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Evaluating Post-Sachar Interventions and the Status of Muslims in India

Saumya Uma (saumya@aud.ac.in) teaches at the School of Law, Governance and Citizenship, Ambedkar University, Delhi.

Institutionalizing Constitutional Rights: Post-Sachar Committee Scenario by Abusaleh Shariff, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016; pp xxix + 485, ₹ 1,195.

 

In the context of the threat to the Constitution and its core values, and a gradual exclusion of marginalised and minority communities from social justice interventions, both through patent and latent means, Abusaleh Shariff’s book—which evaluates the impact of initiatives taken in the post-Sachar Committee context—is like a whiff of fresh air. For long, we have had a common knowledge that most pro-minority programmes and interventions by central and state governments have only served the purpose of a “feel-good” effect on paper. This book discusses why, how and to what extent the implementation has failed, and what can be done to address and redress the issue, so that constitutional rights of religious minorities can be institutionalised.

The Sachar Committee report, released in 2006, was significant in its study of the socio-economic and educational status of Muslims—the largest religious minority community in India. The report was followed by immense public discourse and some efforts by the central government to address and redress aspects of Muslim deprivation, particularly through the Prime Minister’s New 15 Point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities, in 2009. By 2012, there were calls for revision of the programme and increased accountability around expenditures and incomes. As the book points out, under the new 15 Point Programme, a unique provision was made for scholarships to minority students at the elementary and higher levels of education across all parts of the country. It was subsequently found that this scheme did not operate in West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and Gujarat, that is, the states that have a sizeable presence of Muslims. This is an illustrative example of the dire need for evaluation of the implementation and impact of all such beneficial schemes, to ensure that they bring a positive difference to the lives of the stakeholders who are intended to benefit from the same.

The Sachar Committee report recommended the creation of an autonomous assessment and monitoring authority. This body was intended to engage in continuous monitoring and evaluation of the extent to which the benefits reached the intended beneficiaries under the myriad policies, programmes and schemes launched by the central and state governments in pursuance of the report recommendations. A failed attempt at establishing a committee to conduct the evaluation in 2013 by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, coupled with the disinterest of the subsequent government in undertaking such an evaluation, left a looming gap in documenting, analysing and evaluating the implementation and impact of post-Sachar policies by the central and state governments. This is the gap in the pool of information available in the public domain at present that the book attempts to address. And it does so with immense conviction, amply substantiated by factual data. In the author’s own words, the book is the result of “the author’s response to the government’s refusal to document, analyse and publicise the impact of post-Sachar policies and their associated national and state-government programmes” (pp 3–4). That it has managed to do so without the benefit of highly skilled human resources and privileged access to data that had been provided by the Indian government for the Sachar Committee report, is a feather in its cap.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part focuses on the demographics of education, economy, employment, social structure, diversity and the significance of the Human Development Index (HDI) as a tool for monitoring equal opportunity. The second part of the book critically analyses inclusive policies and programmes initiated by the Ministry of Minority Affairs (MMA), development credit and financial inclusion, special purpose programmes and public institutions favouring minorities, a case study of inclusive development of Gujarat, and finally, recommendations for equitable social and economic development in India.

Minority Programmes

Of immense importance is a chapter that critically analyses the programmes launched by the MMA. The chapter argues that since the Sachar Committee recommendations were broad and all-encompassing, an effective implementation would have warranted its incorporation into the programmes of various line ministries such as human resource development, labour, finance, social welfare, industries and panchayati raj. Instead the UPA–II government established the MMA, and implementation took place through this single ministry. Whether it was lack of imagination, zeal, commitment, or all of these, which restricted the implementation to a single ministry, is anybody’s guess. The relevant line ministries manage large amounts of budgetary allocations in relation to their functional areas, and are mandated to ensure equity and equal access to all. Then, the author rightly asks, is it not logical that the implementation would have been more effective and impactful if the line ministries were involved?

The chapter discusses the Prime Minister’s revamped 15 Point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities, which includes a focus on enhancing opportunities for education, employment, improving living conditions, and prevention and control of communal riots. It analyses elaborately on the first two aspects. Substantiated by ample data and analysis, the chapter has several findings, including that the availability of formal credit to Muslims is meagre; scholarship schemes sanctioned are much lower than the total applicants, the amount offered to students from religious minorities are not on par with the amount disbursed to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, a considerable delay in disbursements exists, and shockingly, that the scholarship money is being siphoned off.

The chapter on critical analysis of the programmes of the MMA makes only a cursory reference to prevention and control of communal riots, an important aspect of the new 15 Point Programme. However, this aspect is discussed further in the final chapter of the book, where it gives recommendations for institution-building. While it is true that there have been no major instances of communal violence in recent times other than in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, states such as Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have faced low-level targeted violence, often involving acts of commission or omission by state authorities. The Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, initially drafted in 2005, underwent several modifications subsequently. The UPA–II government, through the National Advisory Council (NAC), established a working group on communal violence, comprising members from the bureaucracy and civil society, culminating in the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011, which too, had serious concerns. As a member of the Advisory Committee of NAC’s working group, I recall that a bone of contention in both the drafts was in making public servants accountable and dispensing with prior sanction from the government for prosecution of errant government officials. Reflecting this key concern, the author observes as follows:

Although it is clear that a specific bill to address communal violence is the need of the hour, whether (the) current draft will see the light of the day and get translated into reality is debatable. Any new bill or progressive piece of legislation will have to be executed by the same government, institutions and bureaucratic machinery, including the police, who resist penalties and try to remain above the law. (p 361)

The author points to the essential nature of the proposed law for reinstating the trust of the minorities in the government, and to empower the community for justice and reparation. Given the fact that effective prosecutions of perpetrators could act as a deterrent and prevent communal violence in future on one hand, and restore the faith of the minorities in the system of justice on the other, the discussion on the topic is pertinent and timely.

Public Institutions

A chapter that would be of interest to many is that which reviews the functioning of important public institutions favouring minorities, namely the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation (NMDFC) and the National Commission for Minorities (NCM). Substantiated by credible data, the author, in his critical review of the NMDFC, points out that it has extremely low allocations, turnover and coverage, and that the total flow of credits from the NMDFC is negligible. This is compounded by functional and administrative constraints such as lack of accessibility to the public, absence of functional autonomy and the non-existence of an outreach programme. The author concludes that in their present form, neither the national nor state corporations have the potential to address these issues, and recommends that they be closed down, and as a viable alternative, their programmes be transferred to public sector banks.

On the NCM, the author highlights that the annual reports that have been regularly submitted by it to Parliament never get discussed; an indication of the lacklustre concern for and commitment to minority rights by the highest lawmaking body. The NCM has an explicit mandate of evaluating the development of minorities, yet senior officials of the NCM are unwilling to undertake the monitoring and evaluation of government programmes for minorities, as they are convinced it is not within their mandate. The author rightly questions how the NCM’s mandate can truly be fulfilled without such an evaluation. The NCM lacks funding as well as political autonomy, which is expected for it to function as an independent statutory body, the author opines.

Some recommendations to increase the efficiency of the NCM are made as temporary measures, including conferment of constitutional status to the NCM and vesting of powers of inquiry on par with other national commissions. In the long run, the author favours the establishment of an independent Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC), which would be open to access to all communities of India, due to the non-efficient functioning of special purpose institutions such as the NMDFC and the NCM. However, a question that remains in creating a new institution such as the EOC, particularly in the present political context, is whether the institution would be allowed to have political commitment to minorities, functional autonomy and financial independence.

‘Inclusive Development’

This book review would be incomplete if it does not make a mention of the chapter that analyses Gujarat as a case study for inclusive development. Given the hype created by the Gujarat model of development, and its promotion as a benchmark for good governance, a rational analysis of the same through the lens of the Muslim minority community, substantiated by facts and figures, is an imperative. In terms of per capita net state domestic product (PCNSDP), which is used to measure economic prosperity among communities at the state level, Gujarat has remained one of the top 10 states for a long time. However, the chapter delves into investigating the state performance through qualitative indicators such as poverty, hunger, human development and social equity, and finds deep-rooted poverty and stark income inequality among Gujarat’s lower castes and Muslims in comparison to other communities. The chapter concludes that Muslims in Gujarat fare poorly on the parameters of poverty, hunger, education and vulnerability on security issues, and are facing high levels of discrimination and deprivation.

There are three limitations of the study, as highlighted by the author: the rural–urban differentials and the gender differentials are sharp, and are imperative to understand the depth of deprivation and exclusion of communities, yet, these differentials could not be analysed due to want of time and resources. Additionally, the intra- and intercommunity differentials among Muslims also warrants analysis, but could not be undertaken due to compulsions of empirical and technical standards.

While all three differentials are of immense importance, there is a particular need to analyse the impact of post-Sachar policies, programmes and schemes from the perspective of Muslim women’s empowerment. Gender issues among the Muslim community are often confined to discourse around the practices of triple talaq, polygamy and halala. Scarce attention has been paid to evaluating the impact of post-Sachar initiatives on Muslim women’s status vis-à-vis education, employment, health and nutrition, housing and sanitation, political participation, and a general enjoyment of citizenship rights over and above issues pertaining to Muslim family law. It is hoped that the present study will pave the way for future research in this arena.

Conclusions

Twelve years after the release of the Sachar Committee report, there are yet no indications of improvement in the socio-economic status of the Muslim community. If anything, there has been increased deprivation, discrimination and exclusion of the community from mainstream development. The Muslim community in India today faces threat to life and liberty, and extreme insecurity, going by a high incidence of targeted lynchings of members of the community in the name of cow protection. This is in addition to the vulnerability to false or trumped-up criminal charges of terrorism leading to prolonged incarceration without bail. Those affected are mostly impoverished members of the community. Civil and political rights go hand in hand with social, economic and cultural rights, and mutually reinforce each other. An effective implementation of the Sachar Committee recommendations could have resulted in socio-economic empowerment of Muslims, and reduced their vulnerability to such attacks. Shariff’s book, through its various recommendations, indicates the path towards institutionalising their constitutional rights. As a counter to the current majoritarian assertion of secondary citizenship to religious minorities, the importance of this book cannot be overstated.

 

Updated On : 29th Nov, 2018

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