The lack of upward mobility among Muslims is our democracy’s failure

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By Shiv Visvanathan

The historical and political marginalisation of Muslims is significant. The political mobilisation around communities explicitly work against Muslims

Mobility has been a hall mark of growth and democracy. The myth of mobility is one of the moral myths of the growth century around the legend of Horatio Alger. Even Benjamin Franklin’s moral adages were tips for upward mobility. The study of mobility once caught in acts of storytelling has now become a methodological conscious exercise. The search for certified indices of mobility is acute, and a study by Sam Asher, Paul Novosad and Charlie Rafkin is a methodologically self-conscious about mobility. The research focuses on upward mobility of an inter-generation kind and the insights it offers are revealing. In fact, in its neutrality, the Asher study amplifies its political implications.

The study focusses not on the income, but educational mobility. The three findings must be stated explicitly. Firstly, if one separates Muslims and the SC/ST from the rest of the population, upward mobility for the rest of the population is happily comparable to the United States. Secondly, upward mobility has improved significantly for the SC/ST population. Almost all the mobility gains that have accrued are a result of political mobilisation. Oddly the upper classes have not suffered though they have mobilised against affirmative action. It is the third finding which is devastating to swallow. Intergenerational mobility has been negligible for Muslims. It is as if democracy in an electoral sense has worked more for OBCs and SC/STs but not for Muslims. Neither liberalisation nor democracy has offered much to Muslims in terms of opportunity. The Asher study is based on educational mobility because economic income data has been sparse. Educational mobility can be measured more precisely than income mobility. While parsing the data one also finds that mobility in urban areas is significantly higher than rural areas. The gap between urban and rural is equivalent to the gap between upper castes and SCs. The gap is also higher in the North rather than the South.

The study argues that the historical and political marginalisation of Muslims is significant. It emphasises that the political mobilisation around communities explicitly work against Muslims. The discrimination is overt. A paper in the Economic and Political weekly estimated that displacement from riots is the second biggest demographic displacement after dams. Studies of riots especially in Gujarat reveal that victims unlike earlier do not return to their homes. Violence not only breaks the mentality of hope but prevents a consolidation of income which mobility requires.

Social policy has been as relevant as violence. Group strategies have targeted people belonging to the SCs/STs. Asher states that he can cite no major policy which specifically works on the amelioration of Muslim disadvantages. This is a point that social critique has to recognise and discuss. Muslims in India face the stark fact of stagnation, if not downward mobility.

The nature of education may also be problematic. SC/ST groups tend to access secular mainstream schools which are more open to the society. Madrasa education tends to be provincial, often regressive, and makes only nominal acknowledgements to the demands of education and mobility. To this regressive policy, we now have to add the fact, that the current regime polices food, dress and the real estate of the city in a way that it becomes disadvantageous to this religious minority. The Muslim status in an inter-generational sense offers little hope. The situation of women must be even more hopeless. What one senses is a missing-ness of both strategies to improve Muslim education and strategies to link this to the political economy. Democracy as an imagination has failed Muslims. This I believe is one of the biggest benchmarks of the Indian democracy. It is a fact democracy needs to discuss.

Source: Hindustan Times

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