By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
NEW DELHIâ€“There are no two opinions now about Indian Muslims having received to-date a step-motherly treatment from the Indian government. Data collected by Prime Ministerâ€™s High Level Committee, headed by Justice (retd) Rajinder Sachar on their social, economic and education status reveals many mind-boggling facts. In rural areas, 94.9% of Muslims living below poverty line fail to receive free food grain.
Only 3.2% of Muslims get subsidized loans, with just 1.9% benefiting from the Antyodaya Anna Yojana Scheme, a program supposed to prevent starvation among the extremely poor by providing food grains at a subsidized rate. Compared to the national average of 43% of people not having land in rural areas, that of Muslims is 60.2%. Only 2.1% of Muslim farmers have tractors, while just 1% own hand pumps.
Educationally, 54.6% of Muslims in villages and 60% in urban areas have never been to schools. The national average for this is 40.8% in rural areas and 19.9% in urban. In rural areas, only 0.8% of Muslims are graduates, while in urban areas despite 40% of the Muslims receiving modern education only 3.1% are graduates. Only 1.2% of Muslims are post-graduates in urban areas.
The representation of Muslims in government employment does not match their population in any state. While West Bengal has 25% Muslim population, only 4.2% are employed in state services. In Assam, with a 40% Muslim population, only 11.2% are in government employment. Kerala has 20% Muslims, but only 10.4% of government employees are Muslim.
Though Uttar Pradesh and Bihar Muslims are viewed as an important vote-bank, their employment in state services here is less than a third of their population. A better picture is projected by data collected in Karnataka, where against Muslim population of 12.2%, 8.5% are employed in government services. While in Gujarat, of the 9.1% Muslim population, 5.4% are in state jobs, in Tamil Nadu, against a 5.6% Muslim population, 3.2% are employed in government.
Where the representation of Muslims in high-ranking jobs in state public sector units (PSUs) is concerned, the figures are more dismal. Though West Bengal is known as a political bastion of the left bloc, the ones who have always spoken strongly against parties entertaining communal bias, the state has zero% Muslims in state PSUs. While Kerala has 9.5% in state PSUs, Maharashtra has only 1.9%.
Though the Sachar committee was not able to secure data regarding the presence of Muslims in the armed forces, it is fairly well-known that their percentage here is not more than three.
The facts that are likely to force Indian leaders to give seriously thought to bias displayed by keepers of law and order against Muslims is their disproportionate presence in the countryâ€™s prisons. With the data of Muslimsâ€™ population in jails having been provided by only eight states, the total number inmates surveyed is 102,652. Muslims form only 10.6% of the population in Maharashtra, but 32.4% of the prison inmates here are Muslims. In New Delhi, 27.9 % of inmates are Muslims, though they form only 11.7% of the population here. While in Gujarat, Muslims form 25.1% of the ones imprisoned, they form 9.1% of the population.
In Karnataka, Muslims form 12.23% of populace and 17.5% of those imprisoned. Interestingly, the majority of the Muslim inmates have not been imprisoned for â€œterrorism.â€ This raises the question whether most of them are behind bars only for petty crimes or because of the bias displayed against them by Indian police forces. Of the total inmates serving sentences up to one year, in Maharashtra, Muslims constitute 40.6% of their population. The high percentage of Muslims presence in jails is also said to be an indicator of their being victims of discrimination and suspicion, particularly as their prevails a tendency in India to blame largely Muslim groups for terror attacks taking place here. The report also holds poverty among Muslims as being responsible for turning them towards crime. Poverty and prejudice entertained against them is said to have further contributed to their presence in jails.
Against the backdrop of dismal facts having surfaced regarding social, economic and educational status of Indian Muslims, the Sachar panel has made some recommendations in their favor.
Stating that the future of Muslims does not rest in madrasa education, the Sachar panel recommends more English and Urdu medium government schools in Muslim-dominated areas.
The Sachar panel also recommends allocation of 15% of all government funds to Muslims under all central schemes. It favors greater representation for Muslims in sectors such as health and teaching and also sensitization of government employments towards Muslimsâ€™ requirements.
The Sachar panel has made a strong argument for all Indian Muslims, except the creamy layer.
With the Sachar report having already served as an eye-opener to the harsh reality about the status of Muslims in Indian society, the question is whether in fact this will propel the government to take some constructive steps towards improving their conditions or would its relevance be confined to noise made in media circles and a little bit of political rhetoric.