Are Indian Muslims wholly responsible for their backwardness?

No. Political and administrative system largely bears the blame.

Ever since the presentation of the Sachar Committee Report and particularly after the publication of the Ranghanathan Mishra Commission Report, the spokesman of the political establishment has been repeatedly holding the Muslim community and its leadership themselves responsible for its deprivation, degradation and backwardness. Their purposes are obviously meant to shift the blame away from the governments which have been in power from 1947, particularly the Congress at the Centre and the states of Muslim concentration. Muslim backwardness is the consequence of various political, social and economic changes on which the Muslims had little or no control.

The Muslim rural elite, who held land, were adversely affected by the abolition of Zamindari; the urban elite particularly from north India moved to Pakistan. The Muslim intelligentsia was effectively barred from government employment. Muslim community had never been very active in commerce and industry. The Muslim community has never been able to accumulate a surplus to invest in their education and welfare, or to pay bribes for securing government service. Confined to its ghettos and to petty occupations, devoid of education and access to bank credit, they just managed to keep body and soul together. In the era of planned inclusive development, they were deprived of even their proportional benefits of development even at the operational level. We do not have the figures of their per capita income but nearly 80% live on a daily expenditure of Rupees 20. Surely Muslims are very poorly represented in the upper and middle classes. Continuously they faced pressure against the exercise of their religious freedom and the adverse impact of the recurrent communal violence. Despite all these handicaps, it is a tribute to the resilience of the community that it maintained its religious identity and at least managed to keep alive a system for the religious education of its children and to open some schools wherever possible.

It goes without saying that in a developing society, the physical infrastructure, roads, bridges, railways, electricity, irrigation and drainage etc. are provided by the government. So is the basic social infrastructure in terms of educational & health facilities and public housing. The government also subsidizes all industrial production, and agricultural and the distribution of essential goods. Because the Muslim community has consistently remained under-represented in the legislatures, the governments and the bureaucracy, it never got its due share of fruits of development. One has only to visit the Muslim concentration areas, whether in cities, blocks or villages, he cannot miss the step-motherly treatment they have received from the powers that be in terms of their development and progress.

Little attention has been paid by the establishment, though Muslims have become politically conscious, to give due attention to their habitats and their legitimate demands.

The establishments as well as all political parties try to divide the country by caste and baradaris, though the Sachar Report has pointed out that, at the end of the day there are no substantial differences among the various baradaris (Ashraf, Arzal and Ajlaf) in terms of development.

It is also a matter of fact that no political party has permitted Muslims to rise to the level of leadership. Yet the establishment continues to highlight that the Muslims have no leadership, but they all want Muslim votes & hire some unemployed Muslims at the time of elections or even give them tickets from non-winnable constituencies to maintain the facade of Muslim participation.

With no surplus, no political representation, and no place in the administration, no access to higher education, it is not surprising that the Muslims have remained backward and the life of the community revolves around masjids and madrasas and performance of religious rites and observance of social customs.

Objectively they were never in a position to do much for themselves. The government, the parties & the administration did not care for them or provide them their due. The conclusion is that the responsibility for their backwardness is only 10% their own and 90% of the political system. The Muslim fault lies in putting faith in political manifestos and government schemes and in the Constitutional principles of equality and justice.

Slowly, a Muslim middle class is coming up, some are taking advantage of Mandal reservation. They are themselves establishing primary schools in their areas. They are trying to find a place in the lower echelons of administration. But unless the Muslims community is provided with reservation in government jobs at all levels, subject to eligibility, access to higher education, bank-credit and proportional benefit in fruits of social and economic development as well as in the political system, unless the Muslim youth are coopted in the ranks and given due opportunities to grow into leadership positions, the gap between the Muslim community and the rest of the people is likely to grow.

It may however be added that the Muslim community can now invest a little more for constructive purposes, by cutting out social and religious extravaganza. If the elite also direct their charity towards education and economic advancement, things would perhaps be better. The Waqf properties may be managed better & their surplus used for community welfare. The community may identity skills needed for national development and train its youth to take advantage of the market openings. In every district, Muslim educated youth may establish information and facilitation centres to enable the eligible to utilise the benefits from central and state schemes and if necessary monitor the progress of their applications. The Ulema and the Imams may voluntarily divert Zakat, Sadqat away from Masjids & Madrasas and religious functions towards community welfare.

Yet no amount of community effort can be a substitute for institutional and systemic changes in a developing society and for government support. Logically, Muslims must receive at least 15% of the development outlay in all schemes. Why can’t they have a Component Plan like the SC’s and the ST’s. Finally, why can’t the government lay it down that they should enjoy due share in the fruits of all economic & social schemes, targeted at individuals & families, in proportion to their local population.

Let us remember that the Sachar Committee found all Muslims more backward than the non-Muslim OBCs and about as backward as SC/STs. And that after 60 years of independence!

The writer is a former Member of Parliament and diplomat.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 May 2011 on page no. 1

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