Reservation is not the answer to bring Muslims in the mainstream
What was known all along in the drawing rooms of flourishing Muslims has now become official: After nearly 60 years of Independence and so-called appeasement of the Muslims, the community has consistently been sliding down on all parameters of development, educational, social and economic; so much so that today the status of the community is worse than that of the scheduled castes and tribes. This must have required some effort, because if popular perception is to be believed, Muslims have been the most pampered people in India.
As the findings of Justice Sachar committee report on the status of Muslims started trickling in through deliberate media leaks, the heckles were raised with some BJP leaders saying that the government was going to use the report to further appease the Muslims. Actually they are not entirely incorrect. Successive governments since Independence have resorted to appeasement of Muslims; and the BJP-led NDA government was no exception. The NDA got a Muslim President elected, it increased the Haj subsidy and it gave undeserving prominence to two poster-boys, whose only claim to fame was being Muslims in a Muslim-bashing party.
However, the point is not the appeasement of the Muslims, but how they managed to slide down so much in a mere half a century. Sure, the Partition of India disempowered those Muslims who chose to stay in India. With political and economic disempowerment, they started sliding down on the social and educational graph as well. Add to this, the appeasement bogey, the deliberate discrimination in certain government jobs and you have a clear case of a huge population living on the fringes of the national mainstream. It does not require genius to understand that if a large group stays on the margins for a long period, his stakes in national development as well as security also reduce. The last few years have thrown up ample evidence to show this. On the flip side, because of the absence of Muslims in the mainstream, including government jobs, the majority, especially the law-enforcing bodies, have remained ignorant about them, their social and cultural customs, limitations and strengths. This shows up in their attitude towards Muslim institutions, whether madrassas or mosques.
But all is not lost. By constituting the Sachar Committee, the Prime Minister showed that he is serious about the uplift of the community. But now that the report is out, the government must very seriously avoid the reservation trap despite pressure from various sections, especially the Muslims, because that would completely defeat the purpose of the Sachar Committee. The Muslim baiters would once again raise the bogey of appeasement and discrimination at higher level would continue. Muslims are backward socially and educationally not only because they are discriminated against. Probably they are, but for that to happen they first need to reach the place, whether school or an office, where they could be discriminated against. As a starting point, the government needs to work closely with Muslims organisations running madrassas, because this is one institution where a large number of people send their children. Without adding to the burden on the parents, the curriculum at madrassas should be made broad-based and in tune with the mainstream schools with special facilities for girls. At the level of government schools, efforts should be made either by the schools or by mohalla committees in the neighbourhood to ensure that children do not drop out. A majority of Muslim children drop out after class five or eight because of poverty. Even if education is free, school hours eat up into their working hours. At the level of employment, it may not be a bad idea to conduct recruitment rallies for lower levels in Muslim dominated areas. Not only will such rallies encourage more Muslims to queue up for jobs, it will also instil some kind of confidence among them about the state being indiscriminate. The armed forces have been conducting such rallies in Jammu and Kashmir as part of their Sadbhavana programme to win over the hearts and minds of the local population. What is the harm if such programmes are conducted in Muslim ghettos all over the country?
And to silence the appeasement charges, remove the irritants. One of those is the Haj subsidy. Islamically speaking, no Muslim should depend upon charity to fulfil the most pious of his religious obligations, especially when it is clearly stated that you should perform Haj only after you have met all your worldly responsibilities and you do not owe a single penny to anyone. So those who can afford it should go for Haj, as for the rest, if they can, they should raise money from within the community instead of asking the government. And to make going to Arabia more competitive, the monopoly enjoyed by Air India should be stopped and the private airlines ought to be allowed fair play. As for the other irritant, the Muslim Personal Law, every time the Hindutva types make the noise about Uniform Civil Code, the Muslims cling even more closely to the personal law. So instead of discussing justice or equal rights, the issue is reduced to an illiterate debate on Muslim appeasement and baiting. Surely, nobody in his right mind can treat absence of a UCC as a threat to national security.