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

Unending debate on reservation policy

By N. Jamal Ansari

Aligarh: Ever since Andhra Pradesh government issued the order providing for five percent reservation to Muslims in government jobs and educational institutions last July, heated debates are on in favour of or against the order. Muslims and liberal intellectuals welcomed the decision, but Saffron brotherhood opposed it. The unfortunate part of the ongoing debate is that some Muslims and organisations have raised the futile issue of the so-called upper castes (Ashraf) and lower castes (Ajlaf) Muslims. They argue that Ashraf enjoyed privileges in the past and they do not need reservation, only Backward Class and Dalit Muslims should be given reservations. As the debate is recoiling on Muslim interests and threatening the unity of the community, it will be appropriate to discuss the issue in its totality.

The demand of reservations for Muslims is not new. It was first raised before the Constituent Assembly which met on 9 December 1946 for the first time. With the passage of time a sub-committee on minorities was created on 27 February 1947, which met the same day under the chairmanship of H.C. Mukherjee. It met again on 21 July 1947 to consider the proposals submitted before it. The issues for the consideration of the sub-committee were:

(i) Representation of minorities in legislatures;

(ii) Reservation of seats for minorities in cabinets;

(iii) Reservation for minorities in the public services;
(iv) Administrative machinery to ensure protection of minority rights.

After a long and heated discussion on these issues, the sub-committee took the following decisions:

(i) The demand for separate electorate was rejected and joint electorate with seats reserved for the minorities accepted;

(ii) The demand for reservation of seats in cabinet was rejected;

(iii) The demand for reservation in public services on population basis was accepted;

(iv) Special officers should be appointed to look after the interests of minorities

The demand for reservation in public services was recognised and accepted by the sub-committee on minorities way back in 1947. However, it is another matter that after a prolonged debate on the amendments, only the amendments moved by BR Ambedkar and the other two moved by Thakurdas Bhargava were accepted. Except a few concessions to the Anglo-Indian community, no other religious minority could secure any special provision. The Constituent Assembly did not concede any recommendation of the sub-committee on minorities. What it ultimately conceded turned out to be certain rights relating to education, language and culture which were incorporated in Articles 29 and 30.

In the meeting of the Constituent Assembly, 155 Hindu members out of 163 were present while only four Muslim members out of 80 attended it. Commenting on the meeting the then British prime minister Winston Churchill said, "it was something like the absence of the bride in the Church when the marriage was going to take place."

I have discussed the issue only to emphasise that the demand of reservation for Muslims was raised before the Constituent Assembly and the sub-committee on minorities accepted it. 

Muslims are the second largest section of the country’s population. For the sustainable development of the community a new paradigm of empowerment is needed. The socio-economic condition of Muslims is pathetic. Their representation in government jobs is shrinking. According to the report of National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) the share of Muslims in land ownership and cultivation in rural areas is far below others. After reading the report of NSSO, you will be convinced that Muslims form a backward class of the population. It was on this basis that Andhra Pradesh government issued the order providing reservation for Muslims which the kicking ball of legal battles now.

After the issuance of the "order," some Muslim individuals and organisations indulged in the futile Ashraf and Ajlaf debate. They are of the view that only backward and Dalit Muslims should be given reservation. The issue is emotional and may further divide the community. There is need to understand the psyche and emotions of both the groups

Sociologists found caste system as a potential institution that determines the status of an individual in our country. Among Muslims, caste system is quite different from that of the Hindus. Caste system has religious sanction among Hindus but in the case of Muslims their religion is against it. Indian Muslims have adopted caste-like features due to the influence of Hindu culture. 

Intellectuals from backward class Muslims have been in favour of a radical change in the country’s reservation policy. Article 341 provides reservation for Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Scheduled Castes but equivalent castes among Muslims and Christians have been left out. The Article discriminates on the basis of religion. Thinkers of backward Muslim community have time and again demanded that Muslims and Christians should also be given reservation like Schedule Castes of other communities.

The second school of thought favours reservation for all Muslims because on the whole the Muslim community is lagging far behind other communities. This line of thinking is in tune with Islamic teachings. Muslims should realise that unity is the need of the hour and nothing should be allowed to weaken it. Those who are opposing reservation for all Muslims are helping the Saffron brigade.

Our philosophy should be that if you are a Muslim, you are my brother. The controversy of Ashraf and Ajlaf should not affect our goals. We should understand that we have no Brahiminical social order.

Lastly, the UPA government should come forward with a legislation on reservation for all Muslims on the national level. If the second largest community remains backward, how can India shine and progress?

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