By Udayan Namboodiri
March 16, 2013
With poverty endemic among India's 177 million Muslims, providing more opportunity and improving the community's economic outlook is a high priority for India. The level of concern is reflected in the government's latest budget, covering the fiscal year that begins on April 1st.
The budget includes a 60% hike in outlays meant to assist minority communities. Much of that allocation will go towards Muslims, the largest such community.
Muslims make up 13% of India's population but account for 65% of the jobless and more than half of those below the official poverty line, according to a government-funded study headed by retired judge Rajinder Sachar.
In his budget speech, Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said minorities were a special concern as the government was committed to "inclusive growth".
The Ministry of Minority Affairs is dedicated to evolving programmes for the socioeconomic development of the country's non-Hindu population, roughly 20% of 1.2 billion people.
For the upcoming fiscal year, the ministry will get Rs 3.5 trillion ($63.8 billion). "No previous government has reflected as much sincerity for the uplift of Muslims," External Affairs minister Salman Khurshid told Khabar South Asia. He previously served as the minority affairs minister.
Chidambaram also announced a 100% hike for a government organisation focused on funding schools for Muslims and helping non-government groups that service the needs of the community. From a current base of Rs 7.5 billion ($136.8m), the Maulana Azad Education Foundation would grow to Rs 15 billion ($273.6m) over the next five years.
"I have accepted that a beginning can be made by providing medical facilities such as an infirmary or a resident doctor in the educational institutions run or funded by the Foundation. I propose to allocate Rs.100 crore ($18.2m) to launch this initiative," Chidambaram told the Lok Sabha.
Muslims Seek Better Wages, Benefits
Last week, the India country director of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) revealed that the poverty percentage for Muslims is highest in the states of Assam, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Gujarat.
"Muslims make up the vast majority of workers in the unorganised sector where wages are lower and benefits conspicuous by their absence," Economist Jayshree Sengupta, an expert on poverty issues, told Khabar. "It's no cliché that India's Muslims have not benefitted from the phenomenal macro-economic growth which has put India into the G-15."
Khurshid, the External Affairs minister, told Khabar, "The increased outlay would help the government finance not only the social needs, but also channelise money through the minority-development corporations designed to fund Muslim entrepreneurs."
Former Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP Mohammad Salim doesn't believe Chidambaram's budget goes far enough.
"There is still vast ambiguity in the present government's thinking on improving the lot of Muslims. Progress will elude the Muslims as long as the youth are kept away from modern education and are shackled to traditional institutions. Much government assistance is wasted in funding seminaries where religious education is given. This brings in votes, but is that what the Muslims want?" he told Khabar.
Former Aviation Minister Shahnawaz Hussain said what Muslims want now are jobs.
"What Muslims need right now is employment? There is a virtual freeze in government hiring and there is discrimination against them in the private sector," Hussain said. "So, they have no recourse but take to small trading. Opening new credit lines for them is a good idea."
India's Muslims: A Tale of Two Communities
By Iftikhar Ahmed
July 03, 2012
Better education and a less conservative mindset may be contributing to a higher quality of life for Muslims in India's southern provinces compared to those in the north, sources told Khabar South Asia.
Children watch from a mosque during a procession to mark Eid-e-Milad-ul-Nabi, the celebrations of the Prophet Mohammad's birthday, in Mumbai February 5th. Studies have found large socioeconomic disparities between Muslim populations in the north and south of India. [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]
"Southern Muslim organisations have long promoted the role education plays in climbing the social and economic ladder," Mohammad Manzoor Alam, chairperson of the Delhi-based think tank Institute of Objective Studies, told Khabar.
At the same time, he said, the relative peace and communal harmony in the southern states – including Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu -- has helped Muslims flourish.
"In Kerala, the literacy rate for both sexes amongst Muslims is 100%," he said.
While the Indian Muslim community in general continues to face significant hurdles, data from the 2006 Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee Report showed that the disadvantages are far more pronounced in the north. The literacy rate of northern Muslims is only 61.66% compared to 83.6% among southern Muslims. Northern school enrolment of children ages 6-to-14 is 70.8% compared to 90.66% of southern school children.
The report was a groundbreaking study commissioned by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in an effort to collect concrete data about the challenges facing Muslims across India.
Social worker Maqbool Ahmed Siraj, a native of Bangalore, says he believes conservative religious views are helping to fuel the disparity by limiting the educational and career prospects for young people.
"I see a distinct dislike among boys for veterinary courses and among girls opting for nursing," Siraj said. "There is a fear that a veterinary course would have [pigs to treat or handle] and nursing would entail [girls] attending to male patients."
Many others see schooling as the primary factor. According to Syed Iqbal Hasnain, former vice chancellor of Calicut University in Kerala, Muslims in southern India have benefited from heavy investment in education.
By contrast, their counterparts in the north "failed to achieve progress in education", said Hasnani, who himself is a north Indian Muslim.
Alam, the think tank chairperson, said there is also less cultural separation between Muslims and other communities in the south. A stronger linguistic and cultural affinity is seen there, he told Khabar.
"Muslims in Kerala speak Malayalam, their eating habits are similar, their names are modelled in the same manner as those of their non-Muslim counterparts," he said.
By contrast, he said, Muslims in the north typically speak Urdu, as opposed to the majority community's Hindi.
Comparative peace and communal harmony in the southern Indian states helped the community to work for educational advancement. "Muslims in the south had a significant advantage as the region was largely spared the horrors of partition and endemic communal violence [in the north]," Alam said.
Muslims comprise around 13% of India's overall population of 1.2 billion, and are the second largest Muslim community worldwide, after Indonesia.
They remain mostly invisible in India's professional ranks, be they administration, police, the judiciary or the private sector, according to data from the Sachar Report. Their overall representation is restricted to just 3-to-5% in these sectors.
Sahana Ghish in Kolkata contributed to this article.