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Glaring blind spots

Some of the UPA government?s decisions signal a conceptual shift in favour of development as against the past preoccupation with identity politics.

india Updated: Nov 18, 2006 00:44 IST

It is official once again that the educational, social and economic development of Muslims has fallen far behind that of other groups in our society. The Sachar Committee findings on the socio-economic status of Muslims make public the multiple disadvantages that Muslims face, particularly in education and employment.

The findings of the report demonstrate that when it comes to education and employment, the average Muslim is at the bottom of the heap and trailing behind Scheduled Castes and OBCs on many indicators of social development. It is obvious that Muslims face inequality in all walks of life. They suffer from discrimination, systematic exclusion and under-representation in public institutions.

The primary responsibility for this rests with the political and administrative establishment of the central and state governments, and the implicit distrust and prejudice that pervades the system. Yet, these sobering facts are unlikely to generate a debate on vital policy interventions needed to improve the condition of Muslims; it is more likely to produce a frenzied debate on the need for introspection by the community and inevitably end up blaming Muslims for perpetuating their own backwardness or secular formations for playing vote-bank politics.

In view of the evidence of exclusion and marginalisation that can no longer be denied, there are strong moral and economic arguments to revisit policies with regard to minorities. There are three compelling reasons for this. First, it is in the interest of any society to improve the economic standing of all disadvantaged groups. Second, high economic growth and inclusion must go hand in hand, as high growth rates cannot be sustained without the participation of all groups. Third, this shift has become necessary in view of the mounting evidence that the largest minority has been left out of the process of economic development. All in all, there is considerable evidence of the State’s unconscionable neglect of Muslims, which must be redressed through concerted intervention in the areas of education, public employment and infrastructure provision.

To bring about a change in this situation, the UPA government must be prepared to confront the reality of systematic inequality and institutional prejudice head on. The Sachar Committee findings offer a significant opportunity for a course correction in the policy towards minorities. Whilst India was among the first major democracies in the world to recognise and provide for minority rights, the limitation of this approach has been that it treats religious difference as the sole basis for defining a minority community. The actual status of minorities rarely figures prominently in this debate, resulting in a disregard for basic needs. The excessive focus on cultural rights in this approach tends to conceal inter-group inequality, so that minority deprivation is rendered invisible and, therefore, not convincingly addressed.

First Published: Nov 18, 2006 00:44 IST