Gaps between Muslims and the national average on most human development outcomes are narrowing, reflecting their improving condition

The Prime Minister’s high-level Sachar Committee, which analysed the social, economic and educational status of Muslims in India — based on data for the 1990s, concluded that Muslims were doing much worse than the rest of the population on most social indicators. Here, we examine how the socio-economic indicators of Muslims have evolved over the past decade.

Table 1 shows a series of indicators found in the Sachar Committee report that have been re-examined by the India Human Development Report (IHDR) 2011 based on data for the 2000s. Most of the indicators, for which end-point data is presented in the IHDR 2011, are for the end of the 2000s, that is, its data covers a decade beyond what was captured in the report. They show that indicators for Muslims are converging with the rest of India. Across the board, most economic and social indicators for Muslims show convergence through the 2000s: per capita consumption expenditure, unemployment rate or child labour rate; health-related ones like infant/child mortality rate, total fertility rate or child immunisation; access to toilets, and literacy. The average for Muslim underweight children (48.3 per cent) (1998-99), the Sachar report noted, was worse than the all-India average (47 per cent). However, over eight years after 1999, there was a drop in the percentage of Muslim underweight children by 6.5 percentage points compared to a drop of 4.5 percentage points in the national average. As a result, the Muslim average for underweight children was better than the national average in 2005-06.

Growing literacy

Similarly, in literacy rates, Muslims are improving faster than the all-India average, with the gap narrowing over time. For instance, the difference between the national average and the Muslim average in literacy rates in rural areas was 6 percentage points and in urban areas 10 percentage points in 2001. Both fell to 3.5 percentage points and 8.5 percentage points respectively (although Muslims still continued to have lower literacy rates compared to the national average in 2008-08). According to the National Sample Survey, about 75 per cent of the total population aged 7 years and above were literate in 2011-12. The literacy rate for Muslims had climbed to 72 per cent, only 3 points below that for India.

The most sensitive health indicators, which tells most about the state of health, are infant and under-five child mortality rates. Both have been converging for Muslims with the rest of India in the 2000s, while the Sachar Committee had found they were diverging in the 1990s.

Most interesting is the fact about the fertility rate for Muslims. Fertility rate refers to the number of children born to a woman during her reproductive ages of 15-49. The Sachar Committee had noted that the fertility rate for Muslims was higher than the national average by 0.7 in 1992-93. The difference increased to 1 in 1998-99. However, by 2006, the Muslim fertility rate on average was higher only by 0.5 (3.09) compared to the national average (2.6) — and converging with the latter. It is unlikely that the Muslim share in the total population should have changed much from its 13.4 per cent share in Census 2001.

Thus, the main conclusions to be drawn are that gaps between Muslims and the national average on most human development outcomes are narrowing, reflecting their improving condition. Muslims fare better than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes on most social indicators. The SCs and STs remain, in this sense, the most marginalised of social groups in Indian society. However, except for child mortality indicators (infant mortality rate and under-five mortality rate), access to toilets and the percentage of underweight children the absolute levels of most other indicators among Muslims are lower than the national average. Hence, the challenges before any future government remain significant.

For all communities, per capita consumption expenditure has been increasing, and poverty has been declining. However, an issue of concern should be that per capita consumption expenditure for Muslims in urban areas has been diverging from the rest of urban India, even though in rural India, it has kept pace with the rest of India.

(Santosh Mehrotra is Director-General, Institute of Applied Manpower Research, Planning Commission.)

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