In April 2007, a judge of the Allahabad High Court held that Muslims could no longer be treated as a religious minority in Uttar Pradesh. A day after, a division bench of the same court stayed the order. The question it has raised is as to who or which is a minority in India? The Oxford Dictionary defines minority as ?the condition or fact of being smaller, inferior or subordinate; smaller number or part; a number which is less than half the whole number. Similarly, relation is ?an existing connection, … a significant association between or among things.?
It is the numbers that count, or the statistical divide between two or more entities under consideration, which determines the majority/minority division. The minor, which is numerically less, is perceived to be weak. In this power relation, the minor is hypothetically subordinate to the major.
Our Constitution does not explain the term minority. The Constituent Assembly identified Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Anglo-Indians and Parsis as religious minorities. Even at the time of framing the Constitution some communities complained that they should have been included as minorities.
In India, the minorities include Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist, Jains, Christians, Zoroastrians and a few others. Out of the total population of 102.8 crore or 1.028 billion in the country as at the 2001 Census, the Hindus were 82.7 crore or 827 million and constituted 80.5 per cent of the population of the country. The Muslim population stood at 13.8 crore or 138 million comprising of 13.4 per cent of the population. The next in size are the Christians (2.4 crore or 24 million), followed by Sikhs (1.9 crore or 19 million), Buddhists (79 lakh or 7.9 million), Jains (42 lakh or 4.2 million) and those following ?other? religions and persuasions including the tribal religions, etc. (66 lakh or 6.6 million).
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh spoke at Dalit-Minority International Conference in New Delhi on December 27, 2006 as under: ?Some minorities in India have done better than others. For example in India, minority communities like the Jains and the Sikhs have fared relatively well from the process of social and economic development. However, other minorities, especially the Muslim community in certain parts of our country, have not had an equal share of the fruits of development.?
Sachar Committee set up by the present government says that 94.9 per cent of Muslims in below poverty line (BPL) families in rural areas do not receive free foodgrains. While only 3.2 per cent of Muslims get subsidised loans, just 1.9 per cent of the community receive benefit from the Antyodaya Anna Yojana Scheme, a programme meant to prevent starvation among the poorest of poor by providing foodgrains at a subsidised rate. 60.2 per cent of Muslims do not have any land in rural areas. National average is 43 per cent. Just 2.1 per cent of Muslim farmers have tractors. With 15,25,000 tractors, India ranks no. 4 after US, Japan and Italy. National average (40.8 per cent in rural areas and 19.9 per cent in urban areas) is of those who attended the schools. Only 0.8 per cent of Muslims in rural areas are graduate. Although in urban areas, nearly 40 per cent of the Muslims now receive modern education, only 3.1 per cent of the community in urban areas are graduate. Just 1.2 per cent are post-graduate.
Before proceeding further, it is essential to point out that if 94.4 per cent Muslims below poverty line do not get free foodgrains, the fault does not lie in the allocation of budget, but in the delivery system, of which there is no mention in any report. Has a single official been punished for not doing his job in this respect? This question has remained unanswered and will remain so as such.
About the poor level of education, government has the largest set up of primary education. If somebody does not send his children to school, fault does not lie with the nation. There is an old saying which says that you can take a horse to water, but you cannot force him to drink. Initiative in this regard, has to come from the Muslim community and individual Muslims. The Committee also adds that it found shocking instances of discrimination against the community, including cases of Muslims not getting loans from even nationalised banks. Muslims find it difficult to sell or buy property. ?There is an implicit diktat that loans should not be given in specific areas dominated by Muslims because of the high probability of default?.
Banks are commercial institutions and they are governed by some norms and rules, before sanctioning any loan, irrespective of the community to which a person may belong. The dead losses or NPA'sas they are called are as under from 2001 to 2006 in crores:
2002 – Rs. 61,439
2003 – Rs. 59,516
2004 – Rs. 55,433
2005 – Rs. 51,072
2006 – Rs. 44,446
The figure comes to about 3 lakh crore. Of course, when a committee gives a report, it wants to prove a particular point of view. While there is a case of giving loans to weaker sections including the Muslims, the Government should make up its mind in advance that in more than 70 per cent cases, the banks may not see the light of their money. Banking system should not be tinkered with.
The Committee also found inadequate number of government schools in the Muslim dominated areas, which in turn contributes to the low number of Muslim boys and girls attending the schools. One did not need a committee to make this obvious discovery. There was nothing to prevent the Government from opening more schools. But there should be norms for that. These should be quality schools and not absentee teachers government schools, as has been happening all over the country. Sachar Committee also said that Muslims be regarded as ?backward? as used in Article 16(4) of Constitution and 15 per cent of posts in all cadre and grades under Centre and States should be for minorities. Out of 15 per cent, 10 per cent should be for Muslims, 5 per cent for other minorities. If Muslims fail to fill up 10 per cent quota, rest should go to non-Muslim minorities. In no case should any seat go to majority. The Government also wants 15 per cent plan funds to go to the minorities. This is approximately equal to the size of the minorities in the country.
In the matters of reservation, the Supreme Court of the country has observed that reservations, must pass the test of rationality and fairness. How the filling of under qualified or non-qualified candidates is going to improve the already inefficient administration. Agreed that the minorities do need a helping hand, but the kind of helping hand the government is extending will create more problems than it will solve. Just a few jobs here and there and spending money on hair brained schemes which cannot be monitored and a flawed delivery system, as more than once admitted by the Prime Minister himself, will mean throwing good money after the bad. If the lot of minorities, especially of the Muslims is to be improved, then why not government be serious about it? Will the Government adjust the Haj subsidy running into over one hundred and fifty crore against some schemes of the minorities? Should a secular State foot the bill of one community for pilgrimage?
Incidentally Haj subsidy has been criticised by none other than Saudi Government. Why should government get involved in the religious affairs of people living in the country? Another vote bank and minority pandering that is going on is the Wakfs. Many Muslim countries, including Turkey, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco, have no Wakfs. In India the institution enjoys a unique advantage in that it is above all other laws. For example, the Urban Land Ceiling Act cannot apply to Wakf properties.
During the British raj, an appeal went up to the Privy Council which then served as the apex court for the British empire. In delivering its judgment, Lords Watson, Hobhouse and Shand and Sir Richard Couch described ?the wakf as a perpetuity of the worst and the most pernicious kind and would be invalid. The doyen of sociologists, M.N. Srinivas, in his celebrated work, Caste in Modern India and Other Essays, draws attention to ?the manipulation of the processes and institutions of democratic politics by caste lobbies generally and by the dominant caste in particular?. At the end of the analysis, he warns about the attendant pitfalls, which include caste-exclusive loyalties as also a narrow view of nation-building. It is coming true with Gujjars fighting for a pie of reservations as well as Meenas in Gujarat.
For a politician nothing comes ahead of getting re-elected. Staying in power is his job number one. So his only true allegiance is to his own or his party'sre-election. This is what exactly the present Government has done in the matter of 15 per cent reservation plans for the minorities. If anything, the present Government is responsible for the plight of Muslims in the country as it ruled or ruined it for almost from Independence, except for a brief period of five years of the NDA Government.
(The author is former Director of CBI and can be contacted at [email protected])