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Modern education of Indian Muslims
By Omar Khalidi

Dr. Muhammad Naseeb Qureshi recently retired as a Senior Adviser to the Department of Science & Technology, Union Ministry of Science & Technology. His experiences of 30 years in the national-level scientific establishment of India gave him valuable insights into the state of modern education among Indian Muslims since independence. What are those insights and what do they tell us about Indian Muslims? Before we turn to those questions, an introduction to his life and career is in order.

Dr. Qureshi was born in 1933 in a middle class family of Delhi. Unlike many Muslim families, his family did not migrate to Pakistan in 1947. After school education in native Delhi, he went to Aligarh Muslim University, graduating from there in 1953 in Geology. He did his doctorate from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado in 1958. Upon return to India in 1959 he found no job, so he went back to the United States and worked there till 1962. In 1963, he returned to India and was appointed to the National Geophysical Research Institute in Hyderabad as Assistant Director. Due to discrimination, he received no promotion for a decade. Finally in 1973 the government of India appointed him as a Director in the Department of Science and Technology. In 1984 he was promoted as Senior Adviser through the Union Public Service Commission. After a long and successful career, Dr. Qureshi retired in 1992. He was among the handful of pucca Delhiwala Muslims to be found in the central government employment, so much so that his official quarter in Tilak Marg was instantly recognized as the ‘Mohammadan home’ as there were virtually none belonging to his community in the neighborhood. A Muslim in the central government service is now equivalent to an occasional Parsi that one finds!

During the decades of his career Dr. Qureshi travelled through the length and breadth of India, served on numerous official committees, and interviewed several hundred candidates for various jobs in the scientific labs and institutions in the country. But he rarely found qualified Muslim applicants for positions advertised to be called for an interview. Often Dr. Qureshi personally informed his Muslim friends at the Geology departments around the country well ahead of time urging them to ask their students to apply for the jobs. The response was almost always poor. There just were no Muslims even remotely qualified for the positions. In other words, in this particular field at least, there were no qualified Muslims to begin with, much less reach the next stage of an interview for potential hiring. When there were no Muslims even applying, there was no question whatsoever of the oft-alleged but rarely established charge of discrimination against Muslim candidates. In Dr. Qureshi's opinion, most Muslim young men and women just do not bear the rigors of education in such fields as physical sciences and technology requiring years of unglamorous hard work. In other words, Dr.Qureshi argues that modern scientific and technological education is weak among Muslims. It must increase quantitatively and qualitatively before we can even talk about the alleged discrimination. While he agrees that there is discrimination against Muslims--he himself has been a victim--, it is not at the stage of mere application and interview for a job. There are caste/regional lobbies informally prevalent at all levels of bureaucracy--including scientific institutions--in India, but the microscopic Muslim presence in the levers of power results in the absence of a Muslim lobby to their disadvantage when it comes to promotions or at least to prevent discrimination. What are the important features of the story? Even though limited to one small sector of employment during a certain period of time, Dr. Qureshi's story is valuable in itself coming as it does from someone within the community. Secondly, Muslims need to look inwards to find the answers to the dismal state of affairs of their community and take immediate measures for improvement, before blaming anyone else. Third, inside information such as this provided by Dr Qureshy is insightful as it conclusively rebuts the claim made ad nauseam that there is discrimination against Muslims even at the level of hiring. It would be a great day when more and more men and women in positions of authority and power come forward to share their experiences of hiring to reveal the inner workings of various employment sources.

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