18 Years After the Sachar Report: Lot More Needed on Education of Muslims

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The Sachar Committee’s recommendations spurred educational initiatives within the Muslim community, leading to significant changes despite numerous challenges

Mohammad Alamullah | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — The landscape of the Muslim community in India has undergone considerable changes since the presentation of the Sachar Committee report in 2006. The report, commissioned by the UPA government, laid bare the economic and educational backwardness of Muslims and recommended several measures for their upliftment. While some recommendations were implemented, many remain unaddressed. Despite this, the community has made notable progress, primarily driven by internal efforts to prioritise education and competitive examinations.

One emblematic story of this shift is that of Dr. Fawad Javed from Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh. After completing his Alim degree at Jamiatul-Falah Madrasa, he transitioned from being a maulana to becoming a dentist. Reflecting on his journey, Dr. Fawad said: “After memorising the Qur’an, I did a five-year Alimiyat course from Jamiatul-Falah Madrasa in Azamgarh. My intention was to go into the medical field, but my Alimiyat degree was not sufficient for this path. Fortunately, I learned about an education group in Bidar, Karnataka, which helps students from madrasa background to complete their 10th and 12th grades and prepares them for exams like NEET.”

Dr. Fawad’s transformation from a madrasa student to a dentist underscores the impact of specialised educational institutions that bridge traditional religious education and modern academic requirements. “If I had not gone to the Bidar campus, I would have done something else, but probably not what I have achieved now. We need more such hubs to help madrasa students integrate into mainstream education,” Dr. Fawad said.

The Reach and Influence of Madrasas

Despite the availability of mainstream education, a significant number of Muslim children continue to study in madrasas. According to data from the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs and various state governments, there are approximately 38,000 madrasas in India, with around 28,000 being recognised. However, experts argue that this number does not capture the full extent of madrasas, especially in remote areas.

The primary reasons for this preference include poverty and a desire to impart religious education to the next generation. The “Status of Muslim Education in India” report by Arun C. Mehta highlighted that around 20 lakh students were enrolled in madrasas in the 2022-23 academic year, representing just 2.99% of the Muslim student population. The vast majority of Muslim children attend mainstream schools, indicating a shift towards modern education.

Educational Attainment and Disparities

Despite progress, Muslims still lag behind other minority communities in higher education. The All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE 2020-21) reported that Muslim enrollment in higher education institutions was 4.6%, compared to 35.8% for OBCs, 14.2% for SCs, and 5.8% for STs. The total enrollment of Muslims in higher educational institutions increased from 15.34 lakh in 2014-15 to 21.1 lakh in 2021-22, reflecting a 37.5% increase over seven years. However, this growth was significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In comparison, other minority communities saw a 39.4% increase in enrollment over the same period, from 6.5 lakh to 9.1 lakh. The enrollment of Muslim girls in higher education grew by 46%, from 7.13 lakh to 10.4 lakh, whereas girls from other minority communities saw a 35.4% increase, from 3.5 lakh to 4.73 lakh.

The Legacy of the Sachar Committee Report

The Sachar Committee’s findings in 2006 highlighted the educational and economic disadvantages faced by Muslims. It revealed that the literacy rate among Muslims in 2001 was 59.1%, significantly lower than the national average of 65.1%. The report noted that Muslims were underrepresented in government jobs and faced challenges in accessing bank loans. It also highlighted that one-fourth of Muslim children aged 6 to 14 either did not attend school or dropped out, and only 50% completed middle school, compared to the national average of 62%.

The lack of a comprehensive census since 2011 means that current data on educational attainment among Muslims is incomplete. However, the 2011 census showed that Muslims in southern states like Telangana, Karnataka, and Kerala were more educated than their counterparts in northern states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan.

Addressing Educational Gaps

The AISHE 2020-21 report emphasised the need for increased scholarships, grants, and financial assistance for Muslim students to reduce financial burdens and improve access to higher education. Many Muslim students come from low-income families and struggle to afford higher education, making targeted support crucial for bridging the educational gap.

Syed Zafar Mahmood, a member of the Sachar Committee and founder of the Zakat Foundation, pointed out that while some recommendations were implemented, many remain pending. “It cannot be said that nothing happened,” he remarked. “Some recommendations of the Sachar Committee were implemented during the UPA government, and some things did happen, but many recommendations are still pending.”

Efforts in South India

In South India, several initiatives have been taken aimed at integrating Muslims into mainstream education. Abdul Qadir of the Shaheen Group, which operates in multiple states, emphasised the importance of continued efforts. “The community is now getting educated, but more hard work is still needed,” he said. The Shaheen Group, established in 1989, now has 80 branches across the country and prepares students for engineering, medical, and other professional courses. Their program, Academic ICU, targets dropout children and aims to benefit 10 lakh students by 2047, including both Hindus and Muslims.

Competitive Exams

The representation of Muslims in competitive exams like the UPSC has seen some improvement, but remains low. Fahd Rahmani, CEO of Rahmani-30, stated, “Even after the Sachar Committee report, no special efforts were seen from the government for the upliftment of Muslims. It is the response and effort of the civil society that today efforts are being made to provide good education to Muslim children, although whatever is being done is not enough.”

Social Responsibility and Employment

Haji Kamruddin, Chairman of the Sarvocon Foundation, highlighted the importance of social responsibility within the Muslim community. “There are many in the Muslim community who consider themselves free of social responsibility by paying Zakat on their annual deposits,” he said. “Zakat is an important donation, but we should also spend beyond this.”

Addressing concerns about employment, Aditya Ghildiyal, President of the Noida Industrial Association, remarked: “If someone is technically very strong, has done engineering and MBA, then there is a good scope for him in white collar jobs.” He encouraged Muslim girls to pursue technical courses, noting the growing opportunities in various industries, particularly in Uttar Pradesh.

The Way Forward

The educational and socio-economic upliftment of the Muslim community in India is an ongoing process that requires concerted efforts from both the government and civil society. While significant strides have been made since the Sachar Committee report, much work remains to be done to ensure equal opportunities for all, regardless of religious or economic background. Continued focus on education, targeted support, and inclusive policies are essential to bridge the gaps and promote a more equitable society.

The face of Muslim society in India is changing, driven by a renewed focus on education and competitive examinations. While challenges persist, the progress made over the past 18 years offers hope for a more inclusive and educated future.

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