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Why empowering Indian Muslims is 'critical' for post-Covid economic recovery

By Vikas Kumar*

“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members” -- Mahatma Gandhi
The Indian economy was in doldrums even before the pandemic. Covid-19 has dealt it a fatal blow. Millions of livelihoods have been lost, millions of families permanently forced into abject poverty. The economists and ruling party politicians have offered various “solutions” which are like applying band-aid to gunshot. However, there is a simple yet very effective solution to boost the economy: empowerment of Indian Muslims.
Muslims constitute 14.2% of India’s population. Yet their share in educational institutes, government jobs belie their population proportion.
Though mostly residing in urban centres, Muslims have a particularly low share in public jobs, politics, and university posts. They hold only 4.9% of government jobs and only 3.2% of jobs in India’s security forces. Muslims earn less than other groups and are excluded from financial ecosystem.
The Sachar Committee Report, released about a decade ago, revealed all round backwardness of Indian Muslims through a myriad of statistics. The average monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) for Indians stands at Rs 1,128. It is, however, the lowest for Muslims at Rs 980. The committee highlighted that in addition to socio economic deprivation, Muslims live with a sense of deep fear and insecurity owing to communal riots and violence.
Unsurprisingly, Muslims trail in the literacy data charts too. Literacy rate among Indian Muslims is lower than national average of 74.04 Percentage. The data also shows that a meagre 2.76% of Muslims are educated till graduation level or above.
According to a World Bank Report, published in 2013, nearly 34% of all Indian Muslims were below the poverty line compared to 19% of Hindus. Pitifully Muslims account for 40% of India’s total prison population.

Hindutva politics and Muslims

With the rise of Hindutva politics in India, persecution of Muslims has become strident and commonplace. In today’s India, Muslims are openly depicted as religious and cultural other who must be hated, lynched and thrown out of the country. With passage of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), threat to their citizenship has become real.
Under the current establishment, cities bearing Islamic names are being changed, Muslims have been accused of waging “Corona-Jihad” and “Love-Jihad”. There have been numerous riots and lynching in the country that stemmed directly or indirectly from the Hindutva brand of politics.
A recent study by Brian Grim and Robert Snyder showed that countries with lower levels of religious hostilities and lower governmental restrictions on religion consistently ranked higher in primary education and health, technical training, innovation, communications, market infrastructure, market efficiency, financial market development and labour efficiency market. Religious freedom also contributed to overall peace and stability. It also helped lower corruption: another important prerequisite for growth.
Research also suggests that as social and religious conflicts increase, economic growth of any country is severely negatively impacted. The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), a think tank headquartered in Australia, estimated that communal & caste base violence took a toll of $1,190 billion in FY2016-17. This translates to roughly 8% of the GDP and Rs 40,000 per person.
In today’s India, Muslims are openly depicted as religious and cultural other who must be hated, lynched and thrown out of the country
According to various global media reports, India has lost its attractiveness to global investors due to rising social & communal tensions. Indian Asset managers maintain that rise in sectarian violence and instability remain key issues that restrict foreign investments into India.
In a Bloomberg report, Alyssa Ayers, from the Council on Foreign Relations, was reported as saying that “India remains too fractured and unable to rise above domestic cleavages. People do not worry about social instability and its significant costs”.
Another great example of how communal violence has hurt the economy is leather industry. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stated aim was to double the leather exports as a part of Make in India. However, Leather exports have declined 3% YoY in FY17-18 compared to growth of 20% in FY13-14. Industry Experts point out that cow vigilantism has wreaked havoc on the leather industry: which employs close to 5 million people, most of them from weaker sections of society.

Steps to empower Indian Muslims

The priority should be on ensuring adequate educational opportunities that bring Indian Muslims into the social and economic mainstream. The Indian Muslims must be active participants in shaping the future of India’s economic growth. They must also be equal partners in India’s prosperity.
Following Rule of Law in letter and spirit: Most fears and insecurities of Muslims are fuelled by a hostile state and indifference of their own fellow citizens. Insecurity about physical safety, property and one’s place in society leads to lack of ambition and social depression among young Muslims. Government must hold perpetrators of communal violence to account and de-communalise its counter terrorism strategy which are sine qua non for restoring Muslim community’s confidence in the state machinery.
Affirmative action to ensure adequate representation in employment: Indian Muslims deserve targeted affirmative action which has been followed for other marginalized group like Dalits & OBC. The most underprivileged among Muslims should be given a share within the overall OBC and Dalit job and education quota. Further, government agencies and forces can employ other forms of affirmative action like specialised recruitment from the community until a desired Muslim representation is reached.
Educational empowerment is key to political and economic empowerment: Education holds the key to empowerment of Indian Muslims. The main reason behind educational backwardness is abject poverty among Indian Muslims due to which children are forced to drop out of school or never see school. Poverty and Educational Backwardness are thus two sides of the same coin.
Schools beyond primary schools are few in Muslim neighbourhoods and Girls only schools are even fewer. Government should introduce job oriented education and vocational training in madrasas. Minority universities with a majority proportion of seats reserved in the fields of medical, engineering, law should be opened in each state to fulfil higher education needs of the Muslim community. 
Further, Minority Career Counselling, Employment and Placement Cell in each Muslim concentrated district should be established to facilitate and guide Muslim youth in making good choices of career.
If India wants to emerge as an economic superpower in post Covid-19 world, it must steadfastly work towards empowering its minorities especially Muslims without allowing religious divisions and conflicts to distract it.
---
*Management student at IIM-Ahmedabad, wants to work toward his vision of truly secular and egalitarian Indian republic where people from all faiths are granted equality of opportunity in employment and education

Comments

Unknown said…
The true test of a democracy is whether minorities are treated fairly and feel safe.
I cannot see India ever to develop fully if two hundred million of its people are left behind as dead wood.

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