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PERISCOPE
Economic situation of Indian Muslims
By Saeed Suhrawardy

If we go through the material that is published about Indian Muslims, we get the impression that there is a threat to their religious identity. Their representation in the Parliament, assemblies and government services is inadequate. Muslims speaking Urdu have suffered due to the eclipse of their language. Nobody refers to their economic problems.

Perhaps the domain of economic inquiry has no scope for the rhetoric to which Muslims are accustomed. Their organizations and leaders are seldom bothered about the economic environment as it affects them. They are focussed on the issues over which they have no power or control e.g. reservation etc. Nobody tells them that they can create jobs by organizing themselves on desired lines. They should move to areas that are likely to grow and prosper. They should withdraw themselves from fields where competition is sharp. They should avoid trades and professions that have no scope for further growth and development. They should realize that economic issues finally determine political, ethnic, cultural and linguistic options.

But is it possible to make a meaningful and constructive study of the economic situation of Indian Muslims, when strictly speaking they do not constitute an economic entity i.e. occupational group, class or income category?

Admittedly, it is difficult to establish the economic identity of Indian Muslims. They are composed of classes whose interests are divergent and in certain case contradictory also. The interests of Muslim landlords and their tenants can never coincide. The interests of Muslim employers and their employees will never be identical. There are glaring differences in the economic situation of Muslims in the North and the South, and East and West of the country.

In these circumstances what can be the justification of making an economic study of Indian Muslims?

The justification lies in the directive principles of Indian Constitution, which stipulates equality of opportunity for all irrespective of considerations of caste, community or religion.

So if there is a general impression that a particular community lags behind others and its participation in the progress of the country is inadequate, an attempt must be made to identify factors obstructing its progress. Such a study may not be exhaustive or broad-based. But it should be carried out to bring in bold relief important features of the social and economic life of the community. The object and approach of such a study may be limited but its utility should not be underestimated.

Muslims may not be an economic category, but certainly they are a distinct social group with a definable identity of feeling and belief which is an important element, shaping their attitude to their environment and which also conditions the attitude of others in their dealings with Muslims.

If Muslims were subject to the same economic and social forces as others, there would have been no justification for studying their problems separately. But there have been forces having decisive impact on the economic situation of Indian Muslims, not operative in case of Non-Muslim communities.

The reports frequently quoted are there, to prove that Muslims are to be blamed for their educational and technical backwardness. But the political will to redress their economic handicaps is not in sight. The demand for a fair share of economic opportunities may be just and attractive for Muslims and their well wishers. But so far no political party has come forward to commit itself to legislation to secure that. There may be a political party, prompted by political compulsions, which has to support such a demand. But it shall be difficult for them to bring about a consensus on the subject.

In these circumstances the initiative for economic progress of the community has to come from the community. There should be organized effort by the community for creation of job opportunities and upgrading of technical and marketing skills in the trades and occupations, which sustain bulk of the community.

With that aim in view, systematic data collection about the economic life of Indian Muslims should be the first step. It should be followed by creation of a paid cadre of constructive workers, who are capable of discharging their responsibilities in an accountable and transparent manner.

Honorary social work may be fashionable for political and social climbing but its performance cannot be objectively verified.
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