Short Takes

The next Ten Years

Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam sees the prospects of a better life for India’s weak - Dalits, minorities, tribes and the Muslim community - in a prosperous powerful India of the new decade.

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen makes an immensely sensible case for development, enabling large swaths of underdeveloped population to benefit from the expanding markets. His recipe consists of two major ingredients: a reasonably good, reliable and accessible system of education and a sound public health care system. This is as relevant to one section of society as to any other, including the Indian Muslim society. Most other development economists agree with Prof. Sen’s prescription.

Governments at the Centre since Pandit Nehru through Indiraji, Rajiv and Manmohan Singh have, in their own time and in their own way, thought over and acted on the basics to improve the lot of common folk. Naturally, there is a huge improvement in literacy and the financial conditions of at least two-third of our population compared to, not just 1949 or 1969, but even 1989. However, sections of our population, especially Dalits, Muslims, Scheduled Tribes and neo-Buddhists, have lagged behind, largely for historical reasons beyond their control. Indian Muslims, the third largest Muslim population in the world, are a particularly laggard section requiring immediate attention.

This is pretty well known by now. What had already been known widely was confirmed by the Sachar Committee Report on Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community of India at the end of 2006. The committee, with intensive research and extensive survey, with its facts and figures, charts and graphs showed once and for all that the Muslim community was in dire straits and had to be pulled out of it. Since then the realisation had been growing in the community that it had to reorient and reorganise itself and multiply its efforts to catch up.

According to various estimates (including by Union government committees and international agencies), at least one-third of Indians are living the life of extreme deprivation: deprivation of sufficient nutritious food, clean water, education, access to public heath services and other essentials that make life worth living. India cannot truly shine and be a truly great power if 350 million to 400 million people are forced to live in sub-human conditions. Muslims constitute a sizeable segment of this deprived population. Pulling this section out of the morass would certainly release massive creative energies for the development of India.

There is the saying attributed to a litterateur of yore that “all happy people are happy in the same way, but every unhappy person has his own particular sorrow, different from everyone else’s”. This is to emphasise the particularity of the Muslim situation, pointed out exclusively under the PM’s mandate by the Sachar Committee. In short, it pointed out and quantified the social, economic and educational backwardness of India’s Muslim community.

The Rangnath Mishra Commission, whose report was tabled in Parliament recently, further clarifies the same issues and suggests definite remedial measures. As usual, sections of our polity that thrive on social division and religious strife, attacked the report of the Commission, that was led by a former Chief Justice of India, Justice Rangnath Mishra. These critics had the temerity of calling it “anti-national” as if they are the sole arbiters of who is patriotic and who is not. The fact, however, remains that parties and organisations inimical to the empowerment of the weak will throw a spanner in the works whenever an attempt is made to address their problems.

The Union government, probably because of the fear of the negativists, has not brought it up for discussion. It should keep in mind that hiding from bullies does not bring security: standing up and staring into their eyes does. Let us hope the UPA government learns it quickly enough.

I, for one, would like that the government openly discusses the Rangnath Mishra Report and implements its suggestions for affirmative action. Among its major recommendations is the proper utilisation of the huge assets of Muslim waqfs (endowments) for the community’s development and more focussed assistance to Muslim schools, colleges and universities, integration of madrasah graduates in the university education system and allied measures.

If we act on these lines, there is every reason to hope that by the end of the second decade of this century we will witness a great reflowering of India. With that goal in mind, let us look forward to 2020.