Why are Muslims so backward in India?

Mohammad Behzad Fatmi
Mohammad Behzad FatmiFeb 14, 2016 | 17:43

Why are Muslims so backward in India?

Muslims in India have long been complaining about pervasive discrimination against their community, and sometimes even being treated as second class citizens by the Indian state. But, is it only the state that is responsible for the terrible condition of Muslims in the country or can the community also be held responsible for it?

The largest minority group in India - Muslims - who form more than 14 per cent of the population is notably lagging behind all other religious communities in the country. The Muslims are not only trailing in comparison to the majority community of the country (Hindus) but also in comparison to other, much smaller, minority communities like Sikhs, Jains et al.


They are lacking in terms of social status, political activism, financial condition, educational qualification and in almost every other factor that defines prosperity of a community. This condition was acknowledged in 2006 in the Sachar Committee report. The committee was tasked with filing a report on social, economic and educational status of Muslims in the country.

Apart from the undeniable fact that successive governments have discriminated against the Muslims at various levels, the community itself, to an extent, is also responsible for its appalling condition in the country today.

The Muslims lag behind in four major areas which, in my opinion, always play a pivotal role in assuming power, or, at least in having a reasonable say in matters concerning each and every citizen. Firstly, Muslims in India are divided on political lines and have little or no national leadership. Secondly, they are hardly found in country's civil services and public administration. Thirdly, the community is also grossly under-represented in the field of journalism. Moreover, Muslims in India have dismal entrepreneurial ambitions.

It is an unfortunate fact that despite having sizeable numbers, Indian Muslims stand nowhere in the political arena of the country. There is not even a single political party which genuinely represents the Muslims. However, there are a number of parties with many Muslim leaders who work at loggerheads with each other to exploit the community for votes during elections but do not really work for the long-term welfare of the community. Once elected, they forget about the community and work on advancing merely their political careers.


Political representation of the Muslims stands disproportionately low at six-to-eight per cent while their population in India is over 14 per cent.

The two major political parties in the country, the Congress and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), nevertheless, boast of many Muslim leaders who try to woo the community whenever required. But the BJP's association with the extremist right-wing organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) puts it at odds with the Muslim community at the outset.

The Congress is also hardly different from the BJP, albeit largely considered a secular political party. The difference between the two parties is best described by one of India's most renowned authors, Arundhati Roy: "Congress has done covertly, stealthily, hypocritically, shame-facedly, what the BJP does with pride."

In spite of this, Muslim leaders do not refrain from being used by these political parties and keep supporting them for their individual short-term political gains. For instance, Uttar Pradesh, which has the largest number of Muslims and holds a significant importance in the electoral process of the country also has a good number of influential Muslim political leaders. But ironically, those leaders can hardly be said to be making collective efforts to combat the problems plaguing the Muslims today. Most of them are seen vying against each other for political dominance.


And religious organisations like Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadees Hind, Sunni Dawat-e-Islami, and others, which have the potential of leading the much-needed reform from within the community are apparently shackled with centuries-old faith issues. Perhaps the only matter that concerns them is the way Islam should be practised by the community.

The second major area where there must be a balanced representation from every community is public administration, and here, too, Muslims perform miserably. The top bureaucratic positions in the country namely the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) are alarmingly under-represented by Muslims. The approximate figure of Muslims in these services stands shockingly low at two-three per cent.

It should be noted that the majority of Muslims are not even eligible for these posts as very few of them are university graduates. Surveys suggest that roughly five per cent of Muslims in the country have successfully completed university education.

In the field of journalism as well, Muslims are hardly anywhere to be seen. There are very few Muslim journalists of national prominence, let alone the existence of an influential media outlet owned by them. Even if there are some TV channels and newspapers run by Muslims in the country, their reach is not beyond the Muslim community for two specific reasons.

First, because they mainly cover issues of the Muslim community only and largely ignore matters concerning other communities. And second, because the majority of these outlets are in Urdu which is not a very common language in present-day India. According to some data, hardly five per cent of the Indian population can read and write in this language.

Consequently, these media groups lack readership/viewership and thus a very important source for Muslims to reach the wider society is limited. Their voices remain unheard by the public in general, and they become a soft target for stereotyping by right-wing media houses.

Finally, the Muslim community unfortunately also largely remains the job-seeker rather than also producing some job-givers. Except businessmen like Azim Premji of Wipro, Yusuf Hamied of Cipla, Shahid Balwa of DB Reality and a few others, there are few prominent Muslim names in the corporate world.

According to a report, among the top 500 companies which are listed either on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) or the National Stock Exchange (NSE), not even one per cent are owned by Muslims. It is worth reiterating that Muslims constitute over 14 per cent of the Indian population and counts about 133,295,077 people, if not more.

The road ahead

In this situation, great responsibilities lie with the institutions associated with the community, religious leaders and its well-off members.

Universities like Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia, which are some of the top priorities for Muslim students in the country, must be able to produce some of the finest professionals in different fields who would not only care for their individual well-being but would also show concern for the community at large.

These universities must hold themselves to high academic and social standards. Besides craving for excellence in education and learning, they must also promote democratic, liberal and secular values, and inculcate understanding of moral responsibilities among the students. The Muslim community desperately needs politicians with these values and these universities can greatly contribute to this cause.

The religious leaders must heed the need of the hour to reform the various education, social, and cultural institutions they run. The importance and need of education, not just religious, but also modern and secular, must be stressed.

It should be noted that such reforms can only come from within the community and outside intervention, whether state or non-state, is not only unjustifiable but is also bound to fail. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the well-educated and influential members of the community to push for these reforms.

These people should also make collective efforts to ensure a fall in dropout rates at all academic levels. The well-off members of the community should institute scholarships and other aides to ensure that deserving and talented young students do not drop out from school or university owing to financial problems.

The selfless services of a few have contributed significantly towards the betterment of the community, but much is to be done still. It is time for the community members to show extraordinary solidarity with each other for their own prosperity and welfare.

Last updated: February 15, 2016 | 18:39
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