//Missing Muslims

Missing Muslims

Editorial, Business Standard / New Delhi October 31, 2006

It’s difficult not to conclude that India is guilty of keeping Muslims out of the mainstream, based on the initial reports of the Sachar Committee, which have surfaced in the press over the past week. Add to this, anecdotal evidence of Muslims not being able to get houses on rent from Hindu landlords or to join housing societies in places like Mumbai, and the sense of widespread prejudicial treatment is confirmed. If the Muslim youth don’t get jobs, some of them will turn to crime, and as the Sachar findings show, the one place Muslims bat higher than their population average is in the prisoner population. The issue is whether individual prejudice has crept into state policy, and if so what corrective action the state needs to take. Also relevant is the role of the Muslim community’s leadership.
The Sachar Committee, it must be pointed out, captures the headlines and in that process, probably misses some of the trees for the wood. What is relevant, for instance, is not just the number or proportion of government or public sector jobs that Muslims hold, but also how many Muslims are eligible for such jobs. If a larger than normal proportion of Muslim women is proscribed from working by religious leaders, this would lower the level of inclusion in the workforce. Similarly, if Muslims as a rule are less educated than non-Muslims, a smaller proportion will be in the job market for certain kinds of jobs.
The National Sample Survey data for 1999-2000 show that while Muslims comprised 12.2 per cent of the population in that year, they comprised just 7.2 per cent of the country’s high school-pass population, and only 6.5 per cent of those enrolled in college. The Scheduled Castes and Tribes, in contrast, comprised 28.3 per cent of the total population, 14.8 per cent of the high-school-pass population and 15.9 per cent of those enrolled in college. That is, for those enrolled in colleges, Muslims fared even worse than SC/STs, who are traditionally considered the worst off in the system. It is possible, for instance, that if the community perceives a negative employment bias, it will choose to de-emphasise education and ask youngsters to go into business-related or self-employment activities. It is also obvious that education levels are closely related to family income levels, in the same way that family size is also related to income levels, and the data here need to be matched across categories for accurate conclusions to be drawn. Any solution to the problem of bringing Muslims into the economic mainstream must start with getting Muslim children into school and colleges. Surely, the community leadership has an important role to play here, as does the state, which must make a special effort in the interest of national cohesion and integration.
The other point that comes out clearly from the Sachar report is that the states where political leaders have championed the Muslim cause aggressively, like Uttar Pradesh, fare poorly when it comes to providing Muslims jobs in government and in the public sector—ironically, Gujarat fares better on this score. In other words, “minority politics” benefits politicians more than it does the community. On the other hand, the BJP charge that the minorities have been pandered to stands exposed, because the Muslims have been shown to be among the worst off in all socio-economic categories. Neither minority tokenism nor majoritarianism will provide the solutions to a serious problem that should not be ignored.