The Sachar Committee Report
Manzoor Ahmed IPS (Retd.)
Former V.C., Agra University
The backward minorities in any multi-cultural developing society have to face the triple challenge of identity, equity and security. Often the markers of identity become markers for discrimination, when a climate of hostility towards cultural diversity is created through hate speech and hate writings of exclusivist and chauvinistic groups. This creates problems of equity at various levels of Administration, as well as a sense of real and perceived discrimination among the minorities. In a democratic polity, the question of equity also assumes political importance in view of the inbuilt sensitivity of the minorities to such concerns. While it will be wrong to presume the inevitability of clash of interests between the majority and minorities, the Civil Society has to take affirmative action for the redressal of grievances, if any, and putting the record straight. In fact, what is important is to prepare an action plan with strategies that includes development of all segments of Indian population, with Muslims getting a proper share in it. The Civil Society, under such conditions, has to create tolerance and love for diversity through media, forge inter-community linkages and foster better understanding among the various socio religious, ethnic and linguistic groups for peace and progress of all. The Sachar Committee is a step in this direction taken by the UPA Government.
It is not for the first time since Independence that a high-power committee was constituted to examine social, economic and educational backwardness of the Muslim community. The Gopal Singh Committee Report of 1983 had examined almost all these aspects of Muslim backwardness and had arrived at similar painful findings. However, this report was never placed before Parliament, it was almost seven years after its submission that it was and was made public. This ensured that there was no widespread public discussion on the findings. It is for the first time that this well-researched report of the Sachar Committee has been placed before Parliament almost immediately after its submission. Consequently, it has resulted in nationwide interest in the report, and an informed or uninformed discussion at various levels.
For this Committee, or for anyone examining the relative backwardness of a socio-religious community, it was quite difficult to obtain crucial variables. The Census, for a variety of reasons, was not able to collect, collate and interpret data or important variables to assess economic and educational status of various socio-religious groups in the country. The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) did give some important data in some of its Rounds, but the BJP Government pulled up the NSSO for reporting on community basis. For the social researchers, the Committee's recommendation for creation of a National Data Bank to maintain all relevant data on socio-religious communities is a happy omen.
A democratic and developing society has to ensure that every segment of the population receives benefits of planning and development. Nikita Sud, in a study of a Gujarat village, found that despite the presence of eligible persons in the village, there were no Muslim beneficiaries in the Self Help Group Programme, and not a single Below Poverty Line Card was issued to a Muslim. It simply shows that often socio-religious groups are not able to receive benefits of poverty-alleviation programmes. Sometimes, such deprived groups also get so disheartened by their experience that they fail to approach proper authorities for required help. For this purpose, the Committee has rightly suggested the creation of an Equal Opportunities Commission as a kind of direct redressal mechanism, available to all communities/classes on the pattern of the one in Britain. A wide variety of incentives can be given to Self Help Groups to encourage diversity and equal opportunity to all sections.
The Committee has suggested creation of an Assessment and Monitoring agency to ensure that every segment of population receives benefits of development. However, instead of creating a separate agency, it will be more desirable and convenient to entrust this task to a newly created cell in the National Planning Commission, which has resources and expertise in the field. Even if the proposed Assessment and Monitoring Agency is given this job, the Planning Commission should also be associated with it.
Over the years, the Muslim representation at all levels of representative bodies and participation in governance has been going down. For example, in U.P. Assembly, the average Muslim membership from 1952 to 2002 has been 8.49 per cent as compared to their population of 17 per cent. This picture can be corrected by formulating and implementing new procedures for nomination to various bodies, and a rational and purposeful delimitation of the constituencies as suggested by the Committee. All political parties should nominate a fair share of Muslim candidates and they should be held accountable for persistent under-representation. The constituencies with a good percentage of Muslims should not be reserved for SC/ST.
Muslims are the only minority with human development indicators below the national average. The Committee has, thus, rightly concluded that the educational deprivation experienced by Muslims is a critical factor in their not benefiting from emerging opportunities in our developing economy. Here, the major problem lies in school education. The percentage of child labour is much higher in Muslims. The number of Muslim children completing school education is significantly lower than other socio-religious groups. The current enrolment rates at elementary level are the lowest for the Muslims. Since it is a constitutional obligation of the State to provide free and compulsory education upto the age of 14, the fulfilment of this obligation is critical for improvement of educational condition of Muslims. The Committee has suggested a number of steps in the matter.
Higher education in science and technology is the engine for growth, but the presence of Muslims in institutes of higher technical education is very low. There is general paucity of opportunities for higher education for all Indians. A recent study shows that we need al least 1,500 new universities for our growing population whereas we have just around 300 universities at present. The constitution allows minorities to establish and administer institutions of their choice at all levels. There is no harm if the socio-religious groups are allowed to establish technical/professional institutes/universities which will act as catalyst for growth.
In view of the living conditions of Muslims, it has been suggested to create local community study centres, high-quality government schools in Muslim concentrated areas, and separate schools for girls for the 9th to 12th standard. The Committee has reiterated what is known all over: children should be taught in their mother tongue, i.e., Urdu. However, the experience in U.P. has been very depressing. In spite of the present government claiming great love for Muslims and Urdu, it continues to ban Urdu medium schools, as only those high schools will be recognised by the government which have Hindi in Devnagri Script as medium of instruction. The Committee has also suggested establishing equivalence of Madrasa Degrees for admission to institutions of higher learning. However, less than 4 per cent Muslim children of school-going age go to Madrasas. Therefore, establishing schools with mother tongue as the medium of instruction will be necessary for any kind of educational uplift. Literacy rate among Muslim women in northern states, where half of Muslim population is concentrated, is pretty low. Here also, NGOs should be encouraged to raise functional literacy percentage with introduction of mother tongue as the medium.
Since a large number of Muslim youth take up lower level technical jobs like Motor Mechanic, Welder, Electrical Wireman, it is necessary to upgrade their skills in the fast changing scenario in this service sector. In fact, upgradation of skills in this sector, where obsolescence sets in very fast is important for every community. The Committee has suggested lowering of pre-entry qualification for ITI Courses to facilitate entry of Muslim children who drop out before passing matriculation examination. It should also be extended to Madarsa students. In fact, in early 1980's, Indira Gandhi had introduced a scheme of Community Polytechnics, where Muslim children with lower qualifications got entry and completed short and simple courses like welding, electrician, etc. This was a very useful scheme but, unfortunately, the States did not expand the facilities.
For Muslims' access to higher education, the UGC should evolve a system where diversity in student population in colleges is encouraged by linking it to allocation of funds. For the most backward sections of our population, an alternative set of admission criteria should also be evolved. Long ago, the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi evolved good admission criteria through which students from backward regions and backward sections could get entry in the University, ensuring proper national mosaic in student population.
Apart from low level of education, lack of access to bank credits and government programmes is the real cause of economic backwardness of Muslims. Lack of access to credit is a more serious problem for the community, as a large number of its members are engaged in self-employment and home-based work. Sometimes, an entire area of Muslim concentration has been excluded from the activities of banks. For example, the entire Muslim concentration area of Jamia Nagar, Zakir Nagar and Okhla Village in Delhi has been excluded by banks for loaning purpose. The Committee has rightly recommended access to Muslims in Priority Sector Advances, and any shortfall in targets should be critically examined by higher banking watchdogs. The micro-credit facility situation has become so bad for the self-employed members of the community that even the mosque committees at some places have started collecting funds and advancing interest-free small loans to their members.
There are fewer schemes of poverty alleviation for minorities as compared to SC/STs. The Central government. should launch a few schemes with large outlays for welfare of minorities, with an equitable provision for Muslims. Further, in view of the precarious conditions of the self employed persons in the informal sector, a mandated social security system should be put in place for such persons.
The Committee has suggested that all 58 districts, with 25 per cent or more Muslim population, should be brought under the Prime Minister's 15-Point Programme. In June last year, the Central Cabinet decided that in all welfare schemes, the minorities should get 15 per cent share, and benefits under this Programme should accrue to Muslims according to their ratio in population, i.e., 70 per cent of the total outlay. This is a bold decision and should change the overall picture. However, all such schemes are implemented by the States and the State leadership has to be sensitised to this issue. This is surely a difficult task. In some States, like Gujarat, any special attention given to this backward minority raises a hue and cry from politicians and is dubbed as minorityism and appeasement.
The presence of Civil Society in the Muslim community is quite nebulous and, as a result, there are very few non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the community. This results in poor infrastructural facilities in the community in the field of health and education. The Committee has rightly recommended State encouragement for creating credible NGOs and public support to such NGOs.
In all developing countries, bureaucracy, public servants and wage-earners play an important role. The committee found that Muslims were almost absent in various national and State government structure. There were fewer Muslims as teachers, bank employees in public and private enterprises, security agencies and all other avenues of employment. Even at lower levels of constabulary and office assistants, their presence is very low. The Committee has rightly suggested corrective steps, including reservation. However, the Committee has advocated systemic reforms aimed at widening access at all levels, emphasizing diversity as a key state objective. It may be noted that Muslims did not demand reservation for forty years after Independence, till the reservation for other backward classes was introduced in late 1980s. Rajiv Gandhi, as a Leader of Opposition in Parliament, clearly expressed desirability of reservation for under-represented Muslims as well, and the then Prime Minister, V P Singh, readily concurred. However, for some reasons, this was not included in the final scheme of things.
Although Islam is an egalitarian religion, the North Indian Muslim society has, traditionally, been divided into three categories, i.e., Ashraf, Ajlaf and Arzal. While no case of reservation has been made out for Ashraf, the majority of Ajlaf are included in the OBC Category of the Mandal Scheme. The Arzal are those who share the same professions as Dalit Hindus, and they were unjustly taken out of the Dalit reservation quota in early 1950's. Now, they are euphemistically called the Most Backward Castes (MBCs). There is a strong movement, which was also supported by Dalit Leader, Ram Vilas Paswan, that the reservation for the Arzal Category should be restored. However, the number of Muslim dalits is around 3 per cent only, and this will not make much difference.
The largest chunk of the Muslim population falls in OBC Category. Unfortunately, the benefits of reservation in the Category go to progressive non-Muslim Backward Castes like Yadavs, Kurmis and Lodhas in the North. There is a strong sentiment that there should be a quota for Muslim OBCs within the OBC Category. Those who have been reaping the benefits of reservation for this Category say that this would be giving reservation on religious basis and, therefore, cannot be allowed. They should refer to the Constituent Assembly debate on this point when Sardar Patel clearly said that “Class” includes “Community,” and that future leaders would not be so naive as to deny and confuse it. However, if it is not deemed politically possible, we can adopt a model where a 17 per cent reservation (out of 27% for the OBCs) is kept separate for the most backward castes in this category and almost all Muslim OBCs who are also the most backward segment, are kept in this category along with the Non-Muslim MBCs. The Muslim MBCs have to compete with advanced OBCs like Yadavs or Kurmis at present and they hardly get anything from this quota of OBC reservation. The Samajwadi Party is opposed to this bifurcation of quota for the MBCs. In fact, a senior leader of the Party, Beni Prasad Verma, has gone on record saying that any such reservation for the Muslims will lead to bloodshed. This is an unfortunate statement bordering on criminal threat to a community.
Only two political parties in the country are opposed to the very sensible, timely and rational suggestions of the Sachar Committee. We can understand the opposition of the BJP whose “genuine secularism” will only condemn Muslims to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. However, one is perplexed to find the leaders of Samajwadi Party on the same band-wagon with the BJP on the issue.
It is a fact that the Dalit Muslims were taken out of reservation loop in 1950s in an unjust manner. Recently, the Samajwadi Party has brought a Resolution to include Dalit Muslims in the List of Scheduled Castes to get the benefit of reservation in government jobs, knowing fully well that this is outside the States' area of competence. In view of the fact that they stoutly oppose separate quota for the Most Backward Castes (which would include Muslim OBCs also), this surely is vote politics to mislead the Muslims.
The Committee report has dealt with the problems of Waqf properties also. Muslim Auqaf are the only major source of internal support for the community, but these are grossly mismanaged. A large number of Waqf properties are under-utilized, and a larger number still are in adverse position, including state encroachments, especially in north India. The Committee has rightly appended illustrative lists of Waqf properties under illegal encroachment of the governments. The state governments are, in a way, guardian and protectors of these properties, and this illegal occupation and encroachment by them is rather unfortunate. Everyone knows that if these properties are well-managed, income from these alone should finance all developmental activities in the community.
We are sure the Civil Society will see the genuineness of the recommendations, which are only aimed at strengthening the nation. For successful implementation of these recommendations, a strong drive by the Civil Society is called for. It should act as a lobby to pressurise the governments to concretize programmes for implementing the modest recommendations of the Sachar Committee to uplift the community socially, economically and educationally.
The Central Government appears to be sincere this time. The Ministry of HRD has already constituted committees to prepare and submit schemes within a month. The Ministry of Minority Affairs, under A R Antulay, also appears to be upbeat although he has not formed any committee to prepare definite schemes to supervise implementation of the Committee's recommendations. The concerned Ministries should involve the stake-holders in this report in preparing specific and time bound implementation. In view of the importance of the issue, and the growing expectation in a large section of society, it is suggested that there should be cells in the office of the Prime Minister, as well as UPA Chairperson, to ensure speedy implementation of the Committee's recommendation which now bear the seal of Parliament's approval. Let us hope this hapless minority is able to break the vicious circle of social, economic and educational backwardness, and is enabled to join the great ascent at this glorious moment of our national transformation.