Recently, The Ranganath Mishra Commission (National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities) Report (RMC) was tabled in Parliament. One of the most talked about issues discussed in the report was that of reservation for minorities. That is neither the majority, nor the substance of the Report, as an op-ed in Indian Express also points out. Before going further, let us look at the main terms of reference the government asked the Commission to consider:
To suggest criteria for identification of socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities.
To recommend measures for welfare of socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities, including reservation in education and government employment.
To suggest the necessary constitutional, legal and administrative modalities required for the implementation of its recommendations.
To give its recommendations on the issues raised in WPs 180/04 and 94/05 filed in the Supreme Court and in certain High Courts relating to para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 in the context of ceiling of 50 percent on reservations as also the modalities of inclusion in the list of Scheduled Castes.
As can be clearly seen, two of the four points explicitly deal with reservation. As has been pointed out in the Express op-ed, if the terms of reference of the RMC themselves contain two issues relate to reservation, can the Report be trashed because it gave its findings based on the questions the government asked it to answer? Let us also look at the other observations of the RMC:
1. The RMC looked at the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act, 2004 which was enacted to constitute a Commission charged with the responsibilities of advising the Central Government or any State Government on any matter on education of minorities. The Commission was to be given the task of deciding disputes a minority educational institution and a University on its affiliation to such University. The RMC recommended that there was a need to amend the Act to make it more streamlined.
2. The Commission observed that provisions relating to untouchability under the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 also applied to non-Hindus.
3. It was also felt that the provisions of the Prevention of Atrocities (SC/ST) Act, 1989 needs to be extended to cover OBCs, Minorities or the socially and economically backwards to protect them from discrimination.
4. Regarding religious composition: (a) Level of urbanization – The 1991 and 2001 data show that Muslims are more urbanised than Hindus and Sikhs; (b) Most urban minority group – Jains are the most urbanised as compared to any other religious minority group; (c) Sex ratio – The sex ratio among Muslims at 936, is slightly above the national average. However, the sex ratio for Hindus has declined from 942 in 1991 to 931 in 2001, Buddhists from 963 to 953 and Jains from 946 to 940; (d) Gap between male and female literacy – Among the six major religions at the national level, the maximum gap between male and female literacy is among Hindus (23 percent) followed by Buddhists (21.4 percent) and Muslims (17.5 percent points); (e) Educational level – Muslims have the lowest proportion of educated persons within the minority (3.6% have completed graduation, even though 65% have completed primary education); (f) Ownership of houses - The ratio of those living in rented houses was highest among Muslims (43.74 percent); Urban poverty – Muslims occupied highest share in Urban Poverty population with 36.92 percent; (g) Percentage of workers to total population - The lowest work participation rate of 31.3 percent at the national level is seen for the Muslims population.
5. Infant and child mortality rates among Muslims are highest in so far as Minorities are concerned but these rank lower than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
6. Language as a basis for determining socio-economic backwardness – The RMC stated that “there is no justification for making language as the basis to determine the socio-economic backwardness of the people, it was felt that in a multi-lingual society like ours, exclusive adherence to a minority language, which may be the mother-tongue of a section of population, does affect the socio-economic and educational development of that linguistic minority specially in the initial years. Therefore, steps for enhancing the skills of the linguistic minorities including learning/teaching of the majority language need to be emphasised.”
7. Regarding reservation – The RMC noted that (1) reservation should be a temporary measure, (2) if an individual has benefitted from the reservation in the matter of employment, it may be worthwhile to consider his next generation for educational benefits only, (3) the entire system of reservation as also of the SC, ST, OBC Lists need to be overhauled. Since, BPL Lists are being prepared on the basis of social/educational and economic criteria, these are more scientific.
8. Reservation on religious basis – “It is claimed and agreed to by almost all sections of the society in India, in various context and especially in respect of the issue of reservations, that no special benefits can be given to any community or group on the basis of religion. At the same time, however it is generally insisted upon that the class of Scheduled Castes must remain religion-based. This seems to be illogical and unreasonable.“
I have not mentioned above, the more discussed observations recommending reservations for religious minorities, but not for linguistic ones. The purpose is to highlight the importance of other findings which have been made by the RMC. It is also worth mentioning here that the Action Taken Report of the Sachar Committee Report on Muslims shows that the government is primarily engaged in raising social and educational standards of the Muslim community, and not discussing reservation.