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Last Updated: December 02, 2006
Confidence of Minorities Acid Test for Just State
By Abusaleh Shariff

The report ‘Social Economic and Educational Status of Muslim Community in India’ will be tabled in Parliament. It's important that the public knows what this report is all about. The 417-page report consists of analytical 12 chapters which use most the recent databases to empirically measure and estimate the status of Muslims in a comparative perspective. The findings, therefore, are not confined to status of Muslims alone.

The Indian Constitution is clear in its objective to promote equality amongst citizens and assigns responsibility to the State to preserve, protect and assure the rights of minorities in matters of language, religion and culture. This is enshrined in the well known doctrine of 'unity in diversity' found within the Constitution. All developed countries and most developing ones give appropriate emphasis to looking after the interests of minorities. Thus, in any country, the faith and confidence of the minorities and the functioning of the State in an impartial manner is an acid test of its being a just state.

As the processes of economic development unfold, pressures are likely to build up and intensify when there is unequal development and some groups or minorities such as the Muslims, lag behind in the development process. Ideally, development processes should remove or reduce economic and social obstacles to cooperation and mutual respect among all groups in the country. If development processes are misdirected, they may unfortunately have the opposite effect. It is this aspect which is important and needs to be addressed so as to give confidence to minorities including the Muslims.

Since Independence, India has achieved significant economic growth, social development, reduced poverty and improved crucial human development parameters such as levels of literacy, education, nutrition and health. There are indications that not all religious community and social groups (socio-religious communities - SRCs) have shared equally the benefits of the growth process. Among these, the Muslims, the largest minority community in the country, constituting about 14 per cent of the population, appears to be deprived in practically all aspects of quality of life. The conditions of other minorities however are better often better than the average Indian population.

While the perception of deprivation is widespread amongst the Muslims, there were no systematic efforts since Independence to measure and assess their conditions. The need to analyse the socio-economic and educational conditions of different SRCs is essential, yet until recently appropriate data were not generated by Government agencies. A welcome change in the scope of data collection with respect to SRCs has begun during the late 1990s and the 2001 Census. The report is unique and first of its kind that contains evidenced based research and relative measurements across the SRCs with a focus on the Muslims in India.

A wide variety of policy initiatives and programmes have been launched by successive governments to promote the economic, social and educational development of the Muslim community in India. However, while the Muslims have no doubt made some visible progress, the perception remains that the economic and educational gap between the Community and the rest of the SRCs has been widening. Policy interventions need to be reviewed in the context of available evidence, and new initiatives launched to take care of the marginalisation of Muslims in the social, economic and political space.

It is also evident that identity, security and equity related concerns are not identical across all minorities and SRCs. In the same vein, in a differentiated society, many of these issues are not specific to any SRC and segments of the majority community may also have to grapple with them. Given this broad perspective, it is useful to distinguish between three types of overlapping issues, that cut across the categories described above, faced by the Muslim community in India: (1) Issues that are common for all poor people (Muslims are largely poor); (2) Issues that are common to all minorities and, (3) Issues that are specific to Muslims.

For example, as one can argue, many employment and education-specific concerns of Muslims may fall in the first category. Similarly, some aspects of identity and security may be common across minorities while some others may be specific to Muslims.

It needs to be recognised at the outset that these sets of issues are intricately linked in complex ways and many of these linkages may be empirically intractable. Since the mandate given to the Committee relates to ‘equity’; while recognizing the linkages across issues, the report focuses mostly on equity-related concerns.

The Committee has been fairly eclectic and innovative in its use of data. It has collected data from various government departments and institutions at the Centre and the State levels. Besides, Banks, Financial Institutions, Educational Institutions and Public Sector Undertakings also shared their data. The Report also analysis the Indian Census and large scale survey data; prominently NSSO. Data from special surveys of the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) and the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) are also used. It is important to recognise this intrinsic value of data and not attribute political and ideological motives to the Committee’s struggle to find appropriate data to analyse the condition of Muslims.

Given the diverse sources of data and the fact that often information exclusively on Muslims was not readily available; the analytical categories created reflect the dictates of the Committee’s mandate while ensuring optimal utilisation of available data. As a result, different SRCs have been defined for different data sets.

Self-reported caste affiliation in terms of SCs/STs and OBCs from all religious communities has formed the basis of the analysis of data. According to these estimates about 41 % of Muslims identified themselves as OBCs in 2004-05; this proportion was 32 per cent in 1999-2000. Among the Hindus, about 43 % reported OBC status in 2004-05, while about 31 % people belonged to the SCs/STs categories. There have been considerable state level variations for example, West Bengal has almost no OBCs living in its boundaries, where as most of those living in Tamil Nadu are OBCs and so on. There are also noteworthy differentials in terms of OBC in urban and rural areas of India as well.

One can argue for a separate category of Muslims who report themselves as SC and ST in the NSSO surveys, as has been done in the case of OBCs. However, such a categorisation does not seem desirable due to low levels of such reporting amongst the Muslims. Only 0.8 % Muslims reported themselves as SCs; the share of Muslims reporting themselves as STs was even lower.

Shariff is Chief Economist, National Council of Applied Economic Research, and was Member-Secretary of the PMO's Sachar Committee.

(Courtesy: Indian Express, November 30, 2006)

 


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