India’s Muslim population is estimated at a staggering 180 million and constitutes roughly 15% of the country’s population, but Muslims living in India suffer economically, politically, and socially. That the country’s largest religious minority does not enjoy equality under the Indian democracy is a grave challenge to the basic values of democracy, secularism, and pluralism in the “world’s largest democracy."
Discrimination against the Muslim community has historic roots (the community has been under-represented in politics and government jobs) but judging from a recent Sachar Committee Report (SCR), the situation is getting worse.
The Committee’s findings suggest that the situation is so bad that Muslims lag behind not only the Indian mainstream in nearly all spheres of progress, but also the Scheduled Castes/Tribes (SC/STs), considered the most backward sections, in many aspects. Literacy rate among Muslims (59%) was well below the national average (65%), owing mainly to the limited access to government schools.
In public employment, the picture seems even bleaker. Only 5% of the central government employees were Muslims. In the police force, their share was 3.3%. In administrative services, it was 2.2%. Muslims made up only 4.5% in Indian Railways and even then 98.7% were placed at lower levels. Representation of Muslims in Indian politics is disproportionally low. Although their share in the judiciary was 8%, only 2.7% of Indian judges are Muslim.
In the private sector, the situation is even worse. Poverty among Muslims is severe with 31% of them live below the poverty line (the second lowest of all groups). In terms of income and expenditure, Muslims shared the lowest strata, with an average Per-Capita-Expenditure (MPCE) for the year 2004-05 of only $14 against $23 of the general population. Land-ownership among Muslims was the lowest of all population categories.
The rise of anti-Muslim communalism in India is yet another woe for Muslims. As just one example, in the Gujarat massacre of 2002, over a thousand Muslims were killed and tens of thousands uprooted from their homes. The incident remains one of the worst communal killings in the country.
A recent report entitled, “What it means to be a Muslim in India Today” found that widespread communal profiling and targeting of Muslim youths by the police has produced feelings of alienation, fear, insecurity, and helplessness. Several testimonies from victims of the communal profiling reveal that Muslim youths live under the constant dread of being profiled as a terrorist, with the attendant fears of illegal and prolonged detention, denial of bail, torture, unfair and biased investigation and trial, and extra-judicial killings. This continues, despite recent revelations in a Wikileaks cable that Indian Muslims denounce terrorism and are, in large part, not attracted to extremism.
This level of discrimination does not just pose a threat to Muslims, but also threatens the communal harmony of the whole country. If this trend is not effectively checked, the “world’s largest democracy” will descend into a society with second-class citizenship for religious minorities — the antithesis of democracy.
Photo Credit: A tea but no e