Discrimination or Equal Opportunity – 2
by Rakesh Sinha on 06 Oct 2009 5 Comments

Implications of Sachar Committee
The Sachar Committee identified the Muslim community as socially, educationally and economically laggard with respect to other Socio-Religious Categories (SRCs) like Hindu General and Hindu OBC. It discovered Muslim social deprivation to be rampant. But the Sachar Committee could not come to a conclusion regarding the exclusive nature of Indian Muslim deprivation as opposed to non-Muslim Indians.


The Hunter Committee had harped on the virtual absence of Muslim representation in the British Indian administration. It did not explicitly blame the British government for the plight of Indian Muslims, but argued that the modern education system introduced by the British Raj was not compatible with the religious demands and aspirations of Muslims. It recommended treating Muslims favourably. This was the first ideological application of the divide and rule theory.


Raja Syed Muhammad Mehdi


There was another report published in 1938 under the chairmanship of Raja Syed Muhammad Mehdi, at the behest of the All India Muslim League. It levelled outrageous allegations that the Congress ministries formed in some provinces in 1937 deliberately denied jobs to the qualified and imposed a ‘Hindu agenda’ in education. The differentiating feature of the Pirpur Report and three other reports issued by the League was that it exclusively blamed Congress (Hindu) leadership for Muslim under-representation in government jobs and educational institutions. It objected to Vande Mataram and use of Hindi as the medium of instruction (Tara Chand, History of the Freedom Movement in India, 1972, Vol. IV: 246-7)


Pirpur Committee Report, 1938 Sachar Committee Report, 2006

 

Pirpur Committee Report, 1938

Sachar Committee Report, 2006

Perception of Muslim community

Marginalized, discriminated, victims of police and administration, religion and culture under threat from the Hindu raj.

Marginalised, discriminated by the state and society, deep-rooted prejudices, suspicious attitude of police and administration etc.

Overall sense of discrimination

Yes

Yes

Responsible for discrimination

Hindu masses, Congress governments

‘Hindu dominated state’

Linguistic discrimination

Neglect of Urdu, preference for Hindi

Neglect of Urdu, preference for Sanskrit

Educational discrimination

Under-representation in educational institutions

Under-representation in educational institutions

Administrative discrimination

Under-representation in services

Under-representation in services

Solution

Disproportionate reservation

Reservation for Muslims



Either Syed Mohammad Mehdi anticipated the Sachar Committee, or Justice Sachar appropriated the findings and ideology of the former. The only difference is that the Mehdi Report was commissioned by the Muslim League, a virulently communal entity, and Sachar’s was commissioned by the UPA government led by the Congress which, ironically, was at the receiving end of the vicious but highly effective League propaganda in 1938. It raised the spectre of ‘Hindu Fascism.’


Some Sachar Committee members suspected a dubious scheme at work. Dr Rakesh Basant, in an e-mail to Justice Sachar, protested the discriminatory approach in the lopsided allocation of the work since “Several of us have been assigned tasks that are a very small part of the ToR. Some of us have tasks that have not been mentioned in the ToR (e.g. Saiyed Hamid), while others’ work cuts across several issues” (Rakesh Sinha, Sachar Report: Conspiracy to divide the Nation, File No. 50, PM’s High Level Sachar Committee Papers, Manuscript Section, Nehru Memorial Museum Library, New Delhi, p.3)


Empirical evidence


The relevant questions are whether Muslims are being discriminated against institutionally by the State, and whether the Indian State and Hindus are prejudiced against them.


The Sachar Committee failed to discover any institutionalized discrimination by the State. It did not diagnose the social-religious factors for Muslim backwardness, nor compare this with the socio-religious conditions of Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, who have made their presence felt in all walks of life and acquired space in education, politics, economic life, and employment.


Without any empirical evidence, the Sachar Committee assumes institutionalized discriminations, ‘there are hardly any empirical studies that establish discrimination [of Muslims]. Research in this area needs to be encouraged…’ (p. 239).


To compensate for the empirical and evidential vacuum, the Sachar Committee devotes a whole chapter to the supposed public perception of Muslims. Such gems as: Muslims need to prove on a daily basis that they are not ‘anti-national’ and ‘terrorists’ (p. 11) Muslims complain they are constantly looked upon with suspicion. Markers of Muslim identity - the burqa, the purdah, the beard and the topi - while adding to the distinctiveness of Indian Muslims have been a cause of concern in the public realm. This one takes the cake: ‘every bearded man is considered an ISI agent.’


Public perceptions cannot be tackled through policy formulation. If such perceptions at all exist, civil society and its agencies should be entrusted to correct them.  Here the role of political parties is equally significant to ensure the progressive unfolding of secular polity and society. The interdependence of people of various castes and communities in trade, commerce and in fulfilling their diverse needs, from health to education, remains undocumented. Despite knowing that most myths are deliberately constructed, the Committee has accepted myths as facts and recommended State action to redress the same.


For instance, the Committee rules out discrimination in selection and interview in UPSC exams, but recommends representation of Muslim experts in interview boards like that of SC & ST (p. 250). Sachar Committee expects the government to address every imaginary case of Muslim discrimination, not because they are real in a qualitative or quantitative sense, but on the circular reasoning that these are common Muslim perceptions. Its writ is fantastically antithetical to the stand of the founding fathers of the Constitution, who realized the anti-national bent of such practices. Muslim member ZH Lari in the Constituent Assembly clarified that,


“I am not one of those who believe that all the supposed or imagined grievances of a minority must be met. They must be reasonable. Their interests can be looked after so long as they are consistent with the national interest.  The moment there is antagonism or conflict between the interest and the interest of the nation, the minority must go to the wall” (CA Debate, Vol. VIII: 287)


What needs to be addressed is the socio-religious perspective of Indian Muslims and the factors which hamper their integration with the mainstream. Instead, the overwhelmingly sectarian mindset of Sachar Committee deliberately ignored the socio-religious resistances within the community and like the Hunter Committee, mischievously applied communal Machiavellianism to deflect the cause of Muslim backwardness on Hindus.


Case for affirmative action


The Sachar Committee abounds in statistical data which has been meticulously manipulated, quoted out of context and rhetorically interplayed to arrive at a scenario which reduces Muslims to the status of most deprived sections of SC/STs and other MBCs; all in the cause of rendering Muslims fraudulently eligible for benefits for affirmative action and reservation.


The Committee took recourse to a peculiar methodology of selectively picking and choosing for consideration only those representations which suited its politico-communal agenda. Such suspicions were accentuated by Rakesh Basant’s complaint that “A large number of data analysis that is being done is of data that many members have never analyzed before and do not have any idea what is and what is not possible” (File No. 50, PM’s High Level Sachar Committee Papers, p.3)


A discriminated religious community should exhibit certain symptoms with regard to health (IMR, lifespan, growth rate), education (literacy, mean years of schooling, female literacy), general living conditions (absence of overcrowding, access to potable water, toilet facilities) and economic status (participation in work force, per capita income). Most of these human development indicators are favourable for Muslims as compared to Hindus, and in certain instances they are even better than the Hindu General (UC).


It is common knowledge that the Muslim population is growing much faster than other communities. In the past 40 years, the total population of India has grown by 134 percent, while that of the Muslims has grown by 194 percent. The gap in the growth rate of Muslims and total population is almost 10 percent. According to reputed demographer Prof. Ashish Bose’s admission, the reason for the exponential Muslim growth is that they have been much less willing to adopt family planning practices as compared to the other communities (rediff.com, 17 September 2004).


Such resistant attitudes are maintained by the Ulema who issue fatwas against contraception. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) for Muslims is higher than the Indian average by 0.7 to 1 points according to different data sources. The Infant Mortality Rate for Muslims is 59, as compared to 77 for Hindus. Even by conservative estimates, the Muslim population in India will not stabilize before it touches the 350 million mark! According to the National Family Health Survey Report, Muslim infant mortality and under-five morality are the lowest, and they have experienced the largest decline in these rates since the 1990s. Sachar does not express satisfaction at these findings.


There is not much difference between average literacy among Hindus at 65 percent and Muslims at 59.1percent. Sachar Committee says primary education is the major hurdle for school education (p. 62). It reports that as many as 25 percent of Muslim children in the 6-14 year age group have either never attended school or have dropped out (but may have attended madarsa/maktab). What Sachar Committee does not cite is data on SC/ST/OBC/MBC and some economically backward UCs who do not have access to any source of education. Only 10 percent of the students in rural India, enrolled for primary education, eventually go on to complete their basic education (NSSO Report No. 473, Literacy and Levels of Education in India, 1999-2000).


While admitting Muslim reluctance to get women educated beyond primary education, the blame is not pinned on the Muslim mindset or the Ulema despite awareness of the existence of ‘a common belief that Muslim parents feel that education is not important for girls and that it may instill a wrong set of values’ (p. 84). The lame excuse of fear for women’s safety amidst male teachers is cited.


Another major reason for educational backwardness of Muslim women is conjectured to be lack of female hostels, though there is no record of such a demand by Muslim women. The Committee shies away from accepting Islamic hostility to female education and the patriarchal nature of Muslim society which deserves to be contested. If other communities can educate their girls through male teachers, why can’t the Muslim community be more liberal? We need a change in mindset; Sachar Committee seeks to reinforce it!


As far as general living conditions of the Muslims are concerned, Muslims seem to be at par with SCs/STs and OBCs with respect to house structure (pucca or not) and slightly better placed regarding toilet facilities as compared to the general population. Conceding that there is no strong indication that Muslim concentration in villages has less infrastructural facilities, Sachar still arrives at a specious conclusion: 
“However, the provisioning of infrastructure in states with substantial Muslim concentration like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and Jharkhand is a matter of concern. The concentration of Muslims in states lacking infrastructural facilities implies that a large proportion of the Community is without access to basic services” (p. 144)


This is a classic reduction ad absurdum argument; it claims Muslims do not find access to basic services, yet admits there is no evidence for less infrastructural facilities. Sachar indulges in sophistry to universalize lack of Muslim access to facilities in BIMARU states where access for all communities is significantly lesser than the national average.


The economic divide is not as grim as painted by the SCR. It is true that the per capita income of Muslims is lower than that of Hindus, but the fact is that a Muslim household larger than a comparative Hindu household. Secondly, the status of the Muslim woman causes the Muslim family to lose a potentially valuable wage earner.


The percentage of population living in urban areas is one of the highest among the Muslim community. Usually, urbanization is associated with better Human Development Indicators. The Sachar Committee Report repeatedly points at the anomaly in case of Muslim urban population which was lagging behind all Socio-Religious Community except the SC/STs. It highlights the incidence of poverty among Muslims in urban areas is highest with a Head Count Ratio of 38.4 percent. While glossing over the favourable finding that the intensity of poverty is much lower among Muslims as compared to other SRCs except H-General in rural areas (p. 158), the Committee repeatedly stresses the modest fall in poverty for urban Muslims as also Muslim urban literacy levels being lower than all SRCs except SCs/STs among both genders. 


These findings are not inconsistent when we consider that Muslims in urban areas mainly live in old cities (out of historical reasons), ghettoes and slums (rural migrants). Access to health and educational services for all communities living at such places is, in general, limited and does not point towards any distinct backwardness of the Muslim community.


Sachar laments the under-representation of Muslim graduates in professional fields, and in Union and State Public Service Commissions, police and other elements of the public sector, despite its admission that ‘The low aggregate work participation ratios for Muslims are essentially due to much lower participation in economic activity by women in the community’ (p. 89). Is not Justice Sachar being queerly querulous when he explicitly claims to be not bothered if the Muslim population became the largest group, since: ‘…how does it matter which population is the largest?’ (p. 245) becomes by the same yardstick: how does it matter which religious group dominates the public sector?


Justice Sachar’s anguish for the Muslim population is nothing but a rhetorical attempt to overemphasize his secular credentials. How could he de-contextualize the issue for rapidly growing populations of the community/communities when he is seeking reservation/clearly marked quota for Muslims solely on the basis of religion? The history of India and the role played by the Muslim League in connivance with British imperialism in the partition of India, and frequent communal clashes naturally lead to the issue of comparative demography. Empty words can do more harm than good to the nation.


Similarly, the under-representation of Muslims in the police or judiciary in the absence of any discrimination against Muslim complainants is immaterial; any implicit insinuation of religious bias is defamatory, based on hearsay and lacks any critically documented evidence. 


(To be continued…)
The author is director, India Policy Foundation; he can be reached at indiapolicy@gmail.com

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