Antulay-Fatmi rivalry hits plans for Muslim education

By Faraz Ahmad, IANS

New Delhi : A plan to increase literacy levels among Muslims in India has fallen victim to differences between two ministers, with one of them taking up the matter with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

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Minister of State for Human Resource Development M.A.A. Fatmi submitted in January a set of proposals to help the Muslim community. But this, his officials say, is lying with the minority affairs ministry headed by A.R. Antulay.

A high-level committee that Fatmi headed recommended mapping educational institutions in villages and municipalities with high concentrations of Muslims to improve educational opportunities.

It suggested creation of a public fund to educate socially disadvantaged Muslim girls right from schools to higher and professional institutions by providing scholarships and fees taken from the corpus.

All these – and more – followed the publication of the recommendations from Justice Rajinder Sachar, who came out with an exhaustive report on the state of Indian Muslims, the country’s largest minority.

Human resources development (HRD) ministry officials said the minority affairs ministry was refusing to let the HRD ministry implement even schemes relating to educational development of Muslims.

Last month, Fatmi led a team to Manmohan Singh pressing for early implementation of Sachar’s recommendations.

The Sachar committee reported that the level of literacy among Muslims was lower than of even the Dalits, who form the lowest rung in Hindu society.

Muslims form 14 percent of India’s one billion-plus population and are its largest minority. Their economic, social and educational backwardness has been a source of worry for many, both within and outside the community.

An aide to Fatmi told IANS: “Many of our proposals have to do with the 11th Plan. Once the Plan’s allocations are finalised, it may take another five years to include them in the next five year plan.”

Repeated attempts to contact Antulay elicited no response.

Abdul Rashid Shaheen, a National Conference member of the Lok Sabha who took part in the deliberations of the Fatmi committee, told IANS: “Some members did meet the prime minister. We heard that some very attractive package is to be announced shortly (for Muslims). But we are awaiting some concrete action.

“We were also told that the minority affairs ministry is going to take the package to the cabinet for its approval. But so far we have heard nothing from that end (minority ministry).”

BSP leader in parliament, Ilyas Azmi, was very critical of Antulay.

Azmi told IANS: “Every time you go to him he will talk of Allah and the Prophet and recite some couplets from Quran. But so far he has nothing to show in terms of action.”

The Fatmi committee had identified “areas of actions, mode of action and expected expenditure on respective programmes” to implement education programmes for Muslims.

“We took care to steer clear of any quota for Muslims that could have raised the hackles of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) or the Supreme Court,” pointed out a committee member.

“(But) Antulay did not even make a mention of all this work in the Action Taken Report (ATR) on the Sachar report that he placed before parliament,” he added.

Besides mapping of educational institutions in Muslim areas, it suggested the creation of an Aruna Asaf Ali Girls Education Fund with an initial corpus of Rs.5 billion to take care of scholarships and educational fees.

Since the Supreme Court does not accept lower castes among Christians and Muslims as socially disadvantaged unlike their Hindu counterparts, the Fatmi committee asked the social justice and empowerment ministry to ascertain the conditions that contribute to educational backwardness among the Muslims.

The Fatmi committee estimated an expenditure of Rs.7.49 billion during the 11th Plan for mobilising Muslims for literacy and adult education.

The committee’s recommendations include opening of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas in Muslim Minority Concentration Blocks, utilising the services of madrassas for education and such other measures.