A quota for Muslims? PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 03 March 2020 08:14
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It is not clear if Maharashtra intends to create a 5% quota in education and jobs for Muslims—while the state minority affairs minister Nawab Malik spoke of bringing a law to that effect, senior Shiv Sena leader and state urban development minister Eknath Shinde said there has been no discussion on any such proposal. Socially and educationally backward classes within the Muslim community are already accorded reservation under the OBC quota, with the Centre publishing a state-wise list of OBC Muslims, while Kerala and Karnataka recognise all Muslims (other than “creamy layer”) as backward classes for the purpose of reservation. Reservation has certainly failed as a policy—indeed, continuing reservation from education to jobs to promotion in jobs shows its limited efficacy. And, as this paper has pointed out before, education is a far more potent determinant of upward economic mobility—data from PRICE shows how a reserved category household led by a person with a certain level of education earns more than a general category household led by a person with a lower level of education. However, if one were to consider how little political will there is across parties to dismantle reservation as a policy—indeed, parties are only too happy to take up reservation demands to lock in the electoral benefit from this—it looks certain that reservation is set to continue. Against such a backdrop, if quotas are to be extended to the Hindus, the demand for a quota for Muslims, or for that matter, other minorities, should seem justified, too.

With a 5% quota for Muslims, Maharashtra will be in further breach of the 50% cap set by the Supreme Court (SC) in the Balaji vs State of Mysore judgment; while the 10% EWS quota of the Centre has already crossed the 50% cap in the country, the state’s Maratha quota law has added to this breach. In the case that the violation of the quota cap is invoked to challenge a quota for Muslims, the state can turn to protection under Schedule IX of the Constitution—though the SC has maintained that such protection will not be available to laws that violate the basic structure of the Constitution—apart from relying on the Bombay High Court judgment upholding the Maratha quota law calling it a solution to an extraordinary situation. Would a quota for Muslims be a solution to an extraordinary situation, too? Data from a study by the University of Maryland and the NCAER shows that Muslims were significantly lagging the general category households in terms of income, and were closer to OBCs. And, as per NSSO’s data for 2017-2018, the unemployment rate was higher for rural Muslim males than their SC, ST, and OBC peers while it was lower only when compared with that among urban SC males.

However, given the inefficacy of reservations, and the fact that education can help improve the lot of socially and economically disadvantaged people, the need is perhaps for steps to improve access to and delivery of education—supplementary classes to bridge gaps in learning, economic aid for students belonging to socially disadvantaged groups, etc. And, if reservation must at all be given, it would be far more effective if it is tied to factors such as household income, education levels of parents’, etc, that put a child at a disadvantage early in life.


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