Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) building, New Delhi
Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) building, New Delhi | Manisha Mondal | The Print
Text Size:

Despite being almost 15% of population, Muslims have been underrepresented in the civil services. But Muslim officers insist the system is fair to them.

New Delhi: A few months ago, 24-year-old Tayyab Pathan moved to Delhi from Marathwada in Maharashtra to prepare for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam. A bright mechanical engineer, Pathan got a cushy college placement, but refused it so he could join the country’s coveted civil services.

Despite being almost 15 per cent of India’s population, Muslims have been severely underrepresented in the civil services — last year, only about 5 per cent of successful UPSC candidates were Muslim, and even this was an improvement from previous years.

“Muslims are underrepresented in every field in India… Be it MBBS, engineering, politics, law — the number of Muslims in any field does not match the Muslim population. UPSC is no exception,” Pathan said.


Also read: India needs jobs for all, including its Muslims


“But this is beginning to change. A lot of Muslims are coming forward to take the UPSC exam now, and a lot of them are clearing it too. We now have more role models from within the community.”

Level-playing field

The numbers corroborate Pathan’s claim. For the first time in history, over 50 Muslim candidates cleared the UPSC exam in 2017, and then again in 2018.

In 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, this number was 30, 34, 38 and 36 respectively.

“UPSC is a level-playing field institution. No matter what politicians say these days, UPSC does not discriminate, so it is important that Muslims also come forward and make use of it,” Pathan said.

It is a sentiment that finds resonance among several people from the community at a time when the country’s political discourse has become increasingly polarised along religious lines.

“The UPSC is a fair institution, so at a time when there is talk of Ram Mandir, lynchings, etc., rather than complaining about the erosion of the political discourse in the country, Muslims need to see how they can best stake a claim in power,” said Zafar Sareshwala, former vice-chancellor of the Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.

In an earlier interview to ThePrint, Sareshwala had said: “I tell people from my community, don’t run after parties that don’t give you tickets. Work hard and get selected in competitive exams like the UPSC instead (to have a share in power).”

Who deserves credit?

Across the country, there are several coaching centres that provide free or subsidised coaching exclusively for Muslim candidates, like the Hamdard Study Circle, Aaghaz Foundation, Larkspur House, etc.

Zakat Foundation in the capital, which groomed 26 of the 51 Muslim candidates who cleared the UPSC exam this year, is at the forefront of this endeavour to bring more Muslim voices in Delhi’s corridors of power.

While union minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi was quick to give credit to the Narendra Modi government for more number of Muslims cracking the exam, Zakat Foundation president and former civil servant Dr Syed Zafar Mahmood vehemently disagreed.

“Let’s admit it, we have been able to do this despite this government and not because of it,” Mahmood, a 1977 batch retired IAS officer and member of the Sachar Committee, told ThePrint.

Mahmood had been appointed officer on special duty (OSD) by former prime minister Manmohan Singh.

The Sachar Committee report submitted in 2006 had stressed the need to bring more Muslims into governance, because at the time, just 3 per cent of IAS officers, 1.8 per cent of IFS officers and 4 per cent of IPS officers were Muslim, while their population according to the 2001 Census was 13.4 per cent.

Why increasing representation is important

Mahmood, who like many educated Muslims in India, finds the political discourse in the country increasingly polarised, calls the civil service the “steel frame” which can give a fair chance to Muslims to be a part of the country’s governance structure.

Asked how Muslim representation helps in the community’s empowerment, Mahmood recalled an anecdote.

“In 1985, I was posted in Faizabad for a year. On my last day, a bearded, skull cap-wearing Muslim businessman came to my office to thank me,” he said.

“I had never even met him during my one-year stint, so I was surprised why he wanted to thank me. But when I asked him, he told me, ‘The day you came here, your staff said, ‘Mullah ji, ab aapka kaam ho jaya karega’.

“This is the kind of psychological impact having representation in the bureaucracy has…There is a sense of confidence among members of the community,” said Mahmood.

“The impact is on Hindus too. Even if there is one Muslim listening, just his presence changes the style of notings, for example.”

Dispelling disillusionment

According to data assessed by ThePrint, as of April 2018, no more than 1.33 per cent of officers in the Central government holding the rank of joint secretary and above are Muslims. There was only one Muslim additional secretary rank officer at the Centre, and no secretary rank officer who was Muslim.

“But one cannot say this is because the system has been biased against Muslims…Even Muslims have not taken up civil services as seriously as they should, and this needs to change,” said Mahmood.

“There are two reasons for this. One, there is a general lack of awareness among the community, and two, there is a lack of confidence in the system because there is disillusionment and a sense of discrimination. That is not true, though, because the UPSC is very, very fair.”

The 24-year old aspirant, Pathan, agreed: “There is a difference between politics and administration. Politics is tilted against Muslims, not the administration. And more and more Muslim youth should recognise and understand the difference.”


Also readUPSC notifies lowest number of vacancies in 10 years. Is this the Modi effect at play?


For Shah Faesal, the outspoken IAS officer from Jammu and Kashmir who became the first from the state to top the civil services exam in 2009, it is simply a matter of striving to assert one’s constitutional entitlement and rights.

“Our Constitution promises equal opportunities for all the people of this county. But unless we look out for those opportunities, we won’t get there,” he said.

“Muslims, like any other population group, must themselves ensure they don’t get left out from the governance structures of the country.”

ThePrint is now on Telegram. For the best reports & opinion on politics, governance and more, subscribe to ThePrint on Telegram.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

9 Comments Share Your Views

9 COMMENTS

  1. There is always the talk of Muslim representation which if fact is not a minority community.
    15 % is a big number in a 1.2crore population.
    Other communities that are the real minorities are never mentioned.
    This behaviour is observed in all the so called stastic figures.
    Is there a deal, it looks like. Otherwise, the author has to clarify his stand.

    • Miss b miranda,,,actually the talk of muslim representation is because other minorities always have some sort of quota and reservation…which muslims never had…
      This is good if we are discussing this…we are not saying just hire muslims more…we are saying we need to educate and make them aware so that they can make it to upsc…
      Peace.✌

  2. I think the discussion on this topic is fair enough.But the officers which are in this burocracy are certainly run by state ministers which are in power.For example,the IPS Sanjiv Bhatt from 1988 batch the brave officer and he didn’t bias on religious so in 2002 godhra Modi genocided Muslims by burning a train of karsevak of 59 (by their party to polarize) he used to give Hate speeches against Muslims in 2001 to anger Hindus.These speeches are recorded and Sanjiv Bhatt have these recordings.But for spoking truth he sinned.And the murderer amit shah suspended him.And after that even supreme Court haven’t considered his case even Congress didn’t considered him after 2004 bjp govt.Actually we need brave officers like IPS Sanjiv Bhatt which is Hindu but have courage to tell the truth, By honesty and unbiasedness on any community.We don’t need burocrats run by ruling party and opposition like muktar abbas naqvi have licked ass of modi like zafar sareshwala in 2002 did complain in international court of justice United Kingdom for burning his business after that modi full his pocket he now praises him.. Actually point is right we need Muslims in burocrats&in parliament like Owaisi who can’t change&interfere our Islamic rules but honestly if officer of any community didn’t bias free of political pressure is better for our nation like kejriwal

  3. A correction really in an otherwise fair news report. The Hamdard Study Circle is not meant for Muslims exclusively. In my personal knowledge, they have several non- Muslim aspirants as wel.

  4. The Constitution of India does not guarantee representation to anyone except SC, ST & so-called OBC. The rest have to find a place for themselves after overcoming numerous hurdles such as age restriction, minimum qualifying marks, sky-high fees, harsh checking of their papers, etc.

  5. Sorry to say but few points look communal in nature. No doubt every community should get representation in the system but that’s depends on the that community too. UPSC don’t bias but muslim community because of its large family structure most of the muslim families can’t afford to educate their wards. If they can cut down the size of number of children they have they can give them education easily (there is always an exception).
    P.S. I’m not against Muslims and want them to contribute in nation building. India is their country too.

    • I think you need to go through the census report the you should come forward to comment . Rate of Muslim population is decrease substantially and they are marching forward to be a
      prosperous community

  6. SELECTIVE OUTRAGE: There is no bar on Muslims to appear in any examinations including conducted by the UPSC. About 4000 Muslims appear for civil services test. Out of them, about 40 are selected. It means about one per cent is the selection rate while on the other hand, the total number of applicants is more than 10 lakh (One Million). Out of them, about 1000 are successful. It means the overall selection is one out of 1000. Among the Muslims, it is four out of 100. This bare fact is not highlighted.
    Prof. Naseem A. Zaidi of Economics Department in the Aligarh Muslim University writes in the Economic & Political Weekly (January 18, 2014) that “ The demand for community-based reservation by the Muslim leadership seems to be a wild-goose chase in view of the constitutional and legal hurdles. For the Muslim political leadership, this demand is a catchy slogan yielding rich dividends. In the field of education, the main thrust of the policy adopted by most of the Muslim NGOs is on quantity rather than on quality. Educational institutions run by Muslim NGOs have mushroomed in urban areas but the quality of education, inculcation of a competitive spirit or career planning, etc. are rarely on their agenda. Muslims make up 3.46 per cent of the country’s 8,417 IAS and IPS officers. Of 292 Muslim officers, 160 are among 5,862 who had cracked the UPSC exams, while the remaining 132 are among 2,555 who were promoted to the IAS or IPS from the state civil services on the basis of seniority and performance.
    Muslims represented 13.43 per cent of the population in the 2011 census. By that yardstick, the country has one IAS or IPS officer among every 5.73 lakh Muslims, compared to one among every 1.08 lakh non-Muslims.
    Two states, interestingly, account for more than half the Muslim officers who cleared UPSC. Uttar Pradesh has over 34 per cent of them and Bihar nearly 22 per cent, a total of 90 Muslim officers. Uttar Pradesh leads the Muslim officers’ count with 55, followed by Bihar with 35, Kerala with 16 and Jammu and Kashmir with 15. Another trend is that the first two states account for the bulk of the senior Muslim IAS officers come from the northern states of the country while J&K and Kerala have been sending more and more Muslim officers since 2000.
    “The northern belt was the cultural and educational belt of the Muslim community before Independence. The community in these parts has historically been more conscious about making an entry into the services, which explains the high number of Muslims from those states joining the civil services,” says Dr Abdus Shaban, deputy director at Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here