For a long time, there has been a widespread feeling that the Muslim community is lagging behind in terms of education and employment. However, the discourse on this subject has been high on emotion and low on facts and figures. It is in this context that the prime minister constituted a high level committee to look into the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community of India. We tabled the report in the House on November 30, 2006. It makes for sad reading.
The report had 40 recommendations in its final chapter, and offers 36 suggestions. They involve action on the part of 22 central ministries and departments. Of the total of 76 recommendations/ suggestions we have accepted 72. Only recommendations relating to a caste based census, alternative criteria for admission in colleges/universities and creation of a separate all-India cadre for wakf officers were not considered feasible.
The most painful criticism is that of ‘tokenism’. Is it tokenism if we have decided to do targeted intervention and aggressively develop districts, blocks and towns inhabited in large numbers by the Muslim community and offer them facilities that other communities enjoy? Would you call it tokenism if we give them a wide ranging package of educational facilities that will give them opportunities for securing for themselves a better life? Would it be tokenism if we respond to their needs for skill development and credit so that they can develop, modernise and expand their small businesses and traditional crafts? Is it tokenism if we wish to set up institutions that will combat any form of discrimination and promote diversity?
Vague and Inconclusive?
Some say that the government’s response is vague and inconclusive. When was it last that the government identified districts and towns where minorities, especially the Muslims, live and which are in deplorable condition, so that their lot could be improved? When was it that the government last said that we shall set up an Equal Opportunity Commission to look into the grievances of minorities? Or say that we shall open more bank branches in districts and areas inhabited by Muslims and increase the credit flow to minorities? Which earlier government doubled the corpus of the Maulana Azad Education Foundation in one stroke? And that we shall saturate Muslim concentrated areas that are educationally backward with primary and secondary schools, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas, Jan Shikshan Sansthans and teachers training institutes by 2010? Was a scholarship scheme for 20,000 students belonging to the minorities for entry into educational and professional courses even discussed earlier? Or that in 50 top institutes like IITs, IIMs and top medical institutions, students satisfying income eligibility criteria under the scheme, would have full fee reimbursement? We are supplementing this with a coaching scheme to prepare students to qualify for admission and also qualify for jobs.
Not Just Paperwork
Some have said that our response just constitutes a set of promises. Within a short span of about three months, we have already done the following: One, identified minority concentration districts and decided to start a base-line survey for preparing effective plans with the collaboration of the ICSSR, to begin on Gandhi Jayanti. Two, instructions relating to decisions taken to enhance access to credit of the minorities have been issued by the Reserve Bank of India on July 5, 2007. Three, the expert group to advise on the structure and functions of an Equal Opportunity Commission has been constituted. Four, the expert group on an appropriate Diversity Index has been set up and it has met. Five, the merit-cum-means based scholarship for 20,000 students belonging to the minorities has been approved. It provides for 30 per cent earmarking for girls and full fee reimbursement for eligible students in 50 top institutions. Six, a new scheme for coaching, both for equipping students for qualifying for entrance examinations for professional institutions, and also for qualifying for competitive examinations for jobs has been launched in July. Seven, 13 universities have been provided with funds for instituting centres for studying issues of inclusive policy for minorities. Eight, a high-level committee set up to review the Delimitation Act that was required to address the concerns expressed by the Sachar Committee, has submitted its report. Nine, under the new scheme for basic services for the urban poor, of the total additional central assistance, Rs 476 crore, that is 41 per cent has been released to cities having a substantial population of minorities. Ten, in the housing and slum development programme, Rs 140 crore (18 per cent of the total central assistance) has been released to cities with a substantial population of minorities.
The ‘A’ Word Again
Some have accused us of ‘pandering’ and ‘appeasement’. But nobody contests the proposition that unless states which are backward and not growing rapidly are given special assistance, it might not be possible to sustain our growth rate of 9 to 10 per cent. But it is incomprehensible to me why, if regional disparities need to be tackled, the same logic does not extend to disparities amongst different sections and classes of our society.
If the Muslim community is backward, and this has been proved beyond doubt by the Sachar Report, then why is a plan of action, designed to improve their lot and integrate them fully in the national mainstream, greeted with such comments? (As told to Seema Chishti, Indian Express, September 15, 2007)