Still deprived but progressing Muslims of India

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India has 14.2 % of Muslim population and has the third largest number of Muslims of the world. It is widely accepted fact that Muslims are deprived of access to education, health and are discrimination as compared to Hindu and other religion in India. Empirics also point out that in few indicators, an average Muslim is worse off than the worst off section of Hindu religion, i.e. scheduled caste (SC) and Scheduled tribe (ST). For instance, the Sachar Committee Report (2006) shows that the literacy and educational status of Muslims is particularly low and growth in literacy for Muslims was lower than for the SC and ST, the marginalised social group among Hindu’s.

But here I would like to emphasise on the absolute progress of Muslims and not on the comparative analysis with other social groups within India. Here I would focus more on the “Muslims in India”, where India constitution declares itself a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic and where government formulate policies to make an impact. A person practicing Islamic faith in India might be different from other Islamic faith practitioner as diversity of the country in terms of region, language and coexistence with other religious groups will be unique only for Indian Muslims.

Before 2000, only few minority centric projects were undertaken such as Gopal Singh report 1990, NCM report. However since 2000s, a lot of research and emphasis has been laid on the lives of the Muslims living in India, which is a starting point for any policy formation. In 2005, Prime Minister constituted a high level committee to prepare a report on the social, economic and educational status of the mMuslim community of India which is called the Sachar Committee Report, 2006. Later on, other researches such as Misra Commission Report of 2007, minority concentrated district’s identification etc took place. Most of these reports highlighted a higher prevalence of discrimination towards Muslims and  socio-economic deprivation among them as compared to other religious groups.

As part of the Prime Minister’s 15-point program implemented in 2006 for the welfare of minorities, education of muslims received much attention. Among others, it aimed at improving access to school education through the opening of elementary schools in localities where a substantial population of the minority community lives and 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 high concentration of muslims, do 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 school is almost equally accessible to both muslims and non-minority religion in 2014.

It has also been argued that government in West Bengal and Bihar has successfully provided physical safety and security to muslims through the effective containment and prevention of communal riots, and has consistently used Muslim upliftment as part of their electoral rhetoric.

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.

Census data show that muslims growth rate has slowed more sharply than that of the Hindu population in India and the decadal Muslim rate of growth is the lowest it has been in India. It has been argued in PEW research that religious practices as sending children to madrasas, the prohibition against contraception, early marriage as compared to other religious group are detrimental to the development of the community. Census and Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) results conducted in 1992-1993, and 2005, shows that he largest decline in fertility of religion has occurred among muslims in India. Also India has effectively implemented family planning policy of diversifying its approach to the spread of contraceptives keeping in mind religious reasons for not using contraceptives. For instance, it has an IUD method as against female sterilization for Muslims as they prohibit a permanent method of contraceptives.

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 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 works with the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.