//Muslim quota? The debate is on

Muslim quota? The debate is on

Aasim Khan, CNN-IBN , November 02, 2006

UNQUOTED PARADOX: Conversion to Islam disqualifies Dalits from the benefits of reservation.

New Delhi: At the heart of India's reservation policy is a paradox — while there are Hindu Scheduled Castes, Sikh Scheduled Castes and Buddhist Scheduled Castes, there are no Muslims in the list.

Many Muslim thinkers wonder why conversion to Islam disqualifies Dalits from the benefits of reservation given to Scheduled Castes. Dalit Muslims like the Kasbis, Mehtars and Lalbegis are now clubbed with Other Backward Castes (OBC).

As many surveys over the years have indicated, this might be the reason why Muslims remain the most under-represented group in India. This has lead to suggestions that there should be a separate quota for Muslims or atleast a quota within the existing OBC quota.

At present, in Kerala, 12 per cent of government jobs are currently reserved for Muslims. In Tamil Nadu, Muslims enjoy reservation under the 30 per cent earmarked for OBCs. Karnataka has implemented 4 per cent reservation for Muslims

In all these cases, the benefit is given only to applicants who do not belong to the creamy layer. But there is a legal hurdle with far reaching political implications.

The 50 per cent ceiling on reservations by the Supreme Court makes it impossible to implement such a quota without a constitutional amendment.

In October 2005, the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly had passed a Bill providing 5 per cent reservation for Muslims in educational institutions and Government services.

The next month, the Andhra Pradesh High Court rejected the Muslim Community Act 2005 that provided for reservation.

In January 2006, in an interim order, the Supreme Court refused to stay the Andhra Pradesh High Court judgement. The same year, in July, a Supreme Court bench turned down the state government's petition for a relook.

The Aligarh Muslim University is also facing problems over Muslim reservation. In October last year, the Allahabad High Court quashed its minority status and ruled that the proposed 50 per cent reservation for Muslims there was invalid.

The Supreme Court in April this year reinstated the minority status after the university promised not to implement 50 per cent reservation for Muslims.

Critics of reservation for Muslims also suggest that while quota might increase Muslim representation, it could further alienate them from society's mainstream.