Muslims are extremely marginalized, need state support: Abdul Shaban

    By Rehan Ansari,

    Abdul Shaban is member of high powered Post Sachar Evaluation Committee constituted by the Government of India with Ministry of Minorities Affairs as nodal ministry. He was member of Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Study Group on Muslims under Chairmanship of Mahmoodur Rahman (IAS, retired and former vice-chancellor of AMU, Aligarh) which recently submitted its report.

    Abdul Shaban is BA (Honours) from AMU, Aligarh, and M.A. from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. He completed his M.Phil. and Ph.D. from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai. He has published three books and over 30 papers in various refereed national and international journals and edited books. Dr.Shaban has been Visiting Professor at the Department of Geography, University of Paris, France, and at University of Masaryk (Brno) and Palacky University, Olomouc, Czech Republic. He has also been Fellow at the Department of Geography and Environment, LSE, London. He was Commonwealth Academic Staff Fellow at Cities Programme, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), London during 2011-12. Presently he is Chairperson of International Students Office (ISO) of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and coordinating from TISS the Erasmus Mundus India to Europe Scholarships Programme (a programme of European Commission).

    He talked to Rehan Ansari of on the report, general conditions of Muslims, affirmative action required for the upliftment of Indian Muslims.

    TCN: What’s the difference between Sachar Committee Report and Dr.Mahmoodur Rahman Report?

    Sachar Committee attempted to look into socio-economic situation of Muslims at the national level while Mahmoodur Rahman Committee attempted to do the same at the state level. Sachar Committee examined the macro data, but the programmes are needed to be implemented at the micro/meso levels for which more pragmatic and contextual approaches are needed. The Mahmoodur Rahman Committee attempts to provide the same. Another major difference between the Sachar Committee Report and Mahmoodur Rahaman Committee is that where the former showed the marginalisation of Indian Muslims, Mahmoodur Rahman Committee goes further to recommend many specific measures to overcome the marginalisation among Muslims in Maharashtra. The recommendation by the Mahmoodur Rahman Committee ranges from how to end violence against community to how the community can be made an important constituent in national development process. The report also recommends measures how to address the difficulty which community members face in everyday life.

    TCN: Why was it needed?

    In my view, many of the issues related to Muslims in India are not the same in every state, though some commonality can surely be established. Therefore, every state requires a committee to bring forth the issues Muslims are facing in that state. This underscores the importance of Mahmoodur Rahman Committee.

    Abdul Shaban is associated with Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS)

    TCN: What are the important points of these reports and recommendations since it has been leaked and reported in the media?

    Media always finds its ways to the best kept secrets. Media has its own role in development of the society through information dissemination. Though unfortunate, still the information which have found their way to media from the report have gone to make people’s opinion and create debate and discussions. I am sure that the government will create political consensus, will take both the majority and minority communities into confidence and will act on the recommendation of the report. The importance of the recommendations does not decrease because some of them have found their way to media.

    TCN: Don’t you think the timing of this report is politically motivated since it was ready long ago as reported in other newspapers?

    Although, committee was constituted in 2008 but work on it could seriously start last year, June (2012). The report was ready sometime in June this year but reading, typing and printing took some time.

    TCN: Governments do not seem to follow Reports of Commissions and their recommendations.

    I agree with you. Governments have often failed to act on well-meaning recommendations of the committees and commissions. There are various reasons for this and they range from lack of seriousness in government to fear of consequences if something that is rightly recommended is done. For instance the recommendations by the Shri Krishna Commission on riots in Mumbai in 1992.

    TCN: We have heard that you have been working on PM’s 15 Point programme review committee.

    The Government of India, with Ministry of Minorities Affairs as nodal ministry, has constituted a 10 members committee to evaluate the implementation and outcomes of the programmes formulated and implemented for the welfare of the religious minorities(based on the recommendation of the Sachar Committee Report). As a member of the Committee, I am specifically looking at PM 15 points programme. I will attempt to pool the information and suggestions together and take the same to the committee for their final say and suggestions. I will request the civil society organisations and well-meaning people to send their suggestions and recommendations to the committee enable it to provide necessary suggestions to the government for the course corrections in the programmes and to make them more effective.

    TCN: You have been doing research on Muslims in Maharashtra and India, what are your observation and suggestions for their upliftment?

    As an academician, my first observation on Muslims is that it is an extremely marginalised community of India. It requires state supports for its development. The State has always come to the help of the marginalised communities as we have seen in the case of SCs and STs. The reports of committees and commissions in recent years have brought deprivation among Muslims to increased focus and that is why today we find a large consensus among both the majority and minority communities towards the affirmative actions for the development of Muslims. My suggestions to the government will be to rather than politicising the Muslims deprivation issues, create political consensus and act on them. There are some basic principles of equality, justice and citizenship already enshrined in the Constitutions, act on them to end the prejudices, biases and fear. The state has important role to ensure that developed gets delivered equally to all.

    “The younger generation of the community has started demanding development more vociferously”

    TCN: If you have to choose three main reasons for backwardness of Muslims, what will they be?

    For me, development of a community is linked with internal dynamics within the community and the opportunities the larger society provides to the community. Also, the lack of educational opportunities and income capabilities can perpetuate the vicious circle of poverty within a community. The positive intervention/affirmative actions by the state can break the vicious circle and put the community on virtuous path/cycle. With these understanding, I would like to say that Muslim community today largely lives in vicious circle of poverty and the affirmative actions by the government will be very important towards the development of the community.

    In my view, the reasons for poverty among Muslims are: 1. Lack of relevant education, 2. Lack of income/opportunities/infrastructure to support the children for relevant (higher) education, 3. Bias in job market and government recruitments that results in unemployment/underemployment of even those having achieved some higher level of education resulting in overall low expectation from education among Muslims. This perpetuates the vicious circle. This is where the government and larger society need to intervene to provide positive discrimination in the job market to Muslims.I would also like to add the fourth and fifth factors for the backwardness of Muslims– these are endemic communal riots and lack of adequate freedom of Muslim women for their education and career choice. Where the violence against the community destroys its cumulative earnings, capital accumulated over the years and breaks the established economic and social networks, the limited educational choice and career options available to a large segment of Muslim women keep away a large segment of the community members from effectively contributing to the development of the community and country. This latter is well reflected from the lower work participation rate of Muslim women. However, one also needs to understand that the above factors are also linked with each other in complex ways.

    TCN: The reports are written for the government so their recommendations are for the government, but what will you suggest to the Muslim community as to what they can do to help themselves?

    Yes, it is unfortunate that despite many well-meaning and profound suggestions by many committees and commissions, the governments (both the central and states) have not taken them seriously but acted towards the community with tokenism. During the election times grand schemes are announced and promises are made to garner the community votes, but after elections the promises are forgotten. Real and mythical fears of ‘others’ are circulated. This leads the Muslim community not to vote for development but out of fear.

    However, Muslim community is going through a great social and political metamorphosis. The younger generation of the community has started demanding development more vociferously and in recent years setting up of several committees and commissions have been outcomes of the same. On the other hand, this younger generation has also moved away from sectarian, communal and conservative internal politics to rebuild the community (through reorganisation of the community) and mobilisation of resources from non-governmental sphere. This is why you find so many civil society groups (NGOs/CBOs) emerging among Muslims, organising and channelizing the energy of the community in positive ways. A few years back finding a Muslim NGO used to be difficult but today one will find many in every city/town. However, role of the government remains very important, these civil society organisation can meaningfully contribute to the State efforts, they cannot replace the State.

    1TCN: We know that the Muslims lagging behind in various socio-economic indicators but what are the areas they seem to improving faster than others? What are the silver linings in the clouds?

    I think Muslim community of India is progressing very fast in three spheres:
    1. They have shown enormous change in their political approach. Today they are not driven by the conservative politics of 1980s but are more open to debate and discussions.
    2. The young girls have entered higher and middle levels of education in considerable number in recent years. Their share has suddenly jumped.
    3. Considerable numbers of intellectual and younger groups have joined the media and social networking sites (social media) and are discussing and deliberating on the issues related to development of the community and harmonizing the community’s relations with other communities.

    These three changes in the Muslims community underscore the latent energy within the community, self-reflexivity of the community and desire to walk on the path of development rapidly along other communities if provided right kind of opportunity and atmosphere.

    As opposed to this trend, during the last 10 years or so we have seen increased communalisation of majority community youth mainly due to influence of right wing politics, social media and also the mythical programmes/stories in print and visual media.

    TCN: What is your say on the legality of reservations to Muslims in education and employments in the secular country like ours?

    Legality and illegality should not be taken as constant – time neutral. rules and regulations change with time and need. A large segment of the country’s population, Muslims, is socio-economically as deprived as dalits in the country. They face discrimination in everyday life on the basis of their religion while many from the community face double discrimination – both on the basis of religion and also due to their castes. It is surprising that presidential order of 1950s did not recognise caste (which is basic organising structure of every community in the country) in Islam.

    In recent years, many reports have shown the socio-economic marginality ofMuslims and in fact many states have attempted to ensure reservation for Muslims on the basis of religion or carving out sub-quota within overall OBC quota. Though some of their attempts have been struck down by courts but that should not discourage the political parties. In my view, all the states ruled by secular and progressive forces should join together and appeal to the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision on limits for the reservation and also quota on the basis of religion. When about 80% of the population of the country comes from marginalised sections, the limit of reservation up to 50% in fact provides reverse reservation to advantageous 20% of the population. With about 20% of the population, this advantageous group is able to secure 50% of the jobs for themselves. This for me is gross social injustice.

    A majority of the Muslims in the country are converts from the scheduled castes and lower middle castes and as such should be absorbed within OBC and SC categories with realistically expanded (separate) quota for Muslims within the these categories in order to insure that religious biases are not able to keep away Muslims from job reserved under caste categories.

    Religion, like caste, is basic sociological reality of the country and till we are not able to implement diversity index through equal opportunity commission, the reservation should remain in force to ensure the justice and opportunities to diverse communities of the country.

    TCN: What do you like to see Muslims as a community must do to help themselves?

    I have already mentioned very encouraging trend in recent years among Muslims (and specifically among Muslim youth) towards politics, religious and gender issues. These positive trends/approach must continue. The education is base on which civilizations are made. It will be important to ensure that the younger generation of the community (both boys and girls) receive right kind of and quality education. Muslim community must keep communication channel open to all the political and meaningful organisations of the country and convey to them their rightful and constitutional demands, and desire to contribute to the development of the country. Another very important step should be to channelize the available resources of the community (like those from zakat, waqf income, and other contributions) to productive purposes and to the needy, besides encouraging those economically capable within and outside the community to contribute to the development of the community and in nation building process.