Indian Muslims Are In A Sweet Spot, Both Demographically & In Job Market

by R Jagannathan - Nov 1, 2016 04:49 PM +05:30 IST
Indian Muslims Are In A Sweet Spot, Both Demographically & In Job MarketGetty Images
Snapshot
  • As poll season approaches, India’s largest minority community, Muslims, will also be promised quotas by various parties in the face of serious opposition from the BJP.

    All the communities demanding quotas are making a serious mistake, for the simple truth is there are not that many formal sector jobs to go around.

    Muslims don’t need crutches like quotas. They are likely to benefit from sheer demographics and the shift the job market and global competitive advantage.

As the jobs market gets tougher with the slowdown in growth, greater automation, and falling returns in agriculture, more and more communities have been demanding jobs reservations. The Jats, the Gujjars, the Patidars and the Marathas, traditionally land-owning peasant communities, have been on the warpath demanding quotas for themselves even though they do not quite qualify on the backwardness count.

As poll season approaches, India’s largest minority community, Muslims, will also be promised quotas by various parties in the face of serious opposition from the BJP. They are actually better off not seeking quotas.

All the communities demanding quotas are making a serious mistake, for the simple truth is there are not that many formal sector jobs to go around. Jobs will be created in the informal and services sectors, in areas far removed from quotas. Quotas in a plateauing organised sector job market will not only benefit too few people, but it will also distract a community’s attention away from the one thing that will give them an economic advantage: skilling themselves in the professions and trades that are expanding.

In the case of Muslims, a demographic dividend awaits them over the next few decades. Not only that, they are well placed to benefit from being in the right sectors at the right time when quality jobs are not growing fast enough in government or the organised sectors of the economy.

In terms of age demographics, Muslims are coming into a sweet spot, with 47 percent of the Indian Muslim population now under 19, compared to 40 percent for Hindus. This means more Muslims (as a percentage of the Muslim population) will be entering the productive phase over the next decade. In contrast, more Hindus will be exiting this phase (in proportionate terms), as more than 51 percent of the Hindu population in already in the 20-60 age group (versus 46 percent for Muslims). More Hindus will be retiring than Muslims (again, as a proportion of their populations).

Given that the Muslim birth rate is much higher than the Hindu one (24.6 percent against 16.8 percent), demography will tilt towards Muslims in the coming one or two decades.

More importantly, having been left out of jobs that were considered desirable in the past (in government, banks, the public sector, and in multinational and private sector organised industry), Muslims went into the more difficult trades and professions – sectors that demanded more in terms of effort compared to incomes. But these sectors will be among the biggest job creators in the future.

In the seven decades since independence, it was the Hindu middle classes – including OBCs and Dalits – that benefited from quotas and merit-based jobs. The Muslims were left out as their educated classes left India during partition, and the poor, uneducated Muslims who got left behind were used as vote blocks by the “secular” parties. They were offered protection instead of education and jobs. Post 1992, when Muslims realised the “secular” parties cannot ultimately protect them from anybody, they pulled themselves up by the bootstraps. They invested in their own education, and created their own job opportunities.

But this independence will stand them in good stead now, for the buzzing sectors of the Indian economy today are different from what they were in the past, and in each one of them, Muslims are already making significant inroads.

Jobs are plateauing (or declining) in many areas traditionally dominated by the Hindu middle classes – including such booming sectors like software, banking and financial services, the public sector, and organised businesses in manufacturing or IT services.

In contrast, the sectors where jobs will boom are those where Muslims had got into by default, when other doors had remained closed for them, both for want of education or quota entitlements.

According to an HDFC Bank jobs report released in May, the top 10 sectors where India could have a strong competitive advantage in future are: Computer electronic and optical products, furniture, leather and products, printing and publishing, rubber and plastic products, wearing apparel, other non-metallic mineral products, motor vehicles, paper and paper products, electrical equipment, and fabricated metal products.

To this list one can add India’s retail sector, and the entertainment, healthcare, tourism and leisure industry – all sectors that will boom as the population ages.

Now consider how well-entrenched Muslims are in many of these businesses – furniture, leather, motor vehicles (garages and repair shops), entertainment (Bollywood), tourism, handicrafts and metal work, tailoring, retail trade, etc. Anecdotal evidence will tell you that these professions and trades have a Muslim component that may sometimes be larger than their share of population. These jobs are in their DNA, and thus they will prosper.

In the era of quotas, the Hindu middle classes were the main beneficiaries, aided by their own demographic dividend.

In the era of entrepreneurship and private-effort led growth, which is what the future holds, Muslims, with their own oncoming demographic dividend, will stand to gain.

Muslims don’t need crutches like quotas. They are likely to benefit from sheer demographics and the shift the job market and global competitive advantage.

A greater Muslim participation in India’s demographic dividend will benefit all.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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