//Expand the parking lot

Expand the parking lot

Editorial, Hindustan Times , December 1, 2006     

If one imagines India to be a huge parking lot, the country’s Muslim community seems to have little space to park their cars. What has been apocryphal wisdom, now takes shape in the form of empirical data in the Rajinder Sachar Committee report tabled in the Lok Sabha on Thursday. Whether it be socio-economic conditions, educational benefits or representation in employment, 60 years after India rejected the two-nation theory, Indian Muslims have less opportunities, and, therefore, lag considerably behind, their non-Muslim counterparts.

The Sachar Committee report not only makes a timely recording of this fact, but it also suggests ways to “ameliorate the conditions of acute depravation of Muslims” in this country. What the report also does is to clear the cobwebs that have given rise to certain stereotypical notions about India’s largest religious minority community. For instance, infant mortality among Muslims is lower than among the Hindu populace, but higher than other minority groups. While 59.1 per cent of Muslims are literate — below the national average of 64.8 per cent and that of 65.1 per cent for Hindus — only four per cent of Muslim children attend religious seminaries that are cut off from a modern, secularised education. These data, of course, mean little until they are coupled with matters such as representation in jobs and public bodies. And it is here that the real difference of opinion has been evident since 1947. Politicians clearly find a neat route by suggesting wholesale reservations for Muslims. This amounts to them sounding concerned as well as managing to crystallise an amorphous community into a vote-bank. The Sachar report also suggests that backward social groups among the Muslim community, such as the Arzals, the Ashrafs and the Ajlafs, should be regrouped and reidentified for ameliorative help. The report suggests that while the Arzals can be incorporated with the Scheduled Castes (because of their traditional occupation) and provided reservations, the other two backward groups could be ‘helped’ in a different manner.

Such micro-level categorising is all very well. But it doesn’t help beyond the rhetoric of adding more reserved slots in the metaphorical parking lot. Even if one overlooks the political repercussions of identity politics, the answer to providing the uplift of socio-economically deprived sections does not lie in reserving parking spaces but in enlarging the parking lot. For that, one needs a holistic expansion and upgrade of conditions for all those socially and economically lagging behind along with targeting specific groups. This should not mean reservations; it means something more expansive, effective and difficult.