– Ram Puniyani
Sachar Committee which was appointed by UPA I in 2005 released its report in 2006. It observed that the condition of Muslim community in all areas of social and political life has been sliding down. Faced with the insecurity due to violence against them, its representation in social-political life has been going down for a free fall. UPA in all its wisdom decided to work on this nagging social political issue. One of the steps taken by it was institution of Maualana Azad National Fellowship. This was meant for higher education and research for the minority students. It had provisions for scholars from all religious minorities, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhist. Still as the number of Muslim minority is much higher from among the 1000 fellowships lately 733 were awarded to Muslims.
Among Muslims the status of education worsened after Independence due to the intimidating atmosphere, poverty and lack of any affirmative action. As the level of education went up the number of Muslim students enrolled fell down steeply. Above 17 years of age educational attainment of Muslim students is abysmally low. As per Ministry of education data the national average for Matriculation is 17% for Muslims while the national average is 22%. The literacy rate stands at 57.3% as against the national average of 73.4%. The overall illiteracy among Muslims is higher than among other religious minorities. Similarly their enrollment in higher echelons of education and research is much lower. This is where MANF came in as a small boost for higher education among Muslims. As against 14.2% of their population only 5.5% Muslims reach higher education. As per 2011 census data Graduates among Hindus were 5.98 and amongst Muslims was 2.76%.
On similar lines Pre Matric scholarship for Muslims has been restricted only to 9th and 10th standard students only. The pre-matric scholarship was launched in 2008 and was definitely of great help to Muslim students in secondary education. Even at that time with Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat argued in Supreme Court that Center cannot force Gujarat to implement it as it is based on Religion! The central contribution for the scheme was returned by the Gujarat state. In tune with this the Central Government has now restricted the scope of Pre Matric scholarship only to 9th and 10th standard students as per a notification in November 2022.
The MANF has been stopped from this December as per proclamation by the minority’s affairs minter Ms Smriti Irani on 8th December 2022. There have been protests against this high handed policy of the Government and many Congress and other MPs have also raised the issue in Parliament. The argument of Ms Irani is that this scheme overlaps with other similar schemes for which Muslims students are entitled, the ones for OBCs. She forgets that one cannot get two scholarships at the same time.
As per research scholar Abdulla Khan (Muslim Mirror) “The enrollment of Muslims in higher education, as per All India Survey on Higher Education Reports (AISHE) (conducted by MHRD, GOI) revealed that the representation in higher education has also been lowest from other communities such as SCs, STs and OBCs…”
It is very clear that the present Government is out to undo whatever little affirmative action directed ‘Equal Opportunity’ exists. At political level we have witnessed the communal forces targeting the Muslim minorities in different ways. We have recently witnessed the angle of love Jihad being highlighted in cases like Shraddha-Aftab. This is being projected in communal angle while the core reason is anti women violence in our patriarchal society. We have witnesses many such cases of violence against women by Hindu men being underplayed with a political agenda.
Undoubtedly education is the key to social progress for any community. The Saeed Mirza classic ‘Salim Langade pe Mat ro’ brought this forward in a very perceptive way. The recent survey conducted by Mumbai based human rights group, Bebak Collective’ points out that Muslim youth are suffering due to social conditions prevailing currently,
Unfortunately in India the dominance of divisive politics has affected the lives of Muslim minorities in diverse ways. Even when not in power they put immense pressure on semi secular parties not to undertake any affirmative action in favor of Muslim and Christian minorities in particular. With new education policy and ruthless privatization of education, the poor and marginalized will be the big victims.
The ruling party has a majority in the parliament and the opposition to such decisions of the Government is not going to change its pro-elite and anti-Minority stance. The powerful electoral machinery of the divisive party is going to come in the way of a coalition at center which can undertake the issues of marginalized sections in a sensitive way. Still a way has to be thought of as to how in prevalent adverse circumstances how to pull out the intimidated community from being left behind in the march to progress for a healthy society with concern for all sections of society, irrespective of their religion, caste and language.
The present Government has a different agenda. Those who have been behind ‘Youth for Equality’ type movements cannot understand the values of affirmative action or ‘Equal opportunity’ in an unequal society. The minority community will recall with pain the attack on Jamia and AMU students. On parallel grounds when the same Ms Irani was MHRD minster we painfully witnessed the plight of Dalits in the form of suicide of Rohith Vemula.
So where do we go from here? Can Muslim community philanthropes, those controlling Waqf and other community resources come forward to fill the massive gap left by the withdrawal of MANF or restricting pre-matric scholarship only to 9th and 10 standard students. It’s a tall order but it has to be done if the demand for reversal of these orders by the Government are not yielded to by the ruling Government, which at present is out to implant its anti Minority agenda with full force. The students in the middle of their higher education and those aspiring for such education need to be helped in all the ways possible.