The report of the High-Level Committee appointed by the Prime Minister under the chairmanship of Justice Rajindar Sachar, retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, to study the ‘Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community of India’, has been a subject of wide discussion in the press, among parliamentarians and other politicians as well as in other informed sections of the society.
The seven-member Committee had as its members eminent personalities like Sayid Hamid, former Vice-Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University and currently Chancellor, Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi, Prof T.K. Oommen, former Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and a sociologist of world renown, among others. Dr. Abusaleh Shariff, Chief Economist, National Council of Applied Economic Research, who is noted for his perceptive research on various issues of national concern, was the Member-Secretary. There was no woman member: surprising, as the condition of women is very important for any survey of the social scenario among the Muslims. And, the Committee has tried to look at the predicament of the Muslim women in as good a manner as it could.
The Committee had several consultants from different disciplines and had commissioned specialists on various aspects of the subject under coverage to write papers for its use in its study of the complex issues.
The Committee collected data from the various Censuses, the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), banks and, of course, from the Central and State Governments.
The members of the Committee visited different parts of the country to assess the grassroots situation and grasp the realities by experience rather than merely with the help of statistics brought to their desks by investigators. The Committee tried to sift the perception of members of the Muslim community (as well as of non-Muslims) and understand the nature and magnitude of the community’s grievances, to be able to judge the veracity or otherwise of the expressions of negligence and deprivation.
Most of the grievances of the community are common knowledge and those who have access to the Urdu press in different parts of the country are fully aware of the endless stories of ‘woes’ and ‘miseries’ of the community. But a systematic study of these grievances had to be made and the Sachar Committee ventured to do that. We shall deal with the grievances briefly later but, first, a review of the findings of the Sachar Committee in different areas of its concern.
It would be appropriate to begin a survey of the Sachar Committee’s findings with the fundamental issue of education. The literacy rate for Muslims in 2001 was, according to the Committee’s findings, far below the national average. The difference between the two rates was greater in urban areas than in rural areas. For women, too, the gap was greater in the urban areas.
When compared to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes the growth in literacy for Muslims was lower than for the former. The female urban enrolment in literacy ratio for the SCs/STs was 40 per cent in 1965 that rose to 83 per cent in 2001. The equivalent rate for Muslims—that was considerably higher in 1965 (52 per cent)—recorded a figure of 80 per cent, lower than the figure for the SCs / STs.
According to the Sachar Committee’s findings, 25 per cent of Muslim children in the 6-14 age-group either never went to school or else dropped out at some stage.
The disparity in Graduate Attainment Rates between Muslims and other categories has been widening since the 1970s in urban and rural areas. According to the Sachar Committee, only one out of 25 undergraduate students and one out of 50 post-graduate students in ‘premier colleges’ are Muslims. The percentage of graduates in poor households pursuing post-graduate studies is significantly lower for Muslims: Hindus General (29 per cent); SCs/STs (28 per cent); OBCs (23 per cent); Muslims (16 per cent). The unemployment rate among Muslim graduates is the highest among all Socio-Religious Categories (SRCs), poor as well as non-poor.
In the midst of the widespread discussion about the role of madrasas in the life of Muslims, it is interesting to note that only three per cent of Muslim children go to madrasas.
Some figures of the Committee are very revealing, when the situation of OBCs is considered. In education upto matriculation, graduation and employment in the formal sector all OBCs lag behind in terms of the all-India average. Muslim OBCs (that have been defined here a little later) fall below the Hindu OBCs in all categories. And, General Muslims fare the worst being behind both Hindu and Muslim OBCs.
An important cause for the low level of attainment of Muslims in education is the dearth of facilities for teaching Urdu and other subjects through the medium of Urdu (mother tongue) in lower classes, the Committee points out. It cites the better examples of Karnataka and Maharashtra in this context. These two States are much better equipped with Urdu medium schools at the elementary level. Karnataka has the additional feature of concurrent facilities for English medium as well in a good number of schools, the Committee points out.
In an indirect reference to the utility of reservation, the Committee says that the SCs/STs have reaped advantages of targeted government and private efforts thereby pinpointing the importance of ‘affirmative action’.
According to the findings of the Sachar Committee, Muslims have a considerably lower representation in jobs in the government including those in the Public Sector Undertakings compared to other SRCs. According to these findings, in no State of the country the level of Muslim employment is proportionate to their percentage in the population.
It is pointed out that the situation of government jobs is the best in Andhra Pradesh where a “fairly close” representation (in proportion to the population) has been achieved. Other States with a better picture of representation are: Karnataka (8.5 per cent job share in a population proportion of 12.2 per cent); Gujarat (5.4 per cent against 9.1 per cent); Tamil Nadu (3.2 per cent against 5.6 per cent).
According to an analysis, in all other States, the percentage of Muslims in government employment is half of their population proportion. The highest percentage figure of government employment for Muslims is in Assam (11.2 per cent) even though it is far less than the State’s Muslim population (30.9 per cent).
The most glaring cases of Muslims’ deprivation in government jobs are found in the States of West Bengal and Kerala where, according to common perception, egalitarianism has been the cherished norm in all walks of life. In West Bengal where almost 25 per cent population practises the Muslim faith, their share in government jobs is a paltry 4.2 per cent. In Kerala the Muslim representation in government jobs is 10.4 per cent, a figure that is short of half of their population percentage. In Bihar and UP the percentages of Muslims in government jobs are found to be less than a third of their population percentages. Those governing these States need to monitor their actions to bring the situation in conformity with their professed objectives and claims.
There are some factors that need to be considered in view of the low employment figures for Muslims on an all-India basis. The Sachar Committee observes that the low aggregate work participation ratios for Muslims are ‘essentially’ due to the much lower participation in economic activity by the women of the community. Also, a large number of Muslim women who are engaged in work do so from their homes rather than in offices or factories. Their figure in this regard is 70 per cent compared to the general figure of 51 per cent
There is a high share of Muslim workers in self-employment activity, especially in urban areas and in the case of women, the Committee points out. Whether this trend is due to compulsion or their non-expectation for jobs in the government or non-government formal sector, or due to their inclination for certain types of work that are done best under a self-employment scheme, would be an important subject for study. The fact has to be considered that Muslims in regular jobs in urban areas are much lower in numbers compared to even the SCs/STs. And, surprisingly, the Muslim regular workers get lower daily earnings (salary) in public and private jobs compared to other socio-religious categories, as the Committee points out.
The point that needs special notice is that, according to the Committee’s findings, Muslim participation in professional and management cadres is quite low. Their participation in security-related activities (for example, in the Police services) is considerably lower than their population share (four per cent overall).
In the context of employment of Muslims at the level of the Central Government, the Committee’s findings are very revealing. In the Civil Services, Muslims are only three per cent in IAS, 1.8 per cent in IFS and four per cent in IPS. (While the figures are shockingly low compared to the population percentage, the fact also needs to be considered that there were only 4.7 per cent Muslims among the candidates at the Civil Services examinations in 2003-04. The figure would be almost identical for other years.)
In the Railways, 4.5 per cent are Muslims and, significantly, ‘almost all’ (98.7 per cent) are in low level positions. Are you listening, Laloo Prasad Yadav?
Figures for other Departments are: Education 6.5 per cent, Home 7.3 per cent, Police Constables (for which no special educational qualifications are required) six per cent.
Also to be considered is the finding that in the recent recruitments by State Public Service Commissions, the employment of Muslims has been as low as 2.1 per cent.
Minorities other than Muslims are not placed as delicately as the Muslims. According to the Committee’s findings, 11 per cent of Group A jobs are with minorities other than Muslims. Deprivation of Muslims in the State judical set-up seems to be among the most worrying aspects of their overall backwardness.
The data collected by the Committee in this sector are about all levels of the officers and employees: Advocate Generals, District and Sessions Judges, Additional District and Sessions Judges, Chief Judicial Magistrates, Principal Judges, Munsifs, Public Prosecutors, and Group A, B, C and D employees. The overall Muslim presence of 7.8 per cent in the area of judiciary in 12 States with high concentration of Muslim population is considered very low by experts.
To come back to an old theme, in West Bengal with a Muslim population of over 25 per cent, the figure of Muslims in ‘key positions’ in the judiciary is only five per cent. In Assam with a Muslim population of 30.9 per cent, this figure is 9.4 per cent. Surprisingly, in Jammu and Kashmir (where the Muslim population is 66.97 per cent), the community’s share in the State judiciary is only 48.3 per cent. Andhra Pradesh once again scores over other States in terms of equitable and even more than equitable sharing of jobs: Muslims have a share of 12.4 per cent in the State judiciary against a population share of 9.2 per cent.
Experts feel that for an inclusive democracy, an equitable share for all sections of the society in the judiciary is essential: it creates greater public confidence in the judicial process. It would be useful to survey the situation in this regard in some other developing and developed countries to be able to arrive at some remedial measures for this crucial sector of decision-making.
Health and Population
Along with education and employment, health and population welfare are the other areas that have to be assessed for estimating attainments of any society. The Sachar Committee has done this exercise in a comprehensive manner.
First, the overall population picture: According to the 2001 Census, the Muslim population of India was 138 million (13.4 per cent of the total population). This figure is estimated to have crossed the 150 million mark in 2006. According to the estimate cited by the Committee, the share of the Muslim population would rise ‘somewhat’ and stabilise at just below 19 per cent in the next four decades (320 million Muslims in a total population of 1.7 billion). There are many areas where the Muslim population is 50 per cent or more; and in nine out of 593 districts (Lakshadweep and eight districts of Jammu and Kashmir) the Muslim population is over 75 per cent.
On the positive side, the period 1991-2001 showed a decline in the growth rate of Muslims in most States. According to the Committee’s findings, the Muslim population shows an increasingly better sex ratio compared to other Socio-Religious Categories. Infant mortality among Muslims is slightly lower than the average. (It is beyond the Committee’s understanding how Muslims should have a child survival advantage despite lower levels of female schooling and economic status.) Life expectancy in the community is slightly higher (by one year) than the average, and this should again surprise many.
The Committee’s finding is important that the Muslim child has a significantly greater risk of being underweight or stunted than is the case with other Socio-Religious Categories: the risk of malnutrition is also ‘slightly higher’ for Muslim children than for ‘Other Hindu’ children. This again seems to be a contradiction vis-à-vis the reported child survival rate.
Related to the existing economic condition of Muslims is the issue of providing legitimate support by state and private agencies for the members of the community to improve their position. One would like to examine the situation with regard to trends in the support system of existing instruments. Banks have been seen as an important source of credit to support citizens’ economic and commercial ventures. The picture regarding bank loans to members of the minority is not bright, according to the findings of the Sachar Committee. It says that the share of Muslims in ‘amounts outstanding’ is only 4.7 per cent. This figure is 6.5 per cent in the case of other minorities. Further, on an average the amount outstanding per account for Muslims is about half that of the other minorities and one-third of ‘others’.
The pity is that, according to the report, many areas of Muslim concentration have been marked by many banks as ‘negative’ or ‘red’ zones where giving loans is not advisable. Something would, indeed, have to be done to put an end to such blanket bans, particularly in view of the Committee’s finding that very large numbers of Muslims are engaged in self-employment ventures.
The Reserve Bank of India’s efforts at banking and credit facilities under the Prime Minister’s 15-Point Programme for the welfare of minorities have, according to the Committee’s findings, mainly benefited minorities other than Muslims, thus “marginalising Muslims”.
Apart from the formal banking sector there are two other institutions that are meant to extend loans to the disadvantaged for economic ventures: the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation (NMDFC) and National Backward Classes Finance and Development Corporation (NBCFDC). For loans from the NMDFC, one has to obtain a guarantee from the concerned State Government. According to the Committee, this is the biggest hurdle in the processing of loan applications. And members of minority communities are very adversely affected due to this factor.
The Committee has found that substantially large proportion of Muslim households in urban areas are in the less than Rs 500 expenditure bracket. According to calculations mentioned in the Committee’s report, using the Head Count Ratio (HCR), overall 22.7 per cent of India’s population was poor in 2004-05. In absolute numbers, this amounts to over 251 million people spread across India. The SCs/STs together are the most poor with an HCR of 35 per cent followed by Muslims who record the second highest incidence of poverty with 31 per cent people below the poverty line. The H(indu)-General is the least poor category with an HCR of only 8.7 per cent and the OBCs hold the intermediary level HCR of 21 per cent, which is also close to the all-India average.
The Committee has observed that the inequality is higher in urban areas compared to rural areas in most States. It says that poverty among Muslims is the highest in urban areas with an HCR of 38.4 per cent. Significantly, the fall in poverty for Muslims, according to the data provided to the Committee, has been “only modest during the decade 1993-94 to 2004-05 in urban areas, whereas the decline in rural areas has been substantial”. Poverty leads to neglect, or the other way round: the Committee found a “significant inverse association” between the proportion of Muslim population and educational and other infrastructure in small villages. Areas of Muslim concentration are, somehow, not well served with pucca approach roads and local bus stops.
An analysis by the Committee showed a fall in the availability of medical facilities with the rise in the proportion of Muslims, especially in larger villages. A similar but sharper pattern can be seen with respect to post/telegraph offices.
Under the existing constitutional provisions, affirmative action in the form of reservation cannot be possible for the entire Muslim community even though, according to the findings of the Sachar Committee, the entire community has been left behind in terms of education, employment and economic status. A way can be found to lift a significant segment of the community’s population if social stratification is defined and officially accepted within the Muslim community. It could be done in case of Hindus, and subsequently for Mazhabi Sikhs and neo-Buddhists in terms of caste demarcation. But it would not be easy to have official acceptance of the caste principle. The resistance against acceptance of social stratification on caste lines among Muslims would come largely from the clerics and other orthodox sections of the Muslim community itself which would be adamant in its insistence that caste does not exist within the community. This, even though the fact is that, whether one likes it or not, the Muslim community is divided with caste demarcations almost on the lines of the Hindus. A via media has to be found for a clearly defined backward class like the OBCs among the majority community.
The Sachar Committee has talked of the issue of social stratification among Muslims. It points out that the 1901 Census had listed 133 social groups, “wholly or partially Muslim”, in India. This classification thus recognised the fact of social stratification in the community. The Committee has identified different groups of Muslims based on studies by sociologists. The community, according to these studies, as mentioned by the Committee, is placed into
two broad categories , namely, ashraf and ajlaf. The former, meaning ‘noble’ (emphasis added), includes all Muslims of foreign blood and converts from higher castes. While ajlaf, meaning ‘degraded’ (emphasis added) or ‘unholy’, embraces the ‘ritually clean’ occupational groups and low ranking converts. In Bihar, UP, Bengal, Sayyads, Sheikhs, Moghuls and Pathans constitute the ashrafs, The ajlafs are carpenters, artisans, painters, graziers, tanners, milkmen, etc. According to the Census of 1901, the ajlaf category includes “the various classes of converts who are known as Nao Muslim in Bihar and Nasya in Bengal. It also includes various functional groups such as that of Jolaha or weaver, Dhunia or cotton carder, Kulu or oil presser, Kunjra or vegetable seller, Hajjam or barber, Darzi or tailor, and the like.” The 1901 Census also recorded the presence of a third category called Arzal: “It consists of the very lowest castes, such as Halalkhor, Lalbegi, Abdal and Bedia.” The Committee has taken note of the fact that the Presidential Order (1950), officially known as Constitutional (Scheduled Caste) Order, 1950, restricts the Scheduled Caste status only to Hindu groups having “unclean” occupations. Their non-Hindu equivalents have been bracketed with the “middle caste converts” and declared OBCs.
The Committee has noted that at least 82 different social groups among Muslims were declared OBCs by the Mandal Commission (1980). Owing to this declaration many Muslim social groups got reservation in different parts of the country under the Backward Classes category. Only two States, Kerala and Karnataka, have provided reservation to the State’s entire Muslim population (minus the creamy layer). The roots of this policy have to be traced to the colonial days.
In Karnataka (the erstwhile princely state of Mysore), affirmative action started in 1874 (with 80 per cent posts in the Police Department having been reserved for non-Brahmins, Muslims and Indian Christians). In Karnataka today, all Muslims with income of less than Rs 2 lakhs per annum enjoy four per cent reservation in jobs and admission to institutions in the category of ‘More Backwards’. In Kerala Muslims enjoy 12 per cent reservation, with some other communities and social groups too being provided reservation.
Tamil Nadu, which had a tradition of reservation to Muslims since 1872, withdrew such reservation following independence. Currently even though there is no reservation in the State on the basis of religion, nearly 95 per cent Muslims have been provided reservation as Backward Classes, according to the data provided by the State Government to the Sachar Committee. Significantly enough, reservations in Tamil Nadu stand at 69 per cent, much above the limit of 50 per cent fixed by the Supreme Court. Looking at the state of public employment for OBCs the Committee found that unemployment rates were the highest among Muslim OBCs when compared to Hindu OBCs and Muslims General. In the formal sector (government/PSUs), the share of Muslim OBCs was much lower than those of Hindu OBCs and Muslims General.
At the workers’ level, the Committee estimated that out of every hundred workers about eleven were Hindu OBCs, three were Muslims General and only one was a Muslim OBC.
The Committee had divided public employment into six ‘agencies’ of the Central Government including PSUs and universities. It found that the Hindu OBCs were under-represented. But their under-representation was less than that of Muslim OBCs in five out of the six agencies, less than that of Muslims General in three out of the six agencies. In the State services the Committee found that Muslim OBCs had a better share at the Group A level, but their presence was insignificant at other levels.
In the context of Muslim OBCs, the Committee concluded that the abysmally low representation of Muslim OBCs suggests that the benefits of entitlements meant for the Backward Classes are yet to reach them. The Committee also concluded that “the conditions of Muslims General are also lower than the Hindu-OBCs who have the benefits of reservations”.
While the Sachar Committee has done a laudable job of assembling a huge body of data and presenting it in an easily digestible manner, it has not been as meticulous in formulating its recommendations. Perhaps it was due to the fatigue after an enormous amount of legwork on a national scale and the subsequent analysis of the compiled information that its members had to do in about 15 months of actual work, coupled with the desire of submitting its report rather urgently and the fact that much of the information about its findings had already been accessed by a section of the press. In view of the mind-boggling findings and the very sensitive nature of the ground it was traversing a very comprehensive matrix of recommendations should have been presented by an able and competent panel blending experience and fresh thinking. Unfortunately this could not be achieved by the Committee. The most important recommendations of the Committee can be summarised as under:
• Creation of a National Data Bank (NDB) where relevant data about different socio-religious communities could be stored to facilitate any study and subsequent action.
• Setting up of an autonomous Assessment and Monitoring Authority (AMA) for a regular audit of the benefits of different programmes of the government reaching the concerned communities or groups.
• Establishing an Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) to examine and analyse the grievances of deprived groups, the inspiration understandably for it coming from the Race Relations Act, 1976 of the United Kingdom that finds mention in the Committee’s recommendation.
• Exploring the idea of introducing some incentives to a ‘Diversity Index’ in the realms of education, government, and private employment and housing programmes. Special mention has been made of a possible programme of incentives to colleges and institutions under the University Grants Commission linked to diversity in the student population.
• Evolving some sort of a ‘nomination’ procedure for enhancing the levels of inclusiveness in governance.
• Certain measures like removal of anomalies in Reserved Constituencies for General Elections against complaints of declaring Muslim concentration areas as SC/ST reserved seats.
• Institutionalising evaluation procedures for textbooks, alternate admission criteria in regular universities and autonomous colleges; cost friendly reasonable hostel facilities for minority students as a priority; making teacher training oriented to ideals of pluralism; state-run Urdu medium schools for primary education in mother tongue; ensuring appointment of experts from minority community on interview panels and boards; linking madrasas with higher secondary schools facilitating shift of students who might opt for a mainstream education system after a few years; recognition of degrees from madrasas for competitive examinations (a recommendation hard to find acceptance in any section of concerned quarters); on the economic front, provision of financial and other support to initiatives built around occupations where Muslims are concentrated and that have growth potential.
The above suggestions have given considerable food for thought with regard to the panacea for deprivation of the Muslim community in various spheres. But a more comprehensive and concrete programme should have been suggested by the Committee.
This task could have been performed best by the able members of this panel who had travelled far and wide and acquainted themselves with the grassroots realities rather than leaving it for another possible committee for a start from a scratch. This was essential to get action initiated on the basis of its findings instead of letting this venture too meet the fate of the earlier Gopal Singh Committee over two decades ago that had similar findings (although it had a narrower coverage than the Sachar Committee). Now it is for the Prime Minister and his government to decide the future course of action to remedy the situation regarding the travails of the Muslim community.
Much of the Sachar Committee’s endeavour was in pursuance of the perception among Muslims of utter neglect and apathy, and even suspicion, towards the Muslim community on the part of governmental agencies—right or wrong! An oft-repeated remark by many members of the community was that Muslims carried a double burden of being labelled as ‘anti-national’ and as being ‘appeased’ at the same time. Or, whenever any act of violence or terror occurs Muslim boys are picked up by the police. “Every bearded man is considered an ISI agent,” the Committee has quoted someone as saying. It was also pointed out that “social boycott of Muslims in certain parts of the country have forced them to migrate from places where they lived for centuries.”
The Committee has also observed that identification of Urdu as a Muslim language and its politicisation has complicated matters. A worrying observation is that Muslims do not see education as necessarily translating into formal employment. And, many a time madrasas are the only educational option for Muslims.
On the economic front, the Committee observes that liberalisation of the economy has resulted in displacement of Muslims from their traditional occupations, thus depriving them of their livelihood.
The Committee has reported that there were many complaints of Muslims’ names missing from electoral rolls. It could not look into the veracity or otherwise of this complaint. But what the Committee found in case of complaints that a number of Muslim concentration Assembly constituencies are declared as ‘reserved’ seats for the SCs (deliberately?) should certainly worry those involved with the work of delimitation of constituencies. Its analysis of reserved constituencies for SCs in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal proved that there was truth in the allegation of the members of the minority community in this regard.
With the perception of Muslims not being quite favourable to official agencies, the revelation of the findings of the Sachar Committee with regard to over-representation of the community in the country’s prisons, reported (before the submission of its report to the Prime Minister) by The Indian Express, in its series of reports entitled ‘The Missing Muslim’, created a sensation. The Urdu press was on fire and questions were asked why prisons were the only place where Muslims were over-represented compared to all other communities and in some cases their representation being much higher than their population proportion.
In Maharashtra, the percentage of Muslim jail inmates in all categories was found to be way above their share in the population (share in population: 10.6 per cent; share in prison inmates: 17.5 per cent). In Gujarat the position was: share in population: 9.06 per cent; share in jail inmates: over 25 per cent). The situation was on similar lines in other States too although the jail inmate share might not be as bad in other States as in the States mentioned above.
Following the submission of the report to the Prime Minister, The Indian Express reported that the data with regard to prisons were edited out of the Sachar report, following the concern expressed on these figures in different quarters. Some observers felt that the prison figures should not have been omitted, as they would have given a clear picture of some of the Muslim grievances with regard to the more sensitive issues.
The remedy for the travails of the Muslim community can be found largely by the community’s bolder initiatives in the field of education that would empower them as nothing else would.
The government, on its part, seems to be ready for whatever remedial measures can be adopted by its different agencies. The recent initiative taken by the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, K. Rehman Khan, to arrive at a consensus for action on an all-party basis, through a conclave of Muslim MPs (including some from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been very critical of the very appointment of the Sachar Committee), seems to be a significant one. One only hopes that such an initiative would have the support of the government and some concrete steps would be taken without much delay.