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Published in the 16-31 Dec 2003 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Muslims at lowest ebb: survey
By Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas

Prof Ajit Kumar Singh
Lucknow: Can a human body work if any part of it develops complications? Perhaps not. Can a nation work if any section of it is paralysed? Certainly not. Well, perhaps our nation is confronted with this glaring reality as even after 56 years of independence Muslims are found to be in the lowest strata in terms of development of any kind.

This startling revelation has come to light by a survey, Socio-Economic Status of Farming Communities in Northern India, conducted by Prof Ajit Kumar Singh. The survey was done under the aegis of Giri Institute of Development Studies here.

What is the objective of this survey? "I have done the survey in my personal capacity and the objective was to examine the caste and community wise differences in their social and economic status in rural areas," answered Dr Singh in a slow husky voice.

The main focus of the study is on the upward mobility of intermediate farming communities of northern India, namely Yadav, Jat, Gujjar and Lodh. However, to assess their relative position, the condition of these communities has also been compared with that of the upper castes on one hand and the Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Castes and Muslims on the other hand. Thus, the data about Muslims came out of the necessity to make a comparison.

The survey provides very useful information particularly because caste has assumed an unprecedented importance as a political and social factor in recent decades in the Indian polity. There has been an increasing trend of consolidation of caste identity and political mobilisation along caste lines.

"It is a non-partisan attempt to rank these communities according to development levels. The study is based on a detailed field survey of 2000 rural households selected through carefully chosen samples from 20 villages spread over five districts of western Uttar Pradesh, namely, Muzaffarnagar, Bulandshahr, Moradabad, Mathura and Badaun. The survey covered 75 Muslim households," elaborated Dr Singh.

What is the position of Muslims? "They are living a life which is well below the middle-class standard of living. There is virtually no standard I believe," came the reply. For example? "Muslims constitute 58.2% of illiterate masses as compared to 52.5 % Schedule Caste illiterates, 70% of Muslim women are illiterate. Just 1% of Muslims manage to reach college and 28% of Muslim children do not attend school at all. Mind you, this was the highest percentage of children not going to school," he said.

What could be the reason for this pathetic condition? " Poverty and domestic responsibility is the hindrance and we found that 61.3% of Muslims do not own any land while Brahmins [65.6%] and Thakurs [88.8%] are land owners. And 100% of Upper Caste Brahmin and Thakurs send their children to school. The tragedy is that government has already claimed 100% children go to school on record," he satired.

What is the scenario on the economic front? " We observed a distinct caste hierarchy in economic status with the higher caste on the top, intermediate castes in the middle and Other Backward Castes, SCs and Muslims at the bottom of the economic ladder," he replied. The data to substantiate this point made it pretty clear: Brahmins per capita income was found to be Rs 9208 and Muslims yearly income is less than half of it, at Rs 4124. Thakurs own 22% tractors while not a single Muslim owns a tractor to plough the field.

What has been the overall difference in the living conditions becomes obvious by the fact that just 8% of Muslims had an electricity connection as compared to 67% Brahmins having it. Muslim household formed a negligible percentage as not a single Muslim household had Liquefied Petroleum Gas [LPG] as a source of cooking fuel. It was found that 81% Muslims had the source of drinking water outside the house, while 77% of Thakurs had in-the-house facility of drinking water.

The survey covered the employment status as a determinant of the socio-economic situation of an individual and hence covered the pattern, nature, place of work, average wage levels and the number of days of employment to bring forth data worth analysing. Muslims made up the biggest group 23.5 % of Non-Agricultutal labour and Thakurs and Backwards caste Kurmis made 0% as Non-Agricultural labours. The Brahmin[1.27%] and Baniya [1.59%] took Medical/Law as their profession and Muslims had not one single person taking up the same. Brahmins formed the highest [11.3%] as government servants and not a single Muslim could be found having a job in both government as well as in any non-government office.

The overall appalling conditions lead to the most obvious choice and that would be indebtedness and here too the situation is equally pitiable as 44.9% of Muslims take loans even for buying clothes, as compared to 0% Thakurs.

Do you think government will take any measures to decrease this disparity? " Government already has a long list of programmes for minorities [read Muslims] upliftment. The change in Muslim society due to these policies is very little in urban areas and negligible in rural areas," he pointed out. " We find that government sector is almost denied to Muslims and this may be due to bias but what I ask is where is minority appeasement as alleged by some political outfits," he questioned.

Do you think riots too have played some role?" No, because we conducted the survey in the rural areas and riots are often triggered in the urban cities. Communal trouble barring what has happened in Gujarat 2002 is generally an urban phenomenon," he said.

How do you conceive India in this new millennium ? " Proportionately every group has moved up and the social hierarchy has remained unchanged as Brahmins, Kshtriya, Vaish and Shudra are still in the same order but for minorities I am a bit perplexed." Please elaborate? " I am unable to comprehend dushmani aur dosti mein kya farq hai [ what is the difference between friendship and enmity]" he replied.

You speak beautiful Urdu and Dr Singh smiled. " I came to Lucknow from Hapur in Bulandshahr, western UP, in 1945 but I call myself a Lucknowi. My father did all his khat-o-kitabat in Urdu.

Anything for Lucknow? "Well, Lucknow has over expanded its limits, functional Urdu has lost its utility but still Lucknow is the same leisurely place to live, I still remember the sweetness of Ghalib when I was the president of the organising committee of Ghalib centenary celebrations in 1969," he answered. "It makes us happy when academicians, political analysts turn to the book we have published," says Mirza Imran Beg running New Royal Book Company in Lucknow.

The efforts of Dr Singh deserve kudos for bringing to light the plight of one very important section of the nation. May be this survey will be the wake up call for the mandarins of power to turn some of their attention to this deprived section of the nation as well. 

One most important factor of the Survey is that it was done in the most agrarian and green part of Uttar Pradesh and the situation is bound to be even worse if one would turn to Eastern UP where there is no greenery and lush lands. 

When will the government wake up and take the much awaited cudgel and eradicate this discrimination and pave the way for an egalitarian society? Let’s see how long the wait will last.

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