By Sakshi Bhardwaj
India has the third largest number of Muslim population housing over 14.2% of the Muslim population. It is a widely accepted fact that Muslims, here, are deprived of access to education and health. They are also discriminated more as compared to Hindu and other religious communities.
Empirics point that an average Muslim is worse off than the worst-off section of Hindu religion, the scheduled caste (SC) and Scheduled tribe (ST). For instance, the Sachar Committee Report (2006) shows that the literacy and educational status of Muslims are particularly low. Growth in literacy for Muslims has been lower than the SC and ST population. NSSO data (Shariff, 2013) corroborates that the level of matriculation education among Muslims, both in rural and urban areas, is lower than even SCs and STs. However, other researchers argue that Hindu minorities perform poorly as compared to Muslims in other socio-economic indicators as poverty (Prof Amitabh Kundu Report).
In this article, we emphasise on the absolute progress of Muslims, not a comparative analysis with other social groups within India. We shall focus more on ‘Muslims in India’, where the Indian constitution declares itself a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic; and government formulates policies to make an impact. A person practising Islamic faith in India might be different from another, given the unique diversity of the country in terms of region, language and coexistence with other religious groups.
A String of Affirmative Actions
Before 2000, only a few minority centric projects were undertaken as Gopal Singh report in 1990, NCM reports, some other reports and data which have not been published yet. With the turn of the century, a lot of research and emphasis has been laid on the lives of the Muslims of India – a starting point for policy formation. In 2005, the then Prime Minister Dr. Singh constituted a High-Level Committee to prepare a report on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community of India. This has been famously referred to as the Sachar Committee Report (2006). Later, other researches as Misra Commission Report (2007) and minority concentrated district’s identification et cetera also took place. Most of these reports highlighted a higher prevalence of discrimination and socio economic deprivation among them as compared to other religious groups.
As part of the Prime Minister’s 15-point program (2006), for the welfare of minorities, education of Muslims has received much attention. Among others, it aims at improving access to school education by opening elementary schools in localities with substantial minority populations. It also aims to strengthen the Madrasa Modernization Program via the Scheme for Providing Quality Education in Madrasas (SPQEM) and Infrastructure Development of Minority Institutions (IDMI), and scholarships for minority students. In order to enhance participation of minorities in the national education system, various other initiatives have also been undertaken. For instance, the SSA has identified 88 Muslims concentrated districts in the country wherein 11% of the total allocations under SSA for 2013-14 have been approved for these 88 Special Focus Districts.
The Sachar Committee Report (2006) highlighted that about one-third of small villages, with a high concentration of Muslims, did not have any educational institutions. However, latest rounds of NSSO data show that, between the year 2007s and 2014, there has been a huge improvement in physical access to schools for children of the Muslim community and schools are almost equally accessible to both Muslims and “Non-minority” religion in 2014.
It has also been argued that the governments in West Bengal and Bihar have successfully provided physical safety and security to Muslims through the effective containment and prevention of communal riots. They have consistently used Muslim upliftment as part of their electoral rhetoric.
Evaluating the Past
The 2006 Sachar Committee Report also found clear evidence that Muslims severely lacked representation in the central elite civil services. Civil services are exam based selection and low literacy level is a reason for less number of Muslim selections and not prejudice against them. Zaidi (2014) claims that the reason for this the low level of participation of Muslim students rather than their probability of being selected.
In late 1990’s, India had a larger Muslim population than Pakistan, but now Pakistan has more Muslims. Moreover, Census data show that the Muslim growth rate has slowed more sharply than that of the Hindu population in India. The decadal Muslim rate of growth is at its lowest. It has been argued that religious practice as sending children to madrasas (the religious, educational institute) as against sending them to mainstream school, the prohibition against contraception, early marriage as compared to other religious groups (PEW research) are detrimental to the development of the community. If there are religious reasons for the high fertility rate, can policy have any impact on population growth?
One plausible explanation could be the lower TFR (Total Fertility Rate) of Muslims in India than in Pakistan, which has been declining. Karim’s research on the demographics of Muslims in South Asia found that socio-economic conditions and policies have far more impact on the average family size than religion. Using Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Population Reference bureau finds that in spite of Pakistan facing higher levels of literacy, a higher marriageable age of women than Bangladesh, TFR is higher in Pakistan.
They found that Pakistan is not able to effectively implement family planning and thus have higher fertility rates of four than India and Bangladesh (around three). Census and DHS results conducted in 1992-1993, and 2005, shows that the largest decline in fertility of religion has occurred among Muslims in India. Also, India has effectively implemented family planning policy – diversifying its approach to the spread of contraceptives keeping in mind the religious ideals. For instance, it is an IUD method as against female sterilisation for Muslims as they prohibit a permanent method of contraceptives.
Signs of a Positive Future
Nida Kirmani writes in Herald “while Indian Muslims are undoubtedly facing increasing insecurity and marginalisation – particularly as Hindu right-wing forces become more powerful – they are still in a more secure position than religious minorities in Pakistan”.
Though the Muslim community in India has lower education, health and income status than general Hindu population, they are progressing at a faster pace. India as a country has generated a dynamic effect which has helped the Muslim community to grow. Government policies and development of the country as a whole has generated trickle-down effect for the Muslim community in India.
Sakshi Bhardwaj is a Research Associate at Centre for Policy Research.
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