Debating India

SACHAR COMMITTEE

Minority Report

Monday 4 December 2006, by MUSTAFA*Seema

The high level committee report on the social, economic and educational status of Muslims should serve as an eye opener for communal forces such as the BJP, as its findings effectively shatter many of the myths about the Muslims that have been fed and fostered by the malignant parivar over decades. At the same time, the report has done grave injustice to the cause of Muslim women by virtually keeping this deprived and discriminated section of the community out of the reach of its recommendations. It has also virtually disregarded its own findings about the sense of insecurity that is changing the living standards of the community at large by not making even one recommendation specific to this issue.

The BJP is trying to use the report to feed its communal constituency, as basically it takes the bottom out of its propaganda of Muslims being wilfully backward and regressive. For one, the report notes that only four per cent of the Muslims send their children to madrasas in India and given a choice this number would come down further. The choice of course depends on the government ability to open more schools in the districts and the introduction of Urdu as a third language in all states. Two, the report points out that contrary to propaganda the fertility rate in Muslims is on the decline and that the community growth in past years has followed a national pattern. Three, it has countered efforts to project a clash between communities saying there is no indication of such animosity or hostility. In brief, the findings of the Sachar committee suggest that in all areas the Muslims have no desire to remain backward and are more than willing to avail of government facilities and the secular infrastructure that are, however, not always available.

The strength of the Report is in its ability to detail the facts without passionate comment, or reckless statements. Every point is backed with statistics, and the sections on education and employment in particular are detailed and very well researched. Some of the recommendations here are also pathbreaking. For instance, the break-up of the Muslims into three classes: ashrafs, equivalent to the Hindu upper castes; ajlafs, equivalent to the Hindu OBCs; and arzals, equivalent to the Dalits, along with the suggestion that the last two be given the benefits available to the Backwards and Scheduled Castes is an important step forward. The committee has stopped short of recommending reservation, but again, in the education sphere it has proposed a formula for admission into universities and colleges with 60 out of 100 points for merit, but 40 for backwardness to be determined by household income, backward district and backward class.

But the real gap is in the high level committee’s responses to women and minority insecurity that it has spoken of at some length in the opening chapter. It appears, however, to have decided not to steer too deeply into these controversial areas, as the first will bring into focus the indifference and the discrimination against women within the community, and the second will highlight the deliberate acts of omission and commission by the governments in contributing towards the increasing insecurity and fear amongst the Muslims. It is interesting that the committee has not been able to ignore the concerns of the Muslims on these two issues, but after recording the heightened sense of insecurity it has failed to follow this up with specific and far reaching recommendations that would place the onus on both the community and the government to check the discrimination and the growing sense of fear within the Muslims.

The superficial notings about the status of the Muslim women in the report are probably because the Prime Minister failed to include a single woman in his high level committee and thus denied to the committee the benefit of this specific sensitivity and response. For instance, the depositions by the Muslims before the committee has led it to observe that for the large number of Muslim women in India today, the "safe" space is within the boundaries of home and community, but has attributed the specific responses of women to neglect and indifference to the larger "siege"; of "community identity" That this needs to be addressed separately as it leads to deep rooted gender problems is not recognised by the committee that finds solace in the observations of "women participants" in meetings who said that they could "manage" all such issues if they were given the opportunities to education and employment.

The notings on Muslim women invite the homilies that otherwise are not very evident in the report. While noting the problems specific to the education of the Muslim girl child the committee happily observes, "while the education system appears to have given up on Muslim girls, the girls themselves have not given up on education". This is true, but it is a matter of concern when a committee such as this virtually dismisses its responsibility of recommending specific measures to increase the education levels amongst the girls with this observation. It is not true, as the committee has suggested, that poverty and financial constraints are the real reason for the low education amongst Muslim women. It is the result of a conservative mindset as well that is reluctant to allow the women out into the world. The issue of security, as the report has admitted, is also a major concern as parents are reluctant to send their girls to schools in public transport, with a large number of dropouts outs among Muslim girls in primary and middle school levels.

Somehow, at every step of the discussion in the report the needle has swung 360 degrees to get back to the issue of security. Girls are not sent to school because of insecurity; Muslims are moving into ghettos because of insecurity; government schemes are not availed of because of the discriminatory attitude of the authorities, with even Muslim women being badly treated when they apply for something as commonplace as ration cards; women are worst hit as they remain grounded for fear of moving out of their safe neighbourhood; because of insecurity and discrimination Muslims do not see the benefits of formal education as a means to formal employment; highhandedness of the police has contributed largely to the insecurity; Muslims say that they are targeted as ISI agents if they sport a beard and a topi; communal violence has added to the insecurity and displacement of Muslims; it is common to find the names of Muslims missing in the voters’ list of a number of states; the perception of being discriminated against is overpowering amongst a cross section of Muslims, resulting in collective alienation; there is immense fear, a feeling of vulnerability.

These are the findings of the committee and, in fact, this first chapter really sums up what is going on among the largest minority of India these days. It is a fairly straightforward account and even more frightening because of the simplicity of narration. One uses the word frightening, as any responsible and accountable government should be worried and overwhelmed by the knowledge that large sections of its people are living in sub-human conditions today. The Dalits are at the bottom rung despite media reports suggesting otherwise, the Muslims and the Other Backwards are clearly the sections of society that are outside the growth rates that make Prime Minister Singh and his cronies-in-arms Montek Singh Ahluwalia and P. Chidambaram delirious with joy. For them these committees are necessary as diversionary tactics, and can be tolerated so long as they do not put the government in the dock.

It was, therefore, important for the high level committee to have factored in this dominating issue of insecurity into its recommendations. For, clearly by its own indirect admission, progress cannot be possible so long as the Muslims feel vulnerable and insecure. It is also clear from between the lines, that the committee was given a full idea of the helplessness that has engulfed the minorities, and for the first time in independent India the overwhelming insecurity has moved out of pockets to embrace the Muslims as a whole. It is, thus, amazing why this one issue has been ignored in the recommendations that have gone into little details on education and employment, but steered clear of this contentious area where the relationship between governments and the minorities needs to be examined and addressed.

Controversy is what Justice Sachar and his committee has tried to avoid. But in doing so it has listed recommendations that will remain superficial and dependent on the largesse of the government in power, until and unless the very core of the problem is addressed.

See online : Asian Age

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