Religion, Socio-Economic Backwardness & Discrimination: The Case of Indian Muslims

Article excerpt

The Framework

This paper is based on data about Indian Muslims collated from the Rajinder Sachar Committee Report SCR) as well as from the 2001 Census and other recent materials to relate the themes of marginality, human security and discrimination on the basis of religion. There are three crucial dimensions of social exclusion of Muslims: backwardness, margin-alization and discrimi-nation. What also appears troubling is the relationship between ethnic violence and socio-economic achievements. Within this framework, concerns regarding affirmative action also become relevant.

Backwardness

The literacy and educational status of Muslims is particularly low. The literacy rate among them is far below the national average and this gap is greater in urban areas and for women. Never-theless, regional differences do also emerge. In Kerala, for instance, the difference between literacy rates of socio-religious communities is minimal. On the whole, Muslims are doing better in this respect in the southern and in the western regions of the country.

There is a significant disparity between the educational status of Muslims and that of other socio-religious categories (except SCs and STs). Both Mean Years of Schooling (MYS) and attendance levels of Muslims are low in absolute numbers as well as in comparison with other socio-religious groups. Again, there are regional variations. The MYS of Muslims is lowest in states such as West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Uttaranchal. However, Muslim children have more years of schooling than SCs and STs in Kerala, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. Muslim enrolment rates are showing steady increase in recent years. In 1999-2000, Muslims had the lowest enrolment rate among all the socio-religious groups. However, in 2004-05, the Muslim enrolment rate had improved significant-ly. It was still lower than the average, but was now slightly higher than that of the OBCs.

In higher education, the differences between Muslims and others stand out even more sharply. The disparity in graduation attainment levels has been widening between Muslims and all others in both rural and urban areas since the 1970s. In the initial phases of planning, Muslims had a higher Graduate Attainment Rate than SCs and STs. That has now changed and the latter has overtaken the Muslims. Muslim disadvantage must be related to a number of factors including, of course, their economic status and generally low education levels.

But the latter may be in part also due to the lack of employment opportunities. This is partially supported by the data, which shows that the unemployment rate among Muslim graduates is the highest among socio-religious communities, both poor and not poor. It must also be read in light of the fact that Muslims do not see education as necessarily translating into formal employment. They are badly represented in formal employment and there is, moreover, a perception that they will be discriminated against, as Muslims, in securing salaried jobs. Thus, the low perceived returns from education do not help the cause of retention of Muslims in the education system. The other striking supporting data comes from the very high concentration of Muslims in self-employment activities, as revealed in every survey.

The probability of Muslims, SCs and STs completing graduation is lower than in the case of all other socio-religious groups, especially in urban areas and for men. However, the pool of eligible population for higher education is increasing faster among SCs and STs than among Muslims. This must be related partly to affirmative action and the higher perceived returns from education for these groups. In premier colleges, only one out of 25 undergraduate students and one out of 50 postgraduate students is a Muslim. Being a Muslim, reduces the chance of achieving education at the secondary and at higher levels. …