By R.K. Ohri
Partition of India in 1947 was a direct consequence of a host of communal demands made by the Muslim League, the most important of which was the rising crescendo of religion-based reservations. Barely 58 years after Independence, the Frankenstein of reservations has been resuscitated once again. The most important aspect of the patently political demand for reservations is the utter lack of any rational discourse on the subject. The demand for reservations is solely limited to one community?the Muslims. No other religious group has made any such demand, nor are our politicians interested in providing reservations to any other minority group. The population strength of most other communities are too small to be of any material use as vote-banks.
The frequently flaunted argument for granting communal reservation to Muslims is the so-called socio-economic and educational backwardness of the community. A few months ago, the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh appointed a high-level committee under the chairmanship of Justice (Retd) Rajinder Sachar to report on social-economic and education status of Indian Muslim. In a clumsy bid to mount pressure on the Central government and the high level committee headed by Justice Sachar, on August 25, 2005 a delegation of 26 Muslim Members of Parliament and three Muslim ministers met the PM to press for five per cent reservations at the all-India level in government jobs and educational institutions. And the grapevine has it that the PM'shigh-level committee is likely to concede to the patently communal demand.
Now let us examine the ground reality. Can it be conclusively established that the Muslims as a community are more socio-economically and educationally backward than the Hindus? That looks very doubtful. There are two globally accepted yardsticks for assessing socio-economic back-wardness of a community. First, the relative incidence of child mortality, which is arrived at by calculating the number of deaths of children below five years for every 1000 live births in a group. It is a universally accepted rule that child mortality is relatively higher among socio-economically backward communities. This globally recognised norm has been accepted by both economists and the WHO, for assessing socio-economic backwardness. The second universally accepted yardstick is the degree of urbanisation, or the proportion of the population living in urban areas.
It will shock our vote-bank besotted secular tribe to know that on both these counts, the Hindus seem to be more backward than the Muslims?at least socio-economically. According to the National Family Health Survey 2, held in 1998, for the country as a whole there were 107 cases of child mortality amongst Hindus compared to a meagre 83 such cases among Muslims. In other words, the incidence of child mortality is nearly 29 per cent higher among the Hindus as compared to the Muslims. Now let us look at the second yardstick, namely the degree of urbanisation. According to Census 2001 (Religion Data Report) the percentage of Hindus living in urban areas is just 26 per cent while the percentage of Muslims living in urban areas is 32 per cent. In numerical terms, out of 82,75,78,868 Hindus only 21,63,15,573 live in urban areas whereas out of 13,81,88,240 Muslims as many as 4,93,93,496 live in urban areas. (Source: Statements 1 and 4 of Census 2001 Religion Data Report, pages xxvii and xxxix, respectively). Thus compared to Hindus the percentage of Muslims living in urban areas is higher by 25 per cent. Therefore, in terms of both these globally accepted norms, the Hindus are socio-economically more backward than their Muslim counterparts. Clearly, the socio-economic backwardness of Muslims is an impressionistic myth propagated by the vote-bank lobby. This unsubstantiated plea is being used as a devious tool to promote communal divisiveness in the fractured Indian society.
Probing a little deeper, one finds that the percentage of working Muslim women vis a vis not only their Hindu counterparts, but women belonging to all non-Muslim communities is phenomenally lower. As against the all-India average of female work participation of 25.6, the female work participation by Hindus is 27.5, Christians 28.7 and Sikhs 20.2. In sharp contrast the female work participation among Muslims is a meagre 14 (Source: Statement 9b of Census 2001 Religion Data Report, page x1viii). The reason is well known?the oppressive custom of burka, or veil, and religious taboo forbidding women from going out to work. Similarly, according to the National Family Health Survey 2, on an average a Muslim household has at least one additional member as compared to the Hindus. The reason is well known, namely non-acceptance of small family norm by Muslims due to diktats by their clergy. But such self-contrived conditions must not be allowed to be used as reasonable grounds for reservations. The solution to the so-called economic problems being voiced by Muslims is to rescue the community from the clutches of the obscurantist clergy. The malaise runs deeper and cannot be remedied by providing reservations. Thus the so-called socio-economic backwardness of the Muslims is not only a highly debatable proposition, but an obscurantist societal contradiction, which will never be remedied by reservations. Before considering the demand for communal reservations some sensitive, but rational, questions must be answered. Will reservations bring more Muslim women out of their burka for greater work participation like the Hindu and Christian women? Everyone knows that the fundamentalist clergy and mullahs will never allow greater work participation by Muslim women. Is it then the intention of the government to provide more work opportunities to Muslim males, in preference to non-Muslim men, because the former community does not allow their womenfolk to go out for work? Bowing to that kind of convoluted logic would be like the government cutting its own nose to spite its face.
The demand for reservations is solely limited to one community?the Muslims. No other religious group has made any such demand, nor are our politicians interested in providing reservations to any other minority group.
Equally debatable is the sham-secularist propaganda about educational backwardness of Muslims vis a vis the Hindus, provided we honestly analyse the latest literacy data. The national average of literacy is 64.8. The literacy average of Muslims is 59.1, while that of Hindus is a shade higher at 65.1, barely one point above the national average. The Christian, Buddhist and Sikh averages are substantially higher at 80.3, 72.7 and 69.4, respectively. The point to note is that the Hindu literacy level is only slightly higher than that of the Muslims. This small difference should not be used for securing reservations for Muslims in educational institutions.
According to Statement 8 of Census 2001 Religion Data Report, the comparative literacy level of Muslims is higher than that of the Hindus in as many as 13 States and Union Territories, namely Orissa (Hindus 63.3 per cent, Muslims 71.3 per cent), Chhattisgarh (Hindus 63.3; Muslims 82.5), Jharkhand (Hindus 54.6; Muslims 55.6), Madhya Pradesh (Hindus 62.8; Muslims 70.3), Gujarat (Hindus 68.3; Muslims 70.5), Maharashtra (Hindus 76.2; Muslims 78.1), Andhra Pradesh (Hindus 59.4 Muslims 68.0), Karnataka (Hindus 65.6, Muslims 70.1), Tamil Nadu (Hindus 72.0; Muslims 82.9), Pondicherry (Hindus 80.3; Muslims 87.8), Daman & Diu (Hindus 77.7; Muslims 80.3), Dadra & Nagar Haveli (Hindus 56.5; Muslims 80.4) and Andaman & Nicobar Islands (Hindus 81.7; Muslims 89.8). In Kerala the literacy levels of the two communities are almost equal.
Not only this, female literacy among Muslims is also higher than that among Hindus in Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Daman & Diu, Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Andaman & Nicobar Islands. (Source: Statement 8b of Census 2001, Religion Data Report, page x1v). On the basis of literacy data of Census 2001 a convincing case can be made out for providing reservations to Hindus in States like Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and even in Andhra Pradesh. In terms of overall literacy, the Muslims have an advantage of eight per cent in Orissa, 18 per cent in Chhattisgarh, 10 per cent in Tamil Nadu and 8.6 per cent in Andhra Pradesh. It is clear from the aforesaid literacy data that there is absolutely no justification for providing reservations to Muslims in Andhra Pradesh?a State in which the literacy level of Muslim community, even their womenfolk, is substantially higher than that of the Hindus. Yet in utter violation of the principle of natural justice and the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution a legislation granting five per cent reservation to Muslims has been passed in the State Assembly.
The so-called socio-economic backwardness of Muslims is not only a highly debatable proposition, but an obscurantist societal contradiction, which will never be remedied by reservations.
In any case, there can be no rational case for ?communal? reservations exclusively for the Muslim community. If the secularist strategy of ?divide-and-rule? is to be followed then reservations must be provided for Hindus, too, in at least 13 States and Union Territories enumerated above. Simultaneously, the Central government must launch some pro-active programmes exclusively for improving the pathetically poor socio-economic conditions of the 74 per cent Hindu population, mostly dalits and landless labourers, living in rural areas among whom the incidence of child mortality continues to be abnormally high vis a vis Muslims.
(The author is a retired IPS officer and former Inspector General of Police.)