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India’s 60-Year Dismal Performance That Led To The Educational Backwardness Of Muslims

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Note: This article is the fourth in a series that focuses on the Sachar Committee Report and its observations regarding the social, educational and economic status of Muslims in India.

Educational Status

The Sachar Report clearly brings out India’s dismal performance on the education front for the past six decades, and the resultant educational backwardness – of Muslims, in particular. Its related observations are:

“The data clearly indicates that while the overall levels of education in India, measured through various indicators, is still below universally acceptable standards, the educational status of the Muslim community in particular is a matter of great concern. … Analysis of time trends indicates that, despite overall improvement in educational status, the rate of progress has been the slowest for Muslims. In other words, while educational attainments of Muslims have improved over the years, it has done so at a more gradual pace than other SRCs [Socio-Religious Communities], so that the expected convergence has not occurred. Instead, the gap between Muslims and advantaged sections has actually widened since Independence, and particularly since the 1980s. In fact, a steady divergence in the level of achievements has seen traditionally under-privileged SCs/STs catching up and overtaking Muslims in several contexts. The last point is of special importance as at the time of Independence, the socio-economic position of SCs/STs was recognized to be inferior to that of Muslims. Apparently, Muslims have not been able to reap the benefits of planning and, while progressing through the operation of trickle down or percolation effect, have gradually slipped further and further behind other SRCs.” (“Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community of India”, Government of India, 2006, pages 84-85)

“Muslims have the largest percentage share of children in the age group of less than 10 years, with 27 per cent as compared to the 23 per cent for the country as a whole. The report also points out that the current enrolment and continuation rates at elementary level (though picking up in recent years) are the lowest for the Muslims. These facts make primary education particularly important for the community and the need to ensure that all children in the age group 0-14 have access to free and high quality education, more urgent.” (ibid, page 244)

For higher and technical education, the scenario is even more dismal:

“Attainments at the graduation level and in technical education are low for all SRCs. Even at these low levels differences across SRCs exist and Muslims lag behind in both areas. That the share of Muslims is poorest in streams having brightest employment prospects is of special concern. This has serious long-term implications for the economic empowerment of the Community and consequently for economic development of the country. Differentials in the attainment levels of SRCs become more apparent when lower levels of education are considered. The differences between SRCs become significant when attainments at the matriculation level onwards are considered. One of the key reasons for the low participation of Muslims in higher education is their significantly low achievement level in higher secondary attainment rates. Muslims seem to have significant disadvantages vis-à-vis most SRCs in school completion rates. Once this hurdle is crossed and persons from the Community become eligible for higher education, the gaps between their achievements and those of other SRCs (with similar eligibility) narrow down considerably.” (ibid, page 85).

Based on the recent trends in enrolments, other educational attainments and the committee’s interactions with the Muslim community, the report has tried to dispel certain misconceptions and stereotypes with respect to the education of Muslims:

“Muslim parents are not averse to modern or mainstream education and to sending their children to the affordable Government schools. They do not necessarily prefer to send children to Madrasas. Regular school education that is available to any other child in India is preferred by Muslims also. A section of Muslims also prefer education through the English medium, while some others would like the medium of instruction to be Urdu. The access to government schools for Muslim children is limited.”

“There is also a common belief that Muslim parents feel that education is not important for girls and that it may instill a wrong set of values. Even if girls are enrolled, they are withdrawn at an early age to marry them off. This leads to a higher drop-out rate among Muslim girls. Our interactions indicate that the problem may lie in non-availability of schools within easy reach for girls at lower levels of education, absence of girl’s hostels, absence of female teachers and availability of scholarships as they move up the education ladder.”

The educational status of Indian Muslims isn’t pretty at all. (Photo by Manoj Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

In the chapter, “The Muslim OBCs and Affirmative Action”, the following paragraphs in the chapter are noteworthy:

“Sociological studies on the social structure of Muslims in India have emphasized on the presence of descent based social stratification among them. Features of the Hindu caste system, such as hierarchical ordering of social groups, endogamy and hereditary occupation have been found to be amply present among the Indian Muslims as well. The Census of India, 1901 listed 133 social groups wholly or partially Muslim. The present day Muslim Society in India is divided into four major groups: (i) the Ashrafs who trace their origins to foreign lands such as Arabia, Persia, Turkistan or Afghanistan, (ii) the upper caste Hindus who converted to Islam, (iii) the middle caste converts whose occupations are ritually clean, (iv) the converts from the erstwhile untouchable castes, Bhangi (scavenger), Mehtar (sweeper), Chamar (tanner), Dom and so on.”

“These four groups are usually placed into two broad categories, namely, ‘ashraf’ and ‘ajlaf’. The former, meaning noble, includes all Muslims of foreign blood and converts from higher castes. While ‘ajlaf’ meaning degraded or unholy, embraces the ritually clean occupational groups and low ranking converts. In Bihar, U.P and Bengal, Sayyads, Sheikhs, Moghuls and Pathans constitute the ‘ashrafs’. The ‘ajlaf’, are carpenters, artisans, painters, graziers, tanners, milkmen etc. According to the Census of 1901, the ajlaf category includes ‘the various classes of converts who are known as Nao Muslim in Bihar and Nasya in North Bengal. It also includes various functional groups such as that of the Jolaha or weaver, Dhunia or cotton-carder, Kulu or oil-presser, Kunjra or vegetable-seller, Hajjam or barber, Darzi or tailor, and the like.’ The 1901 Census also recorded the presence of a third category called Arzal: ‘It consists of the very lowest castes, such as the Halalkhor, Lalbegi, Abdal, and Bediya…’. “

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

The chapter has made it abundantly clear that though certain Muslim groups are included in the OBC list, they hardly benefit from the inclusion because of the large size of the OBC population with the Hindus (those at the head of the pack) in the list benefitting the most. The chapter has also made out a clear case for including certain Muslim groups in the SC list or treating them on par with the SCs. On this, the following passages under the title “SC status for Muslim groups” are very important:

“While the Ashrafs and the Ajlafs occupy the highest and the middle positions in the Muslim social structure, the Arzals are the lowest comprising of those having similar traditional occupation as their Hindu counterparts in the list of Schedule Castes. It is widely believed that these communities are converts from the ‘untouchables’ among Hindus. Change in religion did not bring any change in their social or economic status. Because of the stigma attached to their traditional occupation, they suffer social exclusion. Despite this, they have been deprived of SC status available to their Hindu counterparts.”

“Their exclusion from the SC list dates back to 1936 when the Imperial (Scheduled Caste) Order rejected SC status to Christians and Buddhists of similar origins. Depressed classes among the Muslims such as Halalkhors were included in the list but were barred from availing the benefits. This colonial decree remained the basis on which the government of Independent India, through the Constitutional (Scheduled Caste) Order, 1950, has denied them the status in accordance with the deprivations that they face. The Order, however, has been amended twice; once in 1956 to include the SCs among the Sikhs and later in 1990 to include the neo-Buddhists. Thus, practically only the Muslims and Christians of such origins continue to be denied the status. As a result, such Muslim groups namely, gadheris, gorkuns, mehtars or halalkhors, Muslim dhobis, bakhos, nats, pamarias, lalbegis and others remain impoverished and marginalized. Their inclusion in the OBC list has failed to make any impact as they are clubbed with the more advanced middle castes.”

“Many have argued that the Order of 1950 is inconsistent with Article 14, 15, 16 and 25 of the Constitution that guarantee equality of opportunity, freedom of conscience and protect the citizens from discrimination by the State on grounds of religion, caste or creed.”

NEXT: A detailed analysis of the Sachar Committee Report’s findings


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Featured image source: Pankaj Nangia/India Today Group/Getty Images
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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