A debate is likely to be triggered by the Union minister for minority affairs, Mr Salman Khurshid’s proposal for reservations for Muslims in Central institutions of education and employment.
Though the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission and the Minority Commission in their reports recommended 10 per cent reservations for Muslims based on their social and educational backwardness, so far the Indian state has not taken any steps in that direction.
In this context, we must appreciate the minister for taking the initiative. Though certain sections would say that this proposal is being made keeping the Uttar Pradesh elections in mind, it is still an issue that needs to be dealt with.
Several commissions — the Gopal Singh Commission, the Ranganath Mishra Commission and the Sachar Committee — have examined the socio-economic conditions of Muslims and come to the conclusion that the condition of Indian Muslims is as bad as that of people from other weaker sections.
In terms of employment, their position is, in fact, worse than that of SC/STs. According to a white paper prepared by the All-India Milli Council (AIMC) and presented to former prime minister, Mr I.K. Gujral, in 1998, there were only 116 Muslims out of a total of 3,883 administrative service officers (2.98 per cent), 45 out of 1,433 police service officers (3.14 per cent) and 57 out of 2,159 foreign service officers (2.64 per cent).
In other words, in the Central government, Muslims constituted 1.6 per cent of all class I officers, 3.9 per cent of all class II officers and 4.4 per cent of the technical supervisory staff. The situation has not changed even now.
The Sachar Committee concluded that in 12 states where the Muslim share in total population is 15.4 per cent, their representation in government jobs is only 5.7 per cent.
In police, administrative and diplomatic services their representation varies from 1.6 to 3.4 per cent. Other studies have shown that Muslims are poorly represented in judiciary and military and are almost absent in intelligence agencies such as the RAW and the NSG because they are mistrusted.
These statistics and the assessment of various commissions and committees go to show that there is a need for affirmative action for Muslims, especially in the spheres of education and employment, where they are worse off than some of the historically backward castes within the fold of Hinduism. But how did this happen?
Muslims as a community study the Quran, then how and why did such a religious community remain backward in literacy rate and education?
According to the 2001 census, the Muslim literacy rate is 60 per cent against 75.5 per cent of Hindus. The Christian literacy rate is 90.3 per cent, the Sikh literacy rate is 70.4 per cent, for Buddhists it is 73 per cent and Jains’ literacy rate is the highest, at 95 per cent.
We can understand the Jains having the highest literacy rate because the community constitutes mostly the Baniyas who live by trade. All the Jains, therefore, at least make their children literate.
Obviously, the Hindu literacy rate includes the literacy rate among the SCs, which is 54.69 per cent, and the STs, whose literacy rate is just 47.10 per cent. Overall the Hindu literacy rate has grown quite well, as against that of the Muslims. The phenomenal rise of SC, ST and OBC literacy rate in the recent past is because of the hope of getting jobs through the instrument of reservation.
If one goes by the evolutionary history of Islam, there is clear evidence that it was a religion that brought a revolution in the sphere of reading and writing in the Arab world. Then why does such rampant educational backwardness exists among Indian Muslims? Why are people who read the Holy Book illiterate? One reason could be that most of the Muslims in India are converts from lower and untouchable castes.
Unlike a poor Dalit, a poor Muslim lives without the hope of a job. The Muslim poor are not so worried about their education because there are no job opportunities for them. Though the Muslim population is more urbanised than the SC, ST and OBC population, their educational awareness is confined to reading of the Quran, whereas the SC, ST and OBCs are more worried about their children not getting English education. The failure, therefore, is of both their religious leadership and the political leadership.
After the September 11 attacks, the lives of Muslims became more insulated. Even in elite English-medium schools Muslim children face discrimination and suspicion. In many non-Muslim middle-class and upper-middle class colonies they do not even get a house on rent nor can they buy one. Untouchability has come to them in another form — through religion, not caste.
An all-India reservation debate alone can open up their closed mind in relation to education, or, at least, create a churning among the Muslim intelligentsia. But reservation for Muslims should not be pitted against the OBC 27 per cent quota. The debate must also look at the 50 per cent cap that the Supreme Court of India imposed on the national reservation formula but did not explain the reason and logic behind it.