Among All Religious Groups in India, Muslims Are the Poorest

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Given that a section of Muslim political leadership in India has been self-serving, conservative, and even communal, one cannot but ask the question of whether or not the majoritarian turn in India’s politics has relegated the economic concerns of the majority of Muslims behind their concerns over identity. 

Team Clarion

NEW DELHI — Sinister efforts by a section of leaders, chauvinists and bureaucrats to marginalise the Muslim community by breaking its economic backbone seem to be systematically bearing fruit. Muslims now have the lowest asset and consumption levels among major religious groups in India, unit-level data provided in the latest All India Debt and Investment Survey (AIDIS) and Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) show.

The average consumption and asset values for Muslims are 87.9% and 79% of the all-India average and 87.8% and 79.3% of the average values for Hindus. Religious groups which have a population share of less than 1% have been clubbed in the “others” category, an analysis of the data done by the Hindustan Times said. 

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders and several leading Hindutva fanatics have often been dog-whistling a lot about the population of Muslims increasing at a higher pace than people of other faiths in India. This bigoted campaign is purely based on calumny, deception and misinformation.

Muslims do have an overrepresentation problem when it comes to their relative share in the population among the poor. A comparison of relative share – among every decile class by assets; it basically measures the share in a given decile class divided by overall share in population – shows that Muslims are concentrated in the bottom half of India’s population and outnumber the Hindus in relative terms in each of the bottom six deciles.

Even Muslim upper castes are poorer than Hindu OBCs, data shows.

A comparison of average asset/MPCE values across social groups among Hindus and Muslims proves this clearly. The average asset value for non-SC/ST/OBC Muslims – they are the non-Pasmanda Muslims – is not just lower than the average value for non-SC/ST/OBC Hindus but also lower than that of Hindu OBCs, which shows that the claims of Muslim upper castes enjoying disproportionate economic power are just not true.

Muslims suffer greatly from a lack of employment and educational opportunities. And this overriding trend seems to be the primary cause of the economic backwardness of the community.

The PLFS gives data on both the status of workers (whether regular wage, self-employed, or casual) and the type of enterprise (such as government, public and private limited companies) at which a worker is employed. This shows that even non-SC/ST/OBC Muslims have a low share in regular jobs (the average wage in such jobs is the highest) compared to other religions. The Hindustan Times analysis says a comparison with caste groups among Hindus shows that non-SC/ST/OBC Muslims only do better than ST and SC Hindus. “The disadvantage for Muslims becomes even bigger if one looks at their share in government jobs, a fact which has been pointed out by the Sachar Committee among others,” it said.

The low share of Muslims among the better jobs in India need not necessarily be a result of discrimination in the hiring process. Rather, it could be the result of Muslim job-seekers lagging in terms of educational qualifications, which is bound to have a big role in employability. And sure enough, the HT analysis of PLFS data shows that the share of people with a graduate or higher degree among India’s Muslim labour force is the lowest among all major religions.

The data clearly shows that while Muslims do not have a bigger intra-community inequality problem in India, they are desperately in need of overall educational and economic upliftment. “While there is some merit in the claim that such aspirations are often missing in the articulation of most Muslim politicians — a section of Muslim political leadership in India has been self-serving, conservative, even communal, one cannot but ask the question whether or not the majoritarian turn in India’s politics has relegated the economic concerns of a majority of Muslims behind their concerns over identity. Even here, the poorest Muslims are the worst sufferers. To give an anecdotal example, vigilante groups forcibly shutting down meat shops on various occasions often hurt the poorest Muslims,” the analysis said.

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