Muslims are the poorest religious group in India | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Muslims are the poorest religious group in India

Jun 30, 2023 09:22 AM IST

An HT analysis of unit level data from the latest AIDIS and PLFS shows they have the lowest asset and consumption levels among major religious groups in India

The first of this two-part data series looked at intra-religious inequality among Muslims and found that they are as unequal a society as Hindus in India. These measures of inequality do not tell us about the material well-being (or lack of it) of Muslims as a whole vis–a-vis other religious groups in India. An analysis of the relevant numbers shows that they are the poorest religious group in the country. Here are four charts which explain this in detail.

Muslims have the lowest asset/consumption levels among major religious groups. (PTI Photo)
Muslims have the lowest asset/consumption levels among major religious groups. (PTI Photo)

Muslims have the lowest asset/consumption levels among major religious groups…

An HT analysis of unit level data from the latest All India Debt and Investment Survey (AIDIS) and Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) shows that they have the lowest asset and consumption levels among major religious groups in India. Average consumption and asset values for Muslims are 87.9% and 79% of the all-India average and 87.8% and 79.3% of the average values for Hindus. Religious groups which have a population share of less than 1% have been clubbed in the “others” category.

See Chart 1: average MPCE and asset value for major religious groups in India

Which means that they over-populate the ranks of the poor in India

There is often a lot of dog-whistling about the population of Muslims increasing at a higher pace than other religious groups in India. While most such commentary is ill-informed – this was discussed in detail in these pages ( — Muslims do have an overrepresentation problem when it comes to their relative share in population among the poor. A comparison of relative share – among every decile class by assets ; it basically measures the share in a given decile class divided by overall share in population – shows that Muslims are concentrated in the bottom half of India’s population and outnumber the Hindus in relative terms in each of the bottom six deciles.

See Chart 2: Relative share in asset class for major religions

Even Muslim upper castes are poorer than Hindu OBCs

A comparison of average asset/MPCE values across social groups among Hindus and Muslims shows this clearly. The average asset value for non-SC/ST/OBC Muslims – they are the non-Pasmanda Muslims – is not just lower than the average value for non-SC/ST/OBC Hindus but also lower than that of Hindu OBCs, which shows that the claims of Muslim upper castes enjoying disproportionate economic power are just not true.

See Chart 3: Average asset/MPCE by social group among Hindus and Muslims

Poor employment and educational opportunities seem to be the primary cause of economic backwardness for Muslims

The PLFS gives data on both the status of workers (whether regular wage, self-employed, or casual) and the type of enterprise (such as government, public and private limited companies) at which a worker is employed. This shows that even non-SC/ST/OBC Muslims have a low share in regular jobs (the average wage in such jobs is the highest) compared to other religions. A comparison with caste groups among Hindus shows that non-SC/ST/OBC Muslims only do better than ST and SC Hindus. The disadvantage for Muslims becomes even bigger if one looks at their share in government jobs, a fact which has been pointed out by the Sachar Committee among others. To be sure, the low share of Muslims among the better jobs in India need not necessarily be a result of discrimination in the hiring process. Rather, it could be the result of Muslim job-seekers lagging in terms of educational qualifications, which is bound to have a big role in employability. And sure enough, an HT analysis of PLFS data shows that the share of people with a graduate or higher degree among India’s Muslim labour force is the lowest among all major religions.

See Charts 4, 5, 6: Relative share of major religious groups in regular jobs/ regular govt jobs and graduates or above in the labour force

The numbers discussed in this two-part data series clearly show that while Muslims do not have a bigger intra-community inequality problem in India, they are desperately in need of overall educational and economic upliftment. While there is some merit in the claim that such aspirations are often missing in the articulation of most Muslim politicians -- a section of Muslim political leadership in India has been self-serving, conservative, even communal, one cannot but ask the question whether or not the majoritarian turn in India’s politics has relegated the economic concerns of majority of Muslims behind their concerns over identity. Even here, the poorest Muslims are the worst sufferers. To give an anecdotal example, vigilante groups forcibly shutting down meat shops on various occasions often hurt the poorest Muslims.

This is the last of a two-part series looking at inequality within and vis-a-vis Muslims in India. The first part looked at whether Muslims have a higher intra-community inequality than other religious groups.

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