Socio-economic development in 1990s
The gap widened during the 1990s
By C. Rammanohar Reddy
The differences in socio-economic development between Hindus and Muslims did not narrow during the 1990s, in at least one important respect the Muslim Indian on the average was worse off at the end of the decade than he was at the beginning.
The National Sample Survey Organisation made estimates of a few indicators in 1987-88 and many more for 1993-94 and 1999-2000. The results of a comparison across these three time points:
* Literacy rates for both Hindus and Muslims improved, albeit slowly, between 1993-94 and 1999-2000. But the gap between the two religious groups remained where it was in the rural areas, while it narrowed marginally in the towns and cities. The illiteracy rate for Hindus in the rural areas was 50 per cent in 1993-94 (Muslims: 54 per cent) and it had come down by the end of the decade to 44 per cent (Muslims: 48 per cent): a difference of 6 percentage points at both time points. But in urban India, the Muslim illiteracy rate that was as much as 14 percentage points higher in 1993-94 had narrowed a bit to 11 percentage points by the end of the decade.
* In rural India, Muslims seemed to be further marginalised in access to land during the course of the 1990s. In 1987-88, 40 per cent of rural Muslim households cultivated little or no land, compared to 34 per cent among Hindus. By 1999-2000 the proportion of households in both religious groups in this situation had risen, but the increase was much faster among the minority community: 51 per cent among Muslims and 40 per cent among the Hindus.
* The relative position of the members of the two main religious groups in employment status followed an unusual trend. In 1987-88, in the towns and cities, Muslims in the work force experienced lower unemployment rates than the Hindus (4 per cent versus 5.5 per cent), a situation that continued in 1993-94, but by 1999-2000, there was a reversal. Muslims on the average had by the end of the decade a slightly higher level of unemployment (5 per cent versus 4.7 per cent). This change was largely but not entirely on account of a deterioration in the position of working Muslim women. In the villages, however, Muslims who in 1987-88 suffered from a higher unemployment rate continued to do so in 1999-2000. The disadvantages that Muslims suffered in work, literacy and access to land was reflected in the relative levels of monthly per capita expenditure on items of consumption.
Compared to 1993-94, the proportion of both Hindus and Muslims who fell in the bottom 20 per cent of the population was greater in 1999-2000 in both rural and urban India.
But as the accompanying Table shows, a substantially larger proportion of Muslims fell in this class by the end of the decade. The deterioration in status was especially marked in urban India. The NSSO has made estimates for a number of other indicators (for example, worker participation and kind of employment) and has also presented information for individual States and according to gender.
But whichever group of indicators one looks at and whatever level of detail the comparison, the story is the same. The Muslims are on the average on lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder than the Hindus and the differences either remained the same or widened during the 1990s.