India is globally known as a diverse country. Diversity is its chief characteristic. Thousands of languages, countless cultures and practices, different religions and faiths; every state and every district in the country boasts its uniqueness. The slogan “unity in diversity ” is a badge of honor especially given to India. Yet with all its uniqueness and elegance, there are many serious crises that need to be strongly addressed to preserve the beauty of this nation. One which is not given much attention is the state of education for Indian Muslims.
Minority/Majority Idea Through the Lens of the Indian State
The constitution of India came into effect after prolonged and deep-rooted dialogues and discussions of the Constituent Assembly. The contentious concept of “minority” has been defined by the Indian state in its constitution as well as by scholars in academia. The definition is used to argue anything related to “minorities.” As bizarre as it may be for a “secular” democratic state, India divides its population based on religion and recognizes a part of its population as “minorities” based primarily on the consideration of numbers.
The constitution of India does not define the notion of “minority,” but it furnishes certain rights to the communities that exist less or that are small in number compared to other major or dominant groups. Article 30 of the Indian constitution commands that all minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and regulate educational institutions of their choice. Article 29 protects minorities’ right to preserve their language, script or culture. Article 15 of the constitution forbids discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth.
The Indian state indicates that the context and number are extensively important in regards to minorities, be they religious, linguistic, racial, or caste. The Indian state nationally disaggregates the population. The question this raises is if the disaggregation of people takes place nationally, does it identify all problems? If they separate them socially and state-wise, does the problem vary socially and in state-wise disaggregation? In the article “Relativity of The Minority Concept,” the state definition of minority has been determined noting the opinion of the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (SCPDPM):
A group numerically inferior to the rest of the population of a state, in a non-dominant position, whose numbers -being nationals of the state- … and show, if only implicitly, a sense of solidarity
-toward the preservation of its ethnic, religious, or linguistic characteristics.
The idea of minority/majority, therefore, focuses primarily on numerical inferiority. The Indian state defines (in practice) the minority theory chiefly on a religious basis. In one term, we can conclude the idea of the minority in India as “religious numerical inferiority.”
Deconstructing the Idea of Minority/Majority
The characterization of a minority is not just numbers but their comparative, disempowered position vis-à-vis the majority community in a given polity.
In the same article, he quotes the political analyst Andre Liebich that
two elements constituting a minority are inequality and inferiority, not merely numerical but substantial inferiority.
The Sachar Committee Report, a 2006 study on the social conditions of Muslims in India, also identifies that
Worldwide, minorities tend to grapple with three types of inter-related issues: issues relating to identity, security, and equity.
In this view, the differentiation of the Hindu community based on religion (instead of caste) is a well-articulated and nicely propagated agenda of Brahmanical forces, for which the so-called “Hindu majority” exists only to serve electoral politics.
The first education minister of independent India, Abul Kalam Azad, In his 1940 presidential address at the Ramgarh session of the Indian National Congress, defined “minority” as,
In political parlance the word minority… means such a weak community (jamaat) which because of both its number and capacity (salahiyat) finding itself incapable of protecting itself in relation to a larger and more powerful community… Here the issue of capacity (nauyat) is as important as that of number (tadad).
Ahmed describes this
lack of access to and exercise of political power as central to the idea of the minority in a future democratic polity. With the partition of India in 1947, the idea of Muslims as a minority was institutionalized in political and constitutional discourses through a clever act of disempowering them.
Professor Shefali Jha goes beyond that and sharply criticizes the Constituent Assembly, saying
In the name of democracy, the constituent assembly of India adopted certain individual and collective rights to religion. Democracy, however, is not just about rights; another integral component of democracy is representation.
In her essay, she argues that
The granting of a range of individual and collective religious rights to the minorities was used, in the constituent assembly, to justify the refusal of their demand for more adequate mechanisms of representation… or for reserved seats in the legislature.
While the idea of minority/majority does not have any single agreed upon definition, it is an increasingly important concept in Indian politics. Recently in India, some lawyers have called for the disaggregation of Hindus on a state-wise basis in order to utilize the special provision afforded to minorities. They explain that the state-wise disaggregation will help Hindus in Muslim majority places like Jammu and Kashmir. The latest news on this motion is of the Supreme Court of India issuing a notice to the Minority Department to present the definition of a minority within 90 days.
India, a secular democratic country with a history of freedom fighters from all major and minor communities, is now using religious identity to divide people and is misusing special provisions to serve a “majority community” and to disempower a minority community from political exercise.
Minority identity is not mere religiously numerical inferiority, but a fear and feeling of insecurity from a politically influential and dominant group. Often a group cannot be reckoned by its number, but it must be examined by its political, economic, and educational hegemony. Vokkaligas and Lingayat, for example, are small in numbers, but these groups had been observed by famous sociologist M.N Srinivas as dominant castes. These small groups from Karnataka state also have strong political influence.
Furthermore, the division of Hindus on a religious basis is dubious because many Hindus, despite their religious identity, have been historically and socially discriminated against for their caste by other Hindus. Brahmanical forces always ruled them mercilessly and exploited their rights. In India, religious affiliation, (whether it is Hindus, Muslims, or other) and on another side and more importantly, caste-based stratification of the population, have always posed problems to minorities of this self-proclaimed secular country.
Educational Issues of Muslim Minorities
In a country like India, the prime reason for minority educational issues is the label of minority identity. This identity intensifies more when it comes to Muslims and it has become more complicated than ever, witnessing a complete paradigm-shift in the Modi era. There are as yet no studies available or conducted on how minority issues have taken ups and downs in recent years. Instead, I will highlight some incidents and discriminative behavioral patterns among youth in central universities in India. I will also use the Sachar Committee Report and other counter-encounter analytical arguments and research papers on the era before 2014.
A Brief Understanding of Muslim Educational Status
Economist Rakesh Basant shows that the educational status of Muslims is lowest among all socio-religious communities (except scheduled castes [SCs] and scheduled tribes [STs]) in India. The speed in increasing their literacy rates is not satisfactory when compared to other socio-religious groups. Basant finds
Primary education and higher secondary attainment levels are also among the lowest for Muslims and inter-SRC [socio-religious community] differences.
Primary education is the only base and foundation to continue the journey of education, and so unsurprisingly graduation rates are also low. Basant confirms,
graduate attainment rate (GARs) are also among the lowest and not converging with the average.
The Kundu Committee report states that the GAR of Muslims is lowest and equal to Hindu scheduled castes:
The completion of graduate or higher level education was quite low for all the SRCs in 2004-05 and 2011-12 … In 2011-12 (and in 2004-05) other Minorities and Hindus were way ahead of Muslims with respect to graduation or higher level of education. Among Hindus, General Hindus register highest rate of graduate or higher level of education in 2011-12, whereas SC/ST had the lowest rate (2.6%). OBC Muslims were also equal to SC/ST Hindus in this respect. Muslims generally do slightly better with a completion rate of 6 % in 2011-12. OBC Hindus were doing comparatively better than other subgroups among both Hindus and Muslims.
Later, the Kundu committee was designed to evaluate the process of implementations recommended by the Sachar Committee. The post-Sachar evaluation committee says that
Literacy levels have increased in all SRCs between 2004-05 and 2011-12 (Figure 1), the most among the Hindu SC & ST category, though they remained with lowest literacy level in 2011-12.Next was the OBC Muslim category, which saw improvement by 12 percentage points in 2011-12. In spite of these improvements, compared to other SRCs, Muslim OBC and Hindu SC & ST had lower levels of literacy.
Communalism and Regional Differences
The position of Muslims in India is very vulnerable. The identity of being Muslim and the partition of Pakistan after independence on a Muslim religious basis made their existence in India hypersensitive. Communal riots are a prime and successful policy for safeguarding political dominance over them. The frank statement of Home Minister Mr. Amit Shah in a political campaign
I assure all Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh Jain refugees they won’t have to leave the country; they will get citizenship,
exemplifies how political dominance sensitizes the insecurity among minorities, both those favored by Hindu nationalists and those targeted as unwanted foreigners alike.
Where communal riots are not common, a different picture exists, including in regards to educational attainment. Author Rowena Robinson says
It has been suggested that the relatively better-off position of Muslims in south India is partly related to the fact that some of these states have remained largely undisturbed by communal rioting.
A look at two different states in India reveals a large disparity between their social and educational predicaments. According to the 2011 census of India, the total population of Muslims in the southern state of Kerala is 26.56% while the total population of Muslims in the northern district of Mewat is 79.20%. But Kerala is the most literate state in India with 94.0% literacy, which is higher than the national average of 74.04%. Meanwhile, Muslims in Mewat are in the majority and are economically active, but their educational status is extremely low compared to all other states.
Recently in Uttar Pradesh (U.P.), another north Indian state, a school headmaster was suspended for allowing students to recite poems written by Allama Iqbal (namely the Muslim lab pe aati hai dua), the same writer who had written the Indian patriotic poem Saare Jahan se achcha. The schools and colleges of India are seeing at alarming rates increased incidents of communal hatred, particularly by Hindu nationalists.
Identity carries a lot of weight in a diverse and post-imperialist world. India has a vast and old history of discrimination on the basis of religion, language, color, culture, and caste. Stories of humiliating discrimination among Hindus for their caste identity are the most salient. Bigotry and communal hatred took the nation to dark and undesirable paths. It is more threatening that discrimination now takes place openly from nursery schools to central and prestigious universities. JNU, India’s most prestigious and a world reputed university, is infamous for the “Najeeb Ahmed case,” who has been missing for three years and suspected to have been kidnapped. Recently in Bhilla village in U.P, NewsClick reports that
In what comes as another instance of discrimination along the religious lines, a video of Muslim students being served mid-day meals on partial [leaf plates] while other students are using plates.
The news headlines are filled with such incidents. Another painful headline, this one in ThePrint:
Muslim school kids called names and told to “go to Pakistan”, mothers blame TV hate.
ThePrint cited Nazia Erum, author of the book Mothering a Muslim, as saying
in the last few years, religious discrimination in schools had gone up drastically.
I have highlighted just one of several major external problems facing the Muslim community. But Indian Muslims must first overcome internal issues, specifically with educational understanding clouded by a capitalistic paradigm. Minority educational institutions aren’t exempt from marketization of education. For the first time in human history, education is imparted as a commodity of the market and it is an expensive product. The aim of education is now to simply earn money. The “market profit” decides our future career instead of the need of society at large. We study in our institutions and choose and obtain a degree based on its market value. The needs of our society and the major challenges that our community face are not our priority and have no significance in front of what the market asks us to do or how the market’s demands need to be served. For this reason, we pursue the educational routes we choose to the neglect of community needs.
The Qur’anic view on philosophy of education and of many educationists is that education is for social reform (samaji Islah). But Muslims have gone out of relevance in this context of education. Our community is not only financially poor, but our intellectual poverty has led to our failure in understanding the politically created external crises. We are politically illiterate. Our institutions, involvement, priorities, and vision are totally decided by the market, and if we dream to change our condition, it is our responsibility to deprogram the short-sighted and chained minds of our new generation and give them an attitude of free-thinking and willingness for sacrifice.
- Ramaga, Philip Vuciri. “Relativity of the Minority Concept.” Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1992, pp. 104-119.
- Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India. Sachar Committee Report, p. 3.
- “Are India’s Muslims a Minority?” Aljazeera English, 5 Jun. 2014, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/06/are-india-muslims-minority-201463122145787274.html.
- Jha, Shefali. “Rights versus Representation: Defining Minority Interest in the Constituent Assembly.” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 38, No. 16, 2003, pp. 1579-1583.
- Basant, Rakesh. “Social, Economic and Educational Conditions of Indian Muslims.” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 42, No. 10, 2007, pp. 828-832.
- Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India. Post Sachar Evaluation Committee Report. P. 75.
- Ibid., p. 91.
- Robinson, Rowena. “Indian Muslims the Varied Dimensions of Marginality.” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 42, No. 10, 2007, pp. 839-843.
About the author: Salman Waheed is from Karnataka state, India. He works as a lecturer of English Literature and Sociology at Al Jamia Mewat Campus. His interests include linguistics, philosophy, and Sufism.