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Conditioned Lives?

Given the disparities in Indian society which affect Indian Muslims - some built-in due to various reasons and some created by the stepmotherly treatment meted out by the state - the government should show the will to implement the various recommendations of the Sachar Committee.

Conditioned Lives?

Given the disparities in Indian society which affect Indian Muslims – some built-in due to various reasons and some created by the stepmotherly treatment meted out by the state – the government should show the will to implement the various recommendations of the Sachar Committee.

M A KALAM

T
he Muslims of India as well as others looked forward to the release of the Sachar Committee report.1 The quite transparent and lucid write-up done with a high degree of candidness and in a forthright manner came as a big surprise to many given the kid gloves with in which most commissions, high level, or whatever, set up by the state deal with the issue(s) concerned. In terms of data collation and putting together all these in one single volume, the effort is unparalleled. Particularly so, as data of the kind that this committee obtained has never been attempted in India in her history, not even after independence and not even when the Gopal Singh Committee was set up in the 1980s. But unfortunately nothing came up as a result of the Gopal Singh Committee recommendations. And, to say the least, those thoughts do recur when one thinks of the findings and recommendations of the present committee. Commissions and reports, sad to say, can never be a substitute for political will; political will that often refuses to rise above electoral equations, and is guided by coalition calculations.

Though the army refused to give information about employment of Muslims in its ranks, the navy and the air force did so. That in itself is remarkable on the one hand while it is also disappointing that, one of the largest armies in a democratic country and which has impeccable credentials for being confined to the barracks and has not delved into the political arena as has happened in other countries with whom we share borders, did not deem it fit to let the people know how many Muslims fight for the country. It is another matter that the Sachar Committee in its own wisdom, or otherwise, decided not to use the data that was supplied by two of the three wings of our defence forces. On the other hand, an institution like the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) which has been negotiating to keep itself out of the right to information orbit has given data that was not available in the public domain. The public sector units (PSUs), banks and some private sector orgnisations too have provided data that is immensely revealing. However, a valid criticism that has been levelled against the committee by different quarters and at different levels is that it did not have a single woman member. The committee attempts to pre-empt thiswhen it says:

During the committee’s interaction with women’s groups, some of them seriouslyarticulated a grievance that it did not have any woman member. The committee tried to make up for this by convening a halfa-day meeting with women’s groups during its visits to the states. In addition to that, women social activists in large numbers attended the meetings of all the groups and expressed their points of view and apprehensions in an open and frank manner. Their input was intensive and to the point about the various matters like education, medical facilities, Anganwadi requirements, etc. The committee also heldone full day meeting in Delhi in July 2006 exclusively for women from all over India (p xiii).

While it is possible to appreciate or even sympathise the way the committee defends itself on this count, no justification could be adequate for not having at least one (full) woman member on the committee. It is imperative, one feels, to have a woman member as the way proceedings take place, interviews are conducted and sensitivity is given to data that is collected could be qualitatively different due to the positive gender bias that goes into such an exercise.

Islands of Utter Neglect

Before we get into an analysis of some of the micro-level data, it is pertinent to note that at no level can the charge of minority appeasement hold any water after one goes through the Sachar Committee Report even cursorily. Delimitation of constituencies in Muslim majority areas or where the Muslim presence is substantial and earmarking such constituencies for scheduled castes, is one of the ways in which Muslim participation in the electoral process of contesting for different posts has been thwarted. It is doubly distressing to note that many such constituencies do not even have significant scheduled caste habitations/population! Banks have overtly earmarked Muslim-dominated areas as nonrecovery or red and danger zones as regards advancing loans to Muslims and these same banks have enough evidence with them to the contrary in what they have designated as “negative geographical zones”. Compared to the general population or any other section of the population, Muslims, in fact, have defaulted much less in clearing their debts and have paid back in a better manner.

Areas with significant Muslim population suffer on many counts: no pucca approach roads, hardly any bus stops, no basic services, no physical infrastructure, fewer schools, and so on. Such a state of affairs is not confined to a particular district or state but has been replicated in all areas where there are large numbers of Muslims. How is it that there is such remarkable consistency in creating and recreating islands of utter neglect? The report says, “Compared to the Muslim majority areas, the areas inhabiting fewer Muslims had better roads, sewage and

Economic and Political Weekly March 10, 2007 drainage, and water supply facilities” (p 149). In contrast, one would like to compare this pitiable situation with what is obtained in a place like Meenakshipuram which came into the limelight due to the February 1981 event of mass conversions that shook the political establishment in Tamil Nadu and at the centre.

Conversion Effects

Over a period of 25 years, Meenakshipuram, rechristened Rehmatnagar by those converted to Islam, has seen an infrastructural development one hardly associates with a dalit settlement. Each and every street has a separate water pipeline and taps, a public distribution shop for supply of rations, good drainage facilities, more than one primary school, three coin operated public telephones, sarva siksha abhiyan kendra, and a good physical infrastructure in the form of pucca roads that connect to the main roads leading to Tenkasi and Tirunelveli.

The present author has been undertaking fieldwork there since the 19812 conversions and what is recounted here is not to grudge what has happened there, but to point out that other areas and places inhabited by Muslims for long too could do with such development. Or, is it that the state wakes up only when events of the conversion kind occur and shame it to react? In a typical knee-jerk reaction the state machinery, the bureaucracy, can also raise its level of efficiency whereby it could also become proactive when it has to as per the dictates of its political bosses. Such a proactive reaction has also been observed in Kandai and Kuraiyur where too dalit conversion to Islam have occurred; one before the Meenakshipuram conversion and one after.3But these Muslims, the erstwhile dalits, and many who converted to Christianity are denied the benefit that accrues to the scheduled castes. Besides the Hindus and the Sikhs, the Constitution of India does not allow any other religious group to make claims as regards reservations and other benefits that accrue to the scheduled castes. The Buddhists (or neo-Buddhists as they are often known) were granted that privilege after a long struggle. The Supreme Court has ruled that such a privilege cannot be granted to others who are neither Hindus nor Sikhs nor Buddhists. Not only just those who converted to Islam, but also those who embraced Christianity are out of sync here.

It appears as though what drove Ambedkar to lead his broken people to Buddhism still holds sway among our politicians and lawmakers. Ambedkar toyed for long with the idea of leading his followers to Islam or Christianity but finally settled for Buddhism because the former two faiths had foreign origins whereas Buddhism was indigenous. Contemporary thought and feeling too leans on this ideology and hence the logic of exclusion of Muslims and Christians from the ambit of scheduled caste reservations.

The Sachar Committee received representations in almost all places urging that scheduled caste status be conferred on dalit converts to Islam and Christianity. In fact, the latter are significant in number compared to those who converted to Islam. Presently, the converts are given only other backward classes (OBCs) status though they have earlier had the privileges extended to the scheduled castes.

Even without a fine-tooth combing of the report, it will be quite apparent to one that there has been quite a meticulous way in which the lives and living conditions of Muslims in India have been conditioned. If a vast section of people of a country can be systematically deprived of a whole lot of basic facilities and infrastructure as the Muslims in different parts of the country have been, then it suggests that a wellorganised effort and efficient planning has gone into this exercise. The state machinery in independent India has really put its heart and mind in achieving results contrary to what the state has planned for a minority group that at present is 13.4 per cent of its population. Our bureaucracy that is supposed to implement what the state plans seems to have had a free hand in doing things that go against the grain of proper implementation. How such lopsided, patently lackadaisical and blatantly discriminatory practices escaped muster for so long defies any sensible comprehension. Was it due to a free hand given to the bureaucracy or was it that the executive hand did not know or care to know how its bureaucracy was functioning? Did anybody take stock or try to find out during the last 60 years as to what was happening to the Muslims of the country vis-à-vis other sections of the society? Does anyone think about the Muslims at times other than elections? All the talks about poverty alleviation and amelioration of the conditions of Muslims have been mere lip services and a complete hogwash. The committee addresses this issue when it says, “…pressures are likely

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Economic and Political Weekly March 10, 2007

to build up and intensify when there is unequal development and some groups or minorities lag behind in the development process. Ideally, development processes should remove or reduce economic and social obstacles to cooperation and mutual respect among all groups in the country” (p 1). Then it goes on to say, “Once the ‘development deficit’ among Muslims is assessed policy interventions will need to be reviewed in the context of available evidence and new initiatives launched to grapple with the marginalisation of Muslims in the social, economic and political space” (p 2).

Class Advantage to Merit

The chapter ‘Public Perceptions and Perspectives’ has some disturbing responses that came from the Muslims in the 13 states that the committee visited. One of these is that they (Muslims) are tired of submitting memorandums to committees and commissions and want results. There has to be a commitment and a change of mindset of the state. That Muslims carry the double burden of being accused as disloyal to the country and at the same time being told that they are appeased. Their identity has become a threat for them in the public space and their security is compromised. Muslim women feel safe only in the narrow space of their home and community. Police brutality in arbitrarily picking up Muslim youth during any kind of disturbance. There are many more perceptions reported by the committee that lay bare the psyche of an average Muslim in the country. But one that has an overall impact on their economy is the way they perceive education. “…Muslims do not see education as necessarily translating into formal employment. The low representation of Muslims in public or private sector employment and the perception of discrimination in securing salaried jobs make them attach less importance to formal ‘secular’ education…” (pp 15-16). This aspect of low perceived returns from education is valid and is something that is crucial not just as regards Muslims but could be extended to all economically backward sections of our society. Recent studies4 show that those who make it to the top jobs in the IT industry and other high profile private sector companies do so as a result of their urban, upper middle class background and English medium education in private schools. Their communication and soft skills are way ahead of those who do not have these privileges. They do well in competitive examinations as well as in personal interviews. An overwhelming and predominant majority of such students come from the upper castes. These qualities are acquired due to the class position that they enjoy. But the general rhetoric we hear is that they make it to the top jobs and positions because of merit. Nothing can be further from truth. How convenient it is to convert class advantage into merit. Taking into account the hoax that is thus being perpetrated, the Anandakrishnan Committee set up by the Tamil Nadu government has strongly recommended that the Common Entrance Test for admission to engineering and medical colleges in the state that weighs so heavily against the students coming from lower caste/class and rural background be abolished.

We have a strong lesson to learn from what has been narrated above. There is no substitute for quality primary education when it comes to the less privileged sections of our society. We have to unabashedly accept the fact that urban, middle and upper middle class children do well not because they all are born with merit but because the class advantage that they enjoy gives them a head start vis-à-vis the other sections. Hence, there have to be concerted efforts made to provide quality educational facilities in the areas where there are deprived sections like the Muslims. They have to perceive that education does bring in some returns. Unfortunately, this is one realm that hardly receives the attention and infrastructure and facilities that it deserves. The demand for affirmative action that the Muslims would like to have in the form of reservations (p 25) may gradually reduce once they get the kind of education that they desire for their children. The rhetoric that Muslims hardly send their children to regular mainstream schools and instead prefer the madrasa has been exposed by the Sachar Committee. As per the ground level data collected by it only 3 per cent of Muslims send their children to madrasas and have roundly criticised the state for not providing proper and adequate schooling for their children around their abodes. In fact, the committee has reported that the perception is that deliberate attempts seem to be at work to not provide this basic constitutional right to them. It states, “The state must fulfil its obligation to provide affordable high quality education through the formal educational system” (p 78).

In spite of very low literacy rates, the Muslims show better sex ratio than other socio-religious groups as also lower infant and child mortality and higher than average life expectancy. Fertility, however, varies as per their social and economic characteristics (p 39). But a point that is made emphatically is that the demographic transition among Muslims is well on its way (p 47). These parameters are surprising and appear to be contrary to the standard development models that we are aware of.

So where does this report take us and what sense do we make of it? Given the disparities that exist in Indian society which affect the Muslims – some built-in due to various reasons and some created by the stepmotherly treatment meted out by the state – the state should show the will to implement the various recommendations of the Sachar Committee which are all based on solid ground level primary data that was not hitherto available. The initiative taken by our prime minister in setting up the committee should not see the dustbin as earlier ones have. Whatever may be the political compulsions, it should dawn on all concerned that it is not a section of our society in the garb of Muslims that is neglected and not given its due share but this neglect is affecting in no uncertain terms our overall growth. If the desired 9 per cent rate of growth that we envisage has to be achieved, it can be done only by carrying along the 13.4 per cent Muslim section of the society. By not developing this huge section we are not only underplaying their potential but are also adding huge numbers of unemployable people to the ranks of the burgeoning unemployed youth of the country.

EPW

Email: kalam@vsnl.net

Notes

1 Prime minister’s high level committee 2006,

Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community in India: A Report. 2 M A Kalam, ‘Why the Harijan Convert to Islam

Views Reservations with Reservation’ in South

Asia Research, School of Oriental and African

Studies, London, Vol 4, No 2, November 1984,

pp 153-67. 3 M A Kalam, ‘An Anthropological Study of the

Conversion of Harijans to Islam in Tamil Nadu’,

financed by the Indian Council for Social

Science Research, May 1986-April 1988. 4 C J Fuller and H Narasimhan, ‘Engineering

Colleges, ‘Exposure’ and Information

Technology Professionals in Tamil Nadu’,

EPW, Vol XLI, No 3, January 21, 2006,

pp 258-62.

Economic and Political Weekly March 10, 2007

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