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Economic Challenges Before India’s Muslims

, December 15, 2014, 0 Comments

india muslim economy-MarketExpress-in

Prime Minister Modi said in his inaugural address in the Lok Sabha -“Even the third generation of Muslim brothers, whom I have seen since my young days, are continuing with their cycle repairing job. Why does such misfortune continue? We will have to undertake focus activity to bring about change in their lives. We will have to bring such programmes. I do not view such programmes within the prism of appeasement. I see them to bring about a change in their lives.” The PM rightly recognized that nobody can be called healthy if one of its organs is disabled.

The Sachar Committee Report, 2006 noted that an overwhelming sense of dispossession and disenfranchisement dominates the discourses of the community. According to the Rangnath Mishra Committee Report, 2007 Indian Muslims have fared at the bottom on most counts across all religious communities in India. It exposes the grave reality that the largest minority community of the nation is one of the most relegated, neglected and backward communities of the nation on almost all indicators of well-being, economic and educational. If ownership of housing is any criteria of access and wellbeing – in that case this country is yet to fulfill its constitutional obligation of equality of opportunity to its Muslim citizens.

The exclusion of Muslims from the mainstream of the economic structure is rightly reflected by Oxford academic Prof. Barbara Harris -White’s research. Her findings establish beyond doubt that that Indian Muslims overwhelmingly rely on the informal economy. Muslims have the highest ratio of jobless graduates cutting across all Socio Religious Communities. Cutoff from modern technology, lack of proper training severely restricts their zone of operation to traditional areas and keeps them trapped in the vicious circle of poverty. Access to financial institutions is severely restrained by the negative attitudes adopted by most banks in areas inhabited by minorities, which consider it a ‘hazardous task’ to give any credit to Muslims.

Muslim women engaged in manual works like zardozi, chickankari (traditional forms of embroidery), or beedi rolling are the most exploited of all. Increasing ghettoization, dependence on middlemen and uninhibited liberalization has left many Muslims engaged in unorganized sector in abject poverty.

Muslims can be easily spotted working as rickshaw pullers, labourers, tailors, barbers, rehriwallahs on the pavements of any major market in the City. However, this soon turns negative – the algebra of absence; when it comes to corporate offices. Out of the country’s 180 million Muslims only 1% of all top corporate executives are Muslims. According to Prof. Barbara Harris –White if there is one sector where Muslims outnumber their share in population it is ‘petty-production’.

It will be a disservice not to recognize the immense potential that the community holds. Moradabad’s brass kareegars (artisans) – a majority of them Muslims, design such amazing brass artifacts. In the dusty by lanes of Mughalpura the kareegars are seen engrossed in giving shape to exquisite designs. As a Moradabadi myself, I can only say one should visit these karkhanas to appreciate their immense talents. The same artisans, whose crafts – trophies and brass planters decorate shelves around the globe, suffer immensely. Oblivious of the danger, cut off from any formal channels of credit or healthcare support, they depend on unscrupulous middlemen who exploit them with impunity. Devoid of social security cover a vast majority of them suffers silently. During her visits to numerous such by lanes – the writer can point out one common thread running across the entire kareegar locality in Mughalpura – disease. While they work on the bhattis (crude furnaces), made to use highly toxic cyanide based electrolytes, their faces and hands smashed with carbon soot- they continue to suffer from tuberculosis, asthma and cancer.

Maulana Azad National Academy for Skills (MANAS) is a latest initiative to inculcate skill development among the country’s minorities. It is aimed as a joint network bringing together both public as well as private sectors. It is conceived as a “a Center of Excellence to promote required Skill Training, Trainers’ Training, revive dying arts and crafts, and link skilled personnel to credit with special focus on persons belonging to Minorities, leading to creation of self / wage employment”. This is very much in sync with the constitutional promise of providing opportunities to weaker sections of the society (Article 46).Upon successful training at MANAS the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation (NMDFC) will offer credit to help those interested in setting up small businesses and other entrepreneurial ventures.

Ensuring India’s minorities a dignified existence remains the greatest unfinished business of my nation’s secular democracy. In the past six decades of independence the benefits of a so- called ‘rising India’ have rarely reached the Muslims who are struggling with their identity devoid of equity. The legitimate vocabulary of a secular, welfare polity can’t afford to ignore the constitutional promise of ‘equality of opportunity’ for all (Articles 14-18).

Evidence based intervention is the need of the hour. Setting up of MANAS is a long awaited development in the direction of social justice for all, which will not only consolidate national unity, but also will prove to be a worthy investment in the future of the nation. Emphasis should be on implementing Article 21 (a) Right to Education in its letter and spirit. As Professors Jeffrey (Jeffrey et al.) note in their ‘Investing In The Future : Education in the social and cultural reproduction of north Indian Muslims’, poverty is the major inhibiting factor, pushing Muslims students out of school. Drèze and Kingdon have observed that poor classroom attendance rates of rural Muslims are owing to ‘tangible disadvantages such as poverty and low levels of parental education’ than to parents’ aversion to formal education.

Providing more scholarships to the community can prove to be an effective booster. Making timely interventions to improve educational levels of India’s Muslims, providing them with employable skills right at the school level will channel their energy in fulfilling Babasaheb Ambedkar’s dream of an ‘equal India’.

Babasaheb rightly opined “Political democracy cannot last unless there is at the base of it, a social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life.” In working to improve the lot of a beleaguered class of people, the Republic of India will only be fulfilling its dharma acting according to the founding values of justice, equality and fair treatment to all its citizens. Giving India’s Muslims a larger role in the total life of the state, will ensure the all-round progress of the state.