Muslim Woes Just Being Recorded By A PM High Committee Isn’t Enough. Here’s Why

What Led To The Monumental Sachar Committee Report Of 2006?

Setting The Context

After a lull of about a decade on the Justice Rajindar Sachar Committee Report on Muslim backwardness, sections of the media have finally brought the report again to limelight for debate and action. This is a good development. One example of this is the write-up “Shelved & forgotten”.

In a series of articles, I will be talking about the continuing relevance of the Sachar Report, along with the state’s failure to address the main issues raised by it.

This series will, especially, focus on three aspects of the committee’s mandate in ascertaining the social status,the  economic status and the educational status of Muslims, apart from the major recommendations given by it in this regard.

Before doing so, it is relevant to point out that much of the ground covered by this committee was covered by the Education Commission of 1882 – the report of which is still unparalleled in its scope, sweep and perspicacity. The implementation of its recommendations had important policy and political implications for the British administration in India, and development implications for various social groups, particularly Indian Muslims.

It made, among other things, an important contribution to the development of what political scientist Gabriel Almond described in another context as ‘bargaining culture’, which he considered necessary for the development of a legitimate and stable democratic infrastructure in India (in ‘Foreword’ to “The Politics of Scarcity” by Myron Weiner).

What needs to be noted is that government efforts to address Muslim backwardness in India in education and employment began as early as 1872, got a fillip with the implementation of the report of the Education Commission, and continued for about four decades thereafter. Muslims, on their part, responded to these efforts with alacrity and began to articulate their aspirations in an organised manner.

The disappearance of these efforts and lack of concern for Muslim welfare and advancement from the 1930s well into the present has much to do with, first, the communal politics of India’s freedom movement; then, the communal holocausts on the eve of and immediately after India’s partition; and since the 1950s, the communal poison which these unfortunate events injected into India’s parliamentary and vote-bank politics.

What Led To The Sachar Report

“To diehards who have developed a kind of fanaticism against minority protection I would like to say two things. One is that minorities are an explosive force which, if it erupts, can blow up the whole fabric of the State. The history of Europe bears ample and appalling testimony to this fact. The other is that the minorities in India have agreed to place their existence in the hands of the majority. In the history of negotiations for preventing the partition of Ireland, Redmond said to Carson ‘ask for any safeguard you like for the Protestant minority but let us have a United Ireland.’ Carson’s reply was ‘Damn your safeguards, we don’t want to be ruled by you.’ No minority in India has taken this stand. They have loyally accepted the rule of the majority which is basically a communal majority and not a political majority. It is for the majority to realize its duty not to discriminate against minorities.” – B.R. Ambedkar.

In India’s population of about 1211 million (Census of India 2011), there are about 172.2 million Muslims. The Muslim population in India is among the largest in the world (exceeded only by Indonesia’s), close to the Muslim populations of Pakistan and Bangladesh, and larger than the total populations of most countries of the world.

Muslims in India
India has one of the most significant Muslim populations in the world. Yet, the issues of their development and upliftment continue to be ignored even today. (Photo by Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

As long as such a large population remains chronically backward in human and social development, along with a crushing feeling of alienation and insecurity, it cannot move from the margins to the mainstream of society in a substantial way. As long as such a large population remains backward, India can also not hope to get liberated from the communal thraldom of majoritarian Hinduism.

Nor can the country, comprised of numerous disparate socio-cultural, economic and political regions and communities, pull together to develop as a full-blooded democracy – upholding secularism, diversity, pluralism, and overall social advancement and well-being of its citizens. India’s failure to address this issue for the past seven decades since independence also shows it in a poor light.

Seen through this lens, one may see reason in the realisation by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government about the lack of authentic information about the social, economic and educational status of the community coming in the way of the planning and implementation of specific provisions that could address issues relating to the socio-economic backwardness of this community.

The Sachar Committee

Rajindar Sachar
Rajindar Sachar (Photo by Pramod Pushkarna/The India Today Group/Getty Images)

It was in keeping with this realisation that the UPA government, by a notification dated March 9, 2005, constituted a high-level committee to prepare a report – with Justice Rajindar Sachar, a former chief justice of the Delhi High Court, as chairperson and six other members. The report, submitted on November 17, 2006, is a first of its kind data-based research on Muslims in India.

The report is divided into 12 chapters, has over 254 pages, followed by four background papers, and an exhaustive statistical appendix of 150 pages. The focus of the chapters will give some idea of the enormity of the committee’s work and the immensity of its report.

The chapters are on context, approach and methodology; public perceptions and perspectives; population size, distribution and health; educational conditions of Muslims; economy and employment; bank credit; social and physical infrastructure; poverty, consumption and standards of living; government employment and programmes; the Muslim Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and affirmative action; leveraging community initiatives; and perspectives and recommendations.

The main inference one can draw from the findings of the report is that it is none other than the Indian State which has been the cause for Muslim backwardness in various spheres of social life. One can also discern from the report the fault-lines in India’s governance, governance structures and systemic sloth over the past seven decades. In the concluding chapter the committee ‘looks ahead’ in terms of its perspectives and recommendations.

The policy perspectives and recommendations of the committee fall into two broad categories:

1. General policy initiatives/approaches that cut across different aspects of socio-economic and educational development analysed in the report.

2. Specific policy measures that deal with particular issues and/or dimensions (for example, education, credit, etc.) covered in the report.

The first category contains four key issues. Of these, the first is the need for transparency, monitoring and data availability. On this the report writes:

“Availability of reliable data on a continuing basis across Socio-Religious Communities on socio-economic conditions, participation in government programmes and the like is critical for designing appropriate policies, ensuring transparency and effectively monitoring various initiatives and programmes. In other words, availability of detailed data is a prerequisite for good governance. Availability of such data would also make policy instruments like Right to Information Act more efficacious.”

In keeping with this perspective, the report makes the following recommendations:

“We recommend [the] creation of a National Data Bank (NDB) where all relevant data for various SRCs are maintained. All the data should be eventually computerized and made available on the Internet. The Census, the National Accounts Statistics (NAS) and NSSO [National Sample Survey Organisation] are the most important sources of large scale good quality data but they are not able to readily provide data on crucial variables to assess the social, economic and educational conditions according to SRCs. There is an urgent need, therefore, to assess afresh the data needs for evaluating conditions of citizens by SRC status on a regular basis so as to understand and assess the flow of development benefits. The NDB should also be the repository of data on different beneficiary-oriented government programmes undertaken at the national and the state levels along with the details of beneficiaries drawn from different SRCs. Details of employment, credit flows, programme participation, etc., should also be shared by various national and state agencies and undertakings with the NDB.”

“Once such data are available there is a need to institutionalize the mechanisms for assessment and monitoring in order to suggest policy options on a timely basis. The Committee recommends the setting up of an autonomous Assessment and Monitoring Authority (AMA) to evaluate the extent of development benefits which accrue to different SRCs through various programmes. Academics, professionals, civil society organizations along with state authorities as the official members can be part of this Authority and perform a watch-dog function which closely monitors the participation of various SRCs in both state and Central level programme implementation.”

The second issue is of enhancing the legal basis for providing equal opportunities. The report suggests that the widespread perception of discrimination among the Muslim community needs to be addressed, an observation which is made eloquently at the beginning of the chapter:

“The Committee strongly suggests that the policies to deal with the relative deprivation of the Muslims in the country should sharply focus on inclusive development and ‘mainstreaming’ of the Community while respecting diversity. There is an urgent need to recognise diversity in residential, work and educational spaces, apart from enhancing inclusion of the really deprived SRCs in ‘spaces’ created by public programmes and policy interventions. The need for equity and inclusion in a pluralistic society can never be overemphasized. But the mechanisms to ensure equity and equality of opportunity to bring about inclusion should be such that diversity is achieved and at the same time the perception of discrimination is eliminated. This is only possible when the importance of Muslims as an intrinsic part of the diverse Indian social mosaic is squarely recognized.”

In a related statement, the report makes out a case for an Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC):

“It is wrong to assume that there is an inevitable conflict between the interests of majority and minority communities in the country. This is flawed reasoning and assumption. Deprivation, poverty and discrimination may exist among all SRCs although in different proportions. But the fact of belonging to a minority community has, it cannot be denied, an in-built sensitivity to discrimination. This sensitivity is natural and may exist among religious minorities in any country. Recognizing this reality is not pandering to the minorities nor sniping at the majority. This recognition is only an acceptance of reality. It is a well accepted maxim in law that not only must justice be done but it must appear to be done. It is in that context that the Committee recommends that an Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) should be constituted by the government to look into the grievances of the deprived groups. An example of such a policy tool is the UK Race Relations Act, 1976. While providing a redress mechanism for different types of discrimination, this will give a further re-assurance to the minorities that any unfair action against them will invite the vigilance of the law.”

Indian Muslims1
Despite the Sachar Committee Report’s many recommendations, have Muslims in India really progressed? (Photo by Praveen Bajpai/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

On the question of enhancing participation in governance, the report observes the following:

“One reason for less than adequate participation in the development process may be due to inadequate participation in the governance structures…. In a society characterized by considerable socio-cultural complexity such as the one we have in India, democratic processes founded on universal adult franchise often fail to provide opportunities to ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities from getting elected and becoming part of the governance structure because of their low population shares. Over the last sixty years minorities have scarcely occupied adequate public spaces. The participation of Muslims in nearly all political spaces is low which can have an adverse impact on the Indian society and polity in the long run. The marginalized either have inadequate numbers that comes in the way of making their presence felt in the normal course of governance or they are not politically empowered. Given the power of numbers in a democratic polity, based on universal franchise, minorities in India lack effective agency and political importance. They do not have the necessary influence or the opportunity to either change or even influence events which enables their meaningful and active participation in development process. Therefore, there is a strong case to put mechanisms in place that enable them to engage in democratic processes at various levels of polity and governance.”

The report’s recommendation to overcome the above problem is to formulate and implement new nomination procedures:

“For increased participation it is imperative that there is a corresponding representation in governance structures. A carefully conceived ‘nomination’ procedure can be worked out to increase the participation of minorities at the grass-roots. Mechanisms should be put in place so that a larger number of minorities are indeed nominated so as to increase their participation in public bodies. The Committee recommends that on the lines of initiatives taken by the Andhra Pradesh government, appropriate state level laws can be enacted to ensure minority representation in local bodies… Each state implementing this provision may need to recognize both linguistic and religious minorities.”

Read part three of the series here: Indian Muslims And Their Economic Oppression

The report’s other recommendations on general policy initiatives include:

1. Enhancing diversity in living, educational and work spaces, or ‘shared spaces’.

2. Providing certain incentives to a ‘diversity index’.

3. Facilitating the creation of common public spaces.

4. Sensitisation-related initiatives.

Of these, the last two are elaborated in the report as follows:

“Most poor children do not have access to parks, libraries and even study spaces within their own houses. Such spaces can enhance interaction among SRCs and also provide the much needed fillip to educational initiatives; such spaces can be used by the community or civil society to organize remedial classes, reading rooms and other constructive initiatives. The State should encourage such initiatives in mixed localities and across neighbourhoods so that children belonging to different SRCs can interact and at the same time pursue studies. These spaces can also be used for interaction and constructive activities among adults of different SRCs. Such initiatives are essentially a domain of civil society but mechanisms to encourage such activities through provision of unused/vacant municipal premises/land etc., can be quite useful. Part of the funds earmarked for the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) can be used for this purpose.”

“In order to respect and sustain diversity in the development and implementation of innovative programmes or in the provision of services, the relevant functionaries should be sensitive to the need to have diversity and the problems associated with social exclusion. It is important to sensitize state and other functionaries on these issues. A large scale programme for sensitization of various staff members, especially those who come in public contact on a regular basis is desirable, with a focus on health personnel, teachers, police and other security personnel.”

The report’s recommendations on specific policy initiatives are related to:

1. The criticality of education, as access to education is critical for benefiting from emerging opportunities that are accompanied by economic growth.

2. Adequate reflection of social diversity in the content of school textbooks.

3. Initiatives for school education.

4. Technical education and training for non-Matriculates.

5. Initiatives for higher education.

6. Provision of hostels, for providing hostel facilities at reasonable costs to students from minorities to be taken up on a priority basis.

7. Teacher training programme.

8. Interventions to support the Urdu language.

9. Linking madrasahs to mainstream education.

10. Enhancing access to credit and government programmes.

11. Improving employment opportunities and conditions.

12. Enhancing the efficacy of infrastructure provision.

13. Encouraging community initiatives.

Although the recommendations in the report are well thought-out and ambitious, whether the state will implement them – and with what effect – are issues of importance. The special provisions for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have been part of the Constitution and have supposedly been implemented since 1950 – but these two constitutional categories are still the most backward.

Since 1950, there have been several committees and commissions to report on social groups and social issues. However, nothing substantial has been done with their recommendations. An example is the high-profile Constitution Review Commission constituted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government to review the Constitution. Though its report is a valuable document and the State incurred a lot of expenditure from the taxpayers’ money, like many others, this report was shelved by the government.

The main purpose that committees and commissions serve in a country like India (which has survived as a democracy for seven decades through false promises, competitive populism and political chicanery) is to provide sinecure to retired judges of the Supreme Court and high courts as presidents and chairmen of various commissions. Examples of such commissions are rampant in the form of the national and state backward classes commissions, minority commissions, human rights commissions, and national and state consumer redress forums – due to which these judges continue to enjoy their perks and privileges even beyond 75 years, thus reducing the institutions under them to mere appendages of politics and bureaucracy.

What the Sachar Committee has painstakingly done should ideally have been done by the National Commission for Minorities, which is also headed by a retired judge. One might ask what it has done for minorities in its many years of existence.

Though the Sachar report has already made a lot of sound and fury and has become a communal issue, the only purpose it may serve is to provide some satisfaction to the Indian Muslims that they too have proved to be important enough to be recognised by a ‘Prime Minister’s High Level Committee’ as ‘material’ for its investigation and that their woes have been recorded and shelved for posterity.

For committees like the Equal Opportunities Commission (of the UK) to work in India, there should be a functioning state and a functioning democracy. But as John Kenneth Galbraith once remarked, India is a ‘functioning anarchy’. In India, what works is demagoguery and not democracy – as Narendra Modi has shown, time and again. So, Indian Muslims have to work on their own for their advancement as they have been doing (and which even the Sachar report has shown) and take advantage of the nation’s development boom in whatever manner they can.

P Radhakrishnan was a professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies.

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