“In Services, generally speaking, the representation of the minority communities is lessening. In some cases it is very poor indeed. Looking through, central secretariat figures, as well as some others. I am distressed to find that the position is very disadvantageous to them. Chiefly to the Muslims and sometimes to others also. In our Defense services, there are hardly any Muslims left. In the vast central secretariat of Delhi, there are very few Muslims” – Jawarhar Lal Nehru (1953)
Sixty years after Pundit Nehru observed and commented on the plight of Muslims in India, their social and economic condition is no more a clandestine talk. A report drafted by retired Justice Sacchar, popularly known as the Sacchar Committee report depicting the vulnerable condition of the community was indeed a revolutionary step towards bringing to fore data confirming the actual conditions of the religious community amidst the alleged politics of Minority appeasement. Justice Sacchar played out his part of the revolution and passed the batons on the shoulder of those, who this revolution concerns.
Almost a decade after the report was brought out in public domain, not much has been to implement the recommendations especially in the light of Ranganath commission. The report that revealed shocking and astonishing facts in a country that call itself world’s largest democracy has been laid to rest in cold boxes since then. However, if one would talk to the representatives of the erstwhile congress government, it appears as if considerable efforts have been made for its implementation. But the same government in fear of embarrassment did not let the Kundu Committee report be public. Kundu Committee reports maps the progress made by the community in years following Sacchar report.
Despite this Sacchar committee report has been assimilated as a strong political symbol for electoral benefits. On one hand, the secular outfits attempt to polarise minorities using it and on the contrary the Conservatives term it as a tool for minority appeasement.
This hypocritical approach of the Indian elite is an earnest threat to the democratic structure of the India Constitution, which is a perfect embodiment of Democracy and Secularism. The situation demands a systematic and planned strategy to pull back this religious minority from the margins.
The report states in purely blatant words that Muslims are most Socio- Economically backwards community in India. They lag behind Dalits who are prospering at a faster rate than the Muslims. It categorically articulates the factors which led to such deprivation faced by the community. Standing at the edges, the community is further victimised in the name of war against terror where symbols that relate to terror have been internalised with Islam as a religion. In the process, the entire community has been painted with one brush.
In these deplorable conditions, what lays ahead for the community? Depends on the methodology and intensity of struggle that the community wages for their own Survival. In the centre of any struggle should be efforts to mobilise leaders within the community. In terms of Ideology, it wouldn’t be appropriate to submit it to one school of thought but rather consolidate itself in a position to bargain.
In liberal understanding, strengthening of reforms within the community with developmental strategies, without demanding reservation would automatically lead to the Upliftment of the community. But liberals while arguing this assume that the nature of the state is just and it does not indulge into systematic discrimination. The Social Democrats and conservatives from the minority community will look at reservation as the only solution. And on the extreme left Marxists would stick to their old time faith in Class struggle, failing to recognise discrimination based on Identity.
If one sits back to equate these ideological parameters on a rational scale, considering Muslims Socio-Economic status, it wouldn’t be difficult to argue that the community needs to adopt a strategy that can intersect with all the above mentioned ideological position and start bargaining.
It is true when liberals argue that the community should initiate internal reforms and try to launch community backed development programs. But least to forget, that Saachar specifically points out that the community faces discrimination also at the hands of the state. In these situations, reforms alone cannot be a deterrent. The importance of reservation was at its best articulated in the Mandal commission report, it read, “To treat unequal’s as equals is to perpetuate inequality, when we allow week and strong to compete on an equal footing, we are loading the dice in favour of the strong and only holding a mock competition in which the weakened partner is destined to failure from the start.”
Muslim conservatives while campaigning for reservation for the community would argue that existing condition of the community owes to its deviation from the prescribed religious path. This lot assumes that community can achieve prosperity only in the light of following the religious text. In a democratic country, this approach by its nature appears unfit apart from its mythical assumptions. Marxists, unable to come out of their cocoon of class and class struggle would only contradict their demands for reservation of the community with their ideological understanding. They would again be ignorant to the need for reforms within the community and will wait for a “total people’s revolution.”
Considering the above ideological positioning, it would be apt to say that the struggle for the Upliftment of the minority community cannot be left battering into different hands. But a comprehensive and planned strategy are need of the time. A strong Vanguard force emerging from within the community is thrusting demand of time. There needs to be a close coordination of organisations working towards the said goal.
Broadly five different areas of work can be identified, (1) Reforms within the community (2) community Financial Units (3) Legal Networks (4) Cultural and Academic Network ( 5) Strong Political leadership.
The process of reform should engage community workers in bringing children to school and colleges, mobilising resources to provide scholarships to meritorious students besides setting public welfare facilities. This should be substantiated with efforts to increase minority representation and holding in Media and other public spaces. This has to be carried out with a massive plan and abundant resources.
The need for all this can be aptly understood in the following words of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, who in a letter to his friend wrote, “If Muslims don’t take to Modern education, their position in the society will not just demarcate, but will reach a point from where it will be impossible for them to come back.” This was written more than a century ago. Besides this, setting up financial units will also play a vital role especially when Justice Sachhar report clearly specifies that availability of loans and banking facilities are not easily available to the Muslim community. A rich legal network will serve the purpose of providing relief to those who have been witch-hunted in the name of fighting terror.
Cultural fronts have played an important and pivotal role in several movements, Muslim leadership needs to borrow this from the left and use it as a tool to mobilise masses. It can be a revolutionary mean of combating hatred being injected into this naturally Multicultural and plural Society. Academic networks will help, build up discourses on the issues faced by the community.
But in the core of these measures, a sincere effort should be made to evolve a Charismatic leadership from the community. The leadership should absolutely refrain from indulging into spiritual matters and shall largely confine itself to debates and discussion on the Constitutional rights of the community. It should also be understood that no organisation can achieve its goals through democratic means unless it is democratic in the character itself. The Muslim community should honestly contemplate on the question of caste and address related issues. The leadership should desist from getting associated with mainstream political organisations and focus on issue-based mobilisation. A close network with International organisations working on rights is also need of the time.
Asad Ashraf who works as principal correspondent with The Statesman, Delhi is a Senior journalist and writes on muslim issues among other things.