It's a national tragedy that policymakers needed a 2006 report to realise that Muslims in India are still backward. The bigger tragedy is the UPA government hasn't really done anything to genuinely address the findings of the Sachar Committee.
We don't need another report to confirm this. Yet it's tempting to quote the findings of the "Social Development Report 2012: Minorities at the Margins" by the Council for Social Development (CSD). More than its contents, what makes it so revealing are the people who have prepared it.
Coming from Zoya Hasan, Mushirul Hasan, Tanweer Fazal, Javed Alam Khan and Abusaleh Sharif, the report exposes UPA's agenda of ensuring that Muslims remain backward enough to play into its vote bank politics.
The game-plan is to keep the community subjugated and at the same time present a Muslim-friendly face. The gambit is played through the crucial sphere of education. As pointed out in the report, it has focussed programmes intended to improve school education among Muslims on modernization of madarsas. This is vote-bank politics at its worst.
For one, very few Muslim children go to madarsas. The report puts it at 4 percent. This is because the parents of 96 percent of Muslim children know madarasa education can do nothing to ensure the future of their children.
The real empowerment will happen only when the government creates opportunities for every Muslim child to join the formal and mainstream education. The need of the hour is quality formal and vocational education with a fair dose of religious and moral syllabus. Despite UPA-aided modernization, madarsas deliver just the reverse. Their style tends to keep the students insulated from the mainstream.
With the hardline Tablighi ideology dominating the madarasa scene in India, the students get neither spiritual training powerful enough to trigger inner transformation nor worldly skills. In short, madrasas churn out misfits. My heart bleeds when I see alumni of madrasas, including those of prestigious Deoband and Nadwa, working as rickshaw pullers or labourers despite seven-eight years of theological education.
Even in higher education, the government has played the same cunning game by focussing on providing assistance and setting up exclusive institutions for minorities rather than opening up the overall education network to include Muslims. This is a dangerous ploy to keep Muslims in their own islands.
Places of higher learning are the only place where one mingles and grows with people from other communities. But with exclusive religion-based institutions, Muslim youths will never get a chance to get integrated with the rest of society. When they live in isolation, they will be moulded in one particular mindset and there will be no open mindedness. This will close all avenues for mutual appreciation of the country's diversity.
This strategy of isolation is also behind the UPA going slow on more progressive empowerment ideas of the Sachar Committee such as extending banking and credit facilities or scholarships for Muslim students.
The time to rebel this isolation beckons. Election 2014 presents the best opportunity for Indian Muslims to call the bluff of the UPA and make political parties pay for their narrow designs.
But it is also politically the most difficult time for Indian Muslims. With recent events exposing the designs the self-proclaimed 'godfathers' of the community, the choices before Muslims are limited. And with the BJP deciding to peg its political fortunes on somebody whom the community considers its worst enemy, its hands are tied even tighter.
Difficult times call for difficult decisions. Sometimes it might be better to befriend the devil rather than sinking further in the deep sea. The community needs a leadership which has the vision for its genuine empowerment. This can come from a dispensation which has no compulsion for Muslim appeasement.
From that perspective, Narendra Modi may not be so bad a proposition for the community.
We have seen how so-called pro-Muslim parties failed to protect their interests when it mattered the most. Or how P.V. Narashimha Rao failed to prevent the Babri Masjid demolition and the later communal riots. Or how Mulayam Singh Yadav did nothing to save them in Muzafarnagar. We also have seen how so-called anti-Muslim NDA was forced to moderate its stance.
The point is that the Indian Muslim can survive without political protection. So the time has come to free the community from the shackles of political subjugation and strive for genuine empowerment. Muslims have to force a change in the language of the empowerment discourse.
The real empowerment will come when the 165 million-strong community is able to integrate seamlessly with the mainstream. When the victim consciousness is elevated, when the population is educated to feel one among equals. Will Muslims heed the call of time and take charge of their destiny rather than looking for false political protection?
(M Rajaque Rahman is a social activist. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)