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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 19, April 25, 2009

Reservation and Sustainable Development of Muslims

Sunday 26 April 2009, by N Jamal Ansari


At the outset, I wish to make it clear that the subject I have chosen is a sensitive subject, as it deals not only with the dream of development within the Muslim society of India but also the relationship with the country‘s power elite. I am not an authority on the subject and the attempt to analyse the issue is purely due to the concerns for the community. In this context, I have to examine their present socio-politico status and ways to uplift them from ghetto existence.

It is now more than 61 years since India became independent as a successful outcome of the prolonged struggle for freedom waged by its people against alien rule. Many people had been skeptical about our winning freedom through a non-violent struggle but the incredible feat had been accomplished in which Muslims played a unique role. Ulemas had issued fatwas against Britishers and refused to withdraw them endangering their life. Masses rose to the occasion and fought pitched battles shoulder to shoulder with their Hindu brothers.

India became a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular Democratic Republic on January 26, 1950 and the Constitution we gave ourselves assured the dignity of the individual (including Muslims of course) as well as the unity of the nation. All religious dominations in the world—some of which are unique to India and exist nowhere else—are to be found in this country. However, despite swearing by secularism, a strange perversion of this concept has taken place from day one. This perversion is the dominant factor behind the overall downfall of the Muslims in almost all fields. If this negative development is not halted, it could pose a serious threat to the unity and integrity of India.

When independence came, it had been widely hoped that it would usher in a new era of allround economic and social progress with poverty banished from the land and reasonable standards of living assured for all and the egalitarian ideals translated into reality. While satisfactory progress has been registered by all sections of the Indian society including the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Muslims remained stagnant in the same condition. Rather, their socio-economic status is declining day by day. The findings of the Justice Rajindar Sachar Committee, recently tabled in Parliament, is a mirror. This is not the first time since independence that India has learnt about the inadequacy of the well-being of the Muslims. The essence of what the Sachar Committee has put on record is common knowledge. I quote from a study conducted over 25 years ago for a doctorate level research.1 The survey was conducted in 111 schools of four districts of western Uttar Pradesh (Etah, Etawah, Muzaffarnagar and Moradabad) that had a high Muslim population. The findings of the study are:

1. The distribution of Hindu-Muslim population was 79:21; enrolment in schools was in the ratio 93:7. The drop-out rates were higher for Muslim children.

2. The pass percentage of Hindus was much higher than that of the Muslim children.

3. The textbooks in Hindi, compulsory Sanskrit and Social Studies had contents with religious overtones not to the liking of the Muslim children. A sense of their religion being ignored was evident.

4. Both parents and children from the Muslim community wanted Urdu as the medium of instruc-tion.

5. Only 10 out of 111 schools had facilities for teaching Urdu.

6. No Hindu student offered Urdu as a subject.

7. The prayers, the dramas, use of pictures and paintings, the writings on the walls in Hindi, the invitees and visitors to the schools indicated a cultural bias.

8. The contents of the textbooks, the school culture, lack of facilities for learning Urdu and the absence of mother tongue as the medium of instruction created disinterest in students leading to lower enrolment rates and higher dropouts.


Logically nothing in the above context has changed in favour of the Muslim community. If we take into account the Sachar Committee‘s findings, they are also more or less the same. Muslims are at the bottom of the education ladder falling even below the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Figures given below show the pathetic condition of Muslims as far as enrolment in schools is concerned.2

Male (Urban)
Muslim 72% 80%
SC/ST 72% 90%
Others 90% 95%
Female (Urban)
Muslim 52% 80%
SC/ST 50% 83%
Others 80% 92%
Male (Rural)
Muslim 60% 75%
SC/ST 50% 85%
Others 80% 90%
Female (Rural)
Muslim 32% 68%
SC/ST 19% 72%
Others 40% 80%

All these figures are crying for remedial action. Do members of the Indian political elite have the “will” to take up the challenge and uplift them?

As far as employment and job opportunities are concerned, a strong sense of bias may be noted. Muslims are under-represented even in government jobs including PSUs. As far as the private sector is concerned, no authentic data is available but the situation is not much rosy there too. Just for an academic exercise, take the Sachar Committee Report. Figures for eleven States indicate a grim picture of Muslims in government jobs.3

If the prevailing situation is as portrayed above, when the employer is the government, then the conclusion may be drawn that there is a deep- rooted conspiracy even at the government level and that there is no political “will” to correct the wrongs done to the Muslims.

If we take a glance at the political representation of the Muslims, it is as disheartening as the other conclusions. Since the first general elections, their representation is gradually declining. Although in 1980 they registered 48 seats in Parliament, they were still under-represented. The following chart shows Muslims in the Lok Sabha since the first general elections:4

Year Number of Muslims
1952 N.A.
1957 23
1962 23
1967 29
1971 27
1977 32
1980 48
1984 41
1989 29
1990 27
1996 28
1998 29
1999 32
2004 36

No doubt in the Rajya Sabha, their representation is better but what matters politically is the Lok Sabha. The Muslims are in a majority in eleven constituencies including three in Jammu and Kashmir. They are in high concentration in another thirtyfour constituencies. In fiftythree other constituencies, they are well above 15 per cent of the total population. In another twelve constituencies, they are just below 15 per cent. A study of the last four general elections reveals that most Muslim MPs get elected from the first two categories of the constituencies. Politically Muslims stand nowhere.

After education, employment and political power, let me discuss the effect of globalisation on the Muslims. All around the world today many advocates of equal opportunities and social justice are in a state of despair. There is a fear that “equal opportunities” is a lost cause in a global economy. Nobody can stop India from getting globalised now. When there was a time in the 1990s to oppose it, we slept over the issue. I think the best way to fight globalisation in the present conditions is to take prudent and cautious actions. Many manufacturing businesses are in the hands of Muslims. Glasswares of Firozabad, locks of Aligarh, brasswares of Moradabad, carpets of Bhadohi etc. all are under the threat of globalisation. Muslims are not in a large number of jobs but a major section of them is self-employed in small scale business. They are going to be hit hard.

State Muslim Population (%) Share in State Jobs Share in State PSUs
Higher Position Lower Positon
Assam 30.9 11.2 N.A. N.A.
West Bengal 25.2 4.2 0 1.4
Uttar Pradesh 18.5 5.1 6.2 5.3
Bihar 16.5 7.6 8.6 6.4
Jharkhand 13.8 6.7 N.A. N.A.
Karnataka 12.2 8.5 8.6 9.9
Delhi 11.7 3.2 2.1 5.6
Maharashtra 10.6 4.4 1.9 1.1
Andhra Pradesh 9.2 8.8 N.A. N.A.
Gujarat 9.1 5.4 8.5 16.0
Tamil Nadu 5.6 3.2 3.2 2.6

No doubt, there is a lot of talk and discussion on the Sachar Committee Report and its findings but the findings are not so much important as the blueprint of future actions. What should be done? What corrective measures should be applied?

First of all, there should be a “will” within the ruling elite to uplift the Muslims. I personally doubt such a “will” because we have the example of the Srikrishna Commission Report (on the 1992-93 Mumbai riots) which strongly indicted politicians, police officials and even bureaucrats for engineering mass killings (close to genocide) of Muslims. But it is gathering dust despite the fact that in Maharashtra and at the Centre the same political party is in power. Why are they shying away from taking actions? Anyhow let us discuss some points for an academic exercise.

Broadly, constitutional reservation is the only way. When the Sachar Committee Report has clearly revealed that Muslims are lagging behind even the SC/STs then, I think, the state has the responsibility to grant them reservation on the same ground on which SC/STs had got it. If that is not possible, then there is another option which covers almost eighty per cent of the Muslim population. The Mandal Commission has provided 27 per cent reservation to the Other Backward Classes including the Muslim OBCs. But in reality the Muslim OBCs are not getting their share at all due to the prevailing bias. The existing bias may be understood by recent reports that “Hindu OBCs are only 30 per cent of the total Hindu population whereas Muslim OBCs account for 65 per cent of the total Muslim population”.5 Though sociologists believe that nearly 80 to 85 per cent of the total Muslim population is in the OBC category, if we take into account only 65 per cent then too the share of Muslims in the Mandal Commission reservation umbrella should be enhanced. Muslims constitute nearly 12 per cent of the total population of India. OBC Muslims should get at least 12 per cent reservation within the 27 per cent exclusively. If that can be done without any prejudice then a majority of the Muslims will be under reservation umbrella and that will enhance their prospects of developing themselves.


Dalit Muslims are another section of the Indian Muslim society who are crying for justice. Though Islam does not sanction any stratification in society, Muslims in India practise casteism and Dalit Muslims form the lowest rung of that society. On the one hand they failed to get love and attention of their co-religionists and on the other hand the Indian Constitution has done grave injustice to them. Article 341 of the Constitution of India provides reservation benefits to Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits but deny the same to Christian and Muslim Dalits on the ground of their religion. It is a very irrational denial. Dalit Muslims and Christians should also be included in the same category alongwith Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits. The Constitution should not favour one religion and ignore another.

If OBC Muslims get their due share, that is, 12 per cent within the 27 per cent reservation, and Dalit Muslims are included alongwith Hindu Dalits and declared SCs, then a majority of Muslims will automatically fall under the reservation category and there will be no need to demand reservation for all Muslims at all.

Democracy in a plural society depends on how the legislature, which is the fountainhead of political power, represents every section of the people. In India, it seems that a conspiracy is being hatched to block the way of Muslims in legislatures. Most of the constituencies, which have more than 25 per cent Muslim concentration, have been reserved for the Scheduled Castes. It deprives them from contesting in those seats. If we want to see India as a plural society and a truly secular nation, then there should be reservation in legislatures also. Political representation of the Muslims is falling day by day and there is an urgent need to arrest it.

Education is becoming expensive. The economic position of the Muslims does not allow them to afford costly education at all. The government should ponder over the question of uplifting them educationally. Two-tier efforts may be made in that direction. First of all, the government should accept that the main problem of education among Muslims is poverty and not religion or lack of will. There is the will but lack of resources stop them from getting educated. The Narsimha Rao Government had announced a grant of Rs 500 crores to the Maulana Azad Foundation to meet the educational needs of the community. But it gave only Rs 100 crores. The Congress party in Maharashtra in its election manifesto promised Rs 100 crores for Muslims but has given just Rs 5 crores. There are not many industrialists among Muslims who may come forward for this cause. So, it is the government itself which should move in and do something not for popular votes but for uplifting a major section of the Indian citizenry. Secondly, community leaders, Ulemas and intellectuals should sit together and use the already existing infrastructure of the Madarsas. With very little effort, these Madarsas can be transformed into modern educational centres where both religious and vocational studies may be imparted simultaneously. Personally I feel that the step will yield good results as far as educating the Indian Muslims is concerned. And finally, Muslims should be provided reservation in higher education and elite institutions such as the IITs and IIMs.


Another area which demands immediate attention of the government and intellectuals is the security of the honour and life of the Muslims. Without security, no community or individual can make progress. Muslims are the most insecure section of the Indian citizenry. The Gujarat genocide (2002) is a milestone of prejudiced governance and administration. Each riot, every minor incident and the so-called “war against terrorism” indicate the biased approach of the police force as well as security agencies. A society can live and develop with bad politicians and incompetent administrators but cannot survive with a prejudiced and communalised police force. There is an urgent need to raise Muslim representation in all the security forces. India’s social composition should be portrayed in these agencies which will also raise the people’s trust.

All the points discussed above are important not only for the development of the Muslims in India but also for preserving and enhancing India’s image as a secular nation. The 1986 UN Declaration of Right to Development is another dimension which calls for immediate intervention of the state in the case of Muslims. The Right to Development aims at the improvement of the well-being of the entire population on the basis of free, active and meaningful participation and fair distribution of the gains of development. Reduction of regional disparities and peaceful secure environment become essential components of realising the Right to Development. Any sign of deprivation and domination would severely jeopardise the progress towards equitable development. The Sachar Committee Report and its findings are a product of the history of betrayal on the part of the ruling elite in the case of Muslims. Still there is time when the corrective measures can be applied.

As far as empowerment of the Muslims is concerned, I shall give an example of the Malaysian experience of power-sharing which may become a model for India. Power-sharing means “to share authority embodied in the formal institutions of decision-making connected to the state”. Malaysia has a Muslim dominated majority with substantial non-Muslim minorities like Buddhists, Hindus, Christians etc. Evidence of this power-sharing is found in all walks of life. Within the political sphere right from the country’s independence in 1957, there have been a number of prominent non-Muslim legislatures at both the federal and State levels. In the Federal Cabinet and State Cabinets, there is reasonable non-Muslim representation. Besides, there are non-Muslims in senior public service positions. The Malaysian judicial service boasts of an array of non-Muslim judges. Even in the armed forces a large number of non-Muslims have risen to the upper echelons. The non-Muslim elite are integral to the decision-making process. The great challenge facing the Indian Constitution—to translate the constitutional equality of the citizens into a reality—may be solved by the Malaysian experience.

The demand of the Muslims for constitutional reservation is a struggle through which they are trying to assert their right to fair and just development and the Malaysian example may become a vehicle to achieve it, provided the Indian political elite have enough “will” for the purpose.n

References and Notes

1. Dr. B.S. Gupta, a senior faculty member of the NCERT, conducted a study titled, “Equality of Educational Opportunities and Muslims” in 1980.

2. Sachar Committee Report, as quoted in the Daily Indian Express, October 23, 2006.

3. Sachar Committee Report, as quoted by the Daily Indian Express, October 27, 2006.

4. Quoted in “Muslim Indian’s Quest for Due Representation in Legislatures” by Syed Shahabuddin, South Asia Politics, March 2005, p. 18.

5. Report, “Hindu OBCs are only 30 pc of population”, The Pioneer, November 3, 2006.

The author is a commentator on social and political issues.

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