New Delhi, Rajinder Sachar, chairman of the Committee on Socio-economic and Educational Status of Muslims, talks to Aasha Khosa and Prasad Nichenametla of Business Standard.
Your committee on the condition of Muslims has generated a lot of heat…
I do not like to take all the credit for the report. I was not alone in writing it, it was the product of the hard work put in by six eminent members of the committee.
The BJP and the Left parties have taken their respective stands on the report and the Congress appears to be getting pressurised by this. In this context, what do you think the fate of the report would be?
We did our job of preparing the document. Its implementation is not our job. But the government has promised to stren-gthen the 15-point programme for minorities.
Your report, it seems, has got politicised. With all the talk of mid-term elections, do you fear its implementation may suffer?
As I said earlier, I am not responsible for its implementation. I remember one of my judgements during my days as a high court judge. I was the first judge to give a ruling against suicide being treated as a crime. I thought it was not fair that people who find life miserable should be tortured and incarcerated because they chose to end it. I released all the people who were in jails on the charge of attempted suicide. But nothing happened. In a democracy, debates in the public domain are a healthy trend and issues take their own course.
An Equal Opportunities Commission is one of the key recommendations of your committee. How do you think this will work in favour of Muslims?
This commission is envisaged to address the grievances of all communities. For example, if a Muslim finds it hard to rent a residence in his preferred locality only because of his religion, he can approach the commission. The media have been reporting many such instances.
Sometimes it is just perceived discrimination. One cannot approach courts on such issues and it is here that the commission will play a role. In many Western countries, where people face racial discrimination, such commissions have had a positive impact on the society.
During the course of your work on the report, the armed forces did not give you a religion-wise headcount? How could you agree to it so easily?
The Army was very touchy about this and a section of the media supported it. But I do not understand why military organisations are shy of facing facts. We were not asking for anything that we were not mandated to.
Many of the findings of the committee were along known lines. But tell us, during the course of your travel to compile the report, what surprised you most, personally?
I was amazed to see how vocal Muslim women were in putting across their point of view. Frankly, I did not expect it. During our visits to the states for data collection, we would invite the public for interaction and later have a separate session with women. In fact, a huge input in our report came from the women. One of the recommendations of the report, which unfortunately was not highlighted in the media, is about a quota for women in the Wakf boards.
Literacy and education remain major challenges for Muslims. Are there any signs of improvement on this?
Yes, nobody really expected us to arrive at a conclusion on the basis of stark data that Muslims in 10 states have better literacy rates than the average. Also, that ‘madrasas’ contribute only 4 per cent to the Muslim education, was contrary to the popular perception. Data also proved that Muslims did not face any discrimination in selection in competitive examinations, like IAS, IIT or IIM. In exams where the identity of the examinees are not disclosed, Muslims get selected in equal proportion to the others.
The UPA government has started identifying the Muslim-dominated districts, which, according to your report, should get special grants. The move has come under fire from many political parties. Your comments.
People who are raising this issue should realise that if a district gets special funds only because Muslims are in a majority there, it would be for the benefit of all. Development means roads, more schools, etc, which ultimately serve all communities.
A school of thought opposed to moves like your report has an argument — if Christians and Sikhs can prosper without the government’s intervention, why should Muslims be treated differently.
The problem with Muslims in India is because of their large numbers as compared to other minorities, and also the patterns of land ownership. Sikhs have always been landowners, while Muslims generally were artisans. People who call reports like ours appeasement probably tend to overlook these factors.
What was the reaction of people on your report?
One day I received a letter from Balraj Madhok, who is a known Jan Sangh leader. He wrote: “Rajinder Sachar, go back to Lahore.” I laughed it off and told myself I would be happy to go back to Lahore, the city of my birth.
Do you think Indian Muslims face a double dilemma in countering home-grown prejudices and also the international propaganda on Islamic terrorism?
In India, there are a lot of people who talk against Muslims without knowing that India has no Al Qaeda. Labelling people as Islamic terrorist is so easy, but why not call Dara Singh, who burnt alive Christian missionary Graham Staines and his family, a Hindu terrorist? What would you call RAW officers who have defected to CIA? Such people must realise that they would have lost Kashmir to Pakistan in 1948 had Brigadier Usman not fought till the end to keep the tribal invaders away from the Srinagar airport till the arrival of Indian Army. Those who call Muslims as ‘Babar ki aulad’ (descendants of Babar) should be told that the invaders from Central Asia were indeed Muslims, but so were the rulers in India at that time. It was an invasion by a Muslim ruler on the empire of another Muslim ruler, and not on Hindus.