The Sachar report: A flawed number game
By Nitish Sengupta
The Asian Age, 133 Nov 2008
The Sachar Committee Report, an often-quoted 404-page document, is disappointing, both in its method of analysis and in the way it has collected and presented some dubious statistics. A fundamental fact that has been ignored is that almost 95 per cent of elite Muslims in India, who largely depended on jobs, went over to Pakistan after Partition. Those who stayed back in India were, by and large, the rural community, the self-employed and the service providers. A great majority of them, under the influence of powerful mullahs, kept away from modern education and, in consequence, modern jobs and professions. Thus, the figures for Muslim percentage in government jobs practically started from a zero base. This point should have been mentioned in the report’s overall analysis. Its omission is a serious statistical error.
Then again, the Committee conveniently ignored the fact that the social and economic position of a community does not necessarily depend on the jobs that its members hold in the government or the organised sector. If that had been the case, I am afraid the position of Parsees, to take one example, would be extremely backward. The Sachar Committee’s Report completely ignored that there is a much larger number of self-employed people, tradesmen and service providers among the Muslims who do not seek government jobs.
Another area where it has gone completely wrong is in creating an impression that India’s entire educational and economic system has gone out of its way to exclude Muslims. Whereas, in actual fact, we have all gone out of our way to give placement to them wherever they merit selection. There are indeed, some very serious errors, on the statistical front.
Prof A.R. Hashim has pointed out that in looking at the position of Hindus in general, the Sachar Committee first excluded the Scheduled Castes and Dalits from the general Hindu community and then compared them with the Muslim community. The Committee also pointed out that the position of the Scheduled Castes and Dalits is little or no different from that of the Muslim community. To exclude such a big chunk from the Hindu community and thereafter compare the residual Hindu community with the Muslims is a serious oversight.
Another Muslim scholar, Prof Imtiaz Hussain, also trashed the report on the ground that it ignored the status of Muslims in terms of jobs held in all the South Indian states and others like Gujarat and West Bengal. He pointed out that in all the southern states the Muslims are much better off than what the Sachar Report has made them to be. He questioned the statistics presented by the Sachar Committee in relation to the Census data which shows that the Muslims are better off in several states.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, chief minister of West Bengal, has pointed out that the report ignores the Muslim peasantry who benefited from the state’s land reforms programme. Insofar as the organised private sector is concerned, one point which has escaped the Committee’s attention is that many of our business organisations are still dominated by the caste system. Consequently, a company dominated by banias generally looks out for banias. In that process too Muslims and minorities suffer as much as people belonging to other Hindu castes. This need not necessarily be an anti-Muslim bias.
Clearly, Justice Sachar simply chose to ignore available evidence to make out that the Muslim community is not doing any better than the other communities. He should have taken into account examples like Azim Premji, chairman of Wipro, the richest corporate Indian, Habil Khorakiwala of Wockhardt, the Cipla group, or for that matter, people like Habib Rahman, chairman ITC Hotels, Israt Hussain, a top associate of Ratan Tata, and many others. He should also have objectively made a community-wise analysis of the employees of such successful enterprises as Azim Premji’s Wipro. Is merit their main criterion for recruitment? Does this amount to discrimination and anti-Muslim bias? Or do successful Muslim industrialists reserve jobs for fellow Muslims irrespective of their merit?
I also wish the Sachar Committee had taken into account the brass manufacturers and traders of Moradabad, the glass workers of Ferozabad, the textile operators of Bhiwandi, the carpet makers of Kashmir and the Zari workers of Varanasi. Sadly, these people do not find any mention in the Sachar Report which chose to concentrate only on certain levels of government jobs and worked out the position of Muslims only on that account.
That is not all. The Committee has not taken into account the overwhelming eminent position occupied by Muslims in Bollywood, including the fact that almost 50 per cent of top actors and actresses are Muslims, if not more. Does that smack of discrimination?
It remains a mystery as to why the government did not think it appropriate to assign this work to the National Minorities Commission or even to its own department of minority affairs and, instead, chose to appoint a separate committee. Equally mysterious is the fact that without choosing to discuss this matter in the country’s sovereign Parliament or allowing an informal debate, the government has announced that it has accepted all the recommendations of the Sachar Committee.
Neither the government nor the Indian nation at large deserves the accusation by the Sachar Committee that they have been anti-Muslim all along. Indian Muslims occupy a pride of place in our democracy, and Gujarat (2002) and Babri Masjid (1992) are exceptions, not the rule.
Taken all together, one has to come to the sad conclusion that the Committee has erred both in its analysis and its conclusions. Mr Justice Rajinder Sachar has been a very respected friend for many years. But I am afraid, in this report he has side stepped from the position of a judge and taken on the rule of a lawyer who was assigned a certain brief and went on to collect evidence which suited that brief.
Dr Nitish Sengupta, an academic and an author, is a former Member of Parliament and a former secretary to the Government of India