A recent article by peddlers of the Muslim victimhood narrative makes the point that the community has fallen further behind even the Scheduled Castes (SCs) in terms of socio-economic status, especially in terms of educational achievements.
The article, by Christophe Jaffrelot and Kalairasan A, in The Indian Express, uses data from two National Sample Surveys in 2017-18 and 2011-12 to conclude that Muslims have fallen further behind in terms of educational attainment.
They write: “The proportion of the youth who have completed graduation — we call this, “educational attainment” — among Muslims in 2017-18 is 14 percent as against 18 percent among the Dalits, 25 percent among the Hindu OBCs, and 37 percent among the Hindu upper castes. The gap between the SCs and Muslims is 4 percentage points in 2017-18. Six years earlier (2011-12), the SC youth were just one percentage point above Muslims in educational attainment.”
Let us take these data points as true. The authors, however, don’t ask themselves a basic question: why is it that a historically-backward and socially-ostracised section of Indians has been able to pick itself up by the bootstraps, while a once-dominant minority, which ruled the country and sometimes inflicted miseries on the majority, is unable to rediscover its past socio-economic mojo?
One answer could be that the system of affirmative action – reservations in educational institutions and jobs – is all-pervasive for SCs and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) than for Muslims. But if the upper castes are doing quite well, without these reservations, one wonders why descendants of former rulers, who were the ruling class in this country, are unable to do the same even 72 years after Partition.
Jaffrelot and Kalairasan want us to look in the wrong direction for the answer: that the Muslim slippage in educational attainment is related to political marginalisation. They conclude, quoting from another study, that “Muslims are being left out from educational mobility in India while the SCs are getting integrated into it. More studies are needed to link this disturbing process to the political marginalisation of Muslims. The activities of vigilante groups could possibly have led young Muslims to withdraw in to their shell.”
This is mischief masquerading as analysis. To link the long-term decline in Muslim educational attainments to some recent instances of lynching in some states is absolutely without basis. Most lynchings are confined to a few states (Bihar and Jharkhand), and the reasons for the violence are either cow smuggling or theft, and not generic attacks on Muslims related to their identity. While there is an obvious communal angle to this violence – and the violence is by no means one-way – to link this to Muslims educational underachievement is about suppressing the truth and suggesting falsehood. Suppressio veri, suggestio falsi.
An unexplored reason behind the Muslim slippage in terms of educational attainment is one that no one will state: self-marginalisation. If a community, for whatever reason, chooses to stand aloof from the society in which it draws its sustenance, it is unlikely to prosper. This is probably why SCs have progressed while Muslims have not.
Muslim history in independent India started with the community voting strongly for the Muslim League and Partition. That taint is what causes others to remain suspicious of their loyalties. Unfortunately, the allegedly secular parties, instead of mainstreaming Muslims by asking them to fight for economic benefits and equal rights, chose to woo them on the basis of religious identity and special and exclusive rights. They were deliberately kept apart from the mainstream in order to serve as vote-banks for assorted “secular parties” at the Centre or states.
From the uniform civil code to the Shah Bano verdict, from the Ram Mandir negotiations to the triple talaq judgements, from minority protections to deliberate exclusions from the Right to Education Act, Indian “secularism” has meant keeping Muslims separate from accommodation with mainstream Hindus. They were told doctored histories about some of their bigoted ancestors (Aurangzeb and Tipu Sultan), offered fake remedies like Sharia investments and Haj subsidies, but no equality under the law. They were told only separate histories and separate laws would help them.
The Muslim leadership and exclusivist social organisations (like the Tablighi Jamaat or Jamaat-e-Islami) worsened the segregation by asking Muslims to abandon “shirk” (syncretic practices drawn from Indian Islamic experience) even as a more rigid form of Wahhabised Islam is gathering steam. Separate civil institutions have been created – like the Muslim Personal Law Board – to tell Muslims that they are a different species altogether from the average Indian.
When Muslim women cover themselves with the black burkha they are essentially segregating themselves from other Indian women, which is a form of self-marginalisation rather than discrimination. When Muslim scholars issue fatwas banning Muslims from singing Vande Mataram or participating in yoga, it is again an effort to segregate rather than integrate.
It is nobody’s case that Muslims should be forcibly asked to do what Hindus want them do, but the authors of Muslim victimhood narratives pretend to be surprised by the fact that “Muslims are being left out from educational mobility in India while the SCs are getting integrated into it”. Isn’t the answer contained in this sentence? That Muslims are resisting integration into a society just as SCs are trying to do the opposite? While the SCs are demanding an end to discrimination, many Muslim organisations are demanding discrimination in their favour.
When it comes to political marginalisation, Muslims need to ask themselves a simple question: when Hindu leaders can carry Muslims along by offering them various benefits like reservations or special treatment, why is it that few Muslim leaders ever canvas for the Hindu vote in their constituencies with equal fervour, by offering deals that Hindus cannot refuse?
The current jobs environment, where companies offer gigs rather than regular employment to youths, is actually very beneficial to Muslims who have never been great beneficiaries of reservations in high quality jobs. But even here, one is not sure that they value economic progress more than religious identity.
In the brutal murder of Kamlesh Tiwari last month, two Muslims from Surat – one who worked for Zomato as a delivery boy, and another who worked as a medical representative for a pharma company – have been arrested. They have effectively betrayed the trust of their customers by being allegedly involved in murder in a state far away from where they worked for a living. They effectively put their religion above job loyalties, thus making it tougher for other Indians to trust Muslim employees.
Muslims are likely to be as much victims of self-marginalisation as any overt form of deliberate exclusion by the Hindu majority – a majority known more for its own divisions and petty squabbles that united action to defend its interests. It is time researchers studied the roots of Muslim self-marginalisation as a contributory cause to their backwardness.
A post-script: Under the Narendra Modi administration, the Minority Affairs Ministry has some of the biggest budgets, and the new 10 per cent reservations based on economic criteria can easily benefit Muslims considerably. One wonders why no Muslim has praised these initiatives? Is this not self-marginalisation once more?
Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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