For perhaps the first time since Independence, Muslims in India may be actually scraping the bottom of the education barrel, falling even below Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes when it comes to enrolment in literacy schools.
This finding, which has the potential to affect the discourse on reservation in education, forms part of the report of the Sachar Committee, the Prime Minister's panel mandated to prepare a report on the social, economic and educational status of Indian Muslims. It's now putting the final touches on its report scheduled for submission on October 31.
The Indian Express has learnt that some of the findings of the Sachar Committee reveal that when it comes to education, key to overall advancement, the Muslims could very well be the new SC/STs of India.
When broken up between Rural and Urban, Male and Female Ratios, over the time period 1965 and 2001, the Committee has found that in all cases, the rate of improvement has actually meant that Muslims are lagging behind SC/STs.
Take the case of Female Urban Enrolment in Literacy Schools Ratio. Despite the SC/STs in 1965 being only 40%, their percentage was approximately 83% in 2001. Muslims in the same category started at a percentage of 52% - much higher than SC/STs - but their percentage in 2001 was approximately 3% less than the SC/ST proportion, about 80%.
Sources said one tangible change over the past 15 years has been large-scale rural-urban migration and that hasn't helped the standard of living of Muslims at all. They infer that if there is one thing that can help turn the tide for 15% of India, it is education and getting onto the bandwagon of the opportunities that economic liberalisation has also unleashed since 1991.
All governments and departments contacted came to the Committee's assistance minus the Armed Forces which, after a big controversy about reserving places in the Army, refused to make its denominational details available. While sources maintain that they always knew of Muslim backwardness, what has come as a surprise is the fact of how consistently they lack representation in each and every field. In virtually all social and health indices, Muslims are way behind their Hindu and even Scheduled Castes and Tribes` counterparts, except in Infant Mortality Ratios and the Sex Ratio.
This is not the first time that the Indian government has embarked on an exercise to find out the state of its largest minority. In 1983, a similar high-level panel led by Gopal Singh, constituted by then-prime minister Indira Gandhi, submitted its report on how much all minorities, including Muslims, were in a position to take advantage of schemes and other governmental incentives, and also their status in government employment.
Though unlike the Sachar Report which has covered all districts, the Gopal Singh Report had been able to procure information for only 80 of the then 500 districts. But despite its limited regional coverage, the findings of that Report generate a sense of deja vu ; "it has been represented to us that the minorities are not getting their due share in the recruitment to Armed Forces".
Speaking about the judiciary it says the "representation of minorities in the Judiciary is very low". It goes onto say, "we recommend that wherever qualified candidates are available, every effort should be made to appoint them as judges of District Courts, High Courts and Supreme Court in adequate numbers". (Courtesy: The Indian Express, October 23, 2006)