In the July 7 edition of our associate newspaper The Times of India (ToI), Surjit Bhalla wrote an article titled ‘Minority report: Figures busting myths about Indian Muslims’. Bhalla argued in this article how there is no economic discrimination on the basis of religion in India. He cited the average wage rates of Hindus and Muslims in support of his argument. Their method of measuring discrimination did not consider differences in nature of work, income, location between rural and urban areas. From above the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) workers from both the religious groups were amalgamated.
This issue needs more analysis from different angles. It is important to see how Bhalla’s results from his analysis of the data tally with or differ from other available results. There should also be an analysis of the difference on the basis of what kind of work a person of which religion gets in the labor market and how much he earns. However, differences are not only due to discrimination. It has two components – first, due to background and second, due to discrimination. In urban settings, Muslims may lag behind Hindus in terms of educational level, formal experience, family background (a factor in personality development), etc. Because of this, the earning of Muslims may also be less than that of Hindus.
1. It would be appropriate to focus on discrimination in regular employment where income and working conditions are better. Also, where there is scope for the employer to make decisions based on personal and social prejudices at the time of recruitment. The proportion of Muslims in regular employment available to the over-15 age group is 32%, while it is 50% for Hindus. SC/ST figures are excluded here because Muslims constitute a small proportion of this marginalized population (legally Muslims cannot be considered SC or ST) while their share among Hindus is higher. If this is not done then the correct figures will not be able to come and the ground reality of discrimination will not be revealed.
The Indian Discrimination Report, Oxfam 2022 states that the 59% reduction in regular employment of Muslims in the year 2004-05 was due to discrimination. It reached an alarming level of 68% in 2019-21. At the same time, the difference in earnings of people working regularly is also a matter of concern. According to the data, while a Hindu earns an average of Rs 21,822 a month, the average monthly income of a Muslim is Rs 15,458. A mathematical (Oaxaca Blinder) model study shows that discrimination was the reason for the 7% pay gap among Hindu-Muslims in 2019-21.
2. A large section of Muslims have their own employment. For this, he has frequent encounters with government institutions and officials as well as with the common people. Muslims account for 49 percent of the total self-employed labor force, while Hindus account for 41 percent. These figures are of urban areas in the year 2020-21. According to this, a Muslim earns an average of Rs 12,473 per month, which is less than the average of Rs 16,521 for Hindus. In 12% of cases, this difference is due to discrimination. However, there is no discrimination in access to self-employment for Muslims as most of the self-employed are poor people.
Employment in cities is more competitive as the employer hardly cares about the caste or religion of the job seeker. Yet, a Muslim daily wage laborer earns an average of Rs 371 per day, while for Hindus the figure is Rs 403 on an average. The share of Muslims and Hindus in casual employment is 28% and 19% respectively. Obviously, there is no discrimination in providing employment in cities. Here the basis of low income of Muslims is not discrimination but ability.
The labor market system in rural areas is completely different. Here Muslims are involved in non-agricultural activities. They do such jobs in which they have almost no contact with people. They are in specialized occupations like leather industry, traditional crafts, repair and maintenance, construction etc. where competition with Hindu workers is relatively less. Scheduled Castes ie Dalit families are found in some number in every village, but Muslims are concentrated in some states, districts and villages. Due to this the scope of discrimination gets reduced.
Leaving aside regular employment, the basis of difference in different types of employment opportunities and earnings in rural areas is ability. It is to be noted that this model of assessment does not take into account the skills, experience and craftsmanship acquired from the family. This puts Muslims who acquire skills from within the family at a disadvantage, as their low earnings in this model are due to their low skills, not discrimination.
Bhalla examines the very important issue of discrimination, which has been consistently ignored in the country’s development story. For this, people have to wait for the results of different analysis. The dream of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas and Sabka Vishwas’ can be fulfilled only after the identification of challenging areas and the implementation of necessary schemes for them from the Central and State level. The women standing in the last row are also included in this dream.
Amitabh Kundu is an honorary professor at LJ University, Ahmedabad, while Khalid Khan is an assistant professor at the Indian Institute for Dalit Studies. Both are linked to the India Discrimination Report 2022.