Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > July 14, 2007 > Social Justice for the Muslim Community—Panacea for Upliftment

Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 30

Social Justice for the Muslim Community—Panacea for Upliftment

by Syed Shahabuddin

Saturday 14 July 2007


Shri Chaturanan Mishra, in his article “Basic Causes of Muslim Backwardness” (Mainstream, June 2, 2007), has failed both to diagnose the social malaise of which the Muslim Indians are the prime victims, the communal bias, and suggest appropriate remedial measures.

A noteworthy conclusion of the Sachar Report is that the Muslim community as a whole, with regional and intra-community variations, normal in any country of continental dimensions, is more or less at the same level of backwardness as the SC/ST. It is no use, nor the appropriate approach, trying to inspire the revival of the community by recalling memories of Muslim contribution to the expansion of human knowledge and its movement from one end of the earth to another, while, at the same time, demoralising it by reference to the contemporary backwardness of the Muslim world as a whole. Both are irrelevant to the objective in view, that is, to uplift the Muslim Indians who form 15 per cent of the national population and also of the world Muslim population, educationally, economically, politically and socially within the framework of the democratic and secular state, committed to equality and justice among various social groups who profess different religions, speak different languages, have different ways of life and freely assert their ethnic or cultural identity as communities and sub-communities, castes and sub-castes. The Indian society is not only hierchical but segmented. So is the Muslim Indian society.

In such a multi-layered and multi-cultural ambiance with traditional social hierarchies, what is necessary is to minimise, if not eliminate, economic and educational disparities through urgent state intervention and to provide, through effective equality of opportunity, due representation in the organs of power, the legislature, the judiciary, the government, the administration, the armed forces and the political parties. Not only the Muslims but all other Backward Communities (to use Ambedkar’s phrase, instead of the much misinterpreted term, Class) need effective measures of positive affirmation which would make an impact within a reasonably short term and not simply envision an utopia in the distant future, at the end of the rainbow or in the long run, when, as it is said, we are all dead.

MUSLIM masses, after 60 years of political exploitation as voters, are now wide awake; they do not need to be awakened but treated as citizens, politically conscious and keen to share power. They realise that without political empowerment, they can never secure what they seek—fair and just treatment as individuals and as a community.

The Muslims also appreciate the role of modern education. Muslim localities, long deprived of educational facilities, crave for the establishment of primary and secondary schools and for technical training institutions. No doubt, they would like their children to attend local Maktabs in the morning, before going to the primary schools in the neighbourhood, because their parents are anxious to give them basic religious instruction and thus build the foundation of their Muslim personality. But after five years, an overwhelming majority of the Muslim children take to mainstream school education, if it is available. Unfortunately, it is not available, even after the adoption of ‘universalisation’ of elementary education as the national goal and the launch of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Surely, the Left can force the UPA to launch a crash programme of establishing primary and secondary schools in all deprived areas, not only Muslim areas, in according with the national norms, to begin with in West Bengal in the next two years that remain to fill up the lacunae. Shri Mishra may forget about the Maktabs and even post-Maktab, Madarsas, which account for only five per cent of Muslim students, and lay stress on providing equal and quality education for 95 per cent.

Shri Mishra speaks of the possible reaction among the Hindus. This is not correct. The average Hindu is not only secular but also committed to social justice. It is only the high castes or the empowered castes, like the Yadavs, who get more than their due and take away the cake from the mouth of the Muslims and other non-savarnas and all deprived groups who do not belong to the ruling classes. The result is that without positive discrimination the deprived groups cannot resist the encroachment by the dominant groups in any sphere of life including public employment and higher education. Why cannot the Left launch the campaign for reservation for all Backward Classes, including the backward sections in the high castes, at all levels, in all spheres, except those in which universalisation is the rule? Why not espouse Central, Centrally-sponsored and State schemes for the welfare and development of individuals and groups like the unemployed graduates, artisans in need of seed capital, college students from rural areas without hostels, poor students who lack the resources to pay the college and hostel fees? Why can’t every social group, within the unit area of operation of any scheme, equitably share in their benefits in proportion to its population, whether it is scholarship, housing subsidy, land, subsidised fertilisers, categories C and D jobs, small contracts? These do not need any test of academic merit and depend largely on the whims of the authorities, who belong to the empowered groups and whose bias needs to be controlled through appropriate guidelines and regulations. Why not begin by raising the population of the OBCs in West Bengal from the current level of seven per cent to the permissible maximum of 27 per cent.

Muslims were indeed the biggest victims of imperialist repression after 1857, and of the creation of Pakistan. But these are only excuses to explain or justify their permanent backwardness. Let us stop looking at the past and start looking at the future.

I have argued in the past that the Left should take into account the hierarchal structure and the demography of our society at every level, identify which groups should get more land, and benefit of services of the state, which, less than their due and which, nothing at all, and struggle for equality and social justice. It goes without saying that any success will mean downgrading the share of the privileged groups, which unfortunately monopolise leadership for historical reasons. Let the Left begin by inducting more Muslims and members of the deprived groups in the party structures and by including more of them in thelist of election candidates, panchayat to Parliament, as far as possible in proportion to their population. It is noteworthy that even in the last UP election, the CPI or CPM did not put up a single Muslim candidate. For a change, let them look at their own structure at national and State levels and at the States ruled by them.

It is only by serving as a model for other parties that the Left can lead a society, so full of inequities as ours, towards a truly democratic future.

In brief, what is needed is not patronising benevolence towards the Muslim or any special schemes for them, but a general approach of equity and justice towards all deprived groups to secure for them proportional benefit in any service or facility that the state provides for the Indian people. Also, the Muslim community shall throw up political leaders of stature only if it is involved in the political struggle which, inter alia, seeks to realise their legitimate aspirations.

New Delhi

Syed Shahabuddin

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