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The Rediff Interview/Former judge Rajinder Sachar
'India can never be a Hindu State'
September 06, 2007
Former Delhi high court judge Rajinder Sachar was appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's [Images] United Progressive Alliance government to head a committee to study and submit a report on the social, economic and educational status of Muslims in India. The panel submitted its report to the government on November 17 last year.
In an exclusive interview with Rediff India Abroad Senior Editor Ajit Jain in Toronto -- where he was a guest of the American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (Canada [Images]) -- Justice Sachar said, "We have indicated the dismal education and poverty levels among Muslims, and we have offered our suggestions on what steps should be taken to improve the dismal conditions. I believe the government is taking action on our suggestions."
Justice Sachar said top officials have assured him that the UPA government will try and implement most of the recommendations made in the report. "It is good that both Houses of Parliament will discuss our report now."
For Justice Sachar the question is not whether there is any kind of systemic discrimination against the 174 million Muslims of India. "There is such a perception, and there is such a feeling in the minority community. It is not as if there is any deliberate attempt to discriminate against Muslims but, frankly, Muslims lack very much on the education side. There is reluctance on the part of parents to send their girls to school. The government has to make a lot of effort in this direction so that more and more Muslims -- men and women alike -- receive proper education," he said.
What do you think are the key recommendations in your report aimed at improving the conditions of Indian Muslims?
Our committee was appointed to give a report on the economic and social status of Muslims in India, which meant finding out about the Muslims' economic conditions, their social status, etc and what should be done to improve those conditions.
They call it the Sachar Committee Report but people forget the committee comprised six other eminent people: Sayyid Hamid, Dr T K Oomen, M A Basith, Dr Akhtar Majeed, Dr Abu Saleh Shariff and Dr Rakesh Basant.
We have made several suggestions, including that mechanisms should be in place to ensure equity and equality of opportunity and eliminate discrimination; an Equal Opportunity Commission should be constituted (the formation of which the Government of India announced on August 31) to look into the grievances of Indian Muslims; the idea of providing certain incentives to a diversity index should be explored so as to ensure equal opportunity in education, governance, private employment and housing; a process of evaluation of the content of school textbooks should be initiated and institutionalised, etc.
We believe the government has taken some action and is taking further action on our report.
Is there any systemic discrimination against Muslims in India?
It is not as if there is a deliberate attempt to discriminate. But there is such a perception. Ours was more a factual thing. When there exists a feeling within a minority -- either at the higher or lower levels -- that there is discrimination, then steps must be taken to remove that feeling, that perception.
For example, in the Indian Administrative Service, we found Muslims account for only two to three percent of the cadre. Interestingly, we also found that the percentage of success among Muslims and non-Muslims is the same. There was no discrimination in that sense. The percentage of people -- Muslims or non-Muslims -- who got selected is the same.
But, frankly, Muslims lack very much in education.
What do you attribute that to?
More concerted efforts are necessary to help Muslims in the education field. And Muslim women are worse in this area. It is because there is a certain amount of reluctance among Muslim families to send girls/women to school.
Could you apportion blame on the government for that?
This means that the administration has to take these things into account.
Take the case of bank loans. They get less. What we have suggested is that the government/banks concentrate on areas that are Muslim-dominated. In our report we have indicated that the average amount of bank loan disbursed to Muslims is two-thirds of the amount disbursed to other minorities. In some cases it is half.
The Reserve Bank of India's [Get Quote] efforts to extend banking and credit facilities -- under the prime minister's programme of 1983 -- has benefited other minorities but marginalised Muslims.
You know there is a certain percentage of loans that must be given to the minorities. That is part of the government scheme. There are minorities like Jains, Christians, Sikhs, etc, but they are comparatively financially better off. So when those loans are to be given and if you don't concentrate on areas where Muslims are, you may give loans to the minorities but Muslims may not get the benefits.
You may have to make special efforts to get across loans to them because they are in the backward parts of society. We believe it is the government's function to help backward sections... and Muslims happen to be a part of the backward section in the country.
Have you suggested quotas for Muslims on the lines of those for Scheduled Castes and Tribes?
We were not supposed to make any recommendations on those lines. That was not part of our mandate.
I am saying there are negative perceptions and so something has to be done to remove such perception.
For example, if you approach the areas where they live, they will automatically ask for loans. India is such a big country. Many of the Muslims don't even know there is such a scheme as loans for the minorities.
This is a very serious issue. This is a little worse because of the whole Babri Masjid issue. Earlier when communal riots used to take place -- irrespective of who took the initiative -- they were not so serious. The Babri Masjid and Gujarat left a very bad impression. They were very distinct kinds of disturbances.
These had international ramifications.
Frankly, the international aspect is not important. We are not worrying because of their international connotations. What is significant is that these two developments generated feelings among the minorities that they are being driven to the wall. That certainly is not a happy situation.
What would you then say were the other ramifications of these developments?
I would say these developments were complex.
Have you made any suggestions on what should be done to avoid the recurrence of such tragic incidents?
We have suggested that during the selection of, say, police personnel, there should be a Muslim representative on the selection boards. Efforts have to be made to generate a stronger sense of security among Muslims. Sometimes it is not that it is actually happening, but if the perception is there you must also take that into account.
So we said that in normal postings in Muslim areas -- at least at the sub-inspector level -- there should be a Muslim because they are always posted at the district level. If you have a Muslim at that level, Muslims will have more confidence.
When misunderstanding arises between communities, it builds pressure.
Where is the country today in terms of these issues?
On this communal thing I would say it is under control. The government is aware of it and they are taking action. In regard to the communal thing, the government is taking great care and adopting corrective policies.
What kind of message do you think the Muslim leadership is conveying to the community?
I think Muslims feel they are a part of the country. I don't think Muslims have to be told it is as much their country as of other groups.
India belongs to all of us. India can never be a Hindu State. India cannot survive without its composite culture, without the combined might of Hindus, Muslims and other minorities. It is not a country of one religion. It never was. It never will be.
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