AS time passes, one thing is becoming increasingly clear, after 65 years of Independence it is time we stopped talking about “minorities” and “reservations”. Both the concepts, one considered epitome of the nation’s sense of social justice and fairplay, have had their day. In today’s context, to talk about “minorities” is to divide the people of India. Muslims who constitute almost eighteen per cent of India’s population of 1.2 billion with a strength of over 280 million are hardly, any longer, a “minority”. To call them a minority is to misuse the word. By the end of the 21st century Indian Muslim population will reach 320 to 340 million, in numbers higher than the population of the United States! And certainly higher than the population of Pakistan. To treat them as a separate entity is to be party to the break up the social unity of India.
Apart from that, presently Muslims are getting more and more aggressive in their behaviour, as in the matter of censoring the film Vishwaroopam which is not acceptable. In many districts Muslims are in substantial numbers as in Hyderabad (41.7 per cent), Nagaon (51 per cent) Dhubri (74.30 per cent) in Assam, Kishanganj (67.6 per cent), Katihar (42 per cent), Araria (41.1per cent) in Bihar, Kozhekode (37.5 per cent) and Malapuram (68.5 per cent) in Kerala and over 20 per cent in five more districts. In Kashmir, of course, all seven districts have an over 95.0 per cent Muslim population. The time has come to scrap both the “minority” tag to Muslims in India as well as the Minority Ministry.
Again, in a professedly secular country it is scandalous to set up a “Muslim University” in Karnataka and that, too, in the name of an aggressively Muslim ruler, Tipu Sultan. It is tantamount to inflicting a wound on our secular body and the sooner it is ended, the better for all concerned. There are more Muslims in India than in any other Muslim country in the world barring Indonesia and they must come to accept India as Indians and seek no special favours. And they are well-advised not to exhibit their separate identity through dress and deportment, like men wearing white skull caps. That is aggressive communalism and is un-acceptable.
Much the same can be said about reservations, not only for Muslims but for SCs, STs, and OBCs. When the Indian Constitution was being enacted, no less than Dr BR Ambedkar himself was not in favour of extension of reservations beyond a decade, but it is now 65 years since Independence and the social picture has changed. Agreed that tensions exist in rural areas, expecially in north India but the task of dealing with caste conflict should be relegated to social reformers like Anna Hazare and more especially to what is considered as a rising “Harijan Elite”, largely consisting of Mahars in Maharashtra, the Ezhavas in Kerala and Malas in Andhra Pradesh. It is the task of the “creamy layer” of dalits to take care of their fellow citizens and get them to take to education in a big way. The charge is made by scholars such as Oliver Mendelsohn that the “creamy layer” is gradually moving further and further away, politically, socially and economically, from the rest of the SC population. Politically there is no question but that the SCs, especially, have come to exercise their power through the polling booth; how else can one explain the rise of the likes of Mayawati and her growing wealth?
It is now becoming fashionable not to be critical of dalits as the distinguished sociologist Ashish Nandy found out to his horror and dismay. In many areas dalits are doing quite well. Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde is proud to call himself a dalit and what else is the Speaker of the Lok Sabha? One can think of several such examples.
Statistical evidence shows decidedly positive trends of dalits entering into senior civil ranks – an eightfold increase from 1959 to 1995, us well as in receiving higher education, a near doubling over seventeen years ending in 1996. The 2001 census shows a ten year jump of 27 per cent in national literacy and an independent study (1997-98) found that Dalit educational achievement for younger age groups in villages in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh has surged to a point that it was virtually the same as for upper castes.
Add to this is an article in Economic & Political Weekly (February 9) which states that “Dalit millionnaries have been increasingly visible over the last few years”. A new Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has been formed. Dalits may form 16.4 per cent of the population but presently they own 9.8 per cent of all enterprises as of 2005. Agreed that enterprises owned by members of the SCs and STs tend to be smaller and are less likely to employ labour from outside the family and “more likely to belong to the informal and unorganized sector”, but so what? The Dalits are having a business of their own, haven’t they? They are not professionally shunned, are they? It is significant that in contrast to the under-representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in entrepreneurship, OBC members owned, 43.5 per cent of all enterprises in 2005 and accounted for 40 per cent of non-farm employment in most states. The share of the workforce employed in OBC-owned firms has been close to their overall population share.
According to Economic & Political Weekly, “South India has witnessed the phenomenal rise of some OBC communities to the highest reaches of publicly-traded firms.” As an example, the weekly mentions the ascent of Nadars, traditionally toddy-tappers who were once subjected to enormous deprivation and degradation, to a leading business community in Tamil Nadu that has absolutely no parallal in North India. In Gujarat again, according to the weekly “a large increase in the share of the workforce employed in OBC-owned enterprises over the period 1998-2005 (from 22 per cent to 39 per cent) suggests that caste barriers were breaking down rapidly.
What all this suggests is that despite the fact that even if in rural areas – expecially in North India – Dalits are held victims of casteism, conditions are changing for the SC, ST communities that indicate a social revolution is on and cannot be stopped. What this calls for is social leadership of a high order and the promotion of equality; we have come a long way from the Yerwada Pact signed by Mahatma Gandhi and Dr BR Ambedkar. Known better as the Poona Pact, it kept Dalits under the larger Hindu ambit; now we require a larger and unwritten pact that shuts the door to communalism, minoritism and other divisive trends to build India into a dreamland conceived by the likes of Swami Vivekananda. There are no minorities in India. There are only Indians to live and work together to achieve great ends.