Monday, August 30, 2010

Four Years after Sachar? Are Muslims better off in India?

An article published in OUTLOOK INDIA Magazine, Special Independice day Issue, 23rd August 2010.

The Lamb's Share

It is essential to begin this essay by emphasizing the fact that the minorities including the Muslims maintain aspirations and seek opportunities for development similar to any other community in India. Yet an empirical review suggests Muslims lagging practically in all spheres of development including education, employment, income and assets and so on. There are some efforts from both the centre and state governments to overcome deprivation amongst the Muslims across India, but a quick review of outcomes suggest little improvements. There is a need for durable changes, firstly a recognition that deprivation amongst the minorities /
Muslims exists due to systemic causes which can be set right only through broad based public policy initiatives, not entirely through special purpose vehicles such as the minority/Muslim oriented programs; rather assisting them to strive to access their share within the mainstream line ministries, departments and programs.

India through the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment has made a strong socio-political statement of its arrival as a matured democracy, championing multi-layer decentralized governance, sharing substantial powers and national pool of resources with the States. Further, the enduring cannons of governance and economic development are grounded in principals of socialism, inclusiveness and secularism and fully conscious of regional imbalance given a large expanse of the Indian nation. India probably is a rare example of pluralism, with multi-dimensional cultural and social groupings, language, race, region and not the least religion; in short rich in diversity.

Like other main communities of India, the Muslims should be able to pursue social, economic and educational aspirations within the frame and support of government provided infrastructure, opportunities and political awakening. Thus one expect ‘diversity’ - the diversity natural to our population should get reflected in the public spheres such as in educational institutions, public and organized sector employment, political system and governance structures at all levels. Yet, in spite of the fact that practically all social, educational and economic spheres of living are governed, regulated and implemented by the States; one would find substantial (often unacceptable level) differences between varied social groups and across states. Such differentials are prominent in spite of special constitutional provisions bestowed upon the minorities since the Independence.

Over 150 million citizens, just about 14% of all Indians profess Islam as their religion and reside across all parts of India. Muslims are the largest (80%) of all identified minorities of India. They reside in substantial numbers and proportions in states such as Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, UP and Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra and so on. There are examples and best practices found within India. Consider the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, all have devised policies favoring Muslims at two levels. (a) Along with all others, the Muslims have relatively better access to quality mass education (both elementary and higher level) and employment; and (b) given the history of relative deprivation of the Muslims the state policy have extended the benefit of reservations in a certain measure of fractional-proportions linked to their size and share in population. Such quotas are enabling the Muslim girls and boys to catch up with their peers amongst the Hindus and Christians, both in education and employment. Similar provisions will enable Muslims to participate even in the political spaces; and Andhra Pradesh has made a beginning by promoting a system of ‘co-option’ or ‘nomination’ system to the Mandals (sub-taluka), Zila Parishads and Municipalities/Naga Panchayets (AP Panchayat Act 2006).

Thus maintaining diversity in public spheres is essential. When this does not happen naturally, it has to be made to happen through government intervention. Legislation can be one way; and the mechanism is to remind the government and the institutions that ensuring diversity is their responsibility; the state should have done it in the first place. Diversity can be assured in India by offering incentives/credits to government departments, institutions, universities, panchayats, PSU and so on.

Another mechanism is to provide institutional access to any one of the citizens (including religious minorities) to ensure ‘Equity’ in public sphere. An ‘Equal Opportunity Commission’ will go a long way both to ensure diversity as a key state objective, and it can also function as an institution to enforce redressal.

The national government has made some efforts during the past 3-4 years to address various aspects of Muslim deprivation. Broadly under the revised 15-point programme, a special investment program in about 100 minority (includes substantial Christian and Muslim populations) concentration districts (MCD); exclusive scholarships are announced for the first time to cover minorities both in elementary and higher levels of education. The RBI is consistently sending memos to the public sector banks to increase funding to the applicants from the minorities and so on. However, a review of all the above programs suggest, that the MCD program has not even made presence in many states such as West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and Gujarat. The overall utilization is less than 20% of the total funds earmarked to this program since inception. Similarly the scholarship program although very popular is able to cover only a fraction of total applicants; and it appears that the public sector banks have not even taken a note of the repeated requests make by the RBI which is a matter to utmost concern.

The larger malice of exclusion has to be fought unitedly by all ‘regular-line departments’ and Ministries at the national and State levels. It also needs collaboration and partnership with civil society and private institutional structures. How will a separate Ministry ensure the implementation of more than 300 programs that aim to alleviate poverty and improve human development which will promote inclusiveness of the excluded, whether they be Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes or Muslims?

In the absence of any time-line, program-specific implementative strategy and clarity with respect to monitoring tools and mechanisms, no results will be forthcoming. It is important to mention that a flat policy of earmarking 15 per cent of budgetary allocations to favor the minorities is not implementable. Rather, the service delivery procedures must use population shares at the “program specified operational levels” such as the district, taluka and block levels so as to ensure maximum coverage and provide a sense of equity. The early euphoria and expectations are dying out. The UPA -1 took many initiatives to dissect and diagnose the problem, and UPA -2 must ensure that inclusive policies are actually implemented before the people at large become disappointed. I only hope this does not lead to frustration.

1 comment:

abhishek said...

Interesting article Dr. Sharif! Looking forward to read your report on Gujarat's relative development.

As a post-graduate student, I myself am interested and curious to understand the issues in the education framework.

This is one area whose statistics I am really interested in!

Thanks again!