Secular problem, Communal solutions!
There are numerous instances where the Sachar Committee has been overly magnanimous in recommending state action for Muslims. We shall examine some clauses with a bearing on Muslim education and employment since the proposed Equal Opportunities Commission intends to simultaneously promote equal opportunities in education/employment and prevent discrimination which causes denial of the same.
1] The Sachar Committee found very low participation of Muslims in the political sphere and felt they could not influence events in their developmental process. It suggested introduction of ‘mechanisms’ to engage them in the democratic process. But why are Muslims not joining mainstream politics and contributing to the democratic process as citizens? The Committee’s Muslim members with the consent of the chairman played a subversive role by communally interpreting the electoral process and citizenry; they revived the pre-colonial Muslim League agenda of creating Muslim constituencies.
Its regressive political solution is de-reserving Scheduled Caste constituencies where Muslim population is greater through a process of ‘rational delimitation,’ because the reserved status of all constituencies which has proved detrimental to minority interest needs to be withdrawn before the next Lok Sabha elections so that justice is restored to Muslims across the country (Sachar Papers, File no. 85: 11).
This reminds us of the Morley-Minto Reforms which introduced the poisonous ideology of communal electorates and permanently strained Hindu-Muslim relations, leading to Partition. By delimiting constituencies with significant Muslim population, it is expected that Muslim voters will polarize themselves into voting for a Muslim candidate or at most, one who will be compelled to exclusively pander to Muslim interests.
There is a tacit communally-charged insinuation that a Hindu leader would be against Muslim development - the same malicious accusation which the Muslim League levelled against the Congress Party and its leaders during British rule.
2] A concern was raised over presumed bias against Muslim candidates appearing in civil services examinations. The Sachar Committee suspected institutional discrimination, though it previously highlighted the proportion of Muslim graduates, especially female, to be lowest among all socio-religious groups. Obviously, in the absence of basic graduation, the number of Muslim graduates eligible to appear in UPSC/professional exams is bound to be lower as compared to other groups, which accounts for their under-representation in Central and State Commission services.
Sachar was not ashamed of raising this baloney when there have been two Muslim chairmen of the UPSC – AR Kidwai (1973-79) and JM Quraishi (1998-2001) – and over a dozen Muslims members of the Commission. They uniformly rejected the theory of discrimination against Muslims in promotion, and supported the theory of Muslim education lag (p. 49). Muslims hold visible and top positions in the Railways, such as Muhammad Shafi of Railway Recruitment Board (p. 50). Hence, the Sachar Committee recommendation that Muslim experts sit on interview boards to increase the participation of Muslims in government employment programmes is specious.
3] Sachar raises the problem of under-representation in technical and scientific education, but instead of checking its root cause, prefers escapism. Till 1971, Muslims qualified in technical education conveniently got visas for Pakistan. Why didn’t the Committee mention this while analyzing the question of under-representation of Muslims in the technical field?
Reforms in madarsas have been opposed as an intervention in the internal affairs of the community. Another major concern is the outdated, unscientific, restrictive and sometimes frankly bigoted madarsa education which pious Muslims prefer and jealously guard against the ‘corrupting influences’ of modern secular education.
4] The most debased and immoral trend in the Sachar Committee reflected in its demand for a Muslim head count in the Indian Army. General J.J. Singh army flatly refused to oblige. Undeterred, Sachar wrote to the Defense Ministry demanding a statistical answer, but the Joint Head of the Defense Ministry rebutted Sachar’s move and reiterated that ‘Selection in the army is based on ability and is open to all citizens which includes the Muslim community. We do not discriminate on the basis of caste, religion or region. Therefore, the army cannot provide any separate statistic for Muslim composition’ (Vol. 1, Serial No. 32: 16).
Nevertheless, the Committee was successful in creating a communal discourse on the armed forces in the media. It had the gall to say the Army made ‘unnecessary fuss about this on grounds of regimental spirit and cohesion.’
Rationale behind the EOC
The Sachar Committee recommended setting up an Equal Opportunity Commission though its terms of reference do not warrant constitution of any body for multiple deprived groups, as it was exclusively restricted to the condition of Indian Muslims. It seems the EOC was also expected to be committed exclusively towards Muslim interests.
The Ministry for Minority Affairs issued a notification for constitution of an expert group to examine and determine the structure and functions of an EOC. The Expert Group was formed under the chairmanship of Prof. NR Madhav Menon ‘to examine and determine the structure and function of an Equal Opportunity Commission.’ This suggests that the Minister for Minority Affairs (MMA) will be a part of the Committee which would select/appoint members of the EOC, ignoring the SC/ST/OBC/disabled/women committees which compromise more than 70 percent of the population. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment was excluded from appointing members to the EOC.
To maintain MMA hegemony over the EOC, the Expert Group recommended formation of regional EOCs (REOCs) instead of State EOCs (SEOCs). This was because the Expert Group has given responsibility to appoint REOCs to the same body that is to appoint the EOC. Had the EG opted for SEOCs, the appointment model of the National Human Rights Commission would have been followed, where members of the State Human Rights Commission are appointed by a committee of the Chief Ministers and Home ministers of the respective states, among others.
For a Commission whose scope and ambit is so vast, the recommendation for its creation by the myopic and parochial Sachar Committee Report limited to the interests of the Muslim community is incongruous. Muslim activists alone have vociferously supported the proposal for establishment of an EOC.
There are separate organizations to look after the concerns of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Women, Minorities; hence the danger of overlapping jurisdictions.
The EOC will be an instrument to communalize the entire education system, competitive examinations and entrepreneurships. The communal approach of identifying Muslims as a separate target group is bound to create fissures in society and politics. Moreover, to push religious communities into development discourse as a binary opposition is an exercise fraught with grave danger to the unity and integrity of the nation. There is a tendency for religious identities to become sharpened, polarized and accentuated when religious groups are in proximity to each other, especially when they are competing for scarce resources. The enterprise of development should not factor in religious groups and identities, as such a move is fraught with dangers. This could lead to an undermining of the concept of citizenship that requires being privileged and strengthened.
The proposed EOC excludes individuals who suffer from the denial from the system and reinforces group identity as its real constituency for redressal of grievances or discrimination. Sachar thus divided the members of civil society into Socio-Religious Communities (SRC). The social philosophy of the UPA identified Muslims (SRC) as victims. No other identity is relevant for the EOC.
The efficiency and urgency for setting up the EOC has to be understood in the light of the role played by the ruling Congress party since Independence. It has recreated strong political categories of ‘majority’ and ‘minorities’, taking its cue from India’s colonial antecedents. This has paid rich dividends in terms of electoral gains; it reaped a rich harvest in the recent elections through promising the minorities religious reservations in all state sectors.
More pertinently, as the EOC is bound to the rule of ‘historical burden of circumstances’ test, it is amply clear that Muslims cannot come under the purview of affirmative-action based legislation as during the medieval period, Muslims, including fresh converts to Islam, comprised the dominant socio-economic group. All Hindus, irrespective of caste were dhimmis or second class citizens and were subject to at least 20 humiliating subjections.
The Muslims of India, even admitting their complex social stratification and separate group identities, have generally experienced satisfactory opportunities.
The author is honorary director, India Policy Foundation; he can be reached at
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