India’s Muslims have the lowest living standard in the country on a per capita basis, according to a government survey. Muslims, who account for about 14.4 percent of India’s vast population, according to data from Pew Research, spend, on average, only 32.7 Rupees ($0.52) per day. At the other end of the wealth spectrum, on average, India’s tiny minority of Sikhs spend 55.3 Rupees per day. Christians (51.4 Rupees) and Hindus (37.5 Rupees) fall somewhere in between.
"The average monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) of a Sikh household was [1,659 Rupees] while that for a Muslim household was [980 Rupees] in 2009-10," said a study by the government’s National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) called “Employment and Unemployment Situation Among Major Religious Groups in India.” The average MPCE for Hindus and Christians amounted to 1,125 Rupees and 1,543 Rupees, respectively. The Times of India explained that average household MPCE serves as a proxy for income and the living standards of an Indian family.
The survey also suggested that urban Indians (MPCE of 1773 Rupees) were almost twice as wealthy as their rural counterparts (901 Rupees). Even in India’s vast rural hinterlands, Muslims ranked at the bottom in terms of spending and wealth, while Sikhs had the most disposable income. (Again, Hindus and Christians fell somewhere in between). The same hierarchy was seen in urban regions – with Sikhs at the top, with an average MPCE of 2,180. On the whole, the average MPCE for all Indians amounted to 1,128 Rupees.
Data for Sikhs may be skewed since they represent such an tiny percentage of India’s total population, less than 2 percent. Muslims are also less likely to attain higher levels of education in India than their Sikh and Hindu counterparts.
Looking at the state of West Bengal in Northeastern India, a province with a sizable Muslim population, accounting for about 25 percent of the total, the NSSO study revealed that urban Muslim boys and girls have the highest drop-out rates in the state. The gap is widest at higher education levels, for every 1,000 Hindu males, 30 go on to complete post-graduation, while the figure for Hindu females is 32. But for every 1,000 Muslim boys, only 10 enter post-graduation; and for Muslim girls the figure is just 2.
Interestingly, for boys, Hindus and Muslims have parity in Bengal’s rural regions, according to NSSO. For every 1,000 Hindu male rural students, 5 will complete post-graduation, the same figure for Muslim boys in rural areas.
The overall data reflects the social classes and traditions of Bengal society. Times of India noted that in this conservative province, “Muslims tend to form the bulk of casual laborers and the self-employed class in urban Bengal. Hindus tend to form the core of the salaried class. In rural Bengal, too, Muslims tend to form most of the agricultural and other laborers.” In addition, in rural Bengal, “more Hindus are self-employed in agriculture, while more Muslims are landless laborers. The latter also comprise most of the marginal landowners, compared to Hindus.”
NSSO also revealed that unemployment for Muslims in India is edging downward, but this is somewhat misleading since many Muslims are self-employed and are not even included among the salaried class of workers. In Urban India, only 30.4 percent of Muslims belong to the established workforce
Rakesh Basant, professor of economics at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, told FirstPost that Muslims are forced into self-employment due to low educational attainments. “There are not many good schools in Muslim neighborhoods [or in] many [other] marginalized communities,” he said. “This is a problem in [the] supply side. Participation in education goes up when supply of educational institutions is addressed.”
Professor Abusaleh Shariff, of Centre for Research and Debates in Development policy, New Delhi and a visiting scholar to US India Policy Institute in Washington DC, also attributes discrimination to the plight of Indian Muslims. “They [Muslims] do not get jobs [corresponding to the] qualifications, both due of market imperfections and also due to bias in the system,” he said. Even in rural area, they do not even get employment under the [government’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act project].”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.