Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Sachar Committee Report and the State of Muslims in India

Well, the Congress party seems to be going down the same road. When in doubt, and unable to come up with a winning formula, try to be all things to all people and promise everything to everyone. Make a lot of hue and cry so that you do not have to do anything concrete.

A very cryptic beginning to an article, but I believe that this best describes how the Congress party and the Government are going about addressing the needs of the minorities, including that of the Muslim community. The Government set up the Sachar committee, which was roundly criticized by the opposition when it found out the terms of the report. There may be several doubts about the desirability of conducting research to evaluate the status of a religious minority; my apprehensions at that time were that the political bunch typically will use this as an agenda to drive divisive politics . I believe that the findings of the report, in an overall vision, are fair and need to be acted on with one caveat.

The recommendation of the report with respect to reservations can be very divisive. Islam does not believe in the concept of a caste-based separation of mankind, something that Hinduism condoned and which the reservation system seems to be designed to overcome. On the other hand, to treat the entire Muslim community as a minority deserving of reservation would mean that the reservations benefits would be cornered by the well-off.

What I feared subsequently seems to be coming true. What appears to have happened is that the political leaders are essentially harping on an agenda which suits their need, which is to try and derive short-term benefits by promising things that they know they cannot deliver. In addition, the Prime Minister makes statements that he knows will be interpreted by his party men to promise all sorts of his things in the hope that the community will fall for these short-term measures. The other set of political leaders will typically play the other end of the political game and oppose it loudly, thus appealing for the loyalty of their constituents.

Who suffers the most in this?

It is actually the Muslim community, since they do not get what they actually need and instead face more criticism from the majority community with regards to 'appeasement'.

The Government has tried to already implement religion-based reservations in a limited way in Andhra Pradesh, but this was struck down by the courts. The actual judicial reversal was more on a technicality, but from some of the opinions of the judicial system, it seems that such a case before the Supreme Court would meet the same fate.

The Sachar Committe findings on the state of the Muslim community in India make doleful reading, and any citizen would realize that there is no way that the country can progress if such a large minority is getting left behind. It creates too much dissatisfaction, and leads to strains in society. What should the Government be doing to actually help the Muslim community?

It should realize that there are no short term solutions, it should absolutely be totally convinced that it should not promulgate policies just to play to votes and actually be there for the long haul. It should involve community leaders and successful Muslim people (and there are a large number of such people who can be role targets, whether they be in business, in sports, in the entertainment business) to partner to promote a vision of where the broader Muslim community in India can empower themselves through some fair government policies.

The primary need is to ensure that Muslims are adequately represented in the education system at all levels, and that the problematic drop out rates are reversed such that Muslim youngsters get an equal chance to partake of the large employment opportunities becoming available. This will involve a lot of effort - it means spending funds to ensure that Muslim dominated areas have good schools, that these schools do represent main-stream education in
addition to some policies (such as having Urdu as an additional language) so that parents feel induced to sending their children there, it means having to be sure that Muslims do not face discrimination in the educational system including at the higher levels (such as professional courses), it means partnering and working with the religious leaders to make them share the same dream. It also means getting rid of policies that in some manner discriminate against letting Muslim citizens into sensitive ares such as the security forces.

Unless this country does all this, we are in for serious trouble if a wide section of our citizens feel that they are not getting what is due to them or if they are getting left behind in the country's march forward.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 5:25 AM