Recipe to STEM backwardness
M. Rajivlochan

Muslims in Indian Economy
by Omar Khalidi. Three Essays Collective. Pages 240. Rs. 575

Muslims in Indian EconomyAN absolutely fascinating book, for the depth of its research and the authors’ ability to discover hard-to-find information about the economic status of Muslims in India. It also is quite depressing the way that Muslims have been sidelined in our economy. It is immaterial whether the community did it to itself or there was someone else who did this to them. The important thing is that today, as compared to other social groups in the country, the Muslims are in the economic dump. Just by pointing out this small fact Khalidi has done a great favour to India. At least now suitable corrective measures can be taken on the basis of the information that Khalidi provides.

Khalidi bases his conclusions on detailed information collected from different regions of the country concerning different economic activities and wisely refuses to over burden his data with any ideological baggage.

Muslims, however, were not in this sad condition always. Even during colonial times, they had a considerable presence in the economy. Khalidi points out that with the exception of Bengal, the Muslims in other parts of the country took to modern education easily and occasionally even outpaced the Hindus. A significant number of them were employed in government. Their numbers only increased after the provision of reservation for them in government service since 1925. The Army had over 30 per cent Muslims even when their share in the population was a mere 23 per cent. Those from the artisanal classes were about as well off or as worse off as their profession mates from other religions.

Things changed for the worse only after Independence. Many moved away into Pakistan to look for better fortunes. Those who were left behind had to compete in the new hurly burly of democratic politics and found themselves marginalised. The reservation offered hitherto by the government to Muslims was withdrawn and the competition in general seats was enhanced by the constitutional reservation that was given to those from the Scheduled Castes and Tribes.

Having lost almost all political patronage the Muslims found it very difficult to get low level jobs where such patronage counted. Majority of the community seemed to withdraw into itself and seemed to give up on modern education thereby losing out on academic achievements.

As it happened, in independent India academic achievement was an important criteria to get into public employment, whether in the government or in the private sector.

The artisanal and trading groups among the Muslims did relatively well. Muslim artisans were and continue to be highly regarded for their skills. But these professions are not the sure-shot ticket to high income levels in India, at least not yet. The so-called trading groups among the Muslims have done well in India, but they too are too few in numbers to make a significant impact on our society and economy.

Khalidi is quite fair in his assessment of the economic condition of Muslims in India. He does notice the negative impact of the various riots and pogroms against the Muslims in recent times and the inability of the inability of the Indian state to protect anyone. These riots do cause a loss of life and income. But the main reason for Muslim backwardness he attributes to the lack of progress in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

He makes easy connections between the problems of the Muslims and those shared by all other Indians. Wisely, he does not ask for any reservations. Rather, he says that the solutions lie in general programs of poverty alleviation for all. Anything else will inevitably, he warns, be misconstrued as appeasement of minorities.