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Published in the 16-30 Jun 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Education is the key - ii  
For over three decades now, a socially concerned Muslim from north India has remained focussed on education 

By Ahmad Rashid Shervani 

How did It happen? 
Now, every Nathoo, Buddhoo, Khaira (Tom, Dick and Harry) knows and says that Indian Muslims are lagging badly behind others in education. Then, hardly anyone had an inkling. When I said that there was one and only one problem that Muslims had and it was their educational backwardness, everyone looked at me with surprise, thinking I was mad or something. However, the facts were too glaring. Even the so-called leaders of the millat could not shut their eyes to the facts. 

The extent may differ from place to place or from one level of education to another. For instance, in some areas of Uttar Pradesh, I found Muslims only about two to three times behind others at the primary or Class V level. At the middle or junior high school or Class VIII level, they were three to four times behind others. Then, at the high school or secondary or Class X level, they were about five times behind others. Finally, at the higher secondary or intermediate or Class XII level, the extent of backwardness of Muslims was about six times as compared with the rest. Naturally, at the graduation level, Muslims could be about seven times behind others. 

Similarly, there could be variations from state to state. For instance, at the Class X level in Uttar Pradesh, Muslims seem to be about five times behind others while in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, Muslims seem to be only about three times behind others. In Rajasthan, Haryana and West Bengal, Muslims seem to be more than ten times behind others. At the Class X level, Muslims in North India are about six times behind others in education. Obviously, the Class X board examination is also called the "entrance" examination. That is, one may enter the field of higher education only after passing the "entrance". So, if a community is lagging six times behind others at the "entrance" level, the extent of its educational backwardness is only likely to be more (not less) than six times at higher levels of education. How did this happen? Who is to blame for it? Here is what I feel. 

I appeared for the high school examination in 1947, just a few months before the Partition. In that year, about 350 thousand students appeared for the same examination from what is now called North India, and out of these about 35 thousand or ten percent were Muslims. The proportion of Muslims in the total population in this area was roughly 13.5 per cent. 

So, Muslims were slightly behind others in education at this level in 1947. Instead of 13.5 per cent they were only 10 per cent. What happened thereafter? In the first decade after independence, education received a spurt. The number of all students appearing for the same board examination doubled to about 700 thousand. The number of Muslims also increased but from 35 thousand to only about 42 thousand. So, the proportion of Muslims fell from 10per cent to just 6 per cent. In the second decade, the total increased to about 1.25 million. Muslims increased to about 40 thousand, just about 3.2 per cent of the total. In the third decade, the total crossed two million and Muslims were fumbling at somewhere about 45 thousand, just about 2.25 per cent of the total. This was the position when I became aware of the problem. 

Thereafter, in the fourth decade after independence, Muslims just kept pace with the others. They did NOT slide further down. Nor did they go forward as compared with others. During the fifth decade after independence, Muslims began inching forward. They moved up, just a bit. The present position may roughly be that out of all students appearing for the matriculation board examination in North India, about 2.5 per cent are Muslims. According to their proportion in population (now about 14 per cent), they are still five to six times behind others at this crucial level. Till 1976, Muslims were sliding down the slope, year by year. Then they put a stop to that. Thereafter, they started climbing up. Not very noticeably, though. 

But why had Muslims been sliding down the slope from 1947 to about 1976? For a full thirty years or so, why had Muslims not been coming forward in education at the same speed as the others? Many so-called Muslim leaders blame the government for all the problems that beset Indian Muslims. So also for this problem. I will not argue with them. I will only say that these very "Muslim leaders" kept shouting from rooftops that the Muslim vote was decisive in each and every election in India. So, whichever government came to power in India was put there by Muslims themselves. If that government (or all those governments) pushed the Muslims back, the Muslims themselves are to blame for it. Are they not? 

In some seminars and what-nots held on the subject, some government pundits tried to put the blame on the Muslim community and more particularly the "Muslim leadership", for this sad plight of the Muslims. To them I said that the only "leaders of Muslims" I have known in the first three decades of India’s independence are Mr Jawaharlal Nehru and Mme. Indira Gandhi because Muslims only voted for one of these two and for whoever they wanted the Muslims to vote for. So, if Muslims suffered because of "bad leadership", we know who the two "bad leaders" of Muslims were. First the father and then the daughter are to blame for the Muslims’ plight, I said. This made the pundits shut up. They had to look the other way, pretending not to hear what I said so loud and so clear. 

In effect, I consider this argument useless and meaningless. When I am talking to the Muslims I say: "You have suffered, your children have suffered and, no matter who else was also responsible, you are undoubtedly guilty. You should have seen to it that your children did not lag behind in education. If you did not, it is your fault. What benefit will accrue from blaming others?" 

And when I talk to the minions of government, I say that it was and is the duty of a secular government to ensure that no part of the great Indian nation lags behind in education. Muslims of India are an integral part of the Indian nation, a large and important part of it. If such a large and important integral part of my Indian nation lags so badly behind in education, how can the national leaders and the secular government of India be cleared of blame? It is guilty, to the hilt. Instead of getting stuck in the useless argument about who is to blame and how much, I tried to do something to remedy the situation, to take Muslims forward in education. — (Continued)

Part I: Education is the key - i
Education is the key - iii
Part IV: Part IV: Education is the key - iv

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