Yechury bats for the BJP PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 06 November 2006 00:00
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If BJP President Rajnath Singh can just persuade his cadre and colleagues to keep quiet while the CPI (M) ups the ante on getting a sub-plan to allot government expenditure for Muslims, and the Prime Minister makes a few more statements on how Muslims need to be given their “fair share” of jobs, he can virtually count on the Hindu vote bank getting consolidated once again. If, on the other hand, the party gets very shrill right now, there is the danger the UPA will just back off the matter. 

The fact is that despite the high-decibel campaign launched by the media on leaks from the Sachar Committee Report, as in the case of the OBCs, there is no sign of any systemic discrimination against the Muslims when it comes to jobs; the problem lies in the enrolment levels of Muslims in schools. The 1999-2000 NSS data show, for instance, that while Muslims comprised 12.2 per cent of the country’s population, their share in those who had passed school was just 7.2 per cent. The rest then follows from this number—so, the Muslims formed just 6.5 per cent of the proportion of those enrolled in college, though they still managed to get 9.7 per cent of the total number of “professional, technical and managerial” jobs in the country. 

Yet, the Sachar Committee chose to highlight the fact that the only place where Muslims bat above their population share is in the country’s prisons (they were 9.1 per cent of the population in Gujarat, for instance, but comprised 26.1 per cent of those convicted and under trial in the state), while in government jobs, or PSU jobs, or even the judiciary (possibly, the implicit argument here is that Hindu judges are more likely to convict Muslim undertrials!), the Muslims are woefully under-represented (see The Indian Express’ “Missing Muslim” series beginning October 27). 

This then became the basis of the PM’s statement that Muslims should get their fair share of jobs in the state and central governments as well as in the private sector. While, it is true, the PM said that access to schooling was the main reason for the Muslim backwardness, the fact that he spoke of their “fair share” in top jobs shows his bias—if you relate “fair share” to education, as you must, there is no evidence of a bias. Indeed, it is surprising that while the Sachar committee also speaks of the educational backwardness of Muslims (it managed to get the NSSO to give it some data from its latest survey, which has not yet been released to the public), it doesn’t see this as the fundamental cause that needs fixing. Or is it that the media distorted the Sachar conclusions?! 

In any case, fixing things is easier said than done. For one, other social groups that are also educationally backward have done better than the Muslims. In 1999-2000, the average Muslim had 2.9 years of education, which was higher than the 2.5 years of the SC/STs. In 1983, the average SC/ST had just 1.4 years of education, versus the Muslims’ 1.9. That is, in 1983, the average SC/ST had 73 per cent of the schooling the average Muslim had, but this rose to 86 per cent by 1999-2000. Indeed, while the average number of years of education for all castes/communities rose 45 per cent (from 2.4 years to 3.5 years), that for the SC/ST rose 79 per cent. 

To the extent, Muslims and SC/ST coexist in similar geographical locations, the problem can’t be of access, unless it is being said schools are keeping Muslim children away—since even Muslim politicians have not said this, it may not be the case. The more likely reason is the concentration of Muslims in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar (which is also why the “secular” politicians paying lip-sympathy to their cause, like Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad, are from these states), where the levels of education are poor for everyone. While 18.5 per cent of the population in Uttar Pradesh is Muslim, according to the Sachar report, the figure is 16.5 per cent for Bihar. Both states have the lowest levels of literacy in the country—while that for Bihar is 47 per cent, it is 56 per cent for Uttar Pradesh (the national average is 65 per cent). 

How the government hopes to increase education here is unclear since it is clear the state machinery is not working—the per capita spend on education by the government in Bihar was only Rs 44 per year in 2000-01, while it was Rs 387 in Uttar Pradesh (it was Rs 812 in Gujarat and Rs 1,070 in Maharashtra). 

To some extent, the lower government spending is compensated for by higher private spending, but that too is constrained by the overall levels of prosperity in the state. The Muslims are at a double disadvantage here. While their lower education levels mean lower incomes—on average, the NSS data show every extra year of education raises wage rates by around 11 per cent—the fact that Muslim women participate less in the workforce also lowers family incomes, thereby completing the vicious cycle. On average, in 1999-2000, just 21 per cent of Muslim women were working outside their homes, as compared to 47 per cent for SC/ST and 39 per cent for OBCs. It is doubtful, of course, that with the UP elections coming up, the rhetoric will be on anything apart from providing more jobs for Muslims.


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