By Dipankar Gupta
THE Sachar Committee Report could have done a number of things, but ended up doing just one. It fed our addiction to Reservations instead of being the healing touch. It contained the right message but went to the wrong address.
We did not need a special commission to know that Muslims are generally poorer than the average Indian, or that they have lower educational qualifications, or even that they are under- represented in the state and private sectors.
These facts are about as hot as yesterday’s news.
The real point of the Sachar Report was to remind us that though these features are passé, their resolution requires us to think afresh. In particular, we were admonished not to rely on the familiar “ social discrimination” argument.
This was the compressed, spring loaded political message of Sachar’s Report, but it missed its intended target. Muslim Reservation advocates dodged this missive blithely and took cover in tomes of poverty and educational data that the Sachar Committee had already pronounced as inconclusive.
The Sachar Commission begins with a straight confession. The authors acknowledge that none of the data they have collected on Muslim poverty and their relative lack of education can be nailed to the door as evidences of discrimination.
If anything, the Committee members weigh in on the side of those who believe that economic backwardness, more than discrimination, is the major cause for the negative status that hovers, spectre like, over Muslims.
If that should be the case, then we don’t need Reservations with blanket quotas.
Instead, as the Sachar Committee suggests, it is necessary to design programmes that affect specific areas of Muslim backwardness. Besides adding muscle to the general anti- poverty schemes, it also recommends a closer attention to equal opportunities and a calibrated nomination procedure to enhance Muslim presence in politics and governance.
In line with this we might also contemplate a greater presence of Muslims in certain sensitive departments, such as in the police, and so on. Incidentally, one of the more successful measures that America adopted to fight racism was to disproportionately increase the number of Blacks in the police force. If all this requires yet another commission, so be it! Whoever said policy making was easy was probably only thinking “ Reservations”.
Indeed the Sachar Committee confirms that in upper class opportunities, such as those opened by the IIMs and the UPSC tests, Muslims did as well as the rest.
This instantly takes the polish off the “ Reservations for Muslims” campaign. In fact, a close reading of the Report underlines the old finding that when it comes to handicrafts, self- employment and small scale enterprises, Muslims outperform other communities. Is it then possible that if there are fewer Muslims in low paying government jobs it is because they have chosen to opt out of them? There is no point in being an underpaid underling if there are better pickings to be found in working for oneself.
For those who are not convinced about Muslim entrepreneurship and want to know more, a visit to the carpet belt of East Uttar Pradesh or Khoja Chawl or to Mohammad Ali Road in Mumbai is highly recommended. Interestingly, Bal Thackeray encouraged Marathis in his 1970s Marmik column “ Udyogi Marathi”, to spurn low paying jobs and set up their own businesses instead. In other words, junk the pao bhaji for the srikhand and be a real manoos for a change!
Additionally, the Sachar Report also lays low a few popular prejudices. For example, it finds that being a Muslim does not necessarily mean a dogged rejection of birth control. Not only is the fertility rate going down among Muslims, but it must also to be said that in places like Puducherri they have taken to family planning more readily than any other community. Even the Christians have been left behind. Unarguably, there are many shortcomings in the statistical analysis of the Sachar Report.
It also has too many tables taken straight out of the National Sample Survey, and too few with data of its own.
However, as a public document it does rather well in unsettling creatures of intellectual habit. But as the Report went to the wrong destination, its many interesting findings were ignored, as were the subtlety of its arguments and the devil in the details. We need to be able to sift through what discrimination means to different communities. The prejudices Muslims feel are vastly different from what the Scheduled Castes experience.
This in turn is streets away from the “sons of the soil” clamour of Shiv Sena and MNS. A few Scheduled Caste entrepreneurs and white collar functionaries are emerging today, but still very tentatively.
They have still a long way to go, especially when compared with the established Muslim elite of this country.
In fact, there are parts of India, including in your very own district, where even rich and successful Muslims feel discriminated against. One can also sense this sentiment among prosperous rural Muslims, for example, the Muley Jats of west UP. The Babri Masjid episode may have deeply humiliated them, even rendered them vulnerable, but catch them having a cup of tea with a Harijan or a Valmiki! Discrimination obviously means different things to different people.
Substance of discrimination
Not only does the substance of discrimination and prejudice vary, but the position of Muslims too differs from state to state and from city to city. Sadly, this is one issue that Sachar’s team generally ignores. In Mumbai, after 1993, no Shiv Sainik dared mess with Muslims, yet in Ahmedabad, post 2002, Muslims continue to be soft targets.
It is this fear of becoming easy prey to Hindu chauvinists that is at the root of the “ Muslim issue”. Reservations can do nothing to relieve this pain. What Muslims need is justice. This holds true for the riot victim as it does for a person who is denied a fair shot at a job. We have perfectly good laws to handle such issues, the problem is that they are not observed, and the Muslims know this only too well.
How could Reservations have helped Ehsan Jafri from being killed by riotous Hindu mobs in his own apartment in Gulbarg Society, Ahmedabad? What can Reservations do to give his wife and children justice; as indeed to Bilkis Bano and to hundreds of other victims of the Gujarat carnage of 2002? Muslim expressions of being discriminated against are coloured by these features, and not by statistical figures of poverty and literacy.
It is not only the poor, but many fortunate Muslims too, who feel this discrimination in their bones.
It is to this aspect then that policy makers should pay attention, instead of dismissing it for want of hard, quantifiable facts. Professional Muslims and their intellectual supporters shun this line of thinking for it does them no good. To ask for justice would offend their political masters and cut short their careers. No ruling party in India wants to know, or even be reminded of, its many transgressions of justice, especially when it comes to being gentle to ethnic killers.
But by demanding Reservations you can have backwardness and the plums of office too!
The writer is a Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Delhi
Source: Mail Today