One supposes that Justice Rajendra Sachar is well up in Indian history. If he isn?t, the Home Ministry must provide him with some text books on history which, under the UPA dispensation, cannot lie. What would they say that is unchallengeable even by the RSS? One is that India was ruled by Muslim rulers almost continuously in most parts of the country for over 800 years. One would imagine that in these 800 plus years Muslims would have become highly education conscious and have a clear advantage over their Hindu brethren. Eight hundred years is a pretty long time to remain backward.
True, in 1857 the British took over. Education came to be imparted in English. There was no law barring Muslims from climbing the new English-oriented ladder. But pride came in their way. Even prior to 1857?and we have it on the word of a former Union Minister, Arif Mohammad Khan?in 1835, when Muslims in Calcutta (Kolkata) came to know that the government intended to start English teaching in all schools, they submitted an application signed by 8,000 maulvis to stop it, on the grounds that learning in English would undermine Islam and might lead to large-scale conversion to Christianity. Almost fifty years later, in 1882, when the British were deeply entrenched in India, Syed Ahmad Khan appeared before the Education Commission of the Central Legislative Council with voluminous evidence to show the almost negligible presence of Muslims among graduates of Calcutta University. The facts presented are shocking even now. No Muslim name appeared in the list of post-graduate students in law.
Among 705 students appearing for bachelors? and 235 licentiate examinations Muslims numbered eight and five respectively. There was not a single Muslim graduate either in engineering and medicine. In MA courses there were 5 Muslims out of 326 and in BA there were 30 out of 1,343, poverty was not the cause. Muslims in Calcutta were relatively quite well off then. Contrast this with what Hindus decided. When, in 1824, the government planned to start a Sanskrit College in Calcutta, Hindu citizens, under the leadership of Raja Rammohan Roy demanded that instead of a Sanskrit College, they preferred an English college. They surely must have rightly guessed which way the world was progressing. Today, England wants Indian teachers to teach English to English children. Poor Macaulay must be turning in his grave at the turn of events. But Muslims continue to live in another world.
Came 1947, a good ninety years after the First War of Independence. And what happened then? The Muslim elite and Muslim entrepreneurship ran away to Pakistan taking away with them such assets as they could command, leaving their poor Muslim brethren in the lurch to fend for themselves. The maulvis were still in the seats of power as even now they are. Yes, the large majority of Muslims who stayed back were poor. But millions of Hindus, too, were in the same class. But they knew that in order to survive they had to send their children to school whatever the cost. Among the Muslims the old mentality continued to persist. Let this be clear: There is no deliberate or conscious discrimination against Muslims in any schools. The fault lies in their leadership. They have to change the mindset.
The Sachar Committee report says that only about 4.2 per cent of Muslim children attend madrasas. The percentage is irrelevant. As Arif Mohammad Khan said it plainly, Muslims first must free themselves from their clergy. The Sachar Committee report says that the situation of Muslims is particularly grave in West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Assam. West Bengal is under communist rule?the same communists who, it may be remembered, supported the creation of Pakistan. Uttar Pradesh is all but run by Mulayam Singh who claims undying friendship with Muslims. What is he doing for them? And what is Muslim leadership?such as exists?doing for their own people? At loss as to how to survive, many Muslims have apparently taken to crime.
In Maharashtra, Muslims account for 10.6 per cent of the general population, yet they comprise 32.4 per cent of prison inmates. For those incarcerated on terms of less, than a year, the figure rises to 42 per cent. In Gujarat, where Muslims account for 9.06 per cent of the population, those in jail account for 25 per cent of the jail population. Karnataka has a general population of 12.23 per cent Muslims, but the jail population is 17.5 per cent. There are presently 102,652 Muslims in jail and the majority are in for ordinary crimes, not terrorism.
Apparently with less, opportunities for honest work, many take to crime as a vocation for sheer survival. Many shortens have been suggested for the improvement of the lot of the Muslims, such as the creation of an Equal Opportunity Commission, modelled on the UK Race Relations Act 1976. The point is made that it is ?imperative that if the minorities have certain perceptions of being aggrieved, all efforts should be made by the State to find a mechanism by which these complaints could be attended to expeditiously.? Fair enough.
Nobody would grudge if Muslims received help of all kinds, like setting up schools in areas of Muslim concentration, providing free education especially for girls and encouraging diverse talent to grow through financial assistance. But talent can'tbe implanted; it is self-generative. Can it be that a large percentage of Muslims were converts from lower castes that never had an education tradition and whose special talents were directed to handicrafts, weaving, pottery, metal works and the like and whose ancestral occupations have been nullified by technology? That might explain why it is so difficult to draw them into a new educational structure, so totally foreign to them, considering that Muslim students make only 1.3 percent among IIM students and 1.7 per cent in IITs.
Has globalisation of economy hurt Muslims more than anything else, without anybody being aware of it, much less being in a position to help? But the issue now is not why they have fallen into despair but what can be done to resuscitate them, not as Muslims, but as unconscious victims of globalisation and modernisation. That they have to free themselves of mullahs is self-evident. That they have to be taught new trades to be reliant goes without saying. Grameen Banks may be of some help, especially for their womenfolk?and this must be pursued. The womenfolk need to get out of their shells, but that is a matter of years. Their mind-set has to change from Islamic orthodoxy to contemporary competitiveness.
The roots of poverty lie not just in an out-moded social system but in an unawareness of current possibilities that beckon the bold. To be competitive, one has to come out of one'sghettoes and join the mainstream. The State can?and should?help the Muslim poor but a reciprocity in attitudes and behaviour among Muslims will strengthen the process of economic rehabilitation. Is that too much to ask? What Islam needs is a Kemal Ataturk, not Wahabi extremism.