If Not Quota, Then How?

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 14, Dated April 10, 2010

Only rigorous affirmative action can address the problems of Muslims


Illustration: SAMIA SINGH

AS SEVERAL government-appointed teams — the Sachar Committee and the Ranganath Mishra Commission being the most prominent among them — have themselves pointed out, India’s Muslims are, on various socio-economic indices, at the lowest rung of Indian society. The conditions of groups from ‘low’ caste backgrounds, who account for more than 80 percent of the Muslim population, are particularly pathetic. Neglect, and even discrimination, by the State, is one of the factors for this. Given this, the rationale for positive discrimination or affirmative action by the State in favour of Dalit and OBC Muslims should be obvious. Lamentably, however, this proposal has met with stiff opposition.

The US is today the model for India’s elite to blindly follow, but while seeking to ape everything American, it is curious why and how our ruling caste-class combine turns a blind eye to US affirmative action policies for its minorities. And not just that — it relentlessly opposes any policy, no matter how symbolic, in favour of the marginalised sections of Indian society.

One argument against affirmative action for Muslims is that the Constitution does not allow for reservations on the basis of religion. If that is the case, one might counter, why is it that, till recently, only Dalits who professed to be Hindus could avail of Scheduled Caste reservation benefits?

In this regard, the demand by some ‘upper’ caste Muslim politicians and Islamic organisations for reservations for Muslims as a whole is equally dubious. As numerous ‘low’ caste Muslim activists point out, this demand, if acceded to, would benefit only ‘upper’ caste Muslims, who are educationally and politically much stronger than Dalit and OBC Muslims. They forcefully critique the argument that affirmative action for Dalit and OBC Muslims would divide the community, calling it equally as specious as the argument of ardent anti-reservationists who believe that any sort of affirmative action for any marginalised group is divisive and, therefore, ‘anti-national’.

An oft-heard argument against affirmative action for OBC Muslims is that they do not need a separate quota as they are already covered by the existing OBC quota. The fact is that OBCMuslims continue to lag far behind OBC Hindus. Widespread anti-Muslim discrimination within the State apparatus has made it more difficult for Muslim OBCs to benefit from the existing provisions for OBCs. Hence, the need for a separate provision for Muslim OBCs.

As the relentless waves of privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation overwhelm the Indian economy, scores of traditional caste-based occupations in which Muslim Dalits and OBCs were heavily represented, are being ruthlessly decimated, rendering millions of families destitute. In such a scenario, the need for affirmative action for Muslim Dalits and OBCs, as indeed for other such marginalised groups, becomes even more imperative. But this should not be restricted simply to jobs in a rapidly shrinking public sector.

Alienation, demonisation and violence against vulnerable groups has been a principal cause for resentment and even violence. Hence, it is essential that the State undertake adequate measures to promote genuine inclusion and empowerment of these sections of society.

The welfare of the entire society crucially depends on this, particularly with regard to Dalit and OBCMuslims as it does to any other. Mere rhetoric cannot work in the absence of rigorous affirmative action by the State to address the problems of the country’s Muslims, particularly of the Dalits and OBCs among them.




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