Monday, November 29, 1999

The unknown Muslim

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Ever since the publication of the Sachar report, there has been considerable discussions about the socio-economic conditions of Indian Muslims. The fact remains that the Sachar report is not a tell-all document and there is still scope to further investigate various dimensions of Muslim situation. The editors of this book are two prominent scholars who are connected with the Sachar Report (2006). The collection of essays hopes to shed light on many aspects of Muslim life otherwise unexplored, and close reading of some of these essays does suggest one of the most convincing ways to articulate Muslim issues is to empirically examine them. The book also has a very succinct introduction by Justice Rajinder Sachar.The chapter by Irfan Habib deals with the idea of Indo- Islamic thought and the issues of Islamic co-existence. Satish Sabrewal focuses on the idea of how the emergence of Muslims in India historically occurred, and what are the challenges involved in the understanding of this complex process of making of the Muslim identity.The changes in the global political economy, according to the author, is going to shape Muslim attitudes that is seen to be resistant to modernity, and western forms of knowledge.Another contribution has been on the socio-economic status of Indian Muslims. In an attempt to offer a comparative perspective, PM Kulkarni has given a very interesting portrait of changing character of Indian Muslims. He argues that Muslims have made rapid progress in school attainment during the last century, but in relative terms—there is a large difference to the degree to which Muslim men and women have improved their school attainment relative to the upper caste Hindus. It also argues that Muslim women have significantly narrowed the gap in their completed schooling relative to the upper-caste Hindu women. Despite the narrowing of the gap-Muslim women and Muslim men—of the most recent birth (individuals born after 1970) lag significantly behind upper-caste Hindu females (or males) in their school attainment.Another contribution is on the role of what is called a spiritual capital and philanthropic activities among Muslims, which is increasingly playing a big part in the making of the change in the political economy of our society. Considering that the community is so large and global, there has been concern about the role of the community in the uplift of its own people. What is standing as a major roadblock is the absence of the institutional intermediaries among the Muslims in India. What is, indeed, intriguing is that many development NGOs and other organisations also bypass the Muslim community.One of the policy options widely debated in India in recent months has been to address the sustained backwardness of Muslims and the possibility of extending affirmative action policies to them. The contribution of affirmative action policy to bring about changes in the lives of dalits in India has been cited as a positive example. Thus, the paper on the subject of the relevance of positive discrimination on the marginalised communities argues that positive discrimination could be able to bring about changes in the state of the economy, but it also has significant costs. One argument is that that poorer performance by the individuals in key positions and heightened tensions between ethnic communities are some of the negative sides of the public policy driven by affirmative action policy. A major contribution to the post-Sachar debate on Indian Muslims.—The author teaches at Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi

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