A decade after it was tabled, one crucial part of the report is continually ignored
The Sachar Committee Report on the Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community of India commonly known as the Sachar Report created a stir when it was tabled ten years ago, in 2006. It argued, with the aid of extensive evidence, that Indian Muslims had the least access to education, employment, health care, among other measures of well-being, when compared with any other religious community in the country.The claim that political parties like the Congress, among others, had appeased the Muslim communities stood refuted.

In the ensuing heated discussions, a crucial part of the Sachar Report (SR) went ignored: its acknowledgement that understanding, trust and goodwill between religious communities were indispensable for its policy measures to work. Before presenting its findings on how the Muslim communities had fared in the areas of education, health, employment, political participation, income status, among others, the SR pointed out that three different kinds of issues faced Indian Muslims. First, identity related issues, which pertain to the stigmatization of Indian Muslims in various areas of public life.Second, security related issues, which pertain to the vulnerability of Muslims with respect to life and property.Third, equity related issues, which pertain to the low share of Muslims in the benefits of economic development.

Although the three issues of identity, security and equity were integrally linked, the SR clarified that it was mandated to study only the equity-related issues. Yet, the need for overcoming prejudice in inter-community relations surfaces again and again in it.

Its policy measures can succeed, the SR notes towards the end, only “when the importance of Muslims as an intrinsic part of the diverse Indian social mosaic is squarely recognized.“ Finding measures to foster such an inter-com munity understanding is outside the mandate of the Sachar Report.

Created in 2007 at the behest of the Sachar Committee, the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) and the Diversity Commission (DC), submitted their Reports in 2008. (These Reports made policy recommendations for all minority religions, castes and tribes and women, and just Indian Muslims).

The EOC Report affirms, at the very start, that law alone cannot be expected to bring about equality of status and of opportunity since “entrenched attitudes and conventional mindsets“ constituted a major barrier.

The Sachar, EOC and DC Reports appear aware that the dominant communities might not feel empathetic towards the vulnerable ones. In a moving show of hope, the SR concludes with optimism: “It is . . . expected that the Report would invoke a positive response from Civil Society, which will ensure that the policy measures introduced by the State in pursuance of these recommendations receive full support and active cooperation from all sections of the society, including the Muslim community.“

While necessary for framing policy, statistical data on how and inequality exists can only go so far in making a case for why the government should aid the vulnerable communities. In other words, evidence based advocacy for shaping public opinion against discrimination and inequality can succeed only if caste, religious and any other form of social inequality appears wrong in the first place. The three reports discussed above, as I tried to argue, are aware of this fact; but secular protocols do not mandate them into recommending measures in that regard. Advocating measures of interreligious understanding would involve getting into the world of religious traditions, a move that secular government will not allow for.

The EOC Report observes that different egalitarian traditions existed in pre-independent India. These traditions, “placed different emphases on the various spheres of equality, advo cated different strategies for achieving equality and indeed differed in how much weight they accorded to the idea of equality in their vision of future India.“ These traditions cannot have ended with the beginning of India’s Independence! In short, the Reports discussed above foreground the fundamental importance of inter-community understanding for its policies to work but without being able to engage that realm in their work.

Rich reflections on virtues of great ethical importance like compassion, kindness, non-violence, charitableness, friendship, simplicity and generosity, whose idiom can cut across official religious boundaries, exist in local traditions. The government cannot, and perhaps, ought not to, draw from local normative traditions to offer ethical justifications for its social welfare initiatives. But what is to stop the others from exploring those worlds in their work of building a democratic society? Author teaches at Azim Premji university