By Mamoona Ali Kazmi
Recently, three judge bench of the Indian Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan lifted the stay impose by the Andhra Pradesh High Court on the implementation of the 4 percent quota in jobs and education for backward members of the Muslim community. While deciding on an interim direction, Chief Justice in a significant observation said “Do not say Muslims or Hindus. If certain sections are backward, they must get reservation”. At the same time the bench referred the matter to a constitution bench for hearing in the second week of August. The Congress, which is the ruling party in Center and Andhra Pradesh, said that it will wait for the final verdict of the apex court’s Constitutional Bench before taking further steps.
For three times Andhra Pradesh High Court had quashed quota for Muslims. In 2004, the Andhra Pradesh government had provided 5 percent reservation to Muslims but the High Court on the behest of some individuals and organizations had quashed the order. However, on the court advice, the government reconstituted the backward classes’ commission and directed it to conduct a detailed survey of the socio-economic conditions of Muslims. The commission recommended that the socially and educationally backward should be adequately represented in the state. On the recommendations of the commission, the government issued an ordinance in 2005 and subsequently the Assembly passed legislation for five percent reservation. The high court set aside the legislation on the ground that this would exceed the 50 percent total reservation limit set by the Supreme Court. In an attempt to keep the reservations within the 50 percent limit, the government reduced the quantum to 4 percent and issued an ordinance which was later replaced by a legislation passed by the Assembly in 2007. According to it, 15 socially and educationally backward Muslim classes were to get the reservation. But the Andhra Pradesh High Court on a petition filed by an advocate K Kondala Rao quashed the legislation and ruled that reservations can not be provided on the basis of religion. The petitioners also argued that the government identified backward classes in the community without gathering the scientific data.
BJP opposed the Supreme Court decision and said, “Christianity and Islam are alien to India and therefore minority
groups even if their socio-economic condition is low, should not be given the privilege of quota in jobs, legislative bodies and education”. Reacting to the interim decision of Supreme Court BJP said that it will fight the case tooth and nail and is opposed totally to what it calls reservation on the basis of religion. The BJP point of view is that job quotas on religious lines could be disastrous for Indian democracy and society. Party president Nitin Gadkari said,” We believe in equality of all and appeasement of none”.
Although the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the State government on quota reservation but still the final verdict lies in the hands of constitutional bench and its ruling will decide whether Muslims will get the reservation or not. Large kingdoms and small hearts do not go together says a famous English axiom. Same is the case with India when it comes to the reservations for Muslims in the parliament, assemblies, employment and education. Commissions are appointed, recommendations are made, hollow promises are made just to mollify Muslims and garner their votes. The bright examples of this are Sachar Committee Report and Ranganath Misra Commission report. Both the reports have made a strong case for reservation to uplift Muslims from their socio-economic plight.
The Indian Muslims inherited the legacy of social injustice from the British and this trait continued even after independence. A Minorities Commission was set up as late as in 1978 to evaluate the minorities’ status in India by a non-Congress government. After coming into power in 1980 Congress government side lined this Commission and appointed a separate ‘high powered panel’, which eventually came to be known as Gopal Singh Committee. The purpose of this committee was to study the status of minorities and other backward classes as beneficiaries of government’s fiscal policies and welfare schemes. On 14th June 1983, this panel submitted a 118-page ‘Report on Minorities’ containing extensive data on the participation and performance of minorities in education and employment. Painting a dismal picture of the position of Muslims, the panel made a large number of recommendations for its improvement through various short-term and long-term measures. For an unduly long period this report remained a closely guarded secret despite demands for its release. And when this report was made public even then no action was ever taken on any of its recommendations.
In 1995 the National Minorities Commission collected data on the share of minorities in police and Para-military services and found that their presence, especially of the Muslims, in that sector was “deplorably disproportionate to their population in various states”. The Commission submitted its report on 6 May 1996 and highlighted that the representation of Muslims in the State and all-India services was very low as compared to their population and there were no purposeful action to rectify this imbalance. In its 1998-99 report the Commission specifically recommended that “in all public employment under central government there must be at least 10 per cent representation of Muslims and this should be ensured by adopting suitable measures. Both these reports of National Minorities Commission had met same fate as that of the Gopal Singh Panel and still awaiting appropriate response from the concerned authorities.
In March 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed another high powered committee, generally known as the Sachar Committee, chaired by a former judge Rajinder Sacher, to evaluate afresh the educational and socio-economic status of Muslims. The Sachar Committee prepared its report in November 2006 and presented it to the parliament on 30th November 2006. The report highlighted miserable socio-economic conditions of Muslims in the fields of education, employment, access to credit, infrastructural facilities and political representation and made a strong case for improving the socio-economic situation of Muslims. The data gathered by Sachar Committee shows that Muslims now constitute India’s ‘new underclass. In some respects such as public services, education, income, social mobility and landholding, Muslims’ position is even worse than Dalits (Officially called Scheduled Castes). Even the Ranganath Misra Commission in its report submitted to the parliament in December 2009 recommended 10 percent quota for Muslims in all public services and educational institutions keeping in view their miserable socio-economic condition.
The Government of India has failed to implement the recommendations of Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee Report and it also does not seem serious to implement the recommendations of Misra report. The Central and the State governments have been only making statements and assuring the community to implement recommendations of the several commissions but no solid step has been taken so far. The need is to take concrete action rather than making mere statements in this regard. Giving due respect to the feelings of Muslim community, the government must take affirmative action. Muslims are troubled with the hollow promises from the government on the one hand and the Hindu communal forces challenges on the other.