From William Hunter to Rajinder
Reports & Reports but no Results
Syed Tahir Mahmood
The Milli Gazette
‘Where there is a will there is a way’, says an old English axiom. And, ‘where there is no will there is a survey’ seems to have been the case with the officially sponsored studies of the problem of under-representation of Muslims – the second largest section amongst the Indian citizenry – in the educational institutions and employment under government control. Though surveyed and studied again and again by various government-appointed agencies – individuals, committees and commissions – the problem remains largely unresolved till this day. Under-representation of Muslims in the educational and employment sectors in the country has been as consistent all along as, indeed, the official inaction in the matter.
Far back in 1870s at the behest of the Viceroy, Lord Meo, Sir William Hunter had studied the causes of Muslim unrest in the country. Published in 1871 under the title Our Indian Musalmans, the study included some authentic data on the number of Muslims in government jobs – especially in the Muslim-concentration province of Bengal where the city of Calcutta was then the seat of the government. Among its findings were the figures “assistant engineers (three grades) : Hindu 14, Muslim 0; sub-engineers & supervisors : Hindu 24, Muslim 1; overseers : Hindu 63, Muslim 2; accounts department : Hindu 50, Muslim 0; registered legal counsel : Hindu 239, Muslim 1…”, and so on. The study lamented that “there is in fact now in Calcutta hardly any government office where a Muslim can hope to get anything more than the job of a guard, peon or attendant.” There is, however, nothing on record to show that any concrete steps were ordered by the Viceroy to correct the imbalance and injustice prevailing in the government offices in respect of employment of Muslims as revealed by this study made under official patronage by a respectable Englishman of the time.
Having inherited from the British this legacy of social injustice to the Muslims and official inaction in the matter, independent India seems to have maintained it till this day. A Minorities Commission was set up in 1978 by the first non-Congress government at the Centre. Side-stepping it on returning to power, the new Congress government appointed in 1980 a separate ‘high-powered panel’ to study the status of minorities and other backward classes as beneficiaries of government’s fiscal policies and welfare schemes. Initially chaired by the late Dr VA Sayid Mohammad, on his appointment as the Indian High Commissioner in London barely four months later the panel was placed under its senior-most member Dr Gopal Singh – a former MP and diplomat – and eventually came to be known as the ‘Gopal Singh Committee’. Its secretary, Khurshid Alam Khan, on his elevation to the Union Ministry was replaced by the late Dr Rafiq Zakaria. The 10-member panel submitted on 14th June 1983 a 118-page ‘Report on Minorities’ with 205 pages of annexures containing extensive data on the ‘participation and performance’ of minorities in education and employment, their share as beneficiaries in rural development and place in the industrial sector, and the role played by financial institutions in respect of their welfare. Painting a rather dismal picture of the position of Muslims in all these, the panel made a large number of recommendations for its improvement through various short-term and long-term measures. For an unduly long period the Gopal Singh Panel report remained a closely guarded secret despite demands for its release; and no action was ever taken on its recommendations when at last these were made public.
In 1995 the National Minorities Commission collected data on the share of minorities in police and para-military services and, finding that their presence, especially of the Muslims, in that sector was “deplorably disproportionate to their population in various states,” had made some important recommendations for the improvement of the situation. The report submitted on 6 May 1996 by the Planning Commission’s 12-member Sub-Group on Minorities chaired by NCM member S Vardarajan provided detailed data on minority presence in central services and banking sector and concluded that “the representation of minorities, especially Muslims, in the State and all-India services is very low and bears no relation to their population, and there has been no purposeful action to remedy this imbalance.” Observing that “as even fifty years after independence there are serious imbalances and inequities in respect of the representation of minorities in all public employments, top priority should be given to the adoption of measures to rectify this situation,” the NCM report for 1998-99 specifically recommended that “in all public employment under central government there must be at least 15% representation of the minorities with a break-up of 10% for the Muslims and 5% for the other minorities taken together; and this should be ensured by adopting suitable measures and issuing mandatory guidelines to all governments, public-sector undertakings and concerned recruiting authorities.” Both these reports too, like that of the Gopal Singh Panel, are still awaiting a response from those who matter.
In March 2005 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed a new ‘high-powered’ committee chaired by a former judge to evaluate afresh the educational and socio-economic status of the Muslims. Now generally known as the Sachar Committee, it has faced some unsavory controversies. Surprisingly, anti-Muslim elements in the society did not cry foul on the setting up of the committee – perhaps due to their preoccupation with something even more important than their favourite pastime of Muslim-bashing. But when as part of its assigned job the committee sought data on the Muslims in armed forces, and overlooking the need of confidentiality in the matter somebody made it public, they did raise a great hue and cry. Initially given a time-span of fifteen months and attached to the PMO, the Sachar Committee was later given some extensions and placed under the newly created Ministry of Minority Affairs. It has at last completed its work and submitted its report to the government. Its findings on the terrible under-representation of the Muslims in government jobs across the country , however, already became public – a long article revealing its findings was serialized in a leading English daily. And, expectedly, there has been a great hue and cry once again. An innocuous statement made by the Prime Minister on 2nd November in his inaugural speech at the meeting of the State Minorities Commissions – that the minorities should get their due share in government-controlled jobs – is being linked with the presumed recommendations of the committee and seen as a precursor to reservation for the Muslims – an all-time dreaded scenario for the those votaries of communal politics who use “appeasement” as a euphemism for ensuring human rights. In recent months the government has repeatedly declared before the apex court that it does not favour religion-based reservation; but who bothers?
The Sachar exercise is obviously nothing novel or unprecedented – it only offers an updated account of the educational and socio-economic status of the Muslims who undoubtedly are the worst sufferers among the various minorities of the country. It will be appropriate for the government of the day to consider in the right earnest its report and recommendations along with all other similar reports and recommendations of the post-independence era. It is high time some remedial action was taken to at least partially undo the inequalities, injustices and inequities which the second largest section of the Indian citizenry has been facing since the advent of independence.
Dr Tahir Mahmood is Expert-Member, Government of India's National
Commission for Religious & Linguistic Minorities; Amity's Ambassador
for Interfaith Dialogue; Founder-Chairman, Amity University's Institute of
Advanced Legal Studies & School of Religion and Law; New Delhi, India
and can be reached at email@example.com