All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi's statement that Haj subsidy should be abolished in favour of education for Muslim girls is a progressive stance and deserves our wholehearted backing. Apart from highlighting a very real and woefully ignored issue, the Hyderabad MP's words go some distance in changing the discourse around Indian Muslims. It is an area we can no longer ignore.
One the most deep-seated and enduring ironies of Indian politics is that Muslims in India have remained ghettoized and their welfare stunted even as politicians spent almost seven decades singing paeans in their name. Their part in nation-building process has remained restricted to exercising their voting rights. As Muslims kept up their end of the bargain by choosing the leaders they thought would best address their issues, the governments (both in states and Centre) in turn created a few power centres from within the community, developed a relationship of narrow quid-pro-quo and abdicated their responsibilities.
A culture of empty appeasement has taken root. The tragic fallout is despite strength in numbers, Muslims have very little representation in key areas of Indian polity. Their socio-economic well-being and education uplift lag behind national average and are in some metrics below Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
According to the 2006 Sachar Committee report, dropout among Muslims in primary education are an epidemic. Statistics cited by Islamic Research Foundation International reveal about one-fourth of children aged between 6-14 have either never attended school in their locality or have dropped out. Consequently, they have a woeful representation among graduates (one out of 25) and postgraduates (one out of 50). Despite making up nearly 14 percent of the Indian population, they have only three percent presence in armed forces, five percent in Railways and 3.5 percent in banking.
Muslims add up to just three percent in administrative services such as IAS, IPS. India has one IAS or IPS officer among every 5.73 lakh Muslims, compared to one among every 1.08 lakh non-Muslims, quotes a report in The Indian Express.
Being the dominant power at the Centre, the Congress must shoulder lion's share of the blame for failing to bring Muslims within the welfare and development loop. It has perfected the model of tokenism in politics which is now assiduously followed and even bettered by a large number of parties.
In 2013, six years after the Sachar Committee highlighted the plight of Muslims in India, a paper called “Six Years After Sachar: A Review of Inclusive Policies in India,” by economist and chief scholar at the US-India Policy Institute Abusaleh Shariff found that status of Muslims in India have hardly improved — a period ruled exclusively by UPA.
"Despite the government’s publicised support for the Sachar Committee Report’s recommendations to increase diversity in public spaces and to ensure the minorities’ proportionate benefits from mainstream institutions, the government’s record is notably lackluster," the paper said, according to a report in The Hindu.
Owaisi's statement, that the subsidy amount of Rs 450 crore would be better utilized towards educating Muslim girls, is therefore a welcome change and carries far reaching import.
"This significant amount of Rs 450 crore, of haj subsidy, should be utilised for girl education. Create more girls schools, hostels... Rs 450 cr is a huge amount," he said on Wednesday. "As a Muslim, I do not get any government subsidy to go on Haj. A Haj is obligatory on Muslims who have their own financial wherewithal. We do not need any govt subsidy. Please give this money to the scholarships of girl students. This will make India and the Muslim community stronger," News18 quoted him as saying.
Education uplift of Muslim women, who have of late been at the forefront of a battle against regressive patriarchal practices, would have an exponential reformative effect on the entire community. Any step in this direction will also change the political discourse around Indian Muslims from appeasement to empowerment.
The government, which has formed a six-member panel to judge the efficacy and viability of Haj subsidy in light of Saudi Arabia's decision to hike annual quota for Indian pilgrims, must consider Owaisi's statement in all seriousness. This could be truly game changing.
Updated Date: Jan 13, 2017 13:12:10 IST