On the margins
The Muslims continue to suffer amidst loud minority politics
This November, it will be exactly nine years after ahigh level committee under the chairmanship of Justice (Retired) Rajinder Sacharsubmitted a comprehensive report on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community of India. This was the first time in India that such an extensive study on the socio-economic status of the community was done.
Acting on the recommendation of the committee, the government took several decisions and a statement in this regard was laid in both Houses of Parliament in August 2007. The government accepted 72 outof 76 recommendations/suggestions; the three recommendations which the government did not accept related to enumeration of castes/groups as a part of decennial census exercise, creation of a new All India Cadre of officers to manage the affairs of State Waqf Boards and Central Waqf Council, and having an alternative admission criteria to facilitate admissions to the most backward amongst all the SRCs in the regular universities and autonomous colleges. The accepted recommendations were lumped in 43 decisions and action points.
While the government did set measurable parameters to check the time bound progress in the implementation process, the entire effort falls short of the desired result for various reasons. Lack of harmony in action of the Centre and the state is said to be a major reason because states play a crucial role in centrally-funded schemes and the political leadership at the two levels oftendon’t work in unison.
As a result, even after eight years of the committee, the Muslims as are virtually lagging behind all other communities and a trend of relative deterioration is observed in almost all spheres of day-to-day life. Especially in the field of education, the situation is of grave concern.
According to a study by the Pew Research Centre, India will probably have 23.6crore Muslims in two decades’ time, on a par with Indonesia (which has the world’s biggest Muslim population). That is a lot, but is still under a fifth of India’s total population. These figures indicate a pressing need for the welfare of the community as it is much poorer and less educated than average. Against an average of above 70 per cent, literacy amongMuslims is around 59 per cent. While 26 per cent of all Indians aged 17 years and above have completed matriculation, this percentage is only 17 per cent amongst Muslims. The Mean Years of Schooling among children of age group of 7- 16 years is lowest among Muslims at around 3.4 years whereas for others it is above 5 years. Also, only 7 per cent of Muslims have graduate degree and diplomas against about 7 per cent of the overall population aged 20 years and above. While Muslims start with an above average enrollment are dropping out much faster than normal. Further, a comparison of the probability estimates for completion of higher secondary and graduation suggests that Muslims are at a greater disadvantage at the higher secondary level resulting in a much lower size of Muslim population being eligible for higher education.
The Sachar Committee identified poverty as the Main Cause of Low levels of Education, poor access to schools andlow perceived returns from education among Muslim community. While poverty among Muslims is explicit, the other factors deserve further elaboration. A mere physical existence of a school in the vicinity does not ensure access to quality education. As the report admits, government schools that do exist in Muslim neighborhoods are merely centers of low quality education for the poor and marginalized. The poor quality of teaching and absent teachers, in turn, necessitate high cost inputs like private tuition, particularly in the case of first generation learners from the Muslim community. This has a negative impact on retention and school completion. Thus, poverty again has a causal link with access to education among Muslims.
Low expectation of return from attending schools is another factor for lack of motivation towards education. Since the community does not see a lot of Muslims youths becoming successful by virtue of going to school, it apparently does not promise much of immediate return to people who rather pay attention to vocations that pay an earlier return. This happens due to abysmally low representation of Muslims in public and private sector jobs. Many of us would agree that after Independence, the identity politics have played key role in elections. The Muslims have been treated as ‘vote banks’ that attract attention only during elections or at a time when bomb blast or any terrorist activities take place. This practice attaches a set of prejudices towards Muslims, and this ultimately results in social and economic exclusion. Time and again the conditions of Muslims have found space in social and political discourse, but rarely transformed into action.
As the problem is complicated, the solutions need to be innovative. The mainstreaming and improving the plight of minorities stands as a challenge to Muslims as a community and the government as the state. Muslims as a community, will have to bear their share of the burden by actively engaging themselves to the discussion as to what are the reasons behind their poor participation and performance, what could be solutions and how they could be implemented. Muslim leadership and civil societies must become pro-active rather than maintaining a reactive stance.
The government, on its part, must provide a platform for equitable participation and inclusive growth. First of all, creating sufficient awareness about various existing facilities, schemes and programs is very important. Affirmative actions to address the serious issue need to be undertaken. Muslims being as backward as SCs/STs, are not getting the benefits of reservations simply because their religious identity. So, this issue needs to be given due consideration so that reservation can be extended to Muslims like any other community.
Seeing the under-participation of the community, it becomes imperative to provide reservations at all levels of education just as SC/STs are given. It becomes even more important at the primary, secondary, higher secondary levels since these form the foundation for higher education. Sachar Committee had recommended the government should allocate 10 per cent of the seats in existing NavodayVidyalayas, the 3500 Model Schools to be set up under the directives of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) declared in April 2010, and any other similar public institutions for Muslims.