| Sharp differences
India has very many poor and deprived people. There are large groups like small farmers, landless labourers, urban slum-dwellers and women (especially in low-income families), aborigines and other tribes, lower castes as scheduled in the Constitution and other backward classes among Hindus, Muslims, the indigent elderly, gypsies, and so on. Deprivation is widespread and not a prerogative of a single community or group. However, on some indicators, Muslims are worse off than Hindus, who also suffer serious deprivation. India’s experience with subsidies, dual pricing and specific handouts is that they have not significantly improved the condition of many recipients. It may only have added to their dependence. Since the Nineties, a fast-growing economy has reduced the numbers of the very poor. We must recognize that economic well-being brings in its wake social well-being as well. The deprived must become better-off and for that they need opportunities and the building of their capability.
Governments must improve opportunities for the poor and deprived. Is reservation of jobs in governments, public enterprises, academia and the private sector the best way of improving opportunities' Such jobs are few in relation to the need and in recent years, are decreasing in numbers. Few people from scheduled castes and tribes have benefited, perhaps owing to the lack of enough capable people. Tamil Nadu has offered, for the longest period, mid-day meal schemes to schoolchildren. Nutritious meals for pregnant and lactating mothers have helped the health of mothers and infants. Their beneficial effects on school attendance and on decline in fertility rates are known.
Unfortunately, social services delivery by many governments to the poor is inefficient and ineffective. Delivery of government services in health, education and subsidized supplies of essentials, is badly targeted and handled. They are not delivered at least cost and with minimum wastage, nor are they of uniformly high quality to those for whom they are meant. It is the incompetence of the government delivery system of these services that has resulted in continued deprivation of almost every section of the economically backward in India, despite large expenditures since independence. Children of the very poor get little out of the schools they attend. The quality of delivery of government services must improve. No government has given this the priority it deserves.
In 1992, the National Council of Applied Economic Research commenced the study in detail of human development indicators in each state of India. The sample had a strong rural bias and would get comparable data for Hindus (particularly scheduled castes and tribes) as well as majority-minority religions in each state — for example, Muslims in Uttar Pradesh or Christians in Kerala. The rich data out of this study has been used by many researchers. A key finding was that Muslims were, on many indicators, as badly or well off as the scheduled castes, but the scheduled tribes were the worst off on most indicators. The Sachar committee report has established certain other kinds of deprivation of Muslims that can only be attributed to discrimination.
The Sachar report uses many other data sources, particularly the National Sample Survey and the National Health and Family Planning Survey, and other specially designed studies. Muslims are deprived. So are scheduled castes and tribes in relation to OBCs, uppercaste Hindus and all other minorities. The worst-off Muslims are those in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, which together have 52 per cent of all Indian Muslims. The Sachar committee compares the status of deprivation between Muslims and Hindus (percentages below are in relation to total number of Hindus or Muslims).
In rural India, Muslims are much less represented in agriculture than Hindus and much more in non-agriculture. While 28 per cent of Hindus had no land, the number was 34 per cent for Muslims. Land holdings by Muslims are, on average, much smaller than those held by Hindus. However, rural Muslims match rural Hindus in monthly per capita expenditures. Muslims, and especially women in rural areas, trail even farther behind Hindus on higher education.
In urban India, 53 per cent of Muslims are self-employed versus 39 per cent of Hindus. Muslims have much lower representation in regular wage or salaried employment than Hindus. The proportion of illiterates is somewhat higher among Muslim males, but illiteracy is rampant among Muslim females. The differences become much sharper at higher levels of education. Secondary school education was undertaken by 17 per cent of Hindus and 8 per cent Muslims; while graduates and above were 7.9 per cent Hindus and 0.8 per cent Muslims. Less women than men among Hindus, and even less Muslim women as compared to Hindu women went for higher education. In urban India, at household monthly per capita expenditures above Rs 110, there are 64 per cent Hindus versus 46 per cent Muslims, and below Rs 110 there are 53 per cent Muslims versus 36 per cent Hindus, that is, urban Muslims have much lower expenditures. With higher percentage of all Muslims living in urban areas, Muslims are expenditure-wise worse off.
Female work participation rates among both Muslim and Hindu urban women are low. In rural areas, the work participation of both is more than three times that in urban areas. The differences between Hindu and Muslim women on this indicator are small. On some social indicators, the Muslims do much better. Thus the Muslim sex ratio is better than the Hindu one, and except for Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir, Muslims are at the same or higher levels than Hindus in every state. Muslims have more live births and higher surviving proportions than Hindus, and this is so at all levels of income. While contraceptive usage among Muslims is lower than among Hindus, the differences are not large in relation to their populations. Perhaps there may be less female foeticide and infanticide among Muslims, and better mother and child care.
Muslims are far fewer in government employment in relation to their population. In key states, Muslims had 6.3 per cent share in state government employment, 7.8 per cent in judiciary and 7.4 per cent in public enterprises, all less than half of their proportions in the population. The flow of benefits under various government schemes to Muslims is very low in almost every state. Habitations with large Muslim populations in the states with large Muslim populations (West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam) also suffer from government neglect in available facilities like schools, healthcare centres, post offices, bus stops and proper approach roads.
Muslims are better than their Hindu counterparts on monthly household per capita expenditures (in rural areas), female sex ratios, infant and maternal mortality, to name a few. The means that achieved these better outcomes must be identified and the community institutions that enabled them to happen must be nurtured.
Muslim deprivation appears to be owing to social mores (poor female education), possible discrimination (poor representation in higher education), and definite discrimination (poor services in predominantly Muslim habitations). Like the deprived among the Hindus, Muslims also require a better quality of school education. More and better-remunerated teachers, better teacher attendance at schools, more school facilities, outreach programmes to improve English and general knowledge, are some aspects that must improve in government schools. This improvement must happen for all communities.
Reservations will not help Muslims as they have not helped the SCs and STs. The quality of Muslim human resources must improve. Institutions that have helped achieve better results on some parameters could be used to improve on the poor parameters as well. New institutions must be developed to improve the delivery of social services from governments to Muslims. Muslim non-governmental groups must be formed to ensure that Muslims get their due share of government services and expenditures.