Education, Citizenship and Democracy

The media in India has raised two significant issues in the budget 2023-24. One that the Ministry of Education has been allocated the highest ever budget of Rs 1128994.7 million in the fiscal year 2023-24. The Department of School Education is expected to get Rs 68,8040 million out of the total budget for education, and the Department of Higher Education around Rs 44,0940 million. Second, the budgetary allocation for the Minority Affairs Ministry is reduced by over 38 per cent to Rs 30976 million for 2023-24. In the fiscal year 2022-23, the budget allocated to the Minority Affairs Ministry was Rs 50205 million. However, the revised estimate is Rs 26126.6 million. The increase in the overall education budget signifies a step in the right direction. Still, the reduced budget for Minority Affairs Ministry has brought back to the centre the concerns about the possible exclusion of minorities and their discrimination in India.

Commentators such as Preethi Nair (2023) have noted that due to the ‘drastic’ cut in budgetary allocation of the Minority Affairs Ministry and the discontinuation of scholarships, minorities will be pushed to the margins. Observers have highlighted the recommendation of the Sachar Committee Report (2006) and Ranganath Misra Commission (2007), where it has been argued that some kind of affirmative action is required to empower minorities in India. The reduction in the minority budget is antithetical to such qualified recommendations. The government has scored on the overall budget but overlooked the welfare of the minorities. One unignorable oversight of the recent budget is its lack of attention to the minorities and marginalised section of the society. In a recent interview with Outlook, Jean Dreze, a noted economist, has remarked that “We are dealing with a system that tends to be loaded against scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, minorities, and other marginalized groups.”

In the 19th century, Mountstuart Elphinstone, the British administrator, put it on record that special measures were required to uplift the backward sections of the Muslim community. The studies conducted by British administration led to the passage of a government Act in 1935 offering Dalit Muslims reservation facilities along with Dalit Hindus

The social, economic, and political issues of Indian Muslims have been a matter of debate for several decades. From the early 19th century to the 21st century, few governments have initiated studies on the community and evolved administrative measures accordingly. In the 19th century, Mountstuart Elphinstone, the British administrator, put it on record that special measures were required to uplift the backward sections of the Muslim community. The studies conducted by British administration led to the passage of a government Act in 1935 offering Dalit Muslims reservation facilities along with Dalit Hindus (Ramakrishnan V, 2006). Since the colonial times the condition of Muslims in India has been a matter of debate, but little has been done to improve it.

After more than three decades of India’s independence, the Government of India constituted a High-Power Panel under the Chairmanship of Dr. Gopal Singh to examine the condition of minorities, Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) and other weaker sections. Dr. Gopal Singh Committee (1983) maintained that there was a “sense of discrimination prevailing among the minorities” and that it “must be eliminated, root and branch, if we want the minorities to form an effective part of the mainstream.”

After more than three decades of India’s independence, the Government of India constituted a High-Power Panel under the Chairmanship of Dr. Gopal Singh to examine the condition of minorities, Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) and other weaker sections. Dr. Gopal Singh Committee (1983) maintained that there was a “sense of discrimination prevailing among the minorities” and that it “must be eliminated, root and branch, if we want the minorities to form an effective part of the mainstream.” However, the condition of the minorities has not changed much since independence. The speed at which their welfare is paid attention poses serious issues about the nation-building project.

The Sachar Committee Report (2006) continued the historical concern about the Muslims in India. This seven-member High Level Committee headed by the Justice Rajinder Sachar studied the social, economic and educational condition of Muslims in India. The committee’s findings revealed that Muslims, the largest religious minority in India, lagged the most in almost all parameters of socio-economic development, especially education. It is the first systematic study of the Muslim community in independent India.

The Ranganath Misra Commission (2007), also known as the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, was constituted by the Government of India to investigate various issues related to Linguistic and Religious minorities in India. Former Chief Justice of India Justice Ranganath Misra chaired it. Like the Sachar Committee report, the commission also noted that the Muslims in India are less represented in the government sector in proportion to their population. It also recommended 10 percent reservation for Muslims and five percent for other minorities in various government jobs.

Apart from the above three prominent reports on the minorities, the Report of the Expert Group on Diversity Index (2008), Census (2011), India Exclusion Report (2013-14) and Post-Sachar Evaluation Committee Report (2014) also suggested that Indian Muslims are a socio-economically backward community. Authors and scholars like Rakesh Basant, Abusaleh Shariff, T.K. Oommen, Abdur Rahman, Rowena Robinson, D. Bandyopadhyay have contributed to an understanding of socio-economic backwardness, particularly education, of Muslims in India. From 1983 to 2023, not much has changed. Special measures are required to ameliorate the condition of the Muslims, and governments have also introduced new welfare schemes, but the outcome is utterly poor. Muslims are backward because of lack of access to education. The Sachar Committee has also noted that the fundamental cause of the socio-economic backwardness of Indian Muslims is the lack of access to the educational facilities, particularly higher education.

According to 2014-15 All India Survey on Higher Education, Muslims comprise 14 percent of India’s population but account for 4.4 percent of students enrolled in higher education. The transformation which is required in the domain of education in India is still happening at a very slow pace. On an educational level, 42.7 percent of Muslims in India are still illiterate. This is the highest illiteracy rate for any single religious community in the country, while the illiteracy rate for the entire population is 36.9 percent (Census, 2011).

Jandhyala B G Tilak (2003) has rightly argued that the higher education is an important investment in human capital development. It can be regarded as a high level or a specialised form of human capital, contribution of which to economic growth is very significant. It is rightly regarded as the “engine of development in the new world economy” (Castells, 1994, p.14). According to 2014-15 All India Survey on Higher Education, Muslims comprise 14 percent of India’s population but account for 4.4 percent of students enrolled in higher education. The transformation which is required in the domain of education in India is still happening at a very slow pace. On an educational level, 42.7 percent of Muslims in India are still illiterate. This is the highest illiteracy rate for any single religious community in the country, while the illiteracy rate for the entire population is 36.9 percent (Census, 2011). Muslims are backward because they lack access to the educational facilities. The Sachar Committee Report has also highlighted that because of the lack of access to education the Muslim community lag far behind in the socio-economic categories like economy, employment, housing, landholding, access to financial institutions.

UNESCO has said that ‘education is a human right for all.’ It is fundamental for achieving full human potential, developing an equitable and just society, and promoting national development’. The Government of India, in this light, has adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) in its National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. SDG4 focuses on education and aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

Education is not an end but a means to an end. Hence, its fulfilment does not empower a community only but strengthens nation-building through empowerment and inclusion. Education serves a nation at atleast three levels. One, it creates skillful and educated workforces, which plays a prominent role in developing the nation’s economy. It helps in the cultivation of a sense of belongingness; hence citizens feel connected to the larger exercise of nation building. Second, education makes the citizens more aware of their rights and duties. It enables a meaningful realisation of citizenship. An educated citizen is far better than an ignorant one.  And third, the informed citizenry creates an empowered political community which ultimately leads to active and meaningful deliberations in a democracy.

India is going through transformation in the field of education in the sense that NEP 2020 has been rolled out recently. The thrust towards creating a digital infrastructure has also gained pace. However, due to socio-economic backwardness of Muslims in India, the digital divide has only exacerbated their marginalisation. The gap in their educational status has only increased.

India is going through transformation in the field of education in the sense that NEP 2020 has been rolled out recently. The thrust towards creating a digital infrastructure has also gained pace. However, due to socio-economic backwardness of Muslims in India, the digital divide has only exacerbated their marginalisation. The gap in their educational status has only increased. In this light, it has become urgent to investigate the education status amongst Muslims in India to understand the nature of the problem through empirical evidence. The Centre for Development Policy and Practice (2022) recently published a report on the development of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh which maintained that the Muslim community in the state lags far behind other communities when it comes to socio-religious categories such as “education, economy, employment, housing, landholding, access to credit and other development indicators.” The report also noted that the 71.2 percent of Muslims above 15 years are illiterate, compared to the 58.3 percent national average. “Moreover, only 16.8 per cent of Muslims have education above the middle level and only 4.4 per cent of Muslims have a university degree.” According to the report, a larger proportion of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh is engaged in less regular and low-income occupations than the rest of India. The poverty ratio is also higher for Muslims than all social groups in the state.

The Centre for the Studies of Plural Societies (CSPS) has recently undertaken a similar research investigation to empirically study the status of Muslim education in the state of Uttar Pradesh because it has sizeable Muslim population of 38.5 million (Census, 2011). The ongoing study specifically focuses on the enrolment of Muslims in higher education institution and will assess the quality and productivity of the higher educational institutions.

There is still a lack of data or studies on the quality of learning of Muslim education in India. The Centre for the Studies of Plural Societies (CSPS) has recently undertaken a similar research investigation to empirically study the status of Muslim education in the state of Uttar Pradesh because it has sizeable Muslim population of 38.5 million (Census, 2011). The ongoing study specifically focuses on the enrolment of Muslims in higher education institution and will assess the quality and productivity of the higher educational institutions. It will also include study of schools where Muslim students are in the majority and the schools managed by the Muslims. Furthermore, it will observe Muslims enrolment in the professional education courses (medical and engineering) after intermediate.

Education improves the capabilities of individuals and the capacity of institutions, and becomes a catalyst for the closely interrelated economic, social, cultural, and demographic changes that become defined as national development (Adams, 2002). Education creates an informed society, crucial for cultivating a sense of belongingness in the larger political community called nation. It enables meaningful and active participation of citizens in nation building. A qualified realisation of the potential of citizenship is activated by education because it plays a vital role in shaping an individual and the nation. In this context, a meaningful realisation of citizenship cannot be expected from the Muslim community in India unless due attention is paid to their education. Their marginalisation will only result in their further alienation and defeat the larger project of nation building and national development and progress.

 

References:

Singh, G. (1983). Gopal Singh Committee, Government of India, New Delhi.

Don Adams (2002): Education and National Development: Priorities, Policies, and Planning, Education in Developing Asia Vol. 1.

Bandyopadhyay, D. (2002). “Madrasa Education and the Condition of Indian Muslims” in. Economic and Political Weekly 37(16), pp.1481-1484.

Tilak, J.B.G. (2003). Higher Education and Development. In, et al. International Handbook of Educational Research in the Asia-Pacific Region. Springer International Handbooks of Education, Vol. 11. Springer.

Sachar, R. (2006). Sachar Committee Report. Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi.

Ramakrishnan, V. (2006). “Community on the Margins.” Frontline.

https://frontline.thehindu.com/cover-story/article30211868.ece

Misra, R. (2007). Ranganath Misra Commission, Government of India, New Delhi.

Basant, R. (2007). Social, Economic and Educational Conditions of Indian Muslims. Economic and Political Weekly 42(10), pp. 828-832.

Basant, R & Shariff, A. (2010). “Handbook of Muslims in India: Empirical and Policy Perspectives, Oxford University Press.

Census of India (2011)

Basant, R. (2012). “Education and Employment among Muslims in India: An Analysis of Patterns and Trends,” IIMA Working Papers WP2012-09-03, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, Research and Publication Department.

Centre for Development Policy and Practice (2022). Development of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh – Policy implications.

Shikha, S. (2023, February 10). “Decoding Union Budget 2023: An Anti-Bahujan Budget In The Amrit Kaal?” Outlook.

https://www.outlookindia.com/national/decoding-union-budget-2023-an-anti-bahujan-budget-in-the-amrit-kaal–news-260974

Nair, P. (2023, February 13). “With cut in funds, minorities will be pushed to sidelines”. The New Indian Express. https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2023/feb/13/with-cut-in-funds-minorities-will-be-pushed-to-sidelines-2546995.html

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. “Education transforms lives”. Retrieved from https://www.unesco.org/en/education#:~:text=Education%20transforms%20lives%20and%20is,cover%20all%20aspects%20of%20education

Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4). Retrieved from

https://www.sdg4education2030.org/the-goal

Almas Ahmad is Research Assistant at CSPS.

 

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