Manmohan Singh's war on Inequities and The Truth about Muslim Economic Status!

Dr. Manmohan Singh is in a hurry to reverse a lot of inequalities in the country. From that of the Dalits to the Muslims.

According to him “that his Government was committed to removing the inequities and imbalanced faced by the community which has been deprived of an equal share of development benefits”. This is an important characterisation of the reasons due to which Muslims are “poor”. There has been a great hue and cry over the inequities and therefore quotas that Muslims should get in the educational institutes in India.

A demographer recently – Mahendra K. Premi, ex-Professor at JNU (so not a saffronist I presume!) – wrote a book titled “Population of India in the New Millenium: Census 2001”. There he gives some interesting figures culled from the Official Census:

Andhra Pradesh:
Muslim Male Literacy Percentage = 76.5%; Hindu Males = 69.5%
Muslims females = 59.1%; Hindu Females = 49.2%

Muslim Males = 82.9% Hindu Males = 79.1%
Muslim Females = 63.5%; Hindu Females = 56.7%

The states where male and female Muslims enjoy a higher literacy rates are:

  • Andhra Pradesh
  • Chattisgarh
  • Gujarat
  • Karnataka
  • Madhya Pradesh
  • Orissa
  • Tamil Nadu

Apart from Uttar Pradesh no major Muslim population state has been left out of the list above! The differences between the Muslims and Hindu literacy is not minor – it is between 7 to 10 percentage points! That is staggering when you take the absolute numbers in to account!

So, now should we start discussing the INEQUITY in the literacy of the Hindus? Shall we? Or is equity a strict agenda on religious fundamentalism that Dr. Manmohan Singh is so keen to follow up after his ill-conceived OBC quotas?

Now, we come to the other question that Dr. Singh was ostensibly trying to address – the inequities in economic status of the minorities vis-a-vis the majority. It is a common fact of Development Economics that higher literacy rates translate into richer communities. Switzerland and Kerala prove this point as is the case in point in other countries and communities.

In fact even by admission of this book the National Averages for various communities are:

National Average = 75.3
Hindus = 76.2
Muslims = 67.6
Christians = 84.4
Sikhs = 75.2
Buddhists = 83.1
Jains = 97.4

National Average = 53.7
Hindus = 53.2
Muslims = 50.1
Christians = 76.2
Sikhs = 63.1
Buddhists = 61.7
Jains = 90.6

This shows that Sikhs, Jains, and Christians have a higher than average literacy and that is reflected in their economic status too. The wild card for me are the Buddhists – in my view the Dalits who converted to Buddhism are the highest constituents of this community – and they have very high, in fact higher literacy than Sikhs when it comes to males! And still the move is aground to provide quotas to that community!

So, Muslims are not too off than the majority in literacy when it comes to the National Average and in fact beat the majority male and female population by several percentage points in most states. So how come the Muslims in India despite higher literacy are so poor??

To understand this one has to look at what do we really call “literacy”? Here is the definition:

In the Indian census, a person is recorded as literate if he or she is able to read and write a simple message with understanding in any language.

Now, with proliferation of Madrasas where the Muslim kids go for their education – actually more for religious education than normal science, languages and Math variety – it is no wonder that more of them pass the “literacy test” of the Government!

But what after that? Can they use this education for their economic benefit? The answer seems to be obvious!

So, then suppose the Government created quotas in the normal educational institutions of India for Muslims to be included – do you think that will benefit a kid going to Madrasa or coming out of one? Would that not be a complete hogwash? Something that looks like a great dole but of no good at all!!??

What is a better answer? I, for one, believe it will be much better to equip an already existing infrastructure that catches the Muslim populace in their educational process – the Madrasas – to make them better economic assets when they grow up as opposed to “literate” unemployed youth!! There is no reason to bypass the Madrasa system if it does a good job of catching such high numbers. Instead it should be managed in a formal manner.

Quotas for Muslims, on the other hand, will do two things:

1. Used by politicians as an election strategy – for the “see we did this for you?” sound-byte
2. And at the same time, it will be useless going forward for the people who presumably need it the most!

So, 10 years from now the rich amongst the Muslims will take all the advantages of such quotas but the really needy will still be trudging along to the nearest Madrasa to learn alif, be, teh, the, se….

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