1 June-2014, ASGHAR ALI ENGINEER: Indian Muslims are very much in news these days after the Sacchar Committee Report was submitted to the Prime Minister. Though it has not revealed anything new about Indian Muslims, yet since its contents are under discussion, much light is being shed on their plight. Before Sacchar Committee, Indira Gandhi had appointed Gopal Singh High Power Committee in 1980, which had submitted its report to Mrs. Gandhi in 1982.



Gopal Singh Committee had also worked hard to collect valuable data and made concrete suggestions for improving the economic condition of Muslims. However, the report was an election gimmick and was not even tabled in Parliament, let alone be implemented in right earnest. When I suggested to Shri V.P. Singh when he was Prime Minster, in a Muslim leaders’ and intellectuals’ meeting to implement the report, V.P.Singh said which Gopal Singh Report? He did not know that such a report was submitted to the Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi. He promised to table the report in the next session of Parliament but his Government fell on the Question of Babri Masjid. The Report remained in the cold storage.

Now Sacchar Committee has once again collected data on Indian Muslims quite painstakingly and Sacchar Committee also had the advantage of having as its Member Secretary noted statistician Saleh Abu Shariff who knew great deal about collecting and collating statistical data. Also, the Committee had Justice Sacchar as its Chairman, an eminent judge committed to human rights and minority rights. Justice Sacchar was long associated with PUCL (People’s Union for Civil Liberties), a premier organisation on human rights in India.

Also the Committee had as its member Syed Hamid, former Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University and now Chancellor of Jamia Hamdard, a deemed to be university and highly experienced person in minority affairs. Syed Hamid is an experienced administrator and greatly committed to secular and democratic values. Thus the Sacchar Committee was eminently qualified to study and recommend measures for economic improvement of Indian Muslims.

The report has been submitted to the Prime Minister Shri Manmohan Singh. The data of course is embarrassing for the Government as it shows Muslims have slipped even below dalits in government jobs and poverty line and literacy level. The national literacy average is around 65% whereas among Muslims it is around 59 percent. The share of Muslims in govt jobs in almost all states is far below their population.

In Assam their population is 30.9 percent whereas their percentage in government jobs is just 11.2. Shockingly with all left front government’s commitment to minorities, the percentage of Muslims in West Bengal government jobs is just 4.2 percent though their population in that state is 25.2 percent. In Kerala Muslim percentage in government jobs is 10.4 as against their population of 24.7 percent. In the largest state of Uttar Pradesh their share in jobs is 5.1 percent though their population there is 18.5 per cent.

In Bihar their plight is a shade better with 7.6 percent share in government jobs whereas their population is 16.5 percent in Bihar. Delhi, under the very nose of Central Government their share in government jobs is 3.2 as against their population of 11.7 per cent. Not so surprisingly their plight in Southern states like Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka it is far better with 8.8 and 8.5 per cent respectively whereas their population in these two states is 9.2 and 12.3 per cent. Gujarat also is not so disappointing with share of Muslims in government jobs being 5.4 percent as against their population of 9.1 per cent.

In IAS, IPS and IFS their share hardly exceeds 2.5 to three percentages. It is dismal situation indeed. Now the important question is who is to blame? Muslims, their leadership or the government? I think the question is very complex. Firstly most of the Muslims in India are converts from various dalit, OBC and artisan castes. They were poor before conversion and remained poor after conversion.

Even the ruling class Muslims during medieval ages had absolutely no sympathy with these low caste Muslims. They were referred to as ajlaf or kamin zaten (Muslims of lowly origin) and sunned. These low caste Muslims never acquired higher status in the caste-ridden society of India. Short of untouchability every other evil was there. Thus one reason for their low economic status is historical in nature.

Secondly partition of the country delivered a hard blow to Indian Muslims. The upper feudal class Muslims and Muslims belonging to middle and upper middle classes and those holding higher posts in ICS, IPS, Army etc. migrated to Pakistan leaving mostly poor and illiterate Muslims behind. These poor Muslims had no role in creating Pakistan and they had no advantage in migrating to Pakistan and hence they remained here. This is another cause of poverty among Muslims today in India.

The Sacchar Committee Report as well as the Gopal Singh Power Committee report before had clearly indicated that most of the Muslims are self-employed and more Muslims live in urban areas than the Hindus. Reason is they are mostly artisans like weavers, bangle makers, glassware makers, brassware makers, dealers in animals for slaughter etc. And these trades are passed on from generation to generation and so there is not much importance attached to literacy and government jobs.

But technology is changing fast and in this globalised world it is education and technical qualifications, which matter. A small new middle class has emerged amongst the Muslims mostly from artisan classes who aspire for more education and jobs both in government and in private sector. There is one difference between the old and this newly emerged middle class. The old middle class came from feudal class, which was leisurely, highly cultured and influential.

The new middle class is emerging from artisan classes and so is hard working, not so cultured and much less influential. Also, earlier middle class did not have to face tough competition. The new middle class, on the other hand, needs very high qualifications and has to face tough competition in this global economy. With no influence and no facilities to quip themselves with high -class education for new jobs, they need greater educational facilities. Neither government has done much for them nor their own leaders are interested in helping them. These leaders, quite unlike Sir Syed, do not want to work hard for their poor fellow Muslims but want to politically exploit their plight and acquire political clout. These leaders also continued for long time to emotionally exploit poor Muslims even at the cost of their economic progress.

And the government less said the better. All secular parties including the Congress and Janta Dal and others who, swear by secularism, have not done anything concrete for poor and downtrodden Muslims. They do announce some schemes at the time of elections to lure them for votes but all those schemes are quietly dumped as soon as elections are over. No one even mentions them.

No one knows what will be the fate of Sacchar Committee Report also. This time media has given wide coverage to it. Elections in important states like U.P. are due and Muslim vote in U.P. plays important role. It all depends how Muslim leaders bargain with various parties.

One important question is whether Dalit Muslims should be given reservation like Hindu Dalits or not? Sacchar Committee has wisely avoided to recommending reservation though it has recommended equal opportunity commission to be set up like the one in U.K. and other countries. Short of reservation the Committee wants government to make all possible efforts to recruit Muslims and expand job opportunities for them. In this competitive age, without especial efforts, it is very difficult to get them jobs.

The new Muslim middle class, as pointed out before, is neither highly cultured nor influential and hence cannot easily get jobs. Its plight in private sector is still worse. Liberalisation provides great opportunities but only to highly qualified and efficient persons. It is true that government jobs are shrinking and private jobs are on the increase. Dalit leaders are now pushing for reservations in private companies. However, if Muslim leaders demand reservation for dalit Muslims, there will be stiff opposition not only from the Sangh Parivar but also from many secularists. Reservation does not evoke favourable response even for Dalits and OBCs. For Muslims it will evoke huge opposition and will push up communal tension. It will provide Sangh Parivar with an issue they are eagerly looking for.

Also, strangely enough, some Muslim leaders themselves oppose reservation for Dalit Muslims saying there is no caste system among Muslims and if reservation is to be given it should be given for entire Muslim community. It will not be accepted even for dalit Muslims, let alone the entire community. And in either case one has to amend the Constitution as reservations are provided for on caste basis in the Constitution, not on religion basis. To amend it one needs support from all political parties, which will obviously not be coming forth.

Thus best thing will be, as recommended by the Sacchar Committee, to set up equal opportunity commission and also provide additional facilities for education and coaching to Muslims. Also, artisans should get low rate interest from nationalised banks, it will greatly boost up economic situation of artisans who have to borrow from private lenders at very high rate of interest. Government should make it obligatory for nationalised and even private sector banks to reserve funds to lend to the poor dalits and minorities at low rate of interest. If economic situation of artisans improve, their children will go to better schools and will thus be more qualified for good jobs.

Also, the left parties have suggested that all departments of the government, state as well as Centre, should spend at least 15% for Muslims and Left Front Government has already taken decision to do so. Thus Left Front Government of West Bengal has shown the way. Muslims are 15% in population and expenditure from budget on them in proportion to their population is a much better alternative to reservation.

(Input source: CSSS)