A new report confirms what precious little UPA has done to genuinely empower Muslims despite the Sachar Committee Report. The report card has enough to make one suspect its intentions.
M Rajaque Rahman
It's a national tragedy that policymakers needed a 2006 report to realise that Muslims in this country are still backward. But the bigger tragedy is that the UPA government hasn't really done anything to genuinely address the findings of the Sachar Committee Report.
We really don't need another report to confirm this. Yet it's tempting to quote the findings of the 'Social Development Report 2012: Minorities at the Margins' by the Council for Social Development (CSD). More than the contents of the report, what makes it so revealing is the people who have prepared it.
Coming from diehard "secularists" such as Zoya Hasan, Mushirul Hasan, Tanweer Fazal, Javed Alam Khan and Abusaleh Sharif who would pass anything in the name of keeping communal forces away, the report exposes UPA's agenda of ensuring Muslims remain backward enough to play into its vote-bank politics.
The gameplan is to keep the community subjugated to fear of survival without their political protection and at the same time present a Muslim-friendly face. The gambit is played through the crucial sphere of education. As pointed out in the report, it has focussed programmes intended to improve school education among Muslims on modernization of madarsas. This is vote-bank politics at its worst. For one, very few Muslim children go to madarsas. The report puts it at 4 per cent. This is because the parents of 96 per cent of Muslim children know madarasa education can do nothing to ensure the future of their children.
The real empowerment will happen only when the government creates opportunities for every Muslim child to join the formal and mainstream education. The need of the hour is of quality formal and vocational education with a fair dose of religious and moral syllabus. Despite UPA-aided modernisation, madarasas deliver just the reverse. They teach nothing to prepare the students to face the challenges of the present day economic and social realities. Instead, their style of education tends to keep the students insulated from the mainstream.
With the hardline Tablighi ideology dominating the madarasa scene in India, the students get neither spiritual training powerful enough to trigger inner transformation nor worldly skills. In short, madrasas churn out complete missfits. My heart bleeds when I see alumni of madrasas including those of prestegious Deoband and Nadwa compelled to work as rickshaw pullers or labourers at construction sites despite completing 7-8 years of theological education.
Even in higher education, the government has played the same cunning game by focussing on providing assistance and settting up exclisuve institutions for minorities rather than opening up the overall education network to include Muslims. This is a dangerous ploy to keep Muslims in their own islands.
Places of higher learning are the only place where one mingle and grow up with people from other communities. But with exclusive religion-based institutions, Muslim youths will never get a chance to get integrated with the rest of society. When they live in isolation, they will be moulded in one particular mindset and there will be no open mindedness. In such closed atmosphere, they will have little chance to make friends with students from other communities or participate in thier festivals. This will close all avenues for mutual appreciation of the country's diversity. It is like putting them in isolation camps.
This strategy of isolation is also behind the UPA going slow on more progressive empowerment ideas of Sachar Committee such as extending banking and credit facilities or scholarship scheme for Muslim students. It has no motivation to push for genuine empowerment of the community.
The time to rebel this isolation beckons. The Election 2014 presents the best opportunity for Indian Muslims to call the bluff of the UPA and make political parties pay for their narrow designs. If the community misses it and plyed into their vote-bank politics again, it willl be subjugated beyond redemption. But it's also the politically most diffficult times for Indian Muslims. With the events of the last few weeks exposing the cunning designs the self-proclaimed 'godfathers' of the community, the choices before it are limited. And with the BJP deciding to peg its political fortunes on somebody whom the community considers its worst enemy, its hands are tied even tighter. It's a case of being caught between the probervial devil and deep sea.
Difficult times call for difficult decisions. Sometimes it might be better to befriend the devil rather than sinking further in the deep sea. The community needs a leadership which has the vision for its genuine empowerment. This can come from a dispensation which has no compulsion for Muslim appeasement yet watched by the world for its fairness with the community. Interestingly, the CSD reports blames fear of 'minority appeasement' taunts as the reasons for UPA's lackadisical attitude. From that perspective, Narendra Modi may not be so bad a proposition for the community. We have seen the both spectres of Indian politics. We have seen how so-called pro-Muslim parties have failed to protect their interests when it mattered the most. How miserably Narashimha Rao government failed to prevent the Babri Masjid demolition and contain the communal riots in its aftermath. Or how Mulayam did nothing to save their plight in Muzafarnagar. We also have seen how so-called anti-Muslim NDA dispensation was forced to moderate its stance.
The point is that in Indian Muslim can survive without political protection. So time has come to free the community from the shackles of political subjugation and strive for genuine empowerement. Muslims have to take charge and force a change in the language of the empowerment discourse. It's only desctrutive to empower a community with the abilty take on the opponents in case of a communal riot. It's no empowerment to confine them into islands so that others can't harm them.
The real empowerment will come when the community is able to integrate seamlessly with the mainstream. When the victim consciousness is elevated. When the population is educated to feel one among equals and when the need for conflict is reduced. Will the community heed the call of time and take charge of its own destiny rather than looking for false political protection? May 2014 bring that blessing!