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PERISCOPE
Economic handicaps of Indian Muslims
By Saeed Suhrawardy

What are the specific features of the post-independence economic situation of Indian Muslims? Can we identify factors, which do not apply to other communities? Statistical approach shall lead us nowhere. But it is easy to identify political factors, which have affected their economic situation.

After achievement of independence, there came an important change in the economic situation of Indian Muslims.

Firstly, there was a big "brain drain" following the partition of the country, denuding to a large extent the talent, which had come up through the system of education, prevalent under British rule. Loss of talent due to partition of the country is an exclusive feature of the situation of Indian Muslims. It does not apply to any other community to that extent.

Secondly the leadership of Indian Muslims, in several regions, particularly in Hindi belt, had come mostly from feudal sections. That class was adversely affected by land reforms under pressure of democratic aspirations of large sections. That class, at least the majority among them could not adjust with the change, suffered fast economic degeneration. They could not lift themselves above despair and pessimism and aggravated the gloom around them. The absence of a dynamic and far-sighted leadership has been another important factor inhibiting their economic growth.

The transfer of population in the wake of the partition of the country also hit them hard. The division of families, due to creation of Pakistan had a severe unsettling effect on them.

The enforcement of evacuee property laws also acted as a great disincentive for growth of savings and capital formation in the community. Partition had a depreciating effect on the assets they had retained. In several cases the assets of Muslims were assessed at a great discount as compared with prevailing market conditions. In certain areas, Muslims were required to obtain prior permission for disposing of their properties. There will be no dearth of cases, if compiled, when transferable and nontransferable assets of Muslims were sold at distress rates for daughter’s marriage, litigation or education of children. Certainly no other community in India had to suffer from such handicaps.

The exclusion of Urdu from the educational and administrative spheres in Hindi hinterland threw several categories of workers out of jobs, reduced employment opportunities for skills developed in the course of generations. It destroyed the natural link between elder and younger generations. In the case of the former it caused frustration. For the youth, there was a mental vacuum. They grew up without effective parental guidance. The difference between the language used in the school and the language spoken at home has affected the progress of many a Muslim child.

For more than a decade after independence, priority was given to the rehabilitation of millions of displaced persons from West Pakistan. That naturally led to the exclusion of Indian Muslims from the available avenues of employment.

A sense of insecurity and inferiority also, has been a liability for them. It is difficult to state precisely to what extent there has been discrimination against them in economic sphere. It is not possible to state that in exact statistical terms. But allegations about that should not be a substitute for purposeful and constructive thinking on the subject.

Communal disturbances too have heightened the feeling of insecurity and economic deprivation among them. Communal disturbances may be isolated and scattered occurrences but they have a negative impact on the places where they do not occur.

All the factors mentioned above, taken singly or taken together have been a great drawback for growth of enterprise among them. A sense of security and stability is the first and foremost condition for growth of enterprise.

It should be noted that even the pre-independence generation of Muslims had a stunted growth for various reasons, not mentioned here, it has been difficult for them to retain that position in the post-independence period. The post-independence generation has come up in an atmosphere of gloom and despair.

The remarkable growth of a few Muslim industrial houses after independence-although a bright patch- is exceptional. It has not made an impact on the total economic situation of Indian Muslims.

It is difficult to establish these impressions with support of statistical material. But no statistical tool can match common sense in realistic appraisal of economic status of a particular community.
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