India’s rising problem: Muslim population too poor

Economy of India would suffer if it doesn't assist its Muslim minority

India: The 14% will be a drag to economy if no measure is taken

India’s Muslims have the lowest living standard in the country on a per capita basis, according to the recent government survey. “The average monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) of a Sikh household was 1,659 Rupees, Hindus and Christians 1,125 Rupees and 1,543 Rupees respectively, while Muslim household only at 980 Rupees,” said a study by the government’s National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) titled “Employment and Unemployment Situation Among Major Religious Groups in India.”

The Times of India explained that average household MPCE serves as a proxy for income and the living standards of an Indian family. The findings also suggested that urban Indians (MPCE of 1773 Rupees) were almost twice as wealthy as their rural counterparts (901 Rupees), but even in India’s vast rural hinterlands, Muslims again ranked at the bottom, while Sikhs likewise had the most disposable income.

The same hierarchy was similarly seen in urban regions – with Sikhs at the top, and Muslims at bottom. On the whole, the average MPCE for all Indians amounted to 1,128 Rupees. The most probable reason is that even though Sikhs account for only less than 2% of India’s population, many of them traditionally place a lot of emphasis on education regardless of gender, even if it dries out the family’s finance. The higher the education for boys and girls the better it is for the family.

On the opposite, the survey found Muslims are less likely to attain higher levels of education in India than their Sikh and Hindu counterparts. For instance, in the state of West Bengal in Northeastern India, where Muslim made up 25% of the population, the NSSO study revealed that urban Muslim boys and girls have the highest drop-out rates in the state.

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The gap is widest at higher education levels, for every 1,000 Hindu males, 30 go on to complete post-graduation, while the figure for Hindu females is 32. But for every 1,000 Muslim boys, only 10 enter post-graduation; and for Muslim girls the figure is a mere 2.

The overall data reflects the social classes and traditions of Bengal society. Times of India noted that in this conservative province, Muslims tend to form the bulk of casual laborers in urban Bengal, while Hindus tend to form the core of the salaried class. In rural Bengal, too, Muslims tend to form most of the agricultural and other laborers. In addition, in rural Bengal, more Hindus are self-employed in agriculture, while more Muslims are landless laborers.

India has around 177 million Muslims, comprising 14.4% of the total population, forming the biggest religious minority. They have the highest fertility rate, but the problem comes when few Muslim women work outside the home, causing a drag in the economy. The 2006 Sachar report, a study ordered by Prime minister Manmohan Singh, revealed that the average socio-economic status of Indian Muslim is worse than Dalits, the lowest of Indian caste class.

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Aijaz Ilmi, chairman of the Executive Board of Siyasat Jadid, says India cannot shine if 177 million of its Muslims remain poor. “What Muslims today require is, definitely, a sympathetic government and a sensitive bureaucracy, but they also need effective community leaders and social activists, and not just politicians, to make sure that government schemes – and there are so many of them, some of them specifically for minorities – reach the grassroots and their intended beneficiaries.”

India is eyeing affirmative action for Muslims, but it is a politically fractious issue in the Hindu-majority country. Many opponents, including right-wing Hindu groups, have long argued that affirmative action policies based on religion violate India’s Constitution and run counter to the country’s secular identity. Minority quotas, they said, should be strictly reserved for groups that have suffered centuries of caste-based discrimination.

Some Hindus said policies favoring Muslims were unnecessary and would dilute the already scarce opportunities for lower-caste Hindus. “Without reservation, we would not have progressed very much because of discrimination,” said Boharan Lal, a Dalit, adding: “I do not believe that Muslims are more backward. They are actually doing better.”

Failure to close the socio-economic disparities gap would bring more riots, or even terrorist attacks in India

In its 2013-14 budget, the Indian government allocated Rs3.5 trillion (US$58.2 billion) for uplifting impoverished Muslims. But some Muslim leaders feel this is not enough. Sultan Ahmed, a member of parliament, thinks the government should announce a comprehensive economic rescue package for Muslims. “It should be a multi-pronged move involving affirmative action in jobs and protection of Muslim-owned businesses through reservation of a small portion of government contracts,” Ahmed said.

“Whatever progress was being achieved by Muslim women in the last two decades is now threatened by the economic downturn,” former Muslim MP Najma Heptullah told Khabar. “The government must seriously consider reserving jobs for Muslim women.” Already, tension between Hindu and Muslim in India is on the rise, with the former complaining that the government is providing too much allocation for the Muslims at their expense.

The economic fate of Indian Muslims resemble that of neighboring Pakistan. Around 50 years ago, in 1960, per capita income in Pakistan was 3 times that of India. Today, India is 25% richer than Pakistan. The World Bank, in a report with the University of British Columbia, wrote that it is essential for India to uplift its Muslim population. Just 1% increase in economic growth rate decreases the possibilities of Muslim radicalization and terrorist incidents by over 5%, it said.

Pakistan, once 3 times richer than India, is now 25% poorer
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Source: IB Times/The Hindu

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