Kaleem Kawaja

The number of Muslim students in India’s better universities, engineering colleges, medical colleges, IITs, IIMs, IIScs etc despite much growth of such institutions in recent years still hovers around a miserly two percent. Lack of education among the Muslim youth and their lack of competitiveness were recently pointed out by the Sachar Committee, who conducted a nationwide grassroots survey of the Muslim community, as a significant impediment to the community’s progress.

Muslims’ extraordinary backwardness in education and socioeconomic arenas causes perceptible obscurantism and social backwardness in the community as a whole. We sometimes see that in the form of obscurantist Muslim public protests, eg the recent violent protest in Kolkata.

This extraordinary backwardness of the Muslim community is now India’s national problem and not just a problem of the Muslim community. In order that the nation may continue its current growth in economic and industrial arenas, it is important that all segments of society come together and develop a consensus to solve this national problem.

This problem has grown steadily in the last sixty years as successive governments at the Center and in the states choose not to do anything to improve the basic infrastructure in Muslim majority localities in countless cities in India. In all these years only very few new schools, colleges, hospitals, parks, roads were built in Muslim majority constituencies. At the same time a large number of sectarian riots targeted the economy and infrastructure in Muslim localities in various cities.

The fact that fifteen years after the demolition of Babri mosque and the sectarian violence that accompanied it, the government’s Liberhan Commission has not even completed its enquiry into that mayhem speaks volumes about how government has ignored the problems of the Indian Muslim community.

Whenever the government has implemented programs to uplift the severely depressed segments of Indian society, it has left the Muslims out of that. In 1950 when the government initiated an affirmative action plan to uplift Dalits it excluded Muslim Dalits. In 1989 when the government initiated the Mandal Commission affirmative action plan for OBCs (Other Backward Castes) , it again left out Muslim OBCs.

With fully half of the Muslims in India belonging to either SC or OBC category, such exclusion from affirmative action plans has caused further deterioration in the educational and socioeconomic status of the Muslim community.

Similarly in all these years the government built many educational institutions for women to improve female literacy. But hardly any of them were built in Muslim majority areas. Thus while female literacy improved in other communities, Muslim women remained largely illiterate.

With the introduction of free market economy and the arrival of multinationals in India, as the economy of the nation has grown rapidly, middleclass Indians have made good socioeconomic gains. But India’s Muslim community has been largely left out of this perceptible growth. Since their educational situation continues to be very dismal they are unable to get any benefit from this national growth.

As the recent reports of the Sachar Committee and Rangnath Misra Commission have pointed out the government needs to initiate serious affirmative action and other programs meant especially towards the Muslim community to remove their inordinate backwardness.

To induce the government, the power structure and the Hindu community to give a helping hand to them, Muslims should conduct effective advocacy. Instead of angry street protests this campaign needs to persuade all segments of the Hindu community and political parties, that the Muslims’ extraordinary backwardness is a major national problem, and solving it is in the best interests of the entire nation.

Muslims need to explain and elaborate the facts and details of their community’s across the board inordinate backwardness with a calm and cool demeanor to those individuals, organizations and political groups that are indifferent to their plight and gain their support.

In order to have uplift schemes for their community like the Sachar Committee report or the Rangnath Misra Commission report implemented into concrete action, Muslims should work with all segments of society and not just the government. In discussing this issue in media and public forums, rather than get into reactive rebuttals, Muslims should adopt techniques of persuasive lobbying, elaborating the undeniable gnawing facts and figures of their community’s deprivation that are common knowledge.

Also even though the resources of the Muslim community to affect such uplift by themselves are very meager, the elite of the community should help start the community’s own institutions of higher education as well as feeder high schools. In the Muslim community’s universities and colleges, an affirmative action program and reservation should be implemented for Muslim Dalits and Muslim OBCs.

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