With elections coming up in Uttar Pradesh, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is reportedly reading democratic statistics to execute minority welfare schemes even as Muslims accuse the Sachar Report of ignoring their women. The Sachar Committee’s report that provided the statistics also brought the government under fire from Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Army Chief General J.J. Singh accusing it of dividing the nation and the defense forces based on religion with questionable intent.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was also under fire for asking for proportional allocation of resources on a priority basis for minorities. The BJP accused that statement indicative of the pseudo secularist credentials of the government but dropped that argument as soon as elections to crucial northern states were announced for fear that they may be painted as extremists in campaigns.
The government claims innocence of motive arguing that the Sachar data is used only to prioritize deployment of funds and not for political gain. However, with the lack of clear articulation of broad-based and development oriented programs in place, the talk of prioritizing non-existent programs sound hollow. If the programs were truly agnostic of religion and secular in nature, then there is little weight to the argument that the government needs to apply the programs to minorities. The government claims that the minorities are not benefiting from these programs and that there are “inequalities and “imbalances” in the system. But its study under the former judge has provided little if any data to substantiate this claim or to suggest why the programs have not reached the minorities. With such a background, for the Minority Minister A.R. Antulay to say that the Sachar report will be implemented “in toto” is dubious at best and subversive at worst.
The hollowness of this report is best characterized by Muslim women who say that there is “implicit and explicit discrimination by both the government and the community against Muslim women” as there is not even a cursory “mention of Muslim women in the report.” Talking to the The Hindu, Prof. Zeenat Shaukat Ali reacted to the report saying that Muslim women are behind women of other religions in education and remain “invisible” in the economy. Ali also charged that the report does not have accurate information on Muslim women and that their rights long-impeded by domineering Mullahs must be addressed through an Equal Opportunities Commission.
Professor Farida Lambay also pointed out that while literacy rates of Muslim women was on the rise, 25% of Muslim children have never been to a school and that the dropout rates among Muslim children was much higher than overall dropout rates. While Muslims are enthusiastic about educating their girls, the drop out rate before high school because of insecurity and lack of Urdu schools at higher grades. Social activists also say that Muslim women face harassment for dowry, are abandoned, and face destitution with impunity.
Given these serious gaps in understanding of issues faced by just one group within the Muslims, it is clear that the Sachar report is a hurriedly collected set of statistics which has no basis to make recommendations that could alleviate the issues faced by minorities. In fact, it is highly likely that the report recommendations may fuel the differences between religions in India.