What needs to be told loud and clear that raising the bogey of Muslim backwardness non-stop is not only futile but counter-productive as well. (Representational Image; Photo courtesy: Pranav Nahata/ Unsplash)

Stop believing the half-Sachs of Muslim backwardness

The constant bombardments of narrative of Muslim backwardness with the help of half-baked figures only lead to despondency and hopelessness among the community, especially its youth. Instead the community leaders should objectively discuss each and every aspect–even its positive achievements, for example, West Bengal, Kerala and Kashmir have done exceptionally well in the last few years. Be it in the medical and engineering entrance examinations or any other field.

“There are three types of lies–lies, damn lies, and statistics,” said former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable,” said American English writer Mark Twain.

Yet the importance of statistics cannot be under-estimated in this modern world. We now have a subject called Statistics.

Though the government data and statistics give some idea about development or backwardness of any state, country, community etc. yet very often such figures are misleading, if not lies. They are half-truths and sometimes should be taken with a pinch of salt.

But it seems that Indian Muslims have an obsession for data and statistic. They love to be dubbed as backward. So wherever the Muslim leaders see any study or research work which highlight their backwardness they simply embrace them. Without independently examining and analysing the data the campaign starts to spread its conclusion of such surveys. The self-proclaimed leading lights of the community have been doing this with the help of the Sachar Committee report for the last 14 years. In the process the community leaders have tried to convince the masses that the only sentence written in this 400-odd pages report is “Muslims lag behind Dalits in all walks of life”.

The truth is that the Sachar Committee report is a study done on the status of Muslims in India and in the process it has made comparison with several social groups of the country. It based its report on the data of 2001 Census, NSSO etc. and has not done its own first-hand survey. The figures given in the government surveys may not be hundred per cent correct.

Before the Sachar a similar study was done by Gopal Singh report, but it could not be quoted too much as that was the period of less media publicity.

No doubt the Sachar report said that in some social, economic and educational indicators Muslims lag behind Dalits, but in some they are ahead of them or are on par with the Other Backward Castes, or may be even ahead of them. Yet in some areas Muslims are even ahead of general Hindus. But no one in our seminars or conference is going to highlight the last fact.

For example, in health sector, notwithstanding the government neglect of the community the child mortality rate and infant mortality rate among Muslims are much less than even general category Hindus. The maternal mortality rate among Muslims is less than Hindus even though Muslim women give more birth than their Hindu sisters.

Besides, on an average the life-span of Muslims is one year more than Hindus. These are just a few positive examples cited in the Sachar Committee report yet they hardly find mention in any public discourse for some unknown reasons.

As if that was not enough the community has now discovered in Christophe Jaffrelot another talent. No doubt he is a regular contributor to various journals and newspapers, for example, the Indian Express. Yet, it remained a mystery as to what prompted Bengali Academy for Social Empowerment to organise a webinar on August 8 on the condition of Muslims at the height of Corona Virus. Not only that some community portals even highlighted in great detail whatever Jaffrelot had tried to explain, in this long webinar which once again was largely based on the same Sachar Committee report and similar data. Is it that Muslims are not aware of them?

What needs to be told loud and clear that such non-stop exercises are not only futile but counter-productive as well. The constant bombardments with the help of half-baked figures only lead to despondency and hopelessness among the community, especially its youth. Instead the community leaders should objectively discuss each and every aspect–even its positive achievements, for example, West Bengal, Kerala and Kashmir have done exceptionally well in the last few years. Be it in the medical and engineering entrance examinations or any other field. In civil services examinations the youths of Kashmir, including girls, have been doing remarkably better, more by efforts of the community and less by government policy or action.

Take the example of Kishanganj district of Bihar, about which another prophet of doom, Asaduddin Owaisi of AIMIM, always makes so much hue and cry. What this gentleman does not know, or wants to deliberately hide, is that this district of north-east Bihar had witnessed fastest growth in literacy rate in India between 2001 and 2011–especially in the women’s literacy.

The tragedy is that most of the time the community relies on the lecture by some western social scientists to understand our problem. What the community leaders failed to realize is that any such research can be done by the scholars from within the country who have much larger personal experience of the social, economic and educational milieu. There is nothing like rocket science involved in it.

The compilation of old figures and data would lead to nowhere as the situation keeps changing constantly. Besides it should be also researched as to how the community is not only surviving but even doing better than the upper caste Hindus in some indicators. Very little has been written as to how remittance money has played an important role in keeping the community alive. After all remittance-earning among the Muslims is disproportionately higher.

The absurd way of drawing parallel between Muslims and Dalits should be immediately stopped. One should not be selective in quoting figures to establish that Muslims lag behind Scheduled Castes and Tribes. The truth can be known when Muslim social scientists, researchers or journalists give equal time in the Dalit as well as their own inhabitants. Just make a survey of as to how many SC/STs and Muslims own CBSE schools, apartments, hotels, restaurants, marketing complexes in any city of India. No doubt Muslims may be no match to upper castes or may be even OBCs, but their number would certainly be many times more than SCs or STs.

At the lowest level, just collect a data on the figures of those dying of starvation, committing suicide due to hunger or compelled to eat rats and roots in the jungles of east and central India. One would soon know the fact as to how bad the SCs and STs are doing.

What the Muslim researchers often do is they take up only the localities and villages dominated by their own community and come to faulty conclusion. They do not dare to spend a few nights in the hutments of Valmikis, Musahars, even Ravidas who are considered slightly better off among the SCs.

A few years back a prominent doctor, while taking part in a function where a couple of foreign dignitaries were also present on the stage, sketched a very depressing picture of Muslims. He was not exaggerating as his lecture was based on his personal experience.

Yet, I on the basis of a long journalistic experience objected to some of his remarks as it was just a one-sided version with no comparison with Dalits or any other social groups.  The problem with this gentleman was that the government medical college and hospital where he was the head of Surgery department was situated in front of a big Muslim locality. His own nursing home is also located in a Muslim-dominated mohalla. So a majority of patients he treats daily are Muslims–and thus he comes to this conclusion. As if that was not enough the surgeon in question had spent quite a long time in a Middle Eastern country.

How come he make a comparison with any Dalit or backward caste inhabitants.

In contrast I tried to challenge him (but failed to get opportunity on the basis of my spending a night in a Dalit bustee, covering a number of massacres of both Scheduled Castes and Muslims, and caste and communal riots. On the basis of first-hand experience I can openly claim that all these talks of “Muslims lag behind the Dalits” should be immediately stopped.

As it has become a sort of fashion to get scholarship to do research on the backwardness of Muslims–or even Dalits–such studies would come out regularly. Many of them are just compilation of statistics.

True, Dalits have an edge over Muslims on one count–that is, on the government-sponsored schemes. But Muslims have shown resilience. They have their own system of Zakat–though it is also true that it is not properly utilised.

Lastly, it must be explained clearly that such fear of Muslim backwardness was raised even at the time of Partition. Some of the elite of the community, rather unnecessarily, raked up this issue as they wanted to justify their demand of Pakistan. The truth is that in many fields, especially the army, Muslims were over-represented.

It is after the creation of Pakistan that an overwhelming number of elite went to Pakistan. The lower middle class and poor Muslims, especially of North India, remained here.

Naturally the Hindus were bound to fill this vacuum. Thus the gap increased sharply after the Partition and Muslims started lagging behind. It is not so easy to make up for this loss suffered after 1947, though in the last couple of decades the community has covered some grounds.

Instead of parroting the old figures the coming generation should be urged to see the larger picture and make an objective study. It should be told what actually they should do, rather than keep beating the chest.

(Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views are personal.)

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