'Politicians make hundreds of promises, many of them false, to trap Muslims,' Abusaleh Shariff, member, Rajinder Sachar Committee, tells Rediff.com's Faisal Kidwai.
"Many Muslims are illiterate and don't understand the political system, they get trapped," says Abusaleh Shariff, member, Rajinder Sachar Committee.
Shariff, who is also president, Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy, New Delhi and chief scholar of the US-India Policy Institute, Washington DC, tells Rediff.com's Faisal Kidwai why he believes Muslims are shortchanged in India.
When it comes to social and economic development, are Muslims in India behind other communities?
The Muslims are behind almost all other communities in India. In some areas, such as education and employment, Muslims are even worse than Dalits.
What are some of the major reasons for the Muslims' underdevelopment?
There are many reasons. First, many of them live in rural areas where services such as schools and job opportunities are not that easily accessible.
Second, even those Muslims who live in cities live in slums and in the periphery of the city. They are confined to their own neighbourhoods and areas where public services are not provided as much as required.
So, if enough public services are provided to Muslim-concentration areas, their economic situation will improve. But this does not mean that services should not be provided to areas that are non-Muslim majority areas. We need broad-based parallel policies to address this lack of services.
If there are more schools, hospitals, etc, in their areas, then they will be more involved and will be in a better position to compete.
There are three charges that are levelled against Muslims: They are pampered by politicians (b) they get a huge Haj subsidy and (c) they have more children than others. What's your view on these accusations?
Politicians want to use Muslims as vote banks. It's a trick they play to use them.
Politicians make hundreds of promises, many of them false, to trap the Muslims and, since many Muslims are illiterate and don't understand the political system, they get trapped.
I am a secular person and believe that the government should not have any role in any religion.
The Haj subsidy is a trap used by politicians to curry Muslim votes. As per Islam, only those people who can afford it should perform Haj.
The Haj subsidy is a form of interference by the government in religion; it should withdraw the subsidy.
The issue of population growth is as old as Independence. At the time of Independence, the fertility rate was high among all communities, including Muslims, Hindus and even Christians; the rate among Muslims was only marginally higher.
During the past 60 years, the fertility rate has dropped across all communities; it has also fallen for Muslims.
In fact, recent data shows that the drop in rate has been higher among Muslims than in any other community.
The birth rate has nothing to do with religion; it has to do with culture. Muslims are also part of the grand Indian culture and they are also changing with the culture.
Are you seeing more Muslims getting educated and coming into the mainstream?
Muslims have similar aspirations as any other community. They want their children to get educated, to move up in the economic chain and become part of the political system. They have same ambitions and aspirations as anybody in India.
It's wrong to say that they are not interested in development. I have no reason to believe that Muslims are less patriotic than any other community.
Go to the rural areas in Uttar Pradesh. You will see that the Muslims there want education for their children, but the government has failed to construct schools and colleges.
Instead of constructing schools and colleges, the government is providing for madrassas and modernisation of madrassas. This is wrong because madrassas are religious institutions and the government should not play any role in them.
Religious schools like madrassas create segregation and that is bad for Muslims and the country.
The Web site of the ministry of human resources talks only about madrassa modernisation in the name of Muslims; the government should do better than that.
Don't you think the Muslims too are to be blamed for their present situation?
The Constitution has provided certain guarantees. It's the government's job to provide primary education and healthcare.
Take immunisation, for instance. The government has to provide immunisation not only to Muslims, but to all people. It has to bring the immunisation programme to everybody.
The government has to create awareness and sensitise and inform people instead of blaming Muslims or saying that Muslims are not interested. It has to make them participatory, a stakeholder in the programme. This is true for every community.
The Dalits were backward, but the government created educational and employment programmes for them. Now, the Dalits are in a much better socio-economic position than they were a couple of decades ago.
Providing basic services is the duty of the government. If the government is discharging its duties properly, then we do not need special programmes or reservations for Dalits or anybody.
The failure to provide services shows that the government is discriminatory against Muslims and, by government, I mean the system.
Photograph courtesy: Abusaleh Shariff