MINORITY CONCERNS

Government not at fault for low Muslim presence in bureaucracy, says activist

Syed Zafar Mahmood explains why his Zakat Foundation of India funds the training of youngsters from his community for the civil services exam.

While women seem to be breaking gender barriers in the Union Public Service Commission exam, Muslims still seem to be struggling. The 2015 results have four women in the top five ranks, but out of 1,236 people who passed the exam this year, only 38, or 3%, are Muslim.

Interestingly, almost half of the Muslim candidates who cleared the test were sponsored by one body, the Delhi-based Zakat Foundation of India. Syed Zafar Mahmood is the founder and president of the Foundation and has earlier served on the Sachar Committee, appointed by the government in 2005 to ascertain the socio-economic condition of Muslims in India.

Scroll.in spoke to Mahmood about the role of his organisation as well as the larger issues of Muslim representation in India’s bureaucracies. 

Tell us about the Zakat Foundation of India and its role in preparing Muslims for the UPSC exam.
I took inspiration from what Sir Syed Ahmad Khan did in 1887 – he started the Mohammedan Civil Services Fund Association to finance the travel of Muslims to London to write the ICS examination. The Zakat Foundation of India was established in 1997. In 2007 we started the unit that dealt with training people for the civil services.

Muslim political representation, according to the population, is also very low because constituencies with a large number of Muslims are reserved for scheduled castes. The Sachar Committee had recommended that this anomaly be referred to the delimitation commission. But the government cannot be blamed for Muslim underrepresentation in the bureaucracy. Sufficient numbers of Muslims are not appearing for the civil services exams – not even 2,000 appeared for the UPSC exam this year. Selfless and organised efforts need to be made by leaders of the community and its well-wishers.

What are some of the backgrounds of the people who have made it using the ZFI?
Muhammed Ali Shihab hails from Kerala. His father died when he was eleven. The poor family made its living from a makeshift paan shop in village Edavannappara, district Malappuram, where Shihab shared a small dilapidated house with a brother and three sisters. His mother had no means to feed the children. She took the children to a Muslim-managed orphanage in Kozhikode district. Shihab completed his higher secondary schooling and secured a teacher’s training certificate.

He wanted to study further but the pressure to make a living meant he had to take up the first available job, which was of a peon in the Kerala Water Authority in 2004. Later, he got promoted to lower divisional clerk in a local body department. Shihab enrolled for a BA in history as a private student even as he applied for other jobs. In 2007, Shihab joined as an upper primary school teacher in Malappuram, where he continued till he took a sabbatical to prepare for the UPSC exam.

He came to know of the civil services coaching conducted by Zakat Foundation of India through a well-wisher. He appeared at the ZFI's orientation-cum-selection procedure conducted in Mallapuram and was selected by ZFI. The rest is history. He is now an additional collector & district magistrate.

How do you collect and manage your funding? How much do you spend on each student on an average? Is the student expected to repay back this cost?
Out of Islam’s five basic pillars, zakat is the third. According to this mandate each Muslim has to annually donate as charity 2.5% of his wealth and annual savings in various forms including fixed deposits, shares, land, properties, jewellery, etc. In addition, there is the sadaqah, an optional means of charity extending to “all that is not needed by the family”.

The Zakat Foundation of India is a registered trust and it undertakes the organised collection and utilisation of zakat, sadaqah and other charitable donations. Annually audited accounts available on the website and statutory returns are regularly submitted.

We established the Sir Syed Coaching & Guidance Centre for Civil Services in 2007. The most capable students are selected annually by the ZFI via a written test and interview.

The ZFI admits these students to Delhi’s best civil services coaching institutes. ZFI pays the high fees of Rs 1.5 to 2 lakh per person to these institutes. Their board and lodging in Delhi is also taken care of by us and students are accommodated in ZFI's civil services hostels in New Delhi.

At the time of inducting ZFI Fellows, candidates need to sign a declaration that the money that ZFI would spend on them will be treated by them as a debt to be repaid either to ZFI or to god as and when they are in a position to do that.

What made you start this initiative?
The Sachar Committee's findings and remedial measures that it suggested were the starting point of our civil services support programme. I apprehended that the government would not implement more than 10% of the Sachar recommendations and that's what happened. Hence, the community had to take its own initiative.

Muslims are severely underrepresented in our bureaucracy. Why?
There are many reasons for this. A shortage of information about the process is one. There is also a lack of inspiration for aspirants, given that there are no community role models and hardly any organised effort on the part of the Muslim community.

What difference do you think having more minority representation will make in governance in general and minority welfare in particular?
It will promote the cause of inclusiveness. Muslims will start to genuinely believe that they belong to the system as much as anybody else.

A number of committees such as the Sachar, Mahmoodur Rahman and Ranganath Misra have recommended reservations for Muslims in government jobs. Do you think this is required? If so, what method of reservation do you think will work?
The Constitution provides more than 15% reservation for scheduled castes in the legislature, executive, judiciary and in educational institutions. But it did not define the term “scheduled caste”, leaving that to the wisdom of the executive. A 1950 government order listed, statewise, all the so-called menial “professions” such as sweeper, cobbler, barber, blacksmith etc. But in paragraph 3 of the covering note it inserted a rider:  “no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu religion shall be deemed to be a member of a scheduled caste”. Later, Sikhism and Budhism were added to this list, along with Hinduism.

The Supreme Court has agreed that this discrimination of the basis of religion is unconstitutional and unjust. Justice Ranganath Misra said that it is a black law. Hence, I feel that either there should be no reservation for anybody or paragraph 3 of the 1950 order should be deleted. In any case, the creamy layer should never be allowed to enjoy the benefits of reservation. Nonetheless, each one of us needs to seriously consider Iqbal's exhortation: Apni duniya aap paida kar agar zindon mein hai. If you are truly full of life, give true meaning to it by creating your own world.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

Modern home design trends that are radically changing living spaces in India

From structure to finishes, modern homes embody lifestyle.

Homes in India are evolving to become works of art as home owners look to express their taste and lifestyle through design. It’s no surprise that global home design platform Houzz saw over a million visitors every month from India, even before their services were locally available. Architects and homeowners are spending enormous time and effort over structural elements as well as interior features, to create beautiful and comfortable living spaces.

Here’s a look at the top trends that are altering and enhancing home spaces in India.

Cantilevers. A cantilever is a rigid structural element like a beam or slab that protrudes horizontally out of the main structure of a building. The cantilevered structure almost seems to float on air. While small balconies of such type have existed for eons, construction technology has now enabled large cantilevers, that can even become large rooms. A cantilever allows for glass facades on multiple sides, bringing in more sunlight and garden views. It works wonderfully to enhance spectacular views especially in hill or seaside homes. The space below the cantilever can be transformed to a semi-covered garden, porch or a sit-out deck. Cantilevers also help conserve ground space, for lawns or backyards, while enabling more built-up area. Cantilevers need to be designed and constructed carefully else the structure could be unstable and lead to floor vibrations.

Butterfly roofs. Roofs don’t need to be flat - in fact roof design can completely alter the size and feel of the space inside. A butterfly roof is a dramatic roof arrangement shaped, as the name suggests, like a butterfly. It is an inverted version of the typical sloping roof - two roof surfaces slope downwards from opposing edges to join around the middle in the shape of a mild V. This creates more height inside the house and allows for high windows which let in more light. On the inside, the sloping ceiling can be covered in wood, aluminium or metal to make it look stylish. The butterfly roof is less common and is sure to add uniqueness to your home. Leading Indian architecture firms, Sameep Padora’s sP+a and Khosla Associates, have used this style to craft some stunning homes and commercial projects. The Butterfly roof was first used by Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect who later designed the city of Chandigarh, in his design of the Maison Errazuriz, a vacation house in Chile in 1930.

Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)
Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)

Skylights. Designing a home to allow natural light in is always preferred. However, spaces, surrounding environment and privacy issues don’t always allow for large enough windows. Skylights are essentially windows in the roof, though they can take a variety of forms. A well-positioned skylight can fill a room with natural light and make a huge difference to small rooms as well as large living areas. However, skylights must be intelligently designed to suit the climate and the room. Skylights facing north, if on a sloping roof, will bring in soft light, while a skylight on a flat roof will bring in sharp glare in the afternoons. In the Indian climate, a skylight will definitely reduce the need for artificial lighting but could also increase the need for air-conditioning during the warm months. Apart from this cleaning a skylight requires some effort. Nevertheless, a skylight is a very stylish addition to a home, and one that has huge practical value.

Staircases. Staircases are no longer just functional. In modern houses, staircases are being designed as aesthetic elements in themselves, sometimes even taking the centre-stage. While the form and material depend significantly on practical considerations, there are several trendy options. Floating staircases are hugely popular in modern, minimalist homes and add lightness to a normally heavy structure. Materials like glass, wood, metal and even coloured acrylic are being used in staircases. Additionally, spaces under staircases are being creatively used for storage or home accents.

Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)
Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)

Exposed Brick Walls. Brickwork is traditionally covered with plaster and painted. However, ‘exposed’ bricks, that is un-plastered masonry, is becoming popular in homes, restaurants and cafes. It adds a rustic and earthy feel. Exposed brick surfaces can be used in home interiors, on select walls or throughout, as well as exteriors. Exposed bricks need to be treated to be moisture proof. They are also prone to gathering dust and mould, making regular cleaning a must.

Cement work. Don’t underestimate cement and concrete when it comes to design potential. Exposed concrete interiors, like exposed brick, are becoming very popular. The design philosophy is ‘Less is more’ - the structure is simplistic and pops of colour are added through furniture and soft furnishings.

Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)
Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)

When building your home, it is important to use strong and durable materials. A value-added premium product with high compressive strength, Birla Gold cement is used to make tough, impermeable concrete that sets quickly, lasts long and minimises cracking. Its durability will ensure that your dream home always looks new and the steel structure inside remains protected. Birla Gold offers variants that are optimised for different needs. The unique hydraulic binding properties of the Birla Gold Premium cement variant prevent seepage, making it resistant to even corrosive water, especially important for houses in coastal cities. The Birla Gold Royal cement variant provides very high strength and is perfect for the foundation. As the video below says, with the different varieties of cement that Birla Gold offers, you can build the home of your dreams.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Birla Gold Premium Cement and not by the Scroll editorial team.