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.
“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.
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.
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.