There's lot of hue and cry over Muslims losing their minority status in Uttar Pradesh, according to a recent Allahabad High Court judgment. The so-called secularist parties and so-called Muslim leaders are crying hoarse indulging in mere lip service about the annihilation of minority status of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh for fear of losing their vote bank.
The nomenclature minority in India is a misnomer. It is time that we Indians give up this ghettoized minority-majority mindset. Voice of reason demands that educational standards and qualifications should be uniform, whatever the language or religion. The need of the hour is to follow the UN definition of minority to begin with and remove those groups in each state where they exceed 10 percent.
If minority status is to be granted, it should not be on the basis of language or religion but as per the UN charter that states that reservations should be made fore the disadvantaged and the have-nots who actually should be treated as minorities.
K.R. Malkani, the late Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vice president, wrote in his treatise on Indian Muslims that the UN identified a minority by religion, language, ethnicity or culture if it constituted less than 10 percent of the population of a state. As per this statute, the Muslims were a minority decades ago but now they are not.
Malkani also stated that nowhere in the 52-odd Muslim majority countries do others have the privileges, protections and rights India offers to its minorities - and yet they are not satisfied.
In order to enjoy the minority status, Muslim masses, misguided by their fundamentalist leaders playing to the gallery, have acquired the ghetto mindset by getting attached to the non-progressive, non-modern attitude by not sending their children to modern schools and keeping girls at home. They have no desire to work hard and come up.
What is to be lamented is the advocacy by communist, Marxists, secular and progressive intellectuals and the so-called secular parties to unite the minorities on the basis of religion and divide the majority Hindus on the basis of castes.
Frankly speaking, minority status, rather than helping the cause of minorities, has harmed their cause. True, the term "minorities" was coined by the English but over the years politicians of all hues have sordidly manipulated them. In the process, the RSS-supported parties have been accusing the Muslims of being appeased as the most favored minorities.
The minorities should have an honorable place by having to stop looking at charity in the form of quotas and accept the challenges of a competitive life. The fact is that a topper from the Aligarh Muslim University who gets admission under a quota is way behind compared to even a third division degree holder of a university from Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata. People like Maulana Azad, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Zakir Hussain and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed have not come up via the short cut of minority quotas but by working hard and facing open competition.
The Rs.1,500 million Haj subsidy Muslims get as a minority is jeopardizing their cause. The government should provide Muslims proper educational paraphernalia than issuing such grants.
Because of their leaders and the petty politicians who represent them, Indian Muslims live today in a system of unofficial apartheid. Hindus and Muslims have developed separately; often ignorant of what is in the other's mind. This ghetto existence has allowed the rise of a class of political middlemen who serve as interlocutors between the Muslim masses and the rest of Indian society.
The Muslim leadership has lost its voice and utility. Most leaders are brokers who play the politics of vote banks to acquire state patronage for themselves and their coteries. Their obscurantism is leading the community backwards - to the dark ages.
These middlemen maintain their position by raising emotional issues and arousing passions. This allows them to tighten their hold on the community while diverting attention from bread and butter issues.
The Education Policy of 1986 had recorded Neo-Buddhists and Muslims as the most backward communities in the country. The situation has not changed. Muslims represent 12 to 25 percent of the population but they hold less than one percent of the top jobs in the bureaucracy.
The community occupies the lowest rung in development index. Its literacy rate is poor. It has low presence in private and public sector jobs and has minimal presence in the highest echelons of bureaucracy. All these add to a feeling that they are discriminated against. To cap it all, Muslims - mainly the poor - are at the receiving end in most outbreaks of communal violence.
However, it should be clear that the Muslims are among the most disadvantaged and backward of all the underprivileged sections of society. According to a survey by Friends for Education, an NGO, even today almost 52 percent Muslims live below the poverty line, compared to 25 per cent of all Indians.
Of each 100 Muslims admitted at the primary level, only four pass out at high school while only one makes it to a college. The literacy is a shocking mere 28 percent, and matriculates or intermediates among them are less than two percent. Graduates and postgraduates are less than 1 percent.
In the field of medicine, the percentage is just 2.4 while in the judiciary departments all over the country, it doesn't go beyond 3.1 per cent.
During the 1950s at the time of the Kaka Karlekar Commission, about 36,00 castes were enumerated. When Mandal Commission came to forefront, in the 1980s, about 4,700 castes were registered.
There is not one single caste anywhere in any state or even in any district that crosses 10 percent of the population. The rider is that the so-called majority community is indeed an amalgam of minorities according to the definition of the United Nations!
Each of these 4,700 castes can qualify to be a minority. The non-Muslim secularists and the so-called Muslim leaders have misguided the state also to classify certain sections of Muslims be a separate caste within the minority.
Minority status or reservations at their doorstep can never bring any change in their pathetic state of affairs. Only a sincere and concerted effort to honestly uplift them educationally will.
(Firoz Bakht Ahemd is a commentator on social, educational and religious issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)