Saturday, Sep 14, 2002
Front Page |
Southern States |
Other States |
Advts: Classifieds | Employment | Obituary |
Leader Page Articles
By C. Rammanohar Reddy
THE IDEA of "appeasement" is strongly embedded in public debates about the privileges that India's religious minorities are supposed to be enjoying. It has become such a powerful political idea that it has percolated into popular discourse as well. To a lesser extent, this notion is used also in discussions on caste appeasement is an accusatory description of the constitutional system of reservation for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Castes. The political jousting about appeasement on a caste basis is still a delicate issue. But as Indian society has become increasingly divided on communal lines, such delicacy does not visit discussions about the so-called privileges enjoyed by India's Muslim citizens.
But does the idea of appeasement have any basis in fact? Like all powerful but divisive ideas this too belongs to the realm of imagination. Ever since the Rajiv Gandhi Government cynically modified Muslim personal law after the Shah Bano judgment in the mid-1980s (which was equally cynically balanced by the opening of the locks on the Babri Masjid), the accusations of `reverse' discrimination have been legion. Article 370 on Jammu and Kashmir, the absence of a common civil code and the special rights of minority educational institutions are some of the examples dredged up to fan the communal debate. No mention here, of course, of the privileges enjoyed by the majority community, the best example being the tax advantages conferred on Hindu Undivided Families.
One way to subject this notion of appeasement to critical examination is to list the special rights enjoyed by each religious group and assess the rationale of, or its absence for, each privilege. Another is to ask if the members of the religious minorities especially Muslims now enjoy a superior social and economic position, as they must be if the state has been "appeasing" them while discriminating against members of the religious majority. It only takes a naked eye to observe that Muslims on the average are not by any standard at an economically higher level than the Hindus. No reference to the retail outlets and restaurants that are owned by the Muslims or the remittances that they receive from relatives working in West Asia or even to refurbished mosques can distort the picture of a community that as a whole is disadvantageously placed in comparison to Indians who belong to all other religions. Of course, prejudices cannot countenance honest observation.
The lies about appeasement could be dispelled if there was information about the economic conditions of the members of each religious group, in each State, by gender and by place of residence (rural and urban). Unfortunately, until recently such socio-economic data was not generated by Government agencies. This is consistent with the refusal to collect information on a caste basis. The basic and false premise is that you can wish away differences by just refusing to measure them. Differences according to religion and caste simply do not exist then. Just as unforgivable is the unwillingness of the Indian academic community to explore these issues in detail, especially at a time when `created' facts about the majority and minority religious communities are commonly used in political discourse. The only exceptions are attempts to study the demographic behaviour of religious groups (itself a subject of immense falsification and the root of outlandish fears in the public imagination). Social science researchers have been irresponsible by refusing to study where the members of India's many religious groups stand in a variety of social and economic indicators. There has been some change recently. In 1999, a team of researchers at the National Council of Applied Economic Research, led by Abusaleh Shariff, published the results of a nationwide survey of 33,000 households. This study (India: Human Development Report) collated information according to socio-economic status, caste and religion. But what is more remarkable is that the National Sample Survey Organisation, an autonomous Government agency, has compiled and published the socio-economic data according to religion that it collected during the course of its national surveys of consumption expenditure during the 50th and 55th rounds in 1993-94 and 1999-2000. (This was done on a smaller scale even earlier for 1987-88.) It is a measure of how seriously the NSSO takes its autonomy that even in the communally charged decade of the 1990s it went ahead and published its estimates of literacy, employment and consumption expenditure for both rounds.
The socio-economic profile that the NSSO estimates paint of the Muslim Indian is a depressing one. In all major socio-economic indicators, the members of India's biggest religious minority are, on the average, worse off than members of the majority community. First, they spend less on items of daily consumption because they apparently earn less. The incidence of poverty is therefore likely to be higher among Muslims than Hindus. Second, literacy rates are substantially higher among the Hindus. And a Hindu boy or girl who goes to school is more likely to go on to college than a Muslim. Third, working Muslims are to be found more in casual labour and seasonal occupations than Hindus. Fourth, among those with access to land a Hindu household is more likely to be cultivating larger plots. Fifth, unemployment rates are higher among Muslims than Hindus. This overall profile is true of both men and women, in rural and urban India and in all States. Moreover, the disparity between the majority and minority religious groups in most cases widened during the 1990s. The only positive feature is that the sex ratio among Muslims is better than among the Hindus.
The story then is that in a poor society, the members of this minority religion are more likely to be at the bottom of the heap. Their economic conditions are as remote as possible from living off the fruits of state "appeasement". The NSS does not provide information on shelter, health, nutrition and other socio-economic indicators. If such information was available the larger picture would be in more black and white terms. Official data tell us that during a decade which saw a growing geographical ghettoisation of the Muslim community, it was also living in economic ghettos. (There is also the caste factor that one must recognise. According to Satish Deshpande of the Institute of Economic Growth, the same NSSO estimates suggest that 90 per cent of India's poor are members of the scheduled castes and tribes, the Hindu OBCs and Muslims.) With such comprehensive information as we now have about the profile of members of the main religious groups (the NSSO also provides data on Christians), it is no longer possible to spread canards about appeasement of Muslims and reverse discrimination of Hindus. Moreover, with the kind of detailed information that is now available, official policy can if the Government wants to easily identify the groups most in need of state intervention and support.
It is a measure of how poorly the Indian academic community has done its job that while the NSS reports were published in 1998 (for 1993-94) and in 2001 (for 1999-2000), no researcher to the best of knowledge of this writer has even done a cursory analysis of this rich source of information. (The situation is only slightly different in analysis of caste data compiled by the NSSO. These were analysed by Dr. Deshpande in The Hindu on December 6 and 7, 2001.) The generation of more information on socio-economic information according to religion, caste and economic status and a detailed analyses by researchers may just clear the common misconceptions that are excellent fodder for social and political forces that thrive on creating divisions
The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | The Sportstar | Frontline | Home |
Copyright © 2002, The
Hindu. Republication or redissemination of the contents of
this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of