Reservation & Muslims

Without questioning the credibility as well as legitimacy of voices being raised demanding reservation for Muslims, one is prompted to raise one question. Would reservation solve the problems faced by Indian Muslims ranging from illiteracy to unemployment? Would it really? Even in cities, where government-run schools are available to impart at least elementary education, have all Muslims really taken adequate advantage of these schools. Not really. A rudimentary survey indicates that Muslims, particularly boys, belonging to lower socio-economic strata stop attending schools as soon as they learn how to bunk classes. This trend is prevalent among non-Muslims hailing from similar socio-economic background. If and when the targeted recipients are not keen on securing higher education, how would reservation at any level contribute to their development?

 The last point can be countered by stating that reservation for Muslims is needed in politics as well as the employment sector. Undeniably, a significant number of educated Muslims face problems when seeking employment. Politically, the representation of Muslims in Parliament as well as in most state assemblies is considerably lower than their population. Asking for reservation of seats for Muslims in these political bodies is equivalent to chasing a mirage. Besides, if ever this demand was met, wouldn’t that be projected by certain sectors as adding fire to communal agenda being pursued by anti-Muslim elements? It is most likely to be. It cannot be missed that Muslim parties’ representation in Parliament as well as the state assemblies is much lower than the total Muslim legislators add up to. Clearly, Muslims’ political importance is linked to their standing in the political parties they are members of. Can they be expected to abandon this in quest for reservation solely on the basis of their religious identity? Definitely not.

Considering that reservation for Indian Muslims may best be viewed as impossible in most quarters, it is important to consider the same issue from another angle. Without probing into politicking involved, one may accept that reservation is being asked for in the interest of the development of Indian Muslims. It is erroneous to assume that Muslims’ development is linked with only reservation. One cannot be oblivious of the progress made by numerous Muslims in various sectors, from politics, academia, sports, business, media to Bollywood and many others. Where and when has reservation helped them achieve this stature? To a degree, the importance of Muslim votes cannot be ignored in fielding of Muslim candidates in areas where their population is considered politically significant. Yes, political parties do not refrain from using the religious card as and when required. Political usage of this religious card has its disadvantages too. There have been quite a few cases when participation of too many Muslims in the political race, either as independent candidates or as party representative, has led to seats being won by non-Muslims.

 Frankly speaking, making too much noise about reservation, particularly when it seems to be a distant mirage, is least likely to be a constructive move where development of the Muslim community is concerned. In fact, the uneducated and also semi-literate Muslims seem least bothered by concern that is paid regarding their development by self-acclaimed leaders, organizations and even government authorities.

 This, however, does not imply that the issue of Muslims’ development should be ignored or even sidelined. It needs greater importance than ever before. Undeniably, there are certain avenues where Muslims can progress, without making much noise about reservation. One of these is becoming a little more enlightened about their religious principles and duties. It is indeed amazing that while Friday prayers are witness to a large number of Muslims taking part, a percentage of these are not familiar with performing Namaz, they have not been taught the Holy Quran and so much more. Reservation is not needed to ensure that young Muslims are encouraged to learn the necessary religious principles.

 Reservation is also not needed to guide them on pursuing education as well as taking to professional pursuits as a source of their income. Economic and social backwardness cannot be delinked. While Muslims have not refrained from moving actively towards self-employment and have succeeded too, sadly the religious identity of a percentage of these is becoming more and more confined to the nominal level. Why?

 At the same time, it cannot be ignored that a considerable number of Muslims, including women, have taken the task of imparting religious education to children in their neighbourhood. They have not waited for issuance of any religious, political or social directive to play such responsible roles. Even if a percentage of reservation is ever granted to Indian Muslims, it would be erroneous to view it as solution to all the problems they are afflicted by. The new importance being given by Muslims to education, self-employment and their religious duties is a certain indicator of their being fully conscious of their role and duty as Indian Muslims, which are not bound by any reservation-criteria!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 July 2011 on page no. 14

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