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Published in the 16-31 Dec 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

"Near exclusion of Muslims in Kerala's R&D institutions"

Panoor-based Education & Career Guidance Centre said in a memorandum to the Kerala CM Oommen Chandy that Muslims have been subjected to “near exclusion from government-run R&D institutions in the state.

While the state’s scientific institutions suffered a progressive degradation over the years, well qualified Muslim candidates were carefully prevented from entering these institutions. The total number of Muslims in scientific positions in the R&D Centres under the State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (CSTE) is even less than ten out of the several hundred positions, the NGO said.

CSTE’s predecessor, the Department of Science, Technology and Environment (DSTE) did not have a single Muslim in its entire history. The Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI), Palode has a single Muslim among its more than 50 scientists. The Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, Thiruvananthapuram, had a single Muslim as scientist among its staff of over 130, not even an attender other than him was there (though a scientist of national recognition, he was forced to return to the central government institution due to unbelievable manipulations at the Centre). The situation in the other R&D institutions under the CSTE is similarly pathetic and painful, the NGO said. 

Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), Peechi had just one scientist out of fifty+ and though he had arguably the highest profile in the institute, was forced to take voluntary retirement in desperation since he didn’t have the required political support to sustain there. This is happening at a time when there are a large number of well qualified Muslim candidates available for scientific positions. Muslims with outstanding post-doctoral experience, University rank holders, are thoughtlessly rejected by the unaccountable selection process of these institutions in favour of less qualified candidates of privileged communities. Every single appointment in these institutions is the end result of intervention by caste leaders, ministers and other politicians, and influential bureaucrats who keep the Muslim candidates out, whether the State is under the UDF or LDF dispensation. There are no leaders to speak for them, they have no influential mentors. The Muslim leadership is not bothered about the marginalisation of the community in this vital field. The situation of Dalit and some other backward communities is no different from the Muslims, the NGO added.

The well-fought legal right of Muslims for reservation is systematically flouted by the managers of Kerala’s scientific establishment. This is happening in a state alternatively ruled by two political formations, both remaining insensitive to the need for providing opportunities for a community of the state that constitutes more than a quarter of its population, the NGO said. 

Education & Career Guidance Centre memorandum gave the example of a person, who obtained his Ph D at a very young age, went abroad on post-doctoral fellowship, which he won through an all India competition conducted by the Central Government. Moreover, he had excellent research publications and yet was not even called for an interview when he applied for appropriate vacancies announced by TBGRI and Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, simply because he didn’t have mentors. However, when he appeared for a UPSC competition where the selection process is reasonably fair, he was taken on board as a middle level scientist in one of the prestigious research institutions of our country. There are several examples like this. The recruitment of administrative and support staff who outnumber the scientific staff in these institutions, is also similarly skewed and patently discriminatory.
While the Legislative Assembly and the government express deep concern about the abysmal under-representation of Muslims in government jobs it is intriguing why the autonomous bodies funded and controlled by the government and having the legal status as societies registered under the Charitable Societies Act, including the CSTE and R&D centres under it, are not duly implementing the mandatory requirement of reservation. Some of such autonomous bodies indeed implement the reservation provision and, not surprisingly, they are among the best agencies in terms of total performance. You will recall the grave concern expressed by the previous Assembly’s Committee on Backward Classes on the frightening marginalisation of Muslims in the state-run R&D institutions.

If somebody makes the ludicrous claim of "merit", it must be noted that merit is the last attribute currently counted in the recruitment and promotion process. Two of the long-serving former directors of DSTE did not have a Ph D degree and interestingly both of them had falsely spotted the title of professor. One of the former directors of an R&D centre was an acknowledged alcoholic and was incapable of prudently discharging his duties. A former director of TBGRI was involved in the largest biopiracy scandal in the country, having illegally exported our invaluable medicinal plants and treasured traditional knowledge to multinational companies in Singapore and Denmark and yet, the government took no action but he was forced to resign when Malayalam and Keralasabdam weeklies ran cover stories on the scandal. When the selection process for the current director was on course, the whole process was so corrupt and partisan that a Malayalam daily had correctly reported in advance that the selection process had been manipulated to choose the current incumbent! And your predecessor had himself admitted in the august Legislative Assembly that the Director of ANERT (though recently brought under the Department of Power) did not have the required qualification, yet he was not able to do anything about it. The system is similarly rotten at all progressive levels below as well both in terms of recruitment and performance. Largely speaking, mediocrity is the norm. 

This is not only a violation of the state’s law, and rejection of civility but is also against the principles of the Unesco Science Summit and the declaration of the International Council of Scientific Unions that promoting plurality in scientific endeavour is essential to the success of the pursuit and accommodating under-represented minorities should be firmly placed on national science and technology agendas. The USA, which is the model for all our scientists who are mainly good at quarrelling and polemics, provides special opportunities for under-represented minorities by affirmative action, thematic fellowships, special awards etc and that is what has built a cadre of high calibre scientists in that country. We must not miss the point that a large number of Indian scientists there have made excellent achievements there using such entry level opportunities.

This is a situation similar to Apartheid and the government must realise the gravity of the situation. The govt should immediately lunch a meaningful package of programs to substantially raise the number of Muslims in scientific positions in our research institutions, the first being the decision to effectively implement the provision of reservation for all reserved classes. The government should also seriously consider leaving the recruitment in R&D institutions to the PSC (with the necessary institutional support to PSC) or create a special statutory body for this purpose. The forthrightness and commitment of the current Executive Vice President may be effectively used to overhaul the situation. 

Education and Carrier Guidance Centre may be contacted at 

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