Muslims in India
New Delhi, 26 Oct, 2006: (AKI/Asian Age)
The Indian government is worried about the impact of a report that lists the findings of a committe that was appointed last March to look into the social, economic and education status of Muslims in India. According to sources, the report has essentially detailed data proving that the status of Indian Muslims today is below that of low caste Hindus or dalits, once also known as untouchables. India's prime minister Manmohan Singh has not given any time to Justice Rajinder Sachar (Retired), who had reportedly asked for an appointment to discuss the findings in the report.
The Sachar committee's had been constituted in March last year for a term of 15 months, which expired in June. It was given an extension till October. Justice Sachar, when contacted, said that the term had now been extended till November, and that the October date that had incidentally been printed in all newspapers at the time was a "mistake."
He did not respond to a question about the appointment with the prime minister. Sachar himself had stated earlier this year in a recorded interview that he would be ready with the report before June as most of his work had been completed.
Informed sources said the Indian prime minister is now not keen for an early release of the report, which has been delayed till next month. The Justice Sachar Committee, which had worked hard through the months collecting data, carrying out interviews and meeting respondents in different states, is reported to have been astonished over the findings which have shown a sharp decline in the social, educational and economic status of Muslims. The sources said that the data itself will require serious responses from the government and a strong demand from concerned citizens and political parties for direct action.
The Sachar Committee has received many representations with a detailed appeal by well-known activists and residents of Gujarat giving an insight into the plight of Muslims in that state. Gujarat has a history of religious tension. In March 2002 more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in Hindu-Muslim riots.
This section of the report showed that the 2002 killings in Gujarat had adversely affected the education of minorities as thousands of Muslim families had not been able to return to their homes till now. Many did not send their children to school, fearing for their safety. Eighty-five percent of the state are Hindus while Muslims in the state account for around 14 percent of the total population.
Economically, the condition of the state's Muslims in the aftermath of the riots was worse than before. The Sachar Committee found that it was difficult for Muslims to get loans from banks which had branded many Muslim-dominated localities as "negative zones." Residents of these areas were automatically denied loans and credit cards by the banks.
The Sachar Committee has information on the ghettoisation of Muslims taking place in Gujarat, with the representation pointing out that areas like Juhapura, with a population of 200,000, had no health centres and were not on the development map of the district administration and the government. The representation has urged the Sachar Committee to recommend measures to stop the creation of "Muslim-free zones" by the government in the state capital Ahmedabad and other parts of Gujarat.
The Sachar Committee has aroused great interest and controversy during its tenure with voluntary groups conducting independent studies to facilitate the larger inquiry. There was some criticism of the terms of reference of the committee which were found to be shallow in that it had not been authorised to make suggestions for improving the living conditions of Muslims and that Muslim women had not been singled out as a specific category. The government, sources said, is worried that the findings will create a political storm, with the states ruled by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) protesting against the collected data, the secular parties demanding remedial action, and the minorities deciding to vote against the Congress in states like Uttar Pradesh.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had distanced himself from the Sachar Committee when it had asked for a Muslim headcount in the armed forces, with his media adviser briefing journalists to say that he was not involved in any way in the functioning of the committee.
However, once the report is presented to him, the Manmohan Singh will be in the firing line and will have to handle the political consequences of the findings, the sources said, pointing out that the task will be made more difficult because of the forthcoming assembly elections.