In a fleeting moment of generosity and apparently to acknowledge the Muslim role in returning Congress to power after years in wilderness, the prime minister had picked up eminent jurist Justice Rajinder Sachar to probe the condition of the community. You didn’t need a Supreme Court judge to assess the state of Muslims. It’s there for everyone to see all across the length and breadth of the country.
Yet the findings of the Sachar committee were astounding. Weighed down by the so-called guilt over the Partition and faced by antipathy and often open hostility by successive administrations since Independence, the Muslims have gone from being the ruling class to the lowest of the low in six decades.
In a country that they ruled for nearly a thousand years, Muslims today find themselves struggling on the farthest fringes of the world’s greatest democracy. According to the Sachar panel, the Muslims’ condition today is worse than that of the Dalits, the low caste Hindus who have for centuries suffered the worst possible discrimination and exploitation.
Demolishing the myth of Muslim appeasement, Justice Sachar’s findings actually exposed systemic discrimination and complete injustice at all levels against the community. Justice Sachar repeatedly talks of the disturbing “development deficit” the community suffers from in all walks of life.
The Muslims have lower employment rates (48 and 9.6pc for males and females) than Dalits (52.8 and 23 percent respectively). In twelve states where the Muslims’ population share is 15.4 percent, their employment rate is just 5.7 percent. In big states like UP and Bihar, this proportion is less than a third of their population share.
This exclusion from the table extends to all areas, from lower bureaucracy to the judiciary to elite civil services. Muslims’ share in the IAS, IPS and IFS is 2.2, 3.0 and 1.6 percent respectively. In the armed forces, their proportion is said to be just two percent. According to another survey by ActionAid and Indian Social Institute, 41.9 percent of Muslims in rural areas have an annual income less than Rs10,000, which is less than $200 dollars.
Let’s face it. The Muslims are India’s new untouchables. It’s all very well to showcase the cool Khans of Bollywood and sport icons like Sania Mirza as the new faces of India’s Muslims. The larger reality of the community unfortunately is different. Facing political and economic marginalisation and security concerns on the one hand and being perpetually under the scanner of security agencies as usual suspects, they find comfort in numbers and in their ghettoes and slums in urban India. Poverty in small town India and rural areas is even worse. Little of the government benefits and programmes, targeting the vast majority of the economically struggling communities, trickles down to them.
It’s five years since Justice Sachar submitted these findings and possible solutions to the government. We are yet to discover what Dr Singh, or the Congress leadership, thinks about them, let alone act on the urgent recommendations to address the dangerous deprivation and dispossession of the country’s largest minority.
Regardless of the eventual outcome of the Muslim quota proposal, it’s past time for real and bold action to check the marginalisation and alienation of the community. Reservations or affirmative action, call it what you will, there is a desperate need to stop the free fall of an entire community. While the caste-based reservations for the communities long discriminated against because of their birth makes sense, there must be a way to help the large deprived communities such as Muslims. The quota in education and jobs – as little as six percent – may not be the be-all and end-all magic wand to end all of Muslims’ woes but it’s a start and better than doing nothing.