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Revisiting The Sachar Report: 10 Years On, The Same Old Myths Prevail

Here are some facts most “intellectuals” seem to have missed.

24/01/2017 11:29 AM IST | Updated 25/01/2017 9:01 AM IST
Adnan1 Abidi / Reuters

Sometimes even discussions at intellectual congregations reek of a colossal ignorance that is shocking, pathetic and unacceptable. Moderating a session at the Jaipur Lit Festival, the yearly jamboree of intellectual expressions, journalist Pragya Tiwari posed the following query to the two RSS participants, Dattatreya Hosabale and Manmohan Vaidya: The Sachar Committee Report points out the sorry socio-economic state of Indian Muslims. How do you explain this in the light of the so-called secular character of the Indian state?

Far from being an accurate reflection of society, the Sachar report appears to be a mish-mash of numbers hastily collected with a political intent in mind...

The basic premise of this question is faulty; the Sachar report did not point out that penury was specific to the Muslim community: it revealed that poverty was a global phenomenon in India with pockets of indigence among Muslims as well.

The report of the Rajinder Sachar Committee, commissioned in 2005 by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to ascertain the socio-economic status of Muslims, is the biggest red herring to be dragged across the contentious topic of socio-economic inequity and affirmative action in India; an outrageous fraud perpetuated by relentless repetition. Here I reproduce an abbreviated version of an article I wrote nearly 10 years ago.

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Statistics are akin to snapshots; they capture a flash in time. Statistics cast little light on the antecedents or the etiologic factors that conspired to produce those precise numbers. Faced with inane numbers, the human mind can analyse the data accurately, objectively and intelligently or indulge in a whimsical fantasy that furthers prejudged opinions. The media's treatment of the Sachar report qualifies as naïve credulity at best or devious machination at worst.

Methodology or the manner in which the statistics are compiled in a survey is crucial. Was the Sachar report a scientifically conducted independent venture conforming to the rules of statistics (no bias) and aimed at arriving at an accurate picture? Did this report accurately survey the entire Muslim population or a representative cross-section of that community? Fact: This data was arrived by visiting a few selected states and interviewing select institutions such as the government, NGOs and Muslim organisations—an approach with a definite propensity for bias.

Justice Sachar, himself acutely aware of these deficiencies, cautions:

"These figures are based on what people and organisations told us when we met them in the states. They need to be analysed before arriving at any final conclusion."

So, far from being an accurate reflection of society, the Sachar report appears to be a mish-mash of numbers hastily collected with a political intent in mind but with dangerous ramifications for Indian society and the country as a whole.

The Sachar report, when reviewed meticulously, fails to corroborate the inferences drawn by so-called intellectuals and vested political interests.

Let us look carefully at the data as it pertains to charges of discrimination, the extent of Muslim poverty and the literacy rates in this community.

Discrimination

When the proportion of a community in government jobs does not mirror their percentage in the population, can it be automatically assumed that this stems from blatant prejudice? Definitely not. Other factors maybe contributory. For one, the age distribution among Muslims is lopsided, with a distinct shift to the left (higher percentage less than 18 years), leading to a definite contraction in the job-seeking subset. Additionally, according to the report, only 3.2 % of Muslims aged 20 and over are graduates (national average 6.7%), which clearly diminishes the appropriately qualified applicant pool.

Muslims were more affluent than the combined Hindu community in 10 of the 21 states surveyed; in Tamil Nadu, Muslims even outdid the Hindu upper castes.

Sensational and shoddy reporting associated with the Sachar report abound. A leading newspaper (The Indian Express, 3 December 2006), titles an article with an eye-catching headline, "Muslims Discriminated", and goes on to reference this statement of the Sachar committee:

"Muslim workers are paid less than their counterparts from other communities owing to the nature and skill of the work they do."

Continuing, the article cites the reason for this difference, again quoting from the Sachar report:

"A large part of the difference is likely to be due to the nature of the private sector enterprises themselves, with the Muslims being engaged in smaller and informal jobs..."

Is this really discrimination? Muslims are being paid different amounts because as the report itself acknowledges, they perform "smaller and informal jobs." This does not qualify as differential treatment. Discrimination can be invoked when two people with equal qualifications are paid different amounts for the same type of work, for example two physicians performing the same exact work. But if a physician and a hospital orderly (each belonging to a different religion) were paid different amounts taking into consideration the nature of duties, it would be ridiculous to claim discrimination. Apples cannot be compared to oranges.

Poverty

Selective data culled out of the Sachar report has been provocatively highlighted to project the Muslims in particular as an economically deprived community. Careful scrutiny of the data reveals a picture that is far from a black and white scenario.

Poverty is quantified by the mean per capita expenditure (MPCE; which defines the consumption expenditure of individuals), and the head count ratio (HCR; which estimates the percentage of those whose consumption is below the poverty line or BPL).

The only conclusion that we can draw is that, despite the recent economic boom, poverty in India is still widespread and cuts across caste and religious barriers.

The MPCE for Muslims, OBCs and SC/STs were ₹636, 645 and 520 respectively (national average ₹712). The MPCE for Muslims is only ₹76 off the national average amounting to a negligible difference of ₹2.50 per day—not something earth shattering as some of our columnists have been making it out to be. Further by this criterion, Muslims are better off than SC/STs (31% of Hindus) and almost on par with OBCs (43% of Hindus): certainly not at the bottom of the heap.

When evaluated by the HCR, a slightly different picture emerges. Muslims had a HCR of 31, better than that of SC/STs' 35(national average 22.7).

However, as these figures are further analysed taking into account geographic location, the picture for Muslims does not appear dismal in the least. The HCR for rural Muslims was 26.9% (national average 22.7 %); a difference that does not meet the test of statistical significance. But what was even more striking was that Muslims were more affluent than the combined Hindu community in 10 of the 21 states surveyed; in Tamil Nadu, Muslims even outdid the Hindu upper castes. Additionally, for the period 1993-4 to 2004-5, rural Muslims recorded the highest rate of economic growth with a HCR drop of 12% (Hindus 8 %). This clearly suggests that rural Muslims at least are not a disadvantaged lot in comparison to other socio-religious groups.

Urban Muslims, on the contrary, do come out poorly with an HCR of 38.4% with SC/STs close on their heels at 36.4%.

Muslims are not the only underprivileged community. According to a more scientifically done study (Brahmins of India by J Radhakrishna, published by Chugh Publications) 55% of the Brahmins in a district of Andhra Pradesh live below the poverty line compared to a national average of 45% at that time. Brahmins in Karnataka register a per capita income of ₹537 (Muslims ₹794).

This example of Brahmin poverty suggests that traditional concepts no longer hold water in a fast-changing India. The face of poverty is rapidly changing. Poverty in India is a hydra-headed monster which spreads its tentacles erratically, clasping one community in one area and ensnaring a different one in another. No one community is immune from this scourge.

To claim that it is the exclusive curse of one community or region is misleading and deceptive. The only conclusion that we can draw is that, despite the recent economic boom, poverty in India is still widespread and cuts across caste and religious barriers.

Education

The Census measures literacy rates in terms of the percentage of persons above 7 years and above who can read and write. Compared to a national average of 65.1%, Muslims register a modest 59% with the SC/STs barely crossing the 50% mark.

While the 59% literacy rate of the Muslim is not deplorable, there is a small glitch: the type of education imparted appears to be parochial and not worldly.

While the 59% literacy rate of the Muslim is not deplorable, there is a small glitch: the quality and type of education imparted appears to be parochial and not worldly.

Four per cent of Muslim children are enrolled in madrassas (quoted by the Sachar report) and another 4% attend maktabs or religious schools affiliated with mosques. Maktabs by definition are meant to supplement mainstream education with a religious curriculum.

The real issue, however, appears to be Urdu-medium schools. While the data presented is sketchy, what emerges is that anywhere between a whopping 30-50% of Muslim students attend Urdu-medium schools in some states whose performance at the CBSE exam level falls short of national standards, bringing into question the suitability of such schools to provide mainstream education apt for the modern changing world. Therein lies the crux of the problem.

A quota while politically expedient is not the panacea. With its myriad communities and religions, the politics of reservation can be suicidal for a country like India. Any solution must subscribe to these basic principles: equal opportunity for all and aid to the economically deprived (regardless of caste or religion) to ensure a level-playing field, and an emphasis on merit.

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