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SACHAR committee: A Call for Inclusion

A Call for Inclusion There have been commissions and committees earlier to investigate the condition of Indian Muslims, the largest minority in the country, but it is perhaps for the first time that we have before us

SACHAR COMMITTEE

A Call for Inclusion

T
here have been commissions and committees earlier to investigate the condition of Indian Muslims, the largest minority in the country, but it is perhaps for the first time that we have before us – in the report of the Rajindar Sachar Committee on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community – a systematic collection and compilation of information in a large number of areas. The picture that the committee presents is one that should shame us.

The Muslim community in India shows deficits and deprivation in practically all dimensions of development. Muslims rank a little above the scheduled castes/scheduled tribes (SCs/STs) but below the Hindu other backward classes (OBCs), other minorities and the Hindu upper castes on almost all indices: in educational attainment, representation in salaried jobs in the public and private sectors, managerial positions, presence in the civil services and police, and in access to health and infrastructure. There is of course considerable variation in the conditions of Muslims across states and even within the community,those who belong to the OBCs are in a much poorer state. The overall condition is worse among Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam than in the southern states. However, there are two heartening exceptions, Muslims show a lower infant mortality and a more favourable child sex ratio.

The overall picture is one, which should (but will not) set at rest the usual slander of appeasement. It is unfortunate and yet entirely predictable that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has built its fortunes around the slogan of appeasement, has refused to accept the facts laid before it. The BJP is, by birth, incapable of seeing the truth of what has since become the most well known statement in the Sachar Committee report: “Muslims carry a double burden of being labelled as ‘anti-national’ and as being ‘appeased’ at the same time”.

What recommendations do we have to work towards inclusion and bring to an end the collective sense of alienation that the committee has identified? The more limited 1983 Gopal Singh Committee on minorities too had painted a dismal picture, but now we have with us certain concrete recommendations on how to improve the socio-economic conditions of India’s 150 million Muslims.

“The country is going through a high growth phase. This is the time to help the underprivileged to utilise new opportunities through skill development and educational opportunities”, says the report. Among the significant recommendations are the setting up of an Equal Opportunity Commission for deprived minorities, creation of a national data bank on various socioreligious categories, extension of benefits available to the OBCs and SCs to Ajlafs and Arzal Muslims respectively (the other category, Ashraf, is on par with the Hindu upper castes), initiation of steps to increase the employment of Muslims in public sector units and all-India services, and provision of financial and other support to initiatives around occupations where Muslims are dominant. The committee has also recommended a focus on free education, setting up quality government schools in Muslim-dominated areas, establishing a mechanism to link madrasas to higher secondary schools and recognising madrasa degrees for eligibility in defence, civil and banking examinations (contrary to popular perception only 4 per cent of Muslim children go to madrasas), and sensitising teachers to diversity.

The committee has also asked the government to explore the possibility of providing incentives to educational institutions, the private sector and builders who offer education, jobs and houses respectively to “diverse” populations. By not suggesting reservation the Sachar Committee has been able to bypass a furore that would have focused on just such a recommendation. However, it has proposed a formula for admission into universities and colleges with 60 out of 100 points for merit, but 40 for backwardness to be determined by household income, backward district and backward class.

Now, what is important is the reaction of the UPA government, community leaders and the larger Indian society to these recommendations. If “diversity” in Indian society is to have any meaning then clearly it is the responsibility of the state and civil society actors to adopt measures that will end discrimination at all levels. Interestingly, the report has noted that many Muslims complained that “gender issues” are given a Muslim slant and women’s deprivation is not looked at “in terms of the ‘objective’ reality of societal discrimination and faulty development policies, but in the religious-community space. This allows the State to shift the blame to the community and to absolve itself of neglect.” But the report leaves it at mentioning this – there is nothing in the recommendations.

In the end the bigger concern should be that, as the report has noted, the “non-implementation” of recommendations of several earlier commissions and committees has made the Muslim community wary of any new initiative. “Tired of presenting memorandums”, many “wanted results”.

EPW

Economic and Political Weekly December 16, 2006

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