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Published in the 1-15 June 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Education is the key - i

For over three decades now, a socially concerned Muslim from north
India has remained focussed on education 

By Ahmad Rashid Shervani 

hmad Rashid ShervaniI could not believe my eyes! About 28 years ago, I was able to lay my hands on a report showing the proportion of Muslims in Central Government Services. It was just about two per cent. I was shocked, disgusted, furious. For more than a quarter of a century, the Muslims of India were told that they should strengthen the hands of Pandit Nehru and, after him, of his daughter, to save India’s Muslims from Hindu fanatics. And this is just what the Muslims of India did ever since — strengthen the hands of the Congress and particularly of Nehru and then of his daughter. And what have the Muslims got? Their proportion in Central Government Services has been reduced to roughly one-sixth of what it should be. If this is secularism, then secularism is nothing but a farce and a fraud, a word coined (or borrowed) to make fools of the Muslims of India. Even if India had been ruled by Hindu fanatics for the past quarter of a century, could it be any worse? Perhaps there would have been zero percent Muslims in the Central Government Services. Well, what is the difference between zero and a measly two percent? Is the so loudly trumpeted "secularism" of the Nehru-Gandhis worth only this much? 

I went to Mme. Gandhi again. I have come to apologise..I was rude to you last time...I told her that I had seen the figures listing Muslim graduates and then had gone to the CBSE office and counted all Muslims who had appeared for the last X board examination in the whole of Delhi territory. How many? Only 1,200. Out of? About 70,000. Just about 1.7per cent...

I wrote about all this. More than fifty Urdu newspapers carried my articles prominently. Many commented editorially, endorsing and acclaiming my views. I belong to a family of ardent Congressmen. My elders staunchly opposed communalism, fanaticism, Partition etc. and fought valiantly for freedom. My eldest uncle, Tasadduq Ahmad Khan Shervani, was a close friend, colleague and comrade of Jawaharlal Nehru, in and out of jails with him. My second uncle, Nisar Ahmad Shervani, was one of the very first Indians to chuck up British service and jump into the national movement. My father, Fida Ahmad Shervani, was one of the first students to leave university on Mahatma Gandhi’s call. The Shervani Brothers stood firm against communal and separatist Muslims. Why? Because we had faith in India, in the Congress, in Gandhiji and in Jawaharlalji. We believed that we, the Indian Muslims, belong to India and that India belongs to us. And this is what we have got from those we thought were our friends and leaders! 

Such strong condemnation by one of such stock could not be ignored. I could not be brushed aside as just one more Muslim fanatic, probably in the pay of Pakistan. They had to contend with me. I got a call from the PM’s house. I went. She understands and shares my concern at the dwindling proportion of Muslims in government services, she said. 

I lost my temper at what I thought was sheer hypocrisy. This lady’s father and then she have ruled India for over a quarter of a century, and mainly because of Muslim votes. During this period, the proportion of Muslims in government services has been reducing rapidly, right under the noses of both father and daughter. Could this happen unless her father and then she wanted it to happen? Certainly not, thought I. And this lady had the crust to sit calmly and tell me that she "shares my concern"! Is she mocking me? Or, what? I said so in as many words. Your father and then you kept telling Muslims that you are their friends, protectors, benefactors. Like fools, the Muslims believed all this and blindly voted for you, kept you in power. And in return, both of you have been easing Muslims out of government services. And to top it all, you say you fully share my concern! 

The main reason 
But you are ignoring the reason, she said. What reason can there be, I asked, except that Muslims were discriminated against, cheated of their due share and all this under the garb of what is called secularism? Mme. Gandhi was calm. You have the right to blame us, but not entirely, she said, the main reason is that Muslims are lagging badly behind in education. I was even more angry. Uzre gunah badtar az gunah, I said, excuse for a sin is worse than the sin itself. It is bad enough that you have reduced the Muslims virtually to zero in government services. Why add insult to injury by blaming the Muslims themselves for it? 

But it is true, she said, among those graduating in India the proportion of Muslims is hardly three per cent. So how can more Muslims get jobs in government services? You see only the effect of the educational backwardness of Muslims and get upset about it. I understand your being upset. I am also upset. But why do you ignore the cause? Unless and until the cause is removed, the malady cannot be cured, she said. I do not believe it, I said. You will when you see the facts, she said tersely, and gave me some papers. 

I started looking at these papers. In one university after another, among those graduating, the proportion of Muslims was 1per cent here, two per cent there, a little over 2 per cent somewhere else. The average was just between 1per cent and 2 per cent. I could not believe my eyes. I got up, signalled adaab to the lady and slipped out, still looking at the papers she had given me. My head was spinning. I tottered out, clutching a chair here, a door there for support. 

The next day, I went straight to the office of the Central Board of Secondary Education. After some persuasion, the officer allowed me to go through the results of about seventy thousand students who had appeared for the Secondary or Class X board examination, contained in five volumes of about 300 pages each. Over five days, I counted only about 1,200 Muslims. This was position even at the Class X board examination level. How could the proportion be better than this at the graduation level? Or in government services? 

I went to Mme. Gandhi again. I have come to apologise, I said rather sheepishly. What for? I was rude to you last time, I said. Oh, were you really, she said, I did not notice. I told her that I had seen the figures listing Muslim graduates and then had gone to the CBSE office and counted all Muslims who had appeared for the last X board examination in the whole of Delhi territory. How many? Only 1,200. Out of? About 70,000. Just about 1.7per cent; Yes? Just about. And what is the proportion of Muslims in the population of Delhi? About 8.5 per cent. And 1.7 per cent is one-fifth of 8.5 per cent. Yes. Awful, is’n’t it? Much worse than awful, it is pathetic, miserable, wretched, disgusting. I told her of my resolve to do something. She gave me valuable suggestions, assured me of all her help whenever I needed it. This is how I started doing the work I have been doing ever since. 


Part II : Education is the key - ii
Part III: Education is the key - iii
Part IV: Part IV: Education is the key - iv

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