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Sachar report: Myth and reality

By Sunil Jain in New Delhi
December 11, 2006 19:15 IST
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The Sachar Committee on the status of Muslims, you're told, is not asking for quotas but is asking for more education -- one of the report's annexure tables shows there were 147 representations to it that asked for more education versus 57 for reservations. This, however, is just clever packaging since the report asks for reservations very subtly (link UGC grants to "diversity", have an equal opportunities commission, an online databank on the status of each community, its access to various types of jobs, bank credit, and so on). It even talks of the Kerala/Karnataka/Tamil Nadu models, where the majority of the Muslim population is covered by the OBC tag, reservations for whom Dr Manmohan Singh and his colleagues are batting for so solidly!

The report doesn't ask for separate electorates for Muslims but talks of formulating and implementing nomination procedures to increase what it calls "corresponding representation in government structures" and "other methods to enhance political participation of the community". The report has, also, a sample list of some assembly constituencies reserved for Scheduled Castes and argues that since the population of Muslims in these constituencies is greater than the SC population, reserving them for SCs denies Muslims the chance of getting elected to democratic institutions.

Imagine the furore if the government dereserves such constituencies. Good luck to Dr Singh as he tries to get off this new tiger he set upon the country -- if he can't, the Hindu vote bank is all set to consolidate in favour of the BJP.

What's most interesting about the report is the manner in which it seeks to blow up all the perceived inequities -- even if you haven't read the report, the stories leaked to the media give a clear enough picture.

Muslims are not represented enough in the civil services, in banks, in PSUs, in the judiciary, in the national security agencies (thanks to the furore in the media, Sachar wasn't allowed to get data for the armed forces), the list is a long one. The problem with all such data, however, is that you need to "normalise" it for any meaningful conclusions to be made. Sachar does this only partially.

So, we're told, for instance, that while the Muslims are 13.4 per cent of the country's population, they're only 3 per cent of the country's IAS population, 1.8 per cent of the IFS and 4 per cent of the IPS, and so on. But since all such jobs are manned by those who're at least graduates, ideally the normalisation that is done has to be vis-à-vis this. The report, however, just cites a series of numbers, but refuses to put them in context. In 2001, 42.5 per cent of those who passed high school were Hindus and a much lower 23.9 per cent were Muslims -- in which case, it's hardly discriminatory that a lot more Hindus are college graduates.

Another great example of such biased figures is the perceived low representation in the civil services. Just below the table that gives the Muslim representation in the civil services is another table which says that, in 2003 and 2004, 4.9 per cent of those who appeared for the civil services exams were Muslims and 4.8 per cent of those selected after the interviews were Muslims! So, there's no bias, but only the first table was highlighted and the report still says the low number of Muslims appearing for the exam "is a cause for concern" and "there is a need to improve Muslim participation". Just 1.3 per cent of those in the IIMs are Muslims, we're told, but another figure in the table explains that of those who qualified for the interview and group discussion, just 1.4 per cent were Muslims!

The other constant refrain is that Muslims do badly because the villages where their population share is higher have poor education and other public facilities -- "there is a clear and significant inverse association between the proportion of the Muslim population and the availability of educational infrastructure in small villages". What the report doesn't highlight, however, is that when it comes to medium- and large-sized villages, there is virtually no change in the amount of educational facilities for villages where the share of Muslim population rises (in any case, the fact that national-level Muslim enrolment rates are comparable with others should put this myth to rest).

Ironically, the small villages where this sharp reduction takes place are primarily in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the states where the political class champions the cause of the Muslims! The lesson is clear: those who want to hold back the Muslims are those that advocate special relief/packages for them.

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Sunil Jain in New Delhi