India’s Downtrodden Muslims
Image Credit: Meena Kadri

India’s Downtrodden Muslims


I hadn’t seen Kallu Mian for almost 16 years. A neighbour in my hometown of Mokama in Bihar, Mian looks old and tired now, but says he still goes out to till his field from time to time, as much to relieve the boredom as anything else.

Mokama is a tiny town located on the banks of the river Ganges. It’s a fertile area dotted with the residencies of the many landlords who sublet their fields to sharecroppers like Mian. On one side of the fields are the concrete houses of the relatively wealthy local businessmen and landlords who own the land where farmers like Mian grow seasonal vegetables including ‘little fingers’ (baby carrots), cauliflowers, tomatoes and potatoes.

Mian has been tending to the field by my old home since well before I was born. Too old to manage the two-acre plots of land, which are owned by a local feudal lord, he now has help from his two sons and their children.

Yet despite the assistance of his extended family, Mian says he still struggles financially. ‘People talk about education to my grandchildren [but] tell me, where’s the money to feed the whole family?’ he asks irritably. ‘We’re neck deep in debt and at least one-third of my income every month goes in paying the interest.’
Mian only gets to keep half the 8000 Rs ($150) per month he earns from the land, with the other half going to the landowner. This leaves him with barely enough to keep his family and for trips to the local government pharmacy where he collects medicine for his asthma; the dispensary never has enough of the medication he requires.

It’s a familiar story for the majority of India’s160 million Muslims. Struggling states like Bihar, Madhaya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal have the largest concentration of poor Muslims in India. And, according to a 2006 report by the government-appointed Sachar Committee, the condition of Muslims in India is worse than the so-called Scheduled Castes—the lowest castes of Hindus.

‘This backwardness is a historical legacy,’ says Izaz Ahmad, a former professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He says that most of those who converted to Islam in India were artisans and craftsmen, meaning that they were already often financially disadvantaged, a situation he says continues to this day. He says the problem has been compounded by the fact that Islamic society is, in his view, very slow to change.

The main opposition Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) believes the failure of Muslims to advance is down squarely to the ruling Congress Party, with BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar arguing the blame lies with the Congress for ‘keeping the largest minority backward as they have been ruling the country for most of the time since India’s independence in 1947’ (although the BJP also frequently criticizes Congress for trying to appease Muslims with handouts).

As part of its efforts to tackle the problem, the government launched the Ranganath Mishra Commission, which released its recommendations in a report last year. The recommendations could prove controversial.
The report suggests extending to Muslims the same programme of positive discrimination that lower caste Hindus have enjoyed for decades and talks of providing a 15 percent quota for minorities in India—10 percent for Muslims, with the remaining 5 percent set aside for other religious minorities.

May 14, 2010 at 11:45

Unfortunately, Islamic terrorists from India hold some impressive ‘professional background’ e.g. doctors, engineers IT experts, and some high ranking officers with Indian armed forces/administration and what not.

There isn’t much diff between them and the rest of the islamic “ummah”.

May 14, 2010 at 11:30

Mullah bob!
Well said. Can you tell me if your Islam is compatible with “democracy”? if so name one Islamic country where democracy is a ‘success’. It is Pakistan that’s a failed state, not India.

May 10, 2010 at 15:47

India Hindu fanatics are every bit as fundamentalist and dangerous as any other religious nuts out there. The Muslims Indians have the right to live and practice their faith in India if it really is a secular and free democracy. Democracy is a way of life and not a title any country can claim. India is a failed state in every aspect!

May 2, 2010 at 07:29

“Saddat agrees. ‘To break the hold of so-called religious leaders, it’s important that education should reach each and every section of the Muslim society. That will lead to economic emancipation,’ he says. ‘At the same time, parties like the Congress Party should stop patronizing these so-called religious leaders.’”

Two Islamic states (Pakistan and Bangladesh) were carved out of the Indian Subcontinent for Indians who followed Islam who did not want to live with other Indians in a secular democratic state. South Asian Muslims have been given more than ANY other group of Indians. Neither Islamic state today is a place that many Muslims in the country of India would want to migrate to.

Indians of the Islamic faith should do less of blaming everyone else and more introspection and see how they are holding themselves back through their actions and choices. What schools do you attend? Madrassas? How much effort do you put into studying? Enough to do well on exams? How qualified are you compared to everyone else applying to the same job? Quit making excuses, blaming others who are not responsible for your skill development (you are), and don’t take easy way out by creating “dalit” Muslims just to get quota.

April 29, 2010 at 11:19

Very Well said. “The change has to come from within the society” – very difficult to achieve, but no choice if a person/society wants to emerge.

“It is a fact that Allah does not change the condition of a people unless they bring about change in their own selves.” (Quran 13:11)

Sir Iqbal echoes exactly the same message of the Quran in his own God given style when he says:

“Khuda ne aaj tak us qaum ki haalat naheen badlee na ho jisko khyal aap apni haalat ke badalne ka”

April 18, 2010 at 20:45

May India make peace with it’s Muslim citizens, for the sake of the whole world.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief