After India 's independence in 1947 most Muslims decided to stay on in the country despite large-scale killing and violence. In the heat of what are known as the Partition riots, not to migrate to Pakistan was a conscious yet difficult decision for most individuals and families. Those who remained in India boldly faced the onslaught of communal violence or the threat of it. It was not that communalism was absent among the Muslims of the country. In fact, it survived, with both Hindu and Muslim communalism feeding on each other. Yet, by and large, Muslims chose to ally with secular forces. However, despite this, discrimination, social stagnation and educational marginalisation cumulatively resulted in growing economic backwardness of the Muslims in large parts of the country. The share of Muslims in government services dropped drastically.
In the name of helping Muslims, many ‘secular' parties have repeatedly compromised with the most reactionary elements of the community at the same time as right-wrong Hindu groups have wrongly accused Muslims of being ‘appeased' by these parties. In reality the ordinary Muslim was left to his fate and the few development schemes devised for uplifting the community were never made effectual. Economic and educational deprivation reduced the community's ability to seek relief from government development schemes. This was made more difficult by the fact that a large section of the north Indian middle class had migrated to Pakistan in the wake of the Partition, leaving behind millions of Muslims rudderless and leaderless. A large section of these were of ‘low' caste background, who, despite their conversion to Islam over the centuries, had not witnessed any noticeable economic change, remaining tied down to their traditional, ‘low' status occupations. Discrimination in various walks of life and police repression and often active collaboration and instigation by state authorities during communal riots further demoralised Muslims, caused loss of confidence in secular forces and resulted in withdrawal symptoms and a siege mentality. Ironically, when Hindu right-wing forces managed to grab political power they found communal elements among Muslims as their natural allies and willingly portrayed them as the representatives of Muslim community, further reinforcing deeply-rooted negative stereotypes.
The increasing communal polarisation and broadening of the Hindutva fascist ideological base is being intensely felt by the Muslim community in the country. Many Muslims are conscious of the fact that, in addition to Hindutva groups, many of their own political leaders, instead of healing the rifts between the communities, are adding fuel to the fire. On the basis of their experience of pre- and post-Partition riots, after independence Muslims, by and large, rejected efforts to build a religion-based national political party. Presently, unable to find a workable solution to the problem of communal polarisation, a feeling of helplessness is seeping in among ordinary Muslims. In the absence of an adequate political leadership, religious leaders, were allowed to come to the fore. A number of regional political parties in the recent past have used Muslim religious leaders to assert the claim that they are champions of their cause. The trend is dangerous, and instead of economic, social or educational development of the community it could cause further religious polarisation, leading to further social and economic marginalisation of the community. Religious leaders are not known to have taken an active interest in the social, economic and educational progress of the community. Because of the growing influence of Hindutva forces, of both the ‘soft' and ‘hard' variety, many Muslims feel their identity is under threat. This naturally reinforces the influence of the conservative religious leadership that seeks to frame the community's agenda in largely religious terms, minimising the importance of issues related to socio-economic empowerment of the community. This explains, in part, why many Muslim religious and political leaders do not give social, economic and educational issues of the Muslims the attention that they so sorely deserve, focussing, instead, on religious and identity-related issues instead, often in response to anti-Muslim propaganda and mobilisation by right-wing Hindu forces. The widely-shared perception among Muslims that their identity is being undermined has been further reinforced by the dominant forms of official nationalism in India that are framed in largely Brahminical Hindu terms, giving little space to alternate, including Muslim, identities.
The purpose of the above discussion is not to suggest that Muslims as a community constitute a homogenous group. The community is as fragmented as any other religious formation is on economic, social, linguistic, ethnic, regional and caste lines. Indeed, the notion of a monolithic pan-Indian Muslim community is as misleading as that of a similarly constructed pan-Indian Hindu community. Both notions are, in effect, elite constructs that completely gloss over internal differences and contradictions. Despite this, however, it is possible to make some broad generalisations for Muslims, or the various Muslim communities, in India as a whole. Various studies conducted during the past a few decade amply show that Muslims have been increasingly socially and economically marginalised on the whole, although there has, admittedly, been some progress in some small pockets. This limited progress, has, however, been largely independent of state efforts. For its part, the state appears to have deliberately or otherwise played a somewhat indifferent, and, in some states, clearly hostile, attitude to Muslim social, economic and educational advancement. This is suggested, for instance, by the fact that Muslim percentage in regular employment, in both the public as well as the private sector, has considerably dropped over the decades since 1947. Today, the situation is being made more serious as a result of the impact of ‘globalisation' and neo-liberal economic policies that have hit marginalised groups such as peasants, landless labourers and artisans, a large proportion of whom are Muslims, the worst. Some writers have claimed that the socio-economic backwardness of Muslims has surpassed the backwardness of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities, and, on this basis, are today demanding reservations in government services and educational institutions for them as well as proportionate or balanced allocation of resources on the part of the state for Muslim economic development. According to official estimates, Muslims account for roughly 14% of the Indian population. Obviously, the economic and educational marginalisation of such a large section of Indian society should be a matter of concern for all.
The fact of overall Muslim marginalisation since 1947 is well-known, and has been highlighted by numerous studies and even by various commissions set up by different governments. Often, these commissions were simply political gimmicks. They submitted their reports and made various recommendations to the government to address the marginalisation of the Muslims. Yet, the government took little or no heed to these suggestions, using the commissions simply as vote-grabbing gimmicks in order to give the impression of being serious about Muslim ‘backwardness', but, in fact, doing precious little about it.
In March 2005, the Prime Minister of India appointed a High Level Committee headed by Retired Justice Rajinder Sachar to prepare a report on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslims of India. Given the fact that similar commissions in the past were not able to make any significant difference to government policies vis-à-vis the Muslims of the country, it is important not to exaggerate the importance of the present one. Yet, it is also crucial to engage with the government on the vital issue of Muslim marginalisation and it is hoped that the report being prepared by the Committee will, if nothing else, sensitise some policy-makers to the urgent need to address Muslim concerns.
Terms of Reference of the Sachar Committee
The Sachar Committee headed has been given the task of examining the following questions:
1. In which states, regions, districts, and blocks of the country do Muslims mostly live?
2. What is the geographical pattern of their economic activity, i.e. what do they mostly do for a living in various states, regions and districts?
3. What are their asset base and income levels relative to other groups across various states and regions?
4. b. What is the level of their socio-economic development in terms of relevant indicators such as literacy rate, Dropout rate, Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR), Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) etc?
b. How does this compare with other communities in various states?
5. a. What is the Muslims' relative share in public and private sector employment?
b. Does it vary across states?
c. What is the pattern of such variations?
d. Is the share in employment in proportion to their population in various states?
e. If not, what are the hurdles?
6. a. What is the proportion of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) from the Muslim Community in the total OBC population in various States?
b. Are the Muslim OBCs listed in the comprehensive list of OBCs prepared by the National and State Backward Classes Commissions and adopted by the Central and State Governments for reservations for various purposes?
c. What is the share of Muslim OBCs in the total public sector employment for OBCs in the various states in various years?
7. a. Does the Muslim Community have access to
i. Education Services
ii. Health Services
iii. Municipal Infrastructure
iv. Bank Credit
v. Other services provided by Government / Public Sector Entities?
b. How does this compare with access enjoyed by other communities in various states?
c. What is the level of social infrastructure located in areas of Muslim concentration in comparison to the general level of such infrastructure available in various states?
ii. Health Centres
iii. Anganwadi Centres
iv. Other Facilities
As can be seen from the above, the terms of reference of the Committee are, in some respects, rather narrowly defined. Many of the questions that the Committee has been asked to answer relate to data that the government already has in its possession, and, hence, in a sense, are superfluous. The Committee has not been charged with the responsibility of making any suggestions for the amelioration of the living conditions of the Muslims, and even if it does make such suggestions, the Government is not bound to act on them. There is no mention of the specific problems of Muslim women or of the Dalit Muslims, who are clubbed together with Backward Caste Muslims as Other Backward Classes. The terms of reference ignore the deleterious impact of the ‘liberalised' economic policies of the Government on Muslim OBC artisanal communities, who account for a large section of the Muslim community. Instead, the focus is on Muslim OBC representation in government services at a time when such jobs are rapidly contracting owing precisely to the Government's economic policies. The question of communal bias and discrimination in Muslim recruitment to government services or in allocation of resources for development is also not addressed directly. All this naturally limits the scope and overall usefulness of the Committee. This said, however, the value of the Committee cannot be underestimated, and if nothing else one expects that it will be able to come up with important data about the actual living conditions of the country's Muslims.
Background and Methodology of the Present Study
In order to assist the Sachar Committee by providing it additional empirical and qualitative information, ActionAid ( India ), in collaboration with the Jahangirabad Media Institute and the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi , decided to conduct a study to examine the social, economic and educational conditions of Muslims. Given the time-frame it was not possible to administer a study that would cover all the states and union territories of the country. Hence, it was decided that a survey based on a small, but somewhat representative sample would be conducted in seven states where Muslims live in substantial numbers. The study was also conceived of as a means to mobilise and encourage the general public, civil society activists and organisations working on issues related to the Muslim community, to become more sensitised to the dismal economic, educational and social conditions of the Muslim masses. This is a desperately needed corrective in the light of the fact that many NGOs have been indifferent to Muslim issues, while the few others that have engaged with Muslims have mostly done so simply from the point of view of countering communalism.
The following states were chosen for the survey:
4. Madhya Pradesh
6. Andhra Pradesh
7. Uttar Pradesh
It was agreed upon that from each of the seven identified states, one big city, one town and three villages would be selected for administering the survey. The state team leaders were given the responsibility of identifying the city, town and villages for the survey.
The following instructions were to be strictly followed during the collection of data:
1. One big city in each state was selected on the basis of sizable Muslim population. At least 350 households from the city had to be covered through scheduled interviews. 20 non-Muslims were also to be interviewed from the same area for comparative purposes.
2. In every selected town representatives of 200 Muslim families and 20 non-Muslim families were to be interviewed.
Focus Group Discussions: How Muslims Perceive Their Own Problems
To supplement the data generated through secondary sources and questionnaires for the purposes of this study, state research team leaders were asked to organize focus group discussions with selected members of local Muslim communities where the survey was held. This was intended to bring out qualitative information that cannot be fully reflected through questionnaires and are not adequately dealt with in the available secondary literature. These discussions brought out a number of common issues, indicating common trends across states.
In focus group discussions conducted with Muslim men and women, including social activists, as well as in individual conversations and interviews, one point was repeatedly stressed: that government institutions are, by and large, indifferent, if not hostile, to Muslims. This was attributed to anti-Muslim communal prejudice and to the growing influence of Hindutva propaganda against Muslims. Another reason, one provided by some Muslims of ‘low' caste background, was caste prejudice. Comparisons were drawn between Hindu and Muslim localities to stress the point that the latter are much more deprived than the former in terms of government expenditure on various developmental schemes. It was pointed out that basic infrastructural facilities, such as proper roads, sewage systems, banks, dispensaries, health facilities, schools, etc. were largely conspicuous by their absence in most Muslim localities. Respondents claimed that while they, like others, are also tax-payers, they are consistently ignored by government departments. Even in Muslim majority-areas, it was pointed out, there are hardly any Muslim employees in government departments, even in junior posts such as drivers, cleaners and clerks, for which higher educational qualifications are not required.
To add to this, some stressed, the neo-liberal economic policies being followed by successive governments in the last two decades or so had hit Muslim artisan communities, such as potters, weavers, craftsmen, etc., particularly badly. They had resulted in further economic marginalization of these communities. Linked to this, the cutting down of subsidies and the privitisation of education had made quality education even more difficult for these communities to access. Yet, the government had done little to address the situation. Further, many respondents argued, in areas where Muslims have witnessed some degree of upward economic mobility, often anti-Muslim riots are engineered by Hindu chauvinist groups in league with agencies of the state, resulting in tragic loss, on a massive scale, of Muslim lives and property. Hence, the government, they argued, is, to a large extent, responsible for the marginalization of Muslims.
A discussion held in Patna with bidi workers in Bihar , including the President, Vice-President and Secretary of the Bihar State Bidi Labourers' Federation, highlights some of these points. It was stated that according to government figures there are some 200,000 bidi workers in Bihar , of whom roughly 70% are Muslims. These are the official numbers, but it was argued that the total number of bidi workers in the state is not less than 700,000. These workers get daily wages well below the statutory minimum, which is less than even the amount that defines the poverty line. Even after working all day long they are barely able to meet the needs of their families. Yet, the apathy of the government is such that the minimum wages have not been revised for years. The workers are routinely exploited by government commissioning agents, middle-men and factory owners. They have no fixed working hours, social security and welfare benefits and, instead of working in industrial premises, they are asked to work in the house by factory owners in order to escape labour laws. They have no representation in the policy-making wing of the Bidi Workers' Union . Cases cannot be filed against the owners of bidi industries for breaking laws. Women workers are paid considerably less than men. Their families live in conditions of pathetic poverty. Few can afford to send their children to school. More than 75% of the labourers are said to suffer from tuberculosis.
Similar views were voiced in a discussion held with Muslim weavers in Bhagalpur in Bihar, including with the Chief Secretary of the Handloom Weavers' and Suppliers' Association and the Chief Secretary of Bhagalpur Weavers' Electricity Consumers' Union. It was said that till the end of the 1980s there were around 20 thousand power loom units and around 40 thousand handloom units in Bhagalpur district, mostly owned by Muslims, particularly from the Ansari caste. However, government apathy and the mismanagement crippled this industry. The government promised to provide uninterrupted electricity to the weavers, but, instead of doing this, the Electricity Board charged the weavers for the electricity which it failed to give them. The ‘Yarn Bank' promised by the government also did not materialize, and, gradually, the supply of yarn was transferred into the hands of Marwari Banias. Weavers are mostly dependent upon middlemen, particularly Marwaris, for yarn. The Marwaris provide them with yarn but with the condition that the products should be sold only to them at rates fixed by them. Once Muslims dominated this business but now it is completely under the control of the Marwari community. Today, the weavers' earnings are barely enough to meet their families' requirements. In addition, the subsidy given by the government in the name of the ‘Janata Sari' and ‘Janata Dhoti' programme has been withdrawn and the cooperative societies have become victims of corruption and irregularities. For the development of the silk industry, the government established a silk institute in Barari for training weavers in weaving, designing, colouring, printing, etc.. Today this institute is closed. Likewise, government sericulture training centres were established in several other places but now they are completely dysfunctional.
The discussants pointed out that anti-Muslim riots of 1989 in Bhagalpur had a devastating impact on the district's handloom industry and today there are no more than 10-12 thousand power looms left. Weavers who lost everything in the riots were not rehabilitated or given any compensation from the government. Today these weavers have migrated to other states of the country in search of petty employment. One fall out of the violence has been that Muslim weavers have been facing mounting discrimination. Banks located in Muslim localities were closed down. Discrimination against Muslims in providing is now a major complaint. Muslim weavers complain that for taking loans banks conduct rigorous investigations, often maliciously, as a result of which they fail to receive loans or else have to pay hefty sums as bribes, making it difficult to repay them. Even to get loans from the Prime Minister Employment Scheme Muslim weavers face considerable discrimination.
A similar picture of Muslim marginalisation emerges from discussions held with Muslim respondents in Madhya Pradesh. Rahatgarh is a Muslim-dominated village in Sagar district in Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh. The village is home to numerous communities, including Hindus, Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis. Most of the inhabitants of the village are bidi workers, landless labourers and a few shopkeepers. The village has 15 wards, out of which 5 wards are dominated by Muslims. The overall appearance of the Muslim localities, as compared to the rest of the village, is very poor and depressing. The Muslim wards are characterised by unplanned houses and huts, and are without any proper roads, sewage system, water supply and electricity. Most of the Muslims live in stone houses or huts which are very congested. Very few of their houses have sanitation facilities. Due to non-availability of proper drinking water facilities, most families depend on wells and drink dirty water. Most people appear frail and weak due to malnutrition and lack of proper health facilities. On an average life span of villagers is very short. Tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases are very common.
Ninety percent of the Muslims in the village belong to the Qureshi or butcher community, and the rest are Pathans. Relations between different castes and communities in the village are quite harmonious. Nevertheless, on the issue of buying and selling of domestic animals like cow and bullocks, Muslims have been unfairly targeted by right-wing Hindu groups. Villagers complained of police high handedness in this regard. Non-Muslims of the village often refer to the Muslim localities as Mini Pakistan. During festivals, Hindu right-wing activists sometimes deliberately lead their religious processions through the Muslim localities so as to create tension, although there have as yet been no incidents of communal violence.
Most denizens of Rahatgarh are very poor, and this is particularly true for the Muslims living in the village. Because of their low levels of education, there is no Muslim in the village who is employed as a government servant. Most of them are landless casual daily wage earners, engaged particularly in the bidi-rolling trade. Everyone in the family, including small children and the aged, contributes to supplement the meagre family income by making bidis. On an average income from this comes to between 15 to 20 rupees after working six or seven hours a day. The bidi-contractors and small businessmen are Hindus while the workers are mainly Muslims.
Seehara Freeganj, another village where a focus group discussion was held with respondents, is located in the Vidisa district in Madhya Pradesh. The state highway divides the village into two: Seehora and Freeganj. Seehora is dominated by Muslims while Freeganj is mainly inhabited by various non-Muslim castes. Freeganj locality looks comparatively better and has more government infrastructural facilities than Seehora, whose inhabitants are almost entirely very poor, with a very high level of illiteracy. However, in recent years Muslim enrolment in the local government school is said to have considerably increased, although drop-out rates, particularly of girls, remain high.
Unemployment is a major challenge for the inhabitants of the village. In the agricultural sector, respondents say, labourers get employment for only 3-4 months in a year, and for the rest of the year many of them have to migrate outside to do manual work. In Seehora Freeganj, the main occupation is making brooms. Workers are heavily over-exploited: they sell brooms to middlemen for the pitiable price of one rupee a piece, with the brooms being sold in towns for eight times that amount. Consequently, the average daily earning of a broom-maker is around 15 rupees only. In this remote village there is one carpet factory which employs a sizeable number of local labourers. Interestingly, the owner is from Amritsar , Punjab , and all the raw materials are also brought from there. Carpets produced in the village exported to other countries, and the owner reaps a good profit from the exploitation of the cheap local labour. After working for nine or ten hours a day, a labourer is paid a paltry Rs 60 by the owner of the factory.
Out of the 20 panchayat members in the village, 13 are Muslims. The panchayat does not seem to have taken any significant measures for the welfare and development of the village. The sarpanch is presently living at Bhopal and so the villagers complain that they could not see or meet her after she was elected. Many Muslim villagers, despite their abject poverty, lack Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards. It appears that such cards are issued by the panchayat arbitrarily. Some people who are not poor are also said to have received the cards through their political connections. Seehora lacks a government health centre, and so for medical treatment its inhabitants are forced to bear the heavy expense of travelling to the neighbouring town. Several inhabitants suffer from ailments such as asthma, tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases, as a result of the dust that is created when making brooms and weaving carpets.
Goharganj is situated in Raisen District in Madhya Pradesh. 40 per cent of the inhabitants of the village are Muslims, and their relations with the Hindus of the village are fairly harmonious. 11 out of 20 members of the village panchayat are Muslims. Although the village is not far from Bhopal , the state capital, it lacks proper infrastructural facilities. The entire village is not properly electrified. There is a health centre in the village but there are no doctors and nurses. There is no tapped water facility in the village, as a result of which women have to walk for up to two kilometres to fetch water.
In recent years, respondents say, several Muslim girls have started going to the local government school. However, since there is no separate girls' high school, many girls, Muslims as well as others, drop out of education altogether as their parents are not willing to send them to co-educational schools after a certain age. Many Muslim boys also drop out of school because their families' poverty forces them to start earning at a young age. To add to this is the Hinduisation of the government school system, which is seen as culturally alienating by some. Further, due to their poverty, Muslim parents are not able to afford the high cost of private tuitions for their children, as a result of which their performance in school is poor.
Unemployment is a major problem for most of the village's inhabitants, particularly Muslims. More than 90% of the village's Muslims are landless. As a result, many Muslims are employed as agricultural labourers and or as drivers of tempos, most of whose owners are Hindus. Some Muslims complain that Hindu industrialists in the neighbouring town are unwilling to employ them due to ‘political reasons'.
For this survey, focus group discussions were also conducted in four localities in Bhopal , the capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh, with a fairly sizeable Muslim population: Arif Nagar, Nawab Colony, JP Nagar and Jhinshi Chowrah. The first three colonies are located near the Union Carbide Factory, and were devastated in the gas leak which caused the deaths of thousands of people. Most of the people in these localities complain of some form of illness or the other as a result of the gas leak. They are, by and large, desperately poor and live in temporary shacks or jhuggis in slums. They complain of routine discrimination from the state authorities and say that they have not been adequately compensated for the tragic loss that they had to suffer as a result of the gas leak. Many local Muslims complain of discrimination in getting loans from banks, to add to which they have to pay bank officials hefty bribes. They also talk of growing insecurity because of the anti-Muslim campaign of Hindu terrorist groups, which is leading to a process of ghettoisation.
Rajasthan has a Muslim population of some 9%. Some districts of the state, such as Alwar, Bharatpur, Tonk, Jaisalmer, Barmer and Jodhpur , have a sizeable Muslim population, but elsewhere in Rajasthan Muslims live as scattered minorities. Although almost one in every ten people in Rajasthan are Muslims, their levels of representation in most sectors of public life are relatively low.
In a focus group discussion held in Jaipur, one respondent provided the following information that illustrates the pathetic conditions of Muslims in the state in terms of employment in various government departments:
Representation of Muslims in Different Government Departments in Rajasthan
1. Indian Police Service- 1.26%
2. Rajasthan Public Service- 2.88%
3. Police Inspector - 4.42%
4. Sub-Inspector- 3.71%
5. Assistant Sub-Inspector- 5.06%
6. Head Constable- 4.68%
7. Constable- 3.55%
The low levels of representation of Muslims in government services in Rajasthan have several causes, the respondents say. One of these is discrimination on the part of government departments and agencies. Compared to Hindu localities, Muslim localities throughout most of Rajasthan are characterized by very low levels of government infrastructural investment.
Chatpura Basti, in ward no 58 of Kota town, is a typical Muslim locality. The total population of the Basti is approximately 12,000. In this locality there is only one government school but it is only to the primary level. Besides this, the locality also has one Madrasa. The condition of the government school is pathetic. There are not enough teachers and there is complete absence of state provision for the students in terms books, sitting space and cleanliness. The school rests on a mound of rubble. Apart from this, the attitude of the teachers towards the students in general and Muslim students in particular is not very encouraging or conducive. Instead of encouraging more students to come to school, they create hindrances for them. There is no separate provision for the girls to go to study, which acts as to further inhibit Muslim and other parents to educate their girl children. Although there are few girls enrolled in the school, they are reluctant to study further as the middle and secondary schools are located very far from the locality.
As far as the representation of the Muslims in the government services is concerned, it is a pity that there is not a single government employee from the Basti. Not only this, even though the Basti is Muslim dominated the community does not have any representation in the municipality. This lack of representation could be blamed on the government for not doing enough for the community. It is also a reflection of lack of awareness and political awakening in the community itself. Government schemes tend to bypass this Basti, and, in fact, most people in the locality are not aware of any such schemes. There is no sincere effort from the government to educate the residents of the Basti about any welfare scheme meant for them. Even such schemes as widow pension, old age pension, work for food programme, BPL cards etc. hardly benefit the denizens of the locality at all. Those fortunate few who are aware of these schemes are unable to benefit from them because the formalities associated with them are too complicated and because, apparently, it is not possible for them to complete these due to lack of any help from the officials.
Shahpura Chandaliya, a Muslim majority locality in Kaithoon town was another place where a focus group discussion was organized. There is no government or private school in the locality apart from one Islamic madrasa. Not a single home in the locality has toilet facilities. Most of the residents here are not aware of various government schemes.. Old age pension, widow pension etc. are available only after running from pillar to post and bribing officials responsible for the allotment. The 15 point programme has done no good to the residents of this locality. Not single resident from Shahpura Chandaliya has benefited from the reservation meant for the Backward Castes. The government health facility available in the area is also of not much help. Most of the time doctors are not available at the centre and there is no provision for free distribution of medicines.
Another fact that came to light during discussion was that, although there is representation of almost all the religious groups in the panchayat, the number of Muslims is negligible. The community graveyard has become a cause for communal tension. Although the Muslims of the locality are ready to accept the judgment of the court, the graveyard has become a bone of contention between Hindus and Muslims. Local Muslims complain that in the government schools their children are forced to recite the Saraswati Vandana in the school assembly. When eating their mid-day meal at the school all the children have to recite verses from the Hindu scriptures and Muslim children are compelled to recite these verses, too, and this is something that most Muslims understandably resent.
In focus group discussions conducted in the states selected for this survey, a salient point that emerged was that most respondents felt that Muslims, as a whole, are economically far behind Hindus, particularly ‘upper' caste Hindus. In the light of this, they offered various suggestions, such as greater state allocation in various development schemes in Muslim areas and separate reservation for Muslims as a whole or for Backward Caste Muslims in various government services and in educational institutions. They also repeatedly stressed the point that Muslim economic and educational development hinges crucially on the communal situation in the country. Hindutva fascist forces, they argued, could not tolerate Muslims developing economically and educationally. They claimed that Hindutva groups wanted to convert Muslims into the ‘new untouchables', by engineering periodic pogroms directed against them, ignoring them in government development projects and branding all demands that the state address the economic plight of the Muslims as ‘communalism'. In fact, some of them argued, Muslims, who, before 1947, had a fairly sizeable presence in government services, now lag considerably behind Dalits in this sphere.
Some ‘low' caste Muslim respondents pointed out that while their castes had been included in the official list of Other Backward Castes (OBCs), they had not benefited from this provision. Government facilities for the OBCs, they said, had been cornered almost entirely by more numerous and influential Hindu OBCs. Some of these respondents argued that the Presidential Order of 1950 extending Scheduled Caste status only to ‘Hindu' Dalits (later extended to Sikh and Buddhist Dalits as well) was unconstitutional and anti-secular. This had resulted in the further marginalization of Muslim Dalits, who are not eligible to apply for various schemes of the state meant specifically for the Scheduled Castes. Consequently, they said, the economic and educational conditions of Muslims of Dalit origin were considerably worse than their non-Muslim counterparts. Hence, they insisted, the Presidential Order of 1950 needs to be amended and Dalit Muslims must also be treated by the state as Scheduled Castes.
Several Muslim respondents, most noticeably in Uttar Pradesh, also lamented what they referred to as the government's consistent discriminatory policies vis-à-vis the Urdu language. This, they argued, was also an important reason for their economic and educational backwardness. It was the fundamental right of all communities, they said, to receive instruction in their own mother tongue, but through various anti-Urdu policies, the government had, they claimed, subverted this right for Muslims, many of who consider Urdu as their mother tongue. They described the government's policy towards Urdu as a sign of anti-Muslim prejudice, and pointed out that it was misleading to consider Urdu as a specifically ‘Muslim' language. In Uttar Pradesh, once considered the bastion of Urdu, they pointed out, there were few or no facilities for children from Urdu-speaking families to educate their children in Urdu-medium schools beyond the primary level. Instead, children were forced to learn Hindi and Sanskrit. By thus effectively marginalizing Urdu and by de-linking Urdu from employment opportunities the state had, they insisted, only further exacerbated the problem of Muslim educational marginalization. To add to this, they pointed out, government-approved textbooks often contain negative portrayals of Islam and Muslims and are heavily laced with stories from Hindu religious texts. The sort of nationalism that is sought to be inculcated in the students through textbooks and school activities, such as compulsory prayers etc., are also heavily Hinduised. Many respondents were critical of this, and expressed the suspicion that this was part of a carefully calculated effort to ‘de-Islamise' Muslim children, to ‘Hinduise' them as well as to promote anti-Muslim feelings among non-Muslim students. Because of this, they said, some Muslim parents were reluctant to send their children to school to study.
Some women as well as men were critical of conservative religious leaders, alleging that they had wrongly confused patriarchy with Islam. Due to strict purdah, it was difficult, they said, for many Muslim women to acquire education, as a result of which they remained ‘ignorant'. To promote Muslim women's education they stressed the need for the state and the community to devote more attention and resources to setting up separate girls' schools and colleges.
In many villages where interviews and focus group discussions were held with Muslims, it was reported that relations between Hindus and Muslims are fairly cordial. In several villages, traditional bonds are still intact and Muslims and Hindus attend each others' functions. Yet, several other villages covered in this survey, and, particularly towns and cities, present a different picture. Respondents in these areas spoke of the presence and growing influence of Hindu right-wing groups, particularly through shakhas and schools run by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, visiting pracharaks of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, and leaders of some political parties. They pointed out that there have, on the whole, been few organized initiatives to combat these forces, and many expressed the fear that if they continued unchecked Muslims might face a similar situation as their co-religionists in Gujarat during the state-sponsored anti-Muslim genocide of 2002. This called, they argued, for urgent steps to address the phenomenon of growing Hindutva fascism. Some respondents, particularly some ‘low' caste Muslims, pointed to the practice of untouchability that they are subjected to by ‘upper' caste Hindus. Others admitted the fact that, like many ‘upper' caste Hindus, they, too, practice forms of untouchability vis-à-vis non-Muslim Dalits.
In several places, respondents pointed out that although violent communal incidents had not taken place in their own localities, many Hindus and Muslims had negative images of each other. These notions have been they said, reinforced by the media and politicians as well as communal groups. They stressed the need for steps to be taken both by the state as well as civil society organizations to promote inter-community dialogue. Some respondents also expressed the view that the ulama were, in part, to blame for not playing an active role in promoting better relations between Muslims and others and by reinforcing negative stereotypes about other communities. Many respondents were of the view that Hindtuva forces were inimical not just to the Muslims but also the Dalits, and argued for the need for a broad alliance between Muslims and Dalits.
While critiquing the government as well as Hindu chauvinist organizations and blaming them for many of their problems, many respondents were also critical of the existing Muslim community leadership. Several respondents argued that the ulama of the madrasas were serving the community by promoting religious awareness and preserving Islamic identity and the tradition of Islamic learning. The madrasas , they said, were also playing an important social role by providing free education and boarding and lodging facilities to many Muslim children from poor families, victims of governmental neglect. Yet, they pointed out, the ulama needed to widen their horizons, play a more active role in the economic, social and educational development of the community and refrain from promoting sectarian strife. Some respondents critiqued the ulama for not being able to offer what they called a ‘proper' interpretation of Islam attuned to the context of contemporary India, because of which, they said, Muslims and Islam had got a ‘bad name'. They also stressed that the distinction that many ulama make between ‘religious' and ‘worldly' knowledge is ‘un-Islamic' and said that this had contributed to the further educational backwardness of the community.
Similarly, many respondents were critical of Muslim political leaders for not raising their vital economic, social and educational problems. They accused them of being in league with Hindutva chauvinists and the state machinery in promoting communal controversies, resulting in the perpetuation of the poverty of the majority of the Muslims. Most Muslim political leaders, they said, were simply ‘agents' of various political parties who used Muslims as ‘vote banks' but did little, other than adopting some cosmetic measures, for the Muslim masses. They suggested the need for an alternative Muslim leadership that focuses on the social, economic and educational problems of the community and abstains from unnecessary communal controversy. They stressed the need for community leaders to liaison between state agencies and the community so that the public could access information regarding various government development schemes. They also called for Muslims to set up more non-government agencies for community development as well as for the community to interact more closely with secular NGOs.
Findings of the Study
Muslims in Urban India
For the purpose of this study, respondents were selected from urban centres in six states of the country: Bihar , Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat , Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. A total of 3044 respondents were chosen and information was elicited from there through questionnaires (see appendix 1 for the format of the questionnaire). Of these respondents 20.5% were from Bihar , 14.1% from Uttar Pradesh, 19% from Rajasthan, 18.3% from Gujarat , 11.9% Madhya Pradesh and 16.3% from Andhra Pradesh. Of the urban centres selected, 46.6% were Muslim-majority, 8.1% had roughly equal Muslim and non-Muslim population and 39.9% had a clear Muslim minority.
Respondents: Personal Details
In order to make a comparative analysis, both Muslim and non-Muslim residents living in the same localities were chosen. Of these respondents, 87% were Muslims and 8.4% non-Muslims. 14.2% of the respondents had been residing in the same locality for between 1 to 10 years, 13.5% for between 11 and 20 years and 65.3% for more than 20 years. Around 45% of the respondents were between the age of 20 and 35, 36.5% were between 36 and 50, and the rest were between 51 and 66 years of age. 55.8% of the respondents were males and 44.2% females. 48% of the respondents reported themselves as belonging to a caste that comes under the Other Backward Caste category. It is possible that, in fact, the figures are actually higher both because some respondents were not aware of what precisely that term meant as well as because some of them sought to conceal their caste identity in order to pass off as belonging to a ‘higher' caste. Only 61% of the respondents possess ration cards.
In terms of occupation, 21.2% respondents are casual unskilled labourers, 13.9% are skilled labourers, 3.4% are self-employed professionals, 7% are self-employed owners of small businesses, 0.4% are self-employed artisans, 20.3% are domestic or household workers, 2.4% are engaged in government service, 5.9% are engaged in private service and 14.2% are engaged in other miscellaneous occupations.
The survey discovered that a very large proportion of the respondents live in very dismal economic conditions. 30.4% reported an annual household income of less than Rs.10,000, 24.4% between Rs. 10,001-Rs.20,000, 7.5% between Rs.20,001-Rs.30,000, 3.8% between Rs.30,0001-Rs.40,000, 1% between Rs.40,001-Rs.50,000 and 5.6% above Rs.50,000. Another indication of the poor economic conditions of most of the respondents is the fact that 86.4% of their children do not receive any sort of financial aid for their education. Their lack of awareness of financial aid schemes for education is evident from the fact that 70.3% do not know about their existence. 33% of their children study in Hindi-medium schools, 17.4% in Urdu-medium schools, 14.4% in English-medium schools and 18.7% in regional language-medium schools. 40.7% live in regular houses, but a significant 27.6% live in jhuggis in slums, and 33% in rented accommodation. 46.1% respondents live in one-room houses, 9.1% in houses with two rooms, 27.3% in houses with three rooms, and 14.3% in houses with four rooms.
The following table provides further details of the economic conditions of the respondents based on ownership of various assets
Assets Percentage of Respondents Owning Such Assets
Pump Set 1.9
Mobile phone 5.8
Only a relatively small proportion of the respondents had benefited from various development schemes of the state, indicating that Muslims, by and large, do not receive the attention that they deserve by the state development planning and implementation authorities, as the following table reveals:
Name of the Programme % Respondents as Beneficiaries
Shilpshala Awas Yojna 0.7
Group Housing Scheme 0.7
15-Point Programme 0.7
Subsidised Grains 14.1
Indira Awas Yojna 0.9
Susidised Loans 0.9
Antyodaya Programme 1.3
Subsidised Electricity 2.8
No benefit from any government scheme 31.1
Given the relatively high incidence of poverty and marginalisation among the respondents, it was found that a fairly substantial proportion of them cannot afford relatively expensive private medical treatment. Consequently, 44.7% reported going to government health centres and hospitals for medical treatment, and most of the rest to private registered allopathic and homeopathic practitioners. A striking 67.4% reported not having access to free medical care. Considering the high levels of poverty among the respondents, it is worth noting that 58.2% respondents spend up to Rs.5000 every year for medical treatment.
Since a large proportion of the respondents live in pathetic economic conditions, it is striking to note that 64.8% respondents claimed that the Below Poverty Line (BPL) survey was not done in their localities. In those localities where the survey was done, 79.2% respondents claimed that it was not done adequately, leaving out many people who are living below poverty line. Consequently, an alarming 70.9% of the respondents claimed that they do not possess BPL cards. Relatively few respondents have access to institutional sources of credit. Only 6% reported having taken credit from a bank in case of emergency, and just 1.1% from credit societies. Other sources of credit include relatives (30%), moneylenders (16.2%) and neighbours (11.9%).
Muslim-dominated localities in cities tend to be neglected in terms of civic amenities and government infrastructure. 47.2% respondents said that their locality did not have adequate street-lighting, 59.4% said they did not have proper sewage facilities and 35.3% said they do not have access to municipal water supply. 78.7% respondents claimed that there was no municipal garbage dump in their locality, and only 25.4% said that the conditions of roads in their area were good.
29.9% respondents said that the government school in their locality was only till the primary level. In the case of middle, secondary and senior secondary level schools, the corresponding figures were 13.7%, 9.3% and 6.5%. A significant 35.4% respondents said that there was no government school in their locality. Only 8.4% respondents said that there was a primary health centre in their locality and 16.9% said there was a dispensary. 62.4% of the respondents said that their area councillor was a non-Muslim and hence to get their problems heard and addressed was difficult.
Overall, as these findings suggest, Muslim localities in urban India tend to be considerably marginalized and discriminated against in terms of government resource allocation. This is particularly alarming, given the fact that, as the figures presented above show, the majority of urban Muslims are engaged in low-paying professions and display a high level of illiteracy. The problem is exacerbated by the absence of effective local leaders who can work with local level government officials to help implement development schemes. This calls for special attention to be paid by the state authorities to infrastructural development in Muslim localities as well as efforts by Muslims themselves to organise and channelise resources for community development along with agencies of the state.
Muslims in Rural Areas
As in the case of most other communities in the country, more Muslims live in rural areas than urban areas. In most parts of rural India , Muslims tend to be associated with relatively low status occupations, and have, on an average, less landholdings than other communities, particularly ‘upper' caste Hindus. As in urban areas, many Muslims in rural areas complain of discrimination as well as indifference and neglect by government authorities.
For purposes of this survey, respondents were selected from rural areas from five states. 13.8% of the respondents are from Bihar , 22% from Uttar Pradesh, 15.7% from Rajasthan, 23.5% from Gujarat and 24.9% from Madhya Pradesh. Of these, 44.1% live in Muslim-majority villages, 25.2% in villages with a roughly equal Muslim and non-Muslim population and 28.3% in villages where Muslims are in a minority.
83.6% of the respondents have been living in the same village for twenty years or more. Almost 2% of the respondents who are new arrivals in the village where they are presently staying shifted because of communal riots. This figure is particularly high in the case of Gujarat , where 6.1% of the respondents reported having shifted to their present location because of anti-Muslim violence, particularly in the wake of the 2002 anti-Muslim genocide engineered and abetted by the state.
Personal Details of Respondents
37.9% of the respondents are females and 62.1% males. 4.2% are below 20 years of age, 35.7% between 21-35, 36.1% between 36-50, 16.6% between 51-65 and the rest above 65. Of the respondents, 54.9% are illiterate, 10.2% have studied till the first grade, and only 9.4% have studied beyond the eighth grade. 71.3% identify themselves as members of a caste that comes under the officially recognised list of Other Backward Classes. This figure varies from 53.6% in Uttar Pradesh, to 67% in Madhya Pradesh, 71.6% in Bihar , 77.4% in Gujarat and 93.3% in Rajasthan.
Economic and Social Conditions
Due both to caste and communal prejudices, many respondents claim that they do not have equal access to many facilities and spaces that the other villagers enjoy. Thus, for instance, 57% said that they do not have access to the village community centre or chaupal. 63.5% respondents in Rajasthan, 52.7% in Gujarat , 41.9% in Madhya Pradesh, 32.4% in Bihar and 25.8% in Uttar Pradesh stated that they did not have access to the village chaupal or community centre.
This marginalisation is also reflected in the occupational structure of Muslims living in rural areas. 15.4% respondents identified themselves as farmers, 12.4% as agricultural labourers, 12.7% as casual unskilled labourers, 8.9% as skilled labourers, 1.7% as self-employed professionals, 4.1% as self-employed small businessmen, 0.2% as self-employed artisans, 17.2% as domestic or household workers, 1.2% as government servants and 3.3% as private sector employees.
The high degree of rural Muslim poverty is evidenced from the fact that 41.9% respondents have a total annual household income of less than Rs.10,000, 17.5% between Rs.10,001-Rs.20,000, 5.4% between Rs.20,001-Rs.30,000 and only 0.1% between Rs.30,0001-Rs.40,000.
Other indices provide additional evidence of substantial rural Muslim marginalisation. 74.4% of the respondents reported not receiving any sort of financial assistance for the education of their children, and 59.2% said they had no information at all about such scholarship schemes. 43.4% of their children study in Hindi-medium schools, 10.1% in Urdu-medium schools, 18.8% in regional language-medium schools and 7.5% in English-medium schools. 61.3% respondents live in kuccha houses, 14.5% in semi-pucca structures, 18.6% in pucca structures and 1.4% in what were described as ‘modern' structures. 82.4% respondents own the structures in which they live. 87.4% respondents do not possess a single cow, an important asset in rural areas. 7.8% owned a single cow, 3% owned two cows, and 1.1% three cows. Similarly, 83.8% respondents did not own even a single buffalo. 63.1% respondents do not own any land, 9% own or control up to two acres, 4.8% between three and five acres, 2.3% between six and eight acres and 5% more than eight acres. Almost 20% of those who are engaged in farming do so on land that they have leased from others.
The significant degree of rural Muslim marginalisation is also reflected in the fact that 76.6% of the respondents answered that they do not have access to any form of free medical care. Despite the high extent of poverty, 88.9% respondents claimed that they spent up to Rs.5000 annually on medical treatment for their families.
Many Muslim families complain of being deliberately neglected in government programmes meant for alleviating rural poverty. This fact is brought out from the fact that 57.7% of the respondents said that the identification of poor families for the ‘Below Poverty Line' (BPL) survey was not done in their village. 65.1% of the respondents who said that their villages had been surveyed said that it was not done adequately. Accordingly, 61.7% respondents do not possess the BPL card. Relatively few Muslims appear to have access to institutional forms of credit. Only 7.4% respondents have taken credit in case of emergency from a bank. 21.6% generally take loans from moneylenders. 26.8% from relatives, 13% from neighbours and 0.7% from credit societies.
Another indication of the fairly high degree of poverty in the sample group is evident from the pattern of asset ownership as reported by the respondents, summarised in the following table:
Proportion of Respondents Owning Particular Assets
Pump Set 1.0
Mobile phone 1.4
Facilities at Home
Another indication of the marginalisation of large sections of Muslims living in rural India are the relatively few Muslim respondents that report having benefited from various government development programmes meant for alleviating poverty, as the following table indicates:
Proportion of Respondents Benefiting from Government Schemes
Subsidised grains 22.6
Indira Awas Yojna 4.5
Subsidised loans 2.2
Antyodaya Programme 3.1
Subsidised Electricity 3.0
Swaran Jayanti Gramin Rozgar Yojana 1.7
Ambedkar Awas Yojana 0.2
Shilpshala Awas Yojana 0.2
Group Housing Scheme 0.2
15 Point Programme 0.4
Panchayat-level institutions are meant, in theory, to offer people the ability to represent their own views and interests. However, it seems that in many cases dominant caste and religious communities control these local level bodies, and deliberately or otherwise keep out marginalised groups. It appears that a significant number of rural Muslims do not have or are denied proper access to panchayat institutions. Thus, 87.7% of the respondents said that they had not participated in any gram sabha meeting in the past one year. However, 47% respondents answered that Muslims had some sort of representation in the local gram panchayat. A significant 30.4% of the respondents said that their gram panchayat had done no work at all for the people. Other respondents said that the gram panchayat had done some work in repairing roads, building houses, installing hand-pumps and laying drains, although in several cases these did not necessarily benefit the Muslims of the village. In fact, a startling 70.7% of the respondents said that their community had not benefited at all from such schemes. Several reasons were offered for this, including dishonesty of implementing officials and gram panchayat representatives, anti-Muslim prejudice, the poverty and illiteracy of most Muslims, lack of awareness of schemes and also reluctance to take advantage of government schemes or indifference thereto.
Local institutions such as panchayats have an important role to play in mediating and solving conflicts, including conflicts between members of different caste and religious communities. This is as far as theory goes. However, given the fact that these institutions are generally controlled by locally dominant castes, often ‘high' caste Hindus, they do not fully fulfil that role. While several respondents said that, in contrast to cities, there was little overt inter-community conflict in their village that had taken the form of physical violence, many of them spoke of the growing influence of communal forces. 48.3% of the respondents argued that rifts between different communities in their village had grown in recent years as a result of local politics related to panchayati raj institutions. 11.7% of respondents claimed that the gram sabha had played no role in reducing inter-community conflicts or in promoting inter-community solidarity. Roughly an equal proportion of respondents answered to the contrary.
Overall, therefore, as these figures indicate, a very significant proportion of rural Muslims has been deliberately or otherwise marginalised and left out of the development process. The deleterious impact of globalisation and neo-liberal economic policies on vulnerable rural communities is obvious, and many rural Muslim families have been hit particularly severely by these. To add to this is the fact of the growing influence of communal groups in large parts of rural India , which threatens to make the position of marginalised communities, including large sections of Muslims, even more vulnerable. This calls for the state as well as civil society organisations to take a more pro-active role in addressing the particular concerns of rural Muslim groups, and making special efforts for them in developing and implementing development schemes.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Overall, as this survey suggests, Muslims are among the most marginalised communities in India in terms of economic and educational indices and also in terms of political empowerment. As one of the largest communities in the country, and found in almost every part of India , obviously this fact cannot afford to be ignored by the state, policy-makers and Muslim leaders themselves. A host of factors, as we have tried to show, have been responsible for the marginalisation of Muslims as a whole. This calls for urgent steps to ameliorate their conditions.
Obviously, the issue of Muslim poverty is linked to general economic policies and structures. Hence, it obviously cannot be effectively tackled on an adequate basis without structural economic transformations, that do not seem forthcoming in the near future. However, there are other measures that the state as well as Muslim leaders and organisations could adopt to address some of the crucial economic and educational concerns of the marginalised sections of the Muslim community.
On the part of the state, the following steps, among others, could be considered:
1. Collection of data on Muslim social, economic, educational and political conditions, and making these available to the general public and for use by activists, organisations and policy-makers. Such information would need to be quantitative, qualitative as well as comparative, so that conditions between Muslims and other communities can be compared and policies suitably adjusted to ensure equity. This information needs also to be disaggregated in terms of gender, region, class, caste, linguistic groups etc. to avoid the pitfall of treating all Muslims as a monolith.
2. Ensuring that in its development schemes the state allocates resources to Muslims and Muslim-dominated localities on a scale proportionate to their population. Given the fact that Muslims are among the most marginalised communities living in the country, it is advisable that this allocation could be even higher than what is merited by their numerical proportion. There should be proper mechanisms in place to ensure that this allocation is suitably made and implemented and in this there should be proper representation and participation of Muslims as well.
3. Development schemes must also be culturally sensitive so that they are acceptable to the Muslim community. For instance, enforced co-education after a certain level or Hinduised or anti-Muslim biases in textbooks often act as a major hindrance to Muslim, particularly Muslim girls', education. These issues need to be sensitively addressed and approached.
4. In planning and implementing development schemes the participation of the local community, including Muslims and other marginalised groups, must be ensured.
5. The state should also work out mechanisms for ensuring adequate representation, whether through reservations or otherwise, for Muslims in government services, the police, etc..
6. The state should consider instituting reforms in the existing laws and rules regarding Waqf Boards and dargahs to ensure community participation in their functioning and use of the resources that they generate.
7. Stiff action needs to be taken by the state against communal and fascist groups.
Muslim community leaders and organisations have, of course, a crucial role to play in promoting the educational and economic development of the community, particularly of the poor, the ‘low' castes and women. Some of the issues that need to be addressed in this regard include:
1. Preparing in-depth studies, rooted in rigorous empirical research, on various aspects related to Muslims in contemporary India . There is a desperate shortage of such literature published by Muslim groups, the focus of whose literature still remains narrowly centred on religion and identity-related issues.
2. Formation of non-governmental organisations and working with existing secular non-governmental organisations for mobilising community and other resources for economic and educational development and for accessing various government schemes.
3. Promotion of an alternate leadership, at the local, regional and national levels that takes seriously issues of Muslim economic and educational marginalisation and makes these a central part of the agenda of the community as a whole.
4. Sensitising the ulama of the madrasas to the existing social, economic and educational problems of the Muslim community, particularly the poor and women, so that they can help mobilise public opinion on these through their lectures and literature. This might also help in the process of developing alternate forms of Islamic expression that are less theoretical and normative and more rooted in the existing reality of contemporary India.
5. Making efforts to dialogue with people of other communities, not just at the religious level or to combat communal and fascist forces, as is now often the case, but also to work together for common social concerns. Dialogue on Muslim social, economic and educational issues also needs to be initiated with the media, politicians, bureaucrats, non-governmental organisations, etc.
( Courtesy www.countercurrents.org )