Indiaâ€™s majoritarian fascists, represented in parliament by the Bharti Janata Party (BJP), are in a blue funk. The findings of the â€œPrime Ministersâ€™ High Level Committeeâ€ (set up on 9th March,2005) headed by former chief justice of the Delhi High Court, Justice Rajinder Sachar have in their Report submitted to parliament on 30th November,2006 nailed the long-touted right-wing disinformation about Indian muslims as a skein of lies.
Drawing on every conceivable data source, governmental and other, and interacting widely across 15 Indian states where muslims live in high concentrations, the Sachar Report records, on the basis of facts that few dare refute, a litany of exclusion, alienation and immiseration. This painstakingly comprehensive computation bids fare to inaugurate a paradigm shift in the way in which Indiaâ€™s largest minority, some 14% of its population, are viewed. Already, all sections of opinion, barring of course the BJP, are busy making honest revaluations of a widely- held, error prone, and pre-conceived spectrum of imagined constructions of the muslim community– its attitudes, realities, and aspirations.
First, a recap of some of the stunning findings of the Sachar Report:
? less than 4% muslims graduate from school;
? contrary to right-wing calumny, only 4% go to madrasas, principally because in most areas of high of muslim concentration even primary state schools do not exist for miles; where they do exist, muslims invariably prefer to send their wards to them, even when the dropout rate of muslim children is much higher compared to other community wards due to â€œpovertyâ€ as these children are pressed into work by their indigent parents;
? the muslim share in government employment is 4.9% (against a population of 14%); in a state like West Bengal ruled by the Left Front, their representation in state Public Sector Undertakings is exactly zero percent!
? Among Indiaâ€™s Security Agencies (viz., CRPF, CISF, BSF, SSB &c.) muslim representation is 3.2%;
? Just 2.7% are in place among District Judges;
? In towns that range in population between 50,000 and 2 lacs, muslim per capita expenditure is less than that of Indiaâ€™s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes! This is also the case in areas across West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh;
? Not more than 3.% muslims are able to get subsidized loans, and only 1.9% benefit from the Antyodaya Anna Yojana Scheme (programme to prevent starvation among the extremely poor);
? Only 2.1% muslim farmers own tractors, and just 1% own hand pumps for irrigation;
? Here is another significant eye-opener: there is â€œsubstantial demand from the community for fertility regulation and for modern contraceptivesâ€; over 20 million couples already use contraceptives; â€œmuslim population growth has slowed down as fertility has declined substantiallyâ€; all that puts paid to the nefarious fascist propaganda that there has been a muslim conspiracy afoot since 1947 to reproduce mightily, and a danger that the Indian Hindus will be reduced to a minority!
? If muslims do outnumber majority hindus in any statistics, it is predictably as a proportion of the prison population (much like the blacks in America);
? Wherever muslims are spoken to they complain of suffering the twin calumnies of being dubbed â€œanti-nationalâ€ and of being â€œappeasedâ€; both accusations are perceived to be deeply calculated from ever allowing them to feel equal citizens of India;
? The Report also puts on record the little-recognized reality of caste hierarchies that have always existed among subcontinental muslims. Thus, the Ashrafs, Ajlafs, Arzals respectively correspond to the Hindu Swarns, Other Backward Castes, and Schedule Castes respectively. Although, untouchability of the kind that afflicts the Hindu social order does not exist among muslims, and although there is no bar to collective prayer in mosques, the reluctance to inter-dine and inter-marry is often only a concealed reality (1).
It should not be hard to see that these findingsâ€”and many othersâ€”take the wind out of right-wing Hindu myth-making about the muslim community in India, a reason why the BJP from day one has sought to oppose the very notion of setting up a Committee to unravel the facts of muslim existence in India.
Let me mention just three of the many path-breaking recommendations that the Sachar Report makes to the Prime Minister who set up the Committee:
–it recommends that 15% of all government funds be allocated to muslim welfare and development under all Central government schemes;
–it recommends the constitution of an â€œEqual Opportunities Commissionâ€ to look into the grievances of deprived groups and for the elimination of anomalies with respect to reserved constituencies under the delimitation scheme; in an interview that Justice Sachar gave to the media channel, CNN-IBN, he elaborated that the â€œEqual Opportunities Commission will have the power to pass order for compliance with it and to punish, either by compensation, or by other things for those who violate it. It has powers of adjucation and powers like a court.â€ These are of course projected stipulations at this point.
–The Committee makes no recommendation of â€œreservationsâ€ for the muslim community per se, but suggests that those among them who approximate in terms of social and occupational status the scheduled and backward classes among Hindus be classified as Most Backward Castes and proferred the same benefits that relevant articles of the Constitution make available to counterparts among Hindus.
Predictably, the BJP finds the Sachar Report â€œfull of prejudicesâ€ and seeks to launch on a Hindu-communalist blitz. Alongwith the Sachar Report the BJP seeks also to rope in, with heinously tendentious selectivity, a statement that the Prime Minister made last week to a meeting of the National Development Council (which includes all the chief ministers of state governments) inorder to scream â€œmuslim appeasementâ€ in a renewed effort to line up â€œHinduâ€ vote behind the party. That the â€œHinduâ€ vote in effect amounts only to propertied upper caste vote is by now well-recognized, although it will be the BJPsâ€™ attempt to inveigle disaffected social groups among Hindus as well.
But first for record, this is what the Prime Minister said at that meeting:
â€œI believe our collective priorities are clear: agriculture, irrigation and water resources, health, education, critical investment in rural infrastructure, along with programmes for the uplift of SCs/STs. other backward classes, minorities and women and children. The component plans for SCs and STs will need to be revitalized. We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development. They must have the first claim on resources. The Centre has a myriad other responsibilities whose demands will have to be fitted within the overall resource availability.â€
The BJP, hardly surprisingly, has chosen to extrapolate from this admirably detailed, diverse and comprehensive enunciation a one-point agendaâ€”namely, that the Prime Minister is after all prejudiced against the majority community! Just in passing, it never seems to occur to Hindutva ideologues that the SCs and OBCs, as well as a substantial percentage of STs who enjoy the benefits of â€œreservationsâ€ are, after all, components of the majority community. Or that just as they comprise socially and educationally deprived sections among Hindus, similarly and correspondingly deprived sections exist among Muslims as well.
Most interestingly, it is often forgotten that, notwithstanding the accusation that affirmative action favouring the muslims is now sought to be instituted on â€œreligiousâ€ grounds in contravention of articles 341and 342 of the Constitution, the note to those two articles is amenable only to the construction that reservations were indeed conceived ab initio on a religious basis. How else would one read the stipulation that
â€œA person who is converted to another religion cannot claim scheduled Caste status.â€ (Notes on Articles 341 and 342, The Constitution of India, P.M.Bakhshi ed., VIth ed., p.285)
Clearly, the fact that caste hierarchies exist among muslims was not to be granted recognition, although subsequently in 1956, the principle was extended to the Sikh community as well! It may well be the wishful conviction of the RSS that Sikhs are infact only a sect among Hindus, but the Sikhs have never taken kindly to that communal and patronizing propagation.
Yet, if in spite of the ammunition that the Sachar Report and the statement made by the Prime Minister may have provided to the majoritarian fascists, they seem visibly fighting now with their backs to the wall. Nothing testifies more eloquently to the changed social and political environment in India over the last two or three years. If the BJP senses this, regardless of the renewed communalist blitz they have launched, the reasons may be as follows:
–shocking as it might seem, the Sachar Report and its recommendations have not drawn the sort of â€œpopularâ€ outcry among Hindus that the BJP might have expected; this seems owing to three factors: one, the incontestable content of the Sachar Report; two, the organizational and ideological disarray within the BJP, resulting just last week in significant electoral losses in Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Chattisgarh; and, three, to the augumented credibility of the Manmohan Singh led UPA government. Nor does it seem on the cards that the BJPâ€™s energetic polemic is likely to change opinion in any major way.
–the Sachar Report has blown a very big hole into the time-tested right-wing Hindu propaganda that the Congress has always indulged in â€œmuslim appeasementâ€; anybody can see the impossibility of reconciling that bogus claim with the concrete findings of the Sachar Report, even when there is truth to the charge that centrist parties, including the BJP under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, have sought to appease the religious/priestly leaderships of both communities over the years.
The BJPs subsequent charge that if such be the state of the muslim community it is only the Congress which is to blame now draws the obvious rejoinder: that may well be so, but now that the UPA dispensation appears serious about remedying the situation, why should the BJP oppose such a project. The fact is that many sections among Hindus who have thus far tended to take the BJPs version of things for granted feel that if further deleterious radicalization of desperate muslim youth is to be averted, now is the time to attend to the substance of muslim grievance.
It is significant that a poll conducted just the other day by one of the premier media channels on whether or not the Prime Minister was right in saying that deprived sections, including the muslim minority, should have â€œfirst claimâ€ on the nationâ€™s resources drew a 40% positive response. Such a response would have been unthinkable in the wake of the Gujarat episode of 2002.
–given the exertions of the UPA government on the question, more and more sections of muslim organized opinion as well as general public articulation among muslims can be seen to acquire a new energy, centring now on a new hope and the desire to participate both in terms of ideas and targeted action steps. From the BJPsâ€™ point of view, this transformation has the potential to draw both the muslim community and general public discourse away from the sort of jehadi-talk and â€œIslamismâ€ that suits Hindu-fascist politics.
–the BJPsâ€™ isolation among the political party structures on the question is already complete; even its ally, the Akali Dal, has stated that it sees nothing wrong if deprived minorities are attended to in a special way. Given that low-caste Sikhs have been beneficiaries of affirmative action since 1956, such a position is consistent, after all.
The all-important question must now pertain to how sincerely and resolutely the UPA government pursues the new agenda it has laid out. Should the Sachar findings be allowed to go to cold storage and amount merely to a clever ploy, the consequences for the secular and democratic future of India will not but be cataclysmic. Indeed, the state may not get another opportunity in the matter.
If, on the other hand, the UPA follows up resolutely, without communal/electoral calculation, on the implications that flow from the Sachar Report it may truly inaugurate a transforming politics that bears the promise of putting secular democracy on a firm and concrete footing and, all importantly, of defeating the project of both Hindu and Muslim communalists to push Indian muslims into the corner wherefrom the discourse of â€œterrorâ€ and â€œwar on terrorâ€ could become mutually possible.
Finally, let it be said that the bulk of the muslim community in India, insofar as they are either petty farmers, or agricultural workers, or artisans, or unorganized urban proletarians, owe their economic immiseration massively to the economics of â€œreformâ€ and â€œstructural adjustmentâ€. Until the government seriously rethinks its adherence to the political economy of â€œglobalizationâ€ nobody need expect far-reaching transformations to happen in any hurry.
(1) The reality of caste hierarchies within Indian muslims was perhaps first commented on by Ziauddin Berni (14C, Mohd., Tughlakâ€™s court) in his Faatwa-i-Jahandari;
See also Ambedkar, Pakistan or the Partition of India, ch.X: â€œSocial Stagnationâ€ and Zarina Bhatty, â€œSocial Stratification Among Muslims in India,â€ in Caste: Its Twentieth Century Avatar, ed., M.N. Srinivas.