The Backwardness of Muslims In India

(As Narrated By Mr. Mohammed Ali Shabbir)

One cannot solve the problem, unless it is properly identified. This was the thought which drove the Congress party to go into the depth of each problem and find a solution. As a devout Congress worker, I always adopted the approach of finding permanent solutions to existing problems. I never believed in superficial solutions.

Right from beginning I believed that illiteracy and unemployment are the root cause of all problems in the society. Therefore, I directed all my efforts to week out these two problems from the Muslim society. My entire battle for Muslim reservation was aimed at ensuring education and employment for poor Muslims. A few sections of society were upset with my straight approach.

When I was inducted into the cabinet for the first time in 1989, I decided that I will change the way Muslim community is defined by the media. I was bored of stories of community’s backwardness, deprivation of opportunities, discrimination, etc., I wanted the people to discuss about growth of Muslims and debate their success stories. I was trying to change the mindsets which were stuck near inferiority complex due to some deep-rooted conspiracies hatched by the Britishers.

The British Regime started the politics of Enquiry Commissions in 1870, when the then Viceroy Lord Mayo wanted to find out the reasons for growing resentment among Muslims against the British Government. He constituted a commission under Sir William Hunter and he prepared a Report named “Our Indian Musalmans”. The Hunter Commission Report, which was based on undivided Bengal, revealed that Muslims were under-represented in government jobs.

Findings of Hunter Commission Report – 1870
Post Hindus Muslims
Grade-3 Asst. Engineers 14 2
Sub-engineer & Supervisors 24 1
Overseers 63 2
Finance Dept 50 0
Lawyers 239 1

The pre-Independence strategy to demoralise the Muslims using statistics of their backwardness and suppressive terms was extensively used after India achieved Independence. Within few days after independence, the then Union Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel presented the ‘Minority Report’. During the debate on Muslim reservation, Maulana Hasrat Mohani, a member from United Provinces, strongly objected to the use of word of ‘minority’ for Muslims. “I refuse to accept Muslims to be a minority. Now you say you have done away with this communalism. Are we not calling a minority to refer only to Muslims? I have got a very fundamental objection to this Minority Report. How is it that when you talk of minorities you mean Muslims only and when you talk of reservation you refer to Muslims only? The Muslims refuse to be called a minority if parties are formed on political line,” he said.

Maulana Hasrat Mohani did not participate in the debate which ended in Constituency Assembly recommending reservation of Muslims, Christians and Scheduled Castes. Two years later, the recommendation was amended and Muslims and Christians were removed from the list of beneficiaries.

Very few serious attempts were made to improve the conditions of Muslims although ‘concern’ over their conditions was expressed on several occasions.

“It is a fact that there is a great deal of frustration in the Muslim mind in India. I am not referring to people who may be pro-Pakistan. There are not very many like that. But conditions have arisen in India, which bring continues pressure on the Muslims in various ways. There is the question of employment in government services, all India and State. There is even the question of education facilities in colleges and the rest of it. Even in business there is pressure against them. It is not surprising, therefore, that they lack security for the future,” the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said on 20 March 1954 in his letter written to Chief Minister Ravi Shankar Shukla on how to deal with Muslims in India.

On April 26, 1954, Pandit Nehru wrote a letter to Chief Ministers saying, “Our Constitution is very good and our laws and rules and regulations are also fair. But the fact remains that in practice some of our minorities, and notably Muslims, suffer from a deep sense of frustration. They feel that the services are not really open to them in any marked degree, whether defence, police or civil. In business, the evacuee property laws, which unfortunately continue even though they are not applied frequently, bear down upon them and restrict their opportunities. In elections to our assemblies and Parliament, it is not easy for Muslims to come in. Evan in our public organisations, it is becoming increasingly difficult for proper Muslim representation. It is easy for anyone to become a primary member of the Congress, but when it comes to any elective post, a Muslim is at a disadvantage and there are no reservations now anywhere,” he said.

Almost 31 years after country’s independence, the Government of India again realised that minorities were facing injustice and discrimination and constituted the National Commission for Minorities. “Despite the safeguards provided in the Constitution and the laws in force, there persists amongst the minorities a feeling of inequality and discrimination,” read the government resolution dated 12 January 1978.

The National Commission for Minorities was entrusted with eight functions:

  1. To evaluate the working of the various safeguards provided in the Constitution for the protection of minorities and in laws passed by the Union and State Governments;
  2. To make recommendations with a view of ensuring effective implementation and enforcement of all the safeguards and the laws;

iii.      To undertake a review of the implementation of the policies pursued by the Union and the State Governments with respect to the minorities;

  1. To look into specific complaints regarding deprivation of rights and safeguards of the minorities;
  2. To conduct studies, researches, and analyses on the question of avoidance of discrimination against minorities;
  3. To suggest appropriate legal and welfare measures in respect of any minority to be undertaken by the Central or the State Governments;

vii.     To serve as a national clearing house for information in respect of the conditions of the minorities; and

viii.    To make periodical reports at prescribed intervals to the government.

However, the future and current developments clearly show that the Central or State Governments did not take the Commission very seriously and its role was confined to that of a grievance cell.

About eight months after the formation of National Commission for Minorities, the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai admitted of atrocities on minorities. Intervening in a two-day discussion on communal riots in Lok Sabha on 5th December 1978, Morarji Desai conceded that the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) had committed excesses in Aligarh. “It happened because there was very little representation of the minorities in the PAC,” he said. However, he blamed the previous government for the situation.

In 1980, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi appointed a high-powered committee to study the conditions of Muslims. Initially, the committee was headed by Dr V A Syed Mohammad. Later, senior parliamentarian Dr Gopal Singh took over as the chairman with Khurshid Alam Khan as the Secretary. The Committee submitted its 119 page Report on June 14, 1983 giving both long-term and short-term measures to be taken to improve the conditions of Muslims and other backward classes. However, the report was never made public.

On 12 May 1983, Indira Gandhi announced 15-Point Programme to resolve the problems being faced by minorities. In a letter to all the Union ministers as well as the States, she asked them to ensure proper representation to minorities in the police forces and services. “The increase of communalism in recent months and the large number of attacks on the lives and properties of minorities is cause for deep sorrow. These incidents are a blot on the good name of our country,” she said in her letter.

In 1995, the Minority Commission came out with a report on the deplorable condition of Muslims. The report clearly stated that Muslims were under-represented in jobs and completely disproportionate to their population in various States.

A year later, a 12-member Sub-Committee of the Planning Commission  while raising the concern over the deplorable condition of minorities observed that, “The representation of minorities, especially Muslims, in the States and at the Central level is disproportionate to their proportion and to correct the imbalance till now no specific action has been taken.”

The backwardness of Muslims remained engulfed around Committees and Reports. There was a not a single report which stated that Muslims have progressed. No government ever gave a thought on preparing an Action Taken Report on the recommendations made by previous enquiry committees. Instead, they constituted another commission to study the latest conditions despite knowing well that nothing has changed for Muslims. The findings of Planning Commission of India, the erstwhile highest planning body in the country, were also ignored.

The Planning Commission of India in its report for 11th Five Year Plan (2007-2012) observed, “Though previous Five Year Plans have attempted to focus on weaker sections of the society, they have failed to include many groups, especially Muslims, into the development net,” reads the Paragraph 6.155 (Page 127 of 6th Chapter on Social Justice).

The admission of non-inclusion of Muslims into the development net came six decades after India achieved independence. It meant that the largest minority of the country, which constituted about 13.4% of the total population, was not part of India’s growth story. Despite making these serious observations, the same Commission has rejected the recommendation of a separate Minorities Sub Plan made by the Working Group of Empowerment of Minorities led by Dr Zoya Hassan in 2006.

Till the Seventh Five Year Plan, the minorities got the developmental benefits along with the OBCs. Till the end of 2005–06, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment continued to be the implementing agency for programmes for the minorities. On 29 January 2006, a separate Ministry of Minority Affairs (MMA) was created.

Meanwhile, the Central Government constituted a High Level Committee under the Chairmanship of Justice (Retd.) Rajinder Sachar to prepare a report on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community. In its comprehensive Report, the Committee observed that Muslims have been left behind the growth and development process.

The Prime Minister’s New 15-Point Programme was launched in 2006 aimed at ensuring the well being, protection and development of minorities. However, the programme lacked mandatory powers and were only advisory in nature. It needed clear cut policy directions for its effective implementation which should have a strong political will among the States because the State Minority Commissions have no statutory powers to address religious minority issues. Further, in States like Gujarat, there is no mechanism to disburse the benefits of welfare schemes among the minorities.

The Chief Secretary is the Presiding Officer in the States to conduct meetings to review the implementation of PM’s 15-Point. However, the meetings are not conducted on regular basis in most of the States by the Chief Secretaries. There is a lack of serious approach in the implementation of programme which was admitted by the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs on multiple occasions.

The Ranganath Mishra Commission too came up with a report on backwardness of Muslims and even recommended 10% reservation in jobs and education.

The status of Muslims remained largely unchanged even after the completion of 11th Five Year Plan. The Report of the Steering Committee on Empowerment of Minorities for the formulation of the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) observed, “There is a need for sustained policy interventions accompanied with adequate funding, proper delivery systems and institutional and strong monitoring of implementation process. There is a need for sustained policy interventions accompanied with adequate funding, proper delivery systems and institutional and strong monitoring of implementation process as participants and not as passive recipients of developmental benefits.”

In Andhra Pradesh (now divided into Telangana and AP) too, several studies were conducted on the conditions of Muslims. The most comprehensive, study was conducted by P.S. Krishnan Committee. In his 300-page report, submitted to the State Government on 11 June 2007, he gave a detailed account of socially, educationally and economically backward classes among Muslims. Although he recommended reservation for only 14 classes of Muslims, who comprise of nearly 80% of total Muslim population, his findings have exposed the inability of successive governments to take the Muslims on the path of growth. Based on this report, the Backward Classes Commission, gave nod for 4% quota for 14 identified groups of Muslims in jobs and education.

Although the continuation of 4% Muslim reservation in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh is subjected to final verdict of Supreme Court, so far, nearly one million (10 lakh) socially and educationally Muslims have benefitted from the policy. However, the number of beneficiaries is too negligible when compared with total Muslim population. The overall conditions have remained the same.

There are hundreds of castes and communities in the country who are enjoying the benefit of reservation. Most of them were included in the SC, ST or BC lists on single page recommendation. However, despite having dozens of reports, Muslims are always asked to prove their backwardness.