By Firoz Bakht Ahmed
With Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) getting the “minority” tag through the quasi-judicial body NCMEI (National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions), Muslims across the nation are jubilant, as they think they have won a big legal war. But quotas based on religion are unconstitutional. If at all reservations are to be there, these must go to the category of have-nots, no matter what their religion.
Muslims have not even won a small battle, let alone a war. These quotas are going to alienate them further. There is a potential threat of the historic Jamia falling into the clutches of fundamentalists. Merit will take a back seat as well.
If we go on politically appeasing each and every section of the population on the basis of caste, creed and religion, India will be a divided house. I pity the majority community, which, after 22 per cent SC/ST reservation, 27.9 per cent OBC reservation, Kashmiri migrants reservation, army personnel reservation and now 50 per cent Jamia-like reservation, has actually become the victimised “minority” instead of the “majority”.
Reservations are no more than crutches for Muslims as the only solution lies in competing and making a mark in the field of merit. There’s a message for all the so-called “friends” of Muslims howling for reservations that an ostrich mentality is never going to help them. Moreover, they must not fall into the vote-bank trap of the Congress.
The very fact that the secular character of Jamia is enshrined in its basic Act contradicts this decision to declare it a minority institution. It was mooted at the behest of Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar together, and nowhere is it mentioned that Jamia was created by the Muslims and for the Muslims only.
As a law-abiding and educated Indian Muslim, I feel reservation — a word misused by one political party or the other to cajole and fool Muslims — based on religion should end. In fact, it is time Muslims are dissuaded from reservation and persuaded to launch themselves into the mainstream by hard work.
I want the minorities to have an honourable place by no longer looking for charity in the form of quota and accepting the challenges of a competitive life.
Reservation degrades the universal concept of merit, logically as well as ethically. Reservation on the basis of religion is uncalled for in a secular polity. Let us not harm our future because of unequal treatment in the past. In light of their past contribution to the nation, be it in the field of sport, art or architecture or during the freedom struggle, Muslims must ask themselves what they can give to the nation and not just vice-versa.
However, it should be clear that Muslims are among the most disadvantaged and backward of all the underprivileged sections of society. According to a survey by Friends for Education, an NGO, almost 52 per cent Muslims live below the poverty line, compared to about 25 per cent of all Indians. Of every 100 Muslim students admitted at the primary level, only four pass out of high school while only one makes it to college.
In the armed forces, the percentage is just 2.4 while in judiciary departments all over the country, it doesn’t go beyond 3.1. In the last civil services exam, only 11 Muslims were among 422 successful candidates. The situation continues to be the same in other walks of life. Reservation cannot bring any change in this pathetic state of affairs; only a sincere and concerted effort to uplift Muslims educationally can do that.
Jawaharlal Nehru, addressing a session of the Constituent Assembly on May 26, 1949, said, “If you seek to give safeguards to a minority, you isolate it. Maybe you protect it to a slight extent, but at what cost? At the cost of isolating and keeping it away from the main current.”
It would be worth examining what the founding fathers say about reservation. Sardar Patel supported the charter providing political safeguards to minorities, under Articles 292 and 294 of the Draft Constitution, but five out of seven leaders, namely Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Hifzur Rehman, Begum Aizaz Rasul, Hussainbhoy Laljee and Tajammul Hussain, opposed it.
Can jobs against a quota end their woes? How can the educational, economic and social condition of 15 per cent of a billion people be expected to change with a few seats in a university or some government jobs? Those who are really interested in the uplift of Muslims should vigorously support the inbuilt social reform current growing in the community, promote literacy and education campaigns, insist on gender equality in family and inheritance laws, educate the girl child and create opportunities for hapless Muslims so that they empower themselves through education and the acquisition of new skills.
Firoz Bakht Ahmed is a Delhi-based writer
Source: The Indian Express