Identity-based discrimination challenges Indian Muslims, notes Stanford seminar

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Stanford – Identity-based discrimination effectively reduced access for the community, harmed equity, and contributed to insecurity in the Indian Muslim community, according to opinions expressed at a recent seminar organized by Stanford University’s Asia Pacific Research Center (APARC), and co-sponsored by the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) and Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies.

Addressing the seminar titled, “Education And Employment Among Muslims In India – An Analysis Of Patterns And Trends,” Rakesh Basant, a professor of economics and the chairperson at the Center for Innovation, Incubation & Entrepreneurship at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India said, “The perception of fairness is the lowest amongst Indian Muslims compared to all other religious communities in India.”

Basant went down memory lane to tap into his own experiences of meeting with thousands of Muslims during his work on the Sacchar Committee, which was instituted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to report on the social, economic, and educational conditions of Muslims in India.

In those encounters, Besant found that there were numerous stories on the use of identity-based markers for discrimination against Muslims, and Muslim women across the country complained that the more real and pressing problems, such as lack of access to education and employment, have been sidelined by a disproportionate focus on the personal law issue.

Besant combined the findings of the Sacchar Committee report with a distinct study which used a social-psychological measure of perception of fairness amongst all religious communities in India, saying, “The perception of fairness is particularly low in the areas of education, employment and economy, and much lower compared to Hindus and Christians.”

“The only space where Muslims and Christians as the two main minorities in the country ranked the same, was in political participation, wherein both Muslims and Christians find themselves discriminated against as far as political participation is concerned,” said Basant.

Another related and equally grim challenge faced by the Muslim community is the lack of security, which leads to ghettoization when people move to particular localities that suffer from a dearth of jobs and educational infrastructure. Such security-related concerns have adversely impacted mobility, especially amongst Muslim women, led to a geographical concentration of Muslims, and affected the supply of both jobs and educational opportunities.

On an optimistic note, Basant reported that enrollment and literacy rates among Muslims have dramatically increased since the 2004-05 survey. Yet the dropout rates amongst Muslims continue to be the highest in any socio-religious group, thereby contributing to the deficits for the community at the school leaving or graduating stage.

Suggesting policy options to mitigate the deficits in the Muslim community, Basant highlighted the need for non-quota based policies which might be more effective and politically feasible.

According to some recent studies, increasing the supply of educational institutions in Muslim neighborhoods has already shown to have significant impact. In addition, use of incentives such as grants to educational institutions for diversity in the student population and incentivizing the private sectors through tax benefits to have a more diverse workforce may be the politically expedient policy options to help uplift the Muslim community.

The Stanford seminar focused on “Education and Employment Amongst Muslims in India” and was part of the series focusing on minorities’ issues in Asia. The earlier event featured Wajahat Habibullah, the chairperson of India’s National Commission on Minorities. (IATNS)

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