//Indian Muslims : Counting, counting and adding up to nothing

Indian Muslims : Counting, counting and adding up to nothing

The Sachar Committee is not the first in independent India to look at the state of Muslims. The Gopal Singh Committee had done the same 26 years ago, and told the same story. So why are we shocked?

SEEMA CHISHTI, Indian Express , November 03, 2006

The flashback and the action replay, both are crucial today to popular film and TV culture. We couldn’t resist the temptation to do a little flashback item ourselves, after witnessing the debate generated by the data and reports that The Indian Express put out last month (on the PM’s Sachar Committee).

The Rajinder Sachar high-level Committee is not the first in independent India to look at the state of Muslims. Twenty six years ago, then-PM Indira Gandhi set up a seven-member high-level Committee (headed by Dr. Gopal Singh) to go into the state of the Minorities, Scheduled Castes, Tribes (SC/STs) and other weaker sections and their ability to take advantage of the fiscal schemes and programmes of both the central and the state governments.

Here’s Gopal Singh in the introductory chapter of the Report: “No data was available in any public office as to the benefits accruing to the vast religious minorities¿no data could be made available to us by the Minorities Commission..” Eventually, of the then 500 districts, the Committee made do with data from only 80 districts.

For those in policy-making, to now say that this data is revealing is a huge shock for anyone who has read the Gopal Singh Report! The fact that it already points clearly to the complete absence of any genuine composite feel in even government institutions, or any fiscal or other help being able to reach minorities, is a clear indictment of the governments in power, surely, at least since 1983.

In education, the Gopal Singh Committee found that while enrolment at literacy schools was where the Muslim ratios were only slightly below the ratio for all India, there was a steep decline at the higher education level. This got worse at professional courses — the percentage of Muslim students appearing for engineering courses is quite low, a mere 3.41 per cent, as compared to their 12.4 per cent in population in the areas covered.

As far as employment in government service goes, the report finds only 3.04 per cent of all of IAS, IPS and IFS (Indian Forest Service) to be Muslims. A look at the IAS establishes only 2.86 per cent as Muslim. As far as judges across High Courts in 14 states surveyed goes, 4.52 per cent are Muslim. In the case of Judicial Officers, the figures are slightly better (6.47 per cent) but still far short of the population percentage. The Report identifies the slack in higher education as a fundamental reason for why Muslims aren’t faring well in competitive examinations.

What’s shocking is that policy makers are experiencing shock, as a response Sachar’s data to be officially revealed by the month-end. The shocker is that the backwardness, the absence of simple ‘secular’ facilities was not seen as necessary by the powers that be — Muslim-majority mohallas have seen abject neglect, forcing the march to the madrasa. Waiting for the Sachar Committee to say it all over again is the wheel all set to be re-invented, another report and maybe a longer chapter on recommendations than before.

After Mumbai riots in 1992-3 and then Gujarat in 2002, the Sangh Parivar has been the usual suspect as one looked for villains to pin the blame on, the Left after the Sachar panel report is made public would be hard-pressed to explain its record in a state run continuously by it for three decades, or even UP and Bihar, which for the past 15 years have had leaders claiming Messianic status among Muslims. But a group that has blissfully escaped scrutiny is the Congress, in power at the Centre for more than three-fourths of the period that India has been free. And is now surprised at the Muslim not returning lock stock and barrel to its fold (after all, an apology for Babri Masjid has been issued, they feel). But the Muslim voter, it seems, knew Gopal Singh and now the Sachar stats intuitively, and was forced to merely make ‘tactical choices’ on poll-eve, in large part, thanks to the mother party, the Congress’ inability to either protect lives, or help them better their lot.

It is probably in the nature of governments to set up Committees to collect more data and reinvent the wheel. This time, once the wheel is reinvented, the UPA would do well to do something about it, like rolling it out. The principle, as in NCERT textbooks or DAVP advertisements with sketches of smiling dariwalas, the tilakdhari and the man with the turban and the cross may not be enough. It’s time to get cracking on more than the ‘principle’ of Equal Opportunities for all (not just Egalite in the French Revolution sense). It’s time to press ahead with the ‘pragmatism’ of inclusion. The growth rate, the mall, the karkhana and even the BPO or the dhaba by the taxi stand will just not be able to make it as a happening economic unit, if a large underclass — and not only Muslims — is standing by and gawking. The gawk takes a brief moment to turn into a nasty glare, or worse, subversion of that economic dream.

The Sachar Committtee would do a great service to Indian policy makers if it could drive home the single pragmatic necessity for inclusion and compositeness in this Indian dream. If the hurry policy drivers are often in, can be slowed down to spare a moment to co-opt the excluded; for their own reasons if those already endowed can be convinced that an inclusive policy alone makes for stable, good business sense, it would make the Indian juggernaut unstoppable. But for that, what would need to be done is to not tuck away Sachar’s numbers like what Mrs. Indira Gandhi or future governments did in Gopal Singh’s case. Justice Rajinder Sachar’s numbers would need to be taken on board. The public is allowed a short memory, but when policy makers acquire one, it has grave consequences.