Are Muslims really as much backward in India as they are made out to be by media and the community leadership? Are they worse than Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes?
Many people day and night continue to parrot such thoughts. Community newspapers in Urdu and other vernacular languages and even Urdu newspapers run by media conglomerates are already repeating this notion day and night. They claim that Muslims are the most backward community in India. But is it true?
When talking of the Urdu media, I must say if you need a depressant on any given day go, read an Urdu newspaper. Be it a Muslim owned newspaper or a pure business conglomerate likes Roznama Sahara run by Sahara India or for that matter Inquilab, run by a media conglomerate Jagran Group, the presentation is same.
Most of the real estate on the first page of these newspapers is consumed by news about past and present riots. Four and five column headlines about Gujarat riots are still a regular feature in almost all the Urdu newspapers. The remaining space goes to Muzaffarnagar riots.
Inside pages of the newspapers on any given day are filled by claims about the deprivation and marginalization of Muslims across the country. Most articles finding space in these newspapers besides news items are filled with claims of discrimination against Muslims in education, jobs, employment, representation in parliament, state assemblies and local bodies.
On most of the day there is not a single news that can give you ‘feel good’ feeling. If one reads these newspapers he will certainly come to believe that the Muslim community in the country is being hounded day and night and there is no hope for the development of the community in the long term.
Petty Muslim politicians also continue to harp on similar themes day and night. And clerics are not far behind too.
On many occasions they believe that the condition of Muslims in India is miserable and worse than that of Dalits and Scheduled Tribes (ST). These Urdu newspapers and many other community media and their leaders try to make Muslims believe these wrong notions.
And there is no doubt that most Muslims blindly believe every word of these Urdu newspapers and tend to believe all those nonsensical claims.
There is no denying the fact that Muslims lag behind many other communities when it comes to business, economy, education and employment opportunities in many places. There is also some truth that there may be some discrimination against them in some places. But to think that Muslims are going down and down is simply a mischievous thought that is aimed at creating negative thinking among Muslims.
Are Muslims worse than even SCs and STs in the country? To be true, nothing can be farther from truth than this and similar other arguments.
A Patna based journalist friend who has spent decades working in top national newspaper says that the thought that Muslims are going backward or becoming worse off compared to Dalits is a malicious propaganda.
He says that while huge Muslims and Upper caste Hindus residential apartments are found in almost all the important localities across the Bihar capital, there is not a single Dalit residential apartment in upscale locality of the town not to think of any for STs residential apartments.
The same is true in most other places in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Uttrakhand, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat and in South Indian states too where Muslims are markedly better compared to their north Indian counterparts by several notches.
Many people continue to quote Sachar Committee Report while talking about the deprivation of the Muslims. But to be true, go through the whole report and you wouldn’t find that Muslims are going down or becoming poor while the rest of the nation is becoming prosperous.
On the contrary, Muslims don’t look that much backward in terms of enrolment of Muslims in most places. In states where the level of poverty is higher, Muslims are also obviously poor, but in states where there is overall prosperity Muslims are as much prosperous. Take the example of Gujarat, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra where overall economic condition is markedly better than BIMARU states of north India, Muslims are doing equally well as others in these states.
When it comes to literacy, Muslims don't fare that badly. The overall literacy level in the country was 64.8 percent and among Muslims it was 59.1 percent by 2001 census. In rural areas, the overall literacy rate was 59 percent and it was 53 percent for Muslims as a whole. Among male rural population the literacy level was 71 percent while for Muslim men it was 62 percent.
But Muslim women performed comparatively better and the gulf between Muslim women and overall women was comparatively narrow. The overall rural literacy rate according to Sachar report was 48 percent and among Muslim women it was 43 percent. So the difference was just five percent between Muslims and other women.
The overall literacy level among SC, ST was 52 percent while literacy level among rural SC, ST women was a miserable 36 percent.
Sachar Committee report while talking about higher education among Muslims says, “According to the 2001 Census, 7% of the population aged 20 years and above are graduates or hold diplomas, while only 4% among the Muslim population does. The Committee Report notes that the gap between Muslims and other Socio Religious Categories (SRCs) increases as the level of education increases, and that unemployment rates among Muslim graduates is the highest among SRCs both among the poor and the non-poor”.
But this may be more to do due to the fact that Muslims in many states belong to artisan class or run businesses and they find it more paying to involve the kid who has completed his high school or intermediate in the family business.
I know many very prosperous Muslim families who send their kids to Nainital and Doon schools and these kids who paid hefty amounts of money during their schooling days went back to their family businesses. It is not to say that many kids may also be dropping out due to other reasons, including poverty, but there are a large number of people who leave it to enter family business at early age.
It is very common among Punjabi Muslims in Delhi, Moradabad, Rampur, Bareilly and many other cities and among prosperous Quraishi community in western UP.
In the meantime there are other data to back my optimism. A latest National Sample Survey (NSS) report says that the level of poverty among Muslims is coming down fast. In fact in at least two states there are almost very few Muslim families living below poverty line.
The poverty level among Muslims in Kerala went down substantially in the last few years. From 26.5 percent in the year 2006, the proportion of Muslims below poverty line went down to 8 percent in the state while in Urban area it went down to just 3.5 percent. In Maharashtra too the change was simply huge. The number of Muslims living below poverty line in the state fell to 28.6 percent in 2012 compared to almost 48 percent in 2005. The decline was almost equal in both rural and urban areas.
In Gujarat too there was a marked improvement in Muslims fortune. The ratio of Muslims living below poverty line in Gujarat went down to 7 percent in the year 2012 compared to 31 percent in the year 2005. The change was almost similar in both rural and urban areas.
It is about time that Muslims start thinking in positive manner and work aggressively in areas that need their immediate attention with long term planning. Higher education and entrepreneurship are areas that should be high on their minds. This is going to take them forward and improve their lot and that of the nation too in the long term.
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Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based writer and commentator. He has written several books on Muslims and Islam in India including Understanding Muslim Leadership in India.