INDIA-RELIGION-ISLAM-RAMADAN
Indian Muslim students recite the Holy Quran at Madarasatul Imam Anwarullah during the holy month of Ramadan in Hyderabad on August 1, 2012. Like millions of Muslim around the world, Indian Muslims celebrate the month of Ramadan by abstaining from eating, drinking and smoking as well as sexual activities from dawn to dusk. AFP PHOTO / Noah SEELAM
Shams Kabir
Muslims, Come 2020

Continuing with our coverage of different sections of the economy and society as envisaged five years from now, which makes the cover feature of Swarajya’s latest issue in print, we now deal with a community. That Muslims have received neglect and discrimination from government and society alike is undeniable. However, there are demons in the mindset of their own kind that they must fight to be mainstreamed.

Trying to crystal gaze into the lot of Muslims in India, come 2020, is at best a perilous task. Daily turmoil is caused by radical Muslims around the globe resulting in stigmatization and variable treatment of the community in societies where they live in a minority. This aspect, which is largely the reason for the Islamophobia that sweeps the globe, coupled with the expected economic change that is hoped will sweep India and whose effects cannot be really predicted in any real measure at this point in time, especially not the benefits it might hold for the minorities, makes it difficult to crystal gaze for any social or economic trends.

The past, however, might hold some clues for us. One of the benchmark studies that one uses to understand the status of Muslims in Indian society is the Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee Report (SCR) of 2006. The post-Sachar Committee evaluation report was commissioned in 2013 and results tabled in 2014. Seven years after the original study was commissioned! A note about the post-Sachar report, commonly referred to as the Kundu Panel/Committee Report.(KPR), was mandated among other things to evaluate the process of implementation of the SCR recommendations and the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme for the welfare of the religious minorities. A sound mandate, but the Ministry of Minority Affairs (MoMA) has not made the report public. It may never. We have precedent and a government that aims to be different and bring about a difference but is one that justifies its wrongs by quoting those of earlier dispensations at its every misstep.

Indira Gandhi had appointed the Gopal Singh High Power Committee in 1980, which had submitted its report in 1982. The Gopal Singh Committee surveyed Muslims extensively and made concrete suggestions for improving the economic condition of Muslims. The report was an election gimmick and was not even tabled in Parliament, let alone implemented. VP Singh, the following prime minister, when queried about it, did not even know of its existence. Will the KPR see the light of day? It might not. But even if it does, as regards implementation of its recommendations, years after the SCR had been written and tabled in Parliament, far from acting on its findings, not a single area of intervention was initiated by the state.

Not till 2011. The KPR tabled will definitely entail an exposure of the lack of implementation of SCR recommendations and a further decline in the lot of Muslims. And it is not difficult to understand the official apathy to the SCR or the KPR since the partisan officialdom is itself the cause of the problems enunciated in the reports.

The findings of the Sachar Committee report were along predictable lines and did not actually throw up anything new. With the apathy of the state and the discrimination that Muslims have faced in society since Partition, every Muslim knows that there has been a gradual decline in the lot of the community. The Muslims’ condition has declined even relative to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC and ST), who constituted 22.5 per cent of the population at the time of the SCR.

SC-ST were considered lagging the average so badly in 1947 that the Constitution reserved 22.5 per cent of all government jobs for them, along with other forms of affirmative action. As per the SCR, today the condition of Muslims is worse or at best equal to those of the SC-ST. One can make his own assessment whether corrective measures taken for their economic alleviation need to be called ‘appeasement measures’.

Voltaire stated, “All the citizens of a state cannot be equally powerful, but they may be equally free.” As democracy rewards majority, the minority logically will not be as powerful, but what is alarming is that Muslims are denied equality, one of the cornerstones of democracy. The ‘othering’ of the Muslims is quite apparent and plain to see. Every thinking Muslim in the country knows the deck is stacked against him and his lot.

The increased ghettoization of Muslims is evidence of the fact. Muslims from all classes find refuge in the ghettos, staying there primarily for personal safety reasons. It is not an uncommon site to see a BMW emerge from Juhapura. The ghettos are living and growing examples of official and public apathy. SCR remarks that “living in ghettos… has not been to the advantage of the community… (It) has made them easy targets for neglect by municipal and government authorities. Water, sanitation, electricity, schools, public health facilities, banking facilities, anganwadis (child care centres), ration shops (subsidized public food distribution shops), roads and transport facilities—is all in short supply in these areas… Increasing ghettoization of the Community implies a shrinking space for it in the public sphere…”

The primary task that lies ahead for the Muslims of the country is to reclaim the space that they enjoyed in the public sphere. And to ensure that they can lay claim to the constitutional guarantee of equality. And they are well aware of the fact and they know the solution as well. Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts find an echo amongst the Muslims. He had stated that “education is the panacea to all social evils”. Muslims realising that if they have to enjoy the benefits of capitalism and development, must educate themselves, are doing so in larger numbers. A reflection of the desire of the community to swim the mainstream is evidenced by the fact that even the madrassas, where all of 4 per cent Muslim youth study, have expanded their curriculum to include mathematics and science and ready their students to give the regular board exams.

The scholarship schemes run by the MoMA are performing. Pre-matriculation scholarships have risen from 3 lakh in 2008-09 to 40 lakh each in 2012-13 and 2013-14 with a percentage achievement ranging from 115-221 per cent with Muslims as main beneficiaries. This means that in some years, more than twice the scholarship targets were achieved.

But a note of caution needs to be sounded here. A new study by an American think tank, the US-India Policy Institute, assessing progress since the Sachar report, bluntly concludes that Muslims have “not shown any measurable improvement”. Even in education, Muslims’ gains are typically more modest than other groups. Again official apathy and the disability to differentiate as to what might constitute appeasement and what necessary, are the reasons for the Muslims not getting the requisite support in their attempts to educate themselves. Aside of the discrimination experienced in enrolling to schools, scholarships to them have been denied.

The Maulana Azad Education Foundation is one of many government schemes and institutions for the promotion of educational, social and economic status of the minorities. Media has not tired of speaking at length of this institution. In 2012-13, the government sanctioned Rs 100 crore for this institution, but released just 1 lakh, which was not spent.

Government also sets budgets to support the students clearing preliminary examinations conducted by UPSC, SSC, State Public Services Commission etc. For the year 2012-13 it sanctioned Rs 4 crore; Rs 2 lakh was released, not a penny was spent.

In 2008-09, Rs 99.90 crore was assigned for post-matriculation scholarships, but only Rs 69.93 crore was sanctioned. Whereas in 2012-13, Rs 500 crore was proposed for this scheme, and Rs 340.75 crore was made available out of which 326.55 crore was spent.

For the scheme for promotion of education in 100 minority concentrated towns, out of 251 such town/cities identified as backward the central government sanctioned a budget of Rs 50 crore in 2012-13, but a merely Rs 4 lakh was released, not a penny spent.

There are hopes for a turnaround in the attitude of the government. This has been sparked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi enunciating that more educational institutions should be built in minority concentrated areas. A big departure from when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat and his government was the only state government in the country which was not willing to bear the 25 per cent share of the Centre-sponsored pre-matriculation scholarship scheme for the minorities. The matter went up to the Supreme Court before it was ruled in favour of the minorities.

There are innumerable such cases. It does not serve the Muslims to talk about it much more. They have. To no avail. Their amelioration lies in helping themselves, the help from the judiciary and civic action notwithstanding. Again, there is a realisation of this aspect in the community. More and more Muslim run/owned educational institutions are coming up in minority dominated areas fuelled by the demand for education.

Yasheng Huang is a professor in international management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he founded and heads the China Lab and India Lab. He has researched human capital formation in China and India. On studying the differences between the Indian and Chinese workforces, he indicates that for India to catch up there needs to be better representation of women in the work force. He enunciates that the only place that India lags China is in the formation of and use of human capital, human capital being directly tied in to productivity of a population.

Drawing his argument further, if more and more disadvantaged demographics like women are denied adequate participation in the work force, there is no way that India can catch up with China. It is a simple argument really and one that must have taken hold of Indian economists and hopefully the state. And if the prime minister’s utterances are anything to go by, then he is seized of the issue and is doing something about it. If adequate attention had been paid to the plight of the Muslims in the past, there would have been no need of any ‘appeasement’ at this time or in the future.

Before concluding, I would like to dwell on two aspects about the community that agitate me and which I feel are counterproductive to their efforts at achieving their rightful constitutional guarantees. The first, and one which agitates me most, is where you witness mindless mayhem of the Azad Maidan sort. Everything about the agitation was unconstitutional. The entire episode was ironic for a community trying to achieve constitutional relief. It is also ironic that no Muslim community, anywhere in the world, goes out on candlelight marches for any cause or misfortune of the Indian Muslim community. It is also an incontrovertible fact that the highest number of Muslims in the world is being killed by other Muslims. Forget about agitating. We have enough troubles of our own and have a great responsibility. We cannot waylay our goals with such immature action.

The foremost heroes of the community in India committed their entire lives to ensure our future, as a country, and not for just Muslims, while agitating in a non-violent manner. This is the land of Gandhi. It would be well, that we honour them, by emulating them and using their means.

The second aspect of agitation is that of the boundaries that need to be drawn for religion. If we seek the secular ideal, which requires the government to be equidistant from all religions, then we have a responsibility. Simply put, the religious leaders or leaders who stress religion should have no say in our political discourse. It would be well if we kept it a private affair. It would be a wonderful idea to privately read English translations of the Qur’an to really understand it. It will convince you, if you are not already, the Qur’an is the exclusive scripture that one needs subscribe to in order to be a true Muslim. This is an incontrovertible fact. For to say otherwise is to challenge the Quran.

If education be our panacea then it would be well to follow the ideal of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the prophet of education. Among the most essential aspects to note about his legacy is how he set out to ameliorate the lot of the Muslims without seeking official help. The Aligarh Muslim University is a testimonial to his resilience. Muslims in India can help themselves. And they must.

If things pan out on the education front, one can expect that by 2020, some of the discrepancies like inadequate representation of Muslims in the work force, both public and private, might start to be rectified. And with education comes a distancing from religion. Most particularly the radical in religion. The future of the Muslims and that of India depends on their being educated.