Thursday, 30 October, 2008

Jobless Muslims

On the 27th, the Times of India published an article titled ‘More Muslims studying, but can't find jobs’. Said it, “...does better education lead to better jobs? The NSSO reports reveal a mixed picture. Between 1993-94 and 2004-05 the proportion of employed who had studied beyond secondary level increased much more for Hindus than for Muslims. In rural areas, the increase was about 6% for Hindus, but only by about 3% for Muslims among men, and around 3% for women from both communities. In urban areas, among men, the increase was about 7% for Hindus compared to 5% for Muslims while among women it was 8% for Hindus and 6% for Muslims.

This is starkly reflected in unemployment rates, especially among educated persons. 

In rural areas, while 7% of Hindu graduates were unemployed, among Muslims this was more than double at 15%. In urban areas too the unemployment rate among Muslim graduates was double that of Hindus. 

This means that despite more and more persons getting educated, they are not finding jobs at the same rate — a share of the educated are remaining out of the workforce. It also indicates discrimination — your religion can make all the difference in getting a job, even if you have the same educational qualification. This is starkly reflected in the shares of educated among those employed. 

In rural areas, among men, 19% of employed Hindus had completed secondary or higher levels of education, while among Muslims only about 10% had studied to that level. In the urban areas, 48% of employed Hindus but only 26% of Muslims had secondary or higher levels of education.” 

The article was expectedly followed by more than thirty comments. By and large, the Hindus were criminally communal while the Muslims lamented. Only two offered explanations that disagrred with the discrimination theory. 

All focused on the difference in employment levels among the graduates, which is to be expected because most commentators are probably graduates themselves. (I doubt if the Hindus are educated in any other sense of the word.)

One gentleman said that Muslims were, in general, bad students. Another looked at the data from a different angle. He said the figures can reframed as saying 93% and 85% of Hindu and Muslim graduates, respectively are out of work. Put this way, the difference does not seem so horrifying.

I suppose the first had a well-founded point; the second didn’t. In a survey like the NSSO you expect little margin of error. Showing figures in your own way is to self-deceptive.

Some more things can be considered. 
1. What subjects did the two communities study? Obviously, not all subjects have equal demand.  
2. How long have the candidates been looking for jobs? If the number of educated among Muslims has increased rapidly recently, is it not possible that the average Hindu unemployed has been looking for a job longer than the average Muslim unemployed have? How do the chances of landing a job change with the length of job search? 

3. Is it possible that self-employed people reported themselves as unemployed? It is illogical to attribute an 8% difference to misrepresentation, inadvertent or deliberate. Yet history tells us that states have been boundaries have been redrawn, at least partially, based on misreporting. When Haryana was carved out of Punjab, it was alleged that many Punjabi Hindus reported their first language as Hindi so that they may have a Hindu state, separate from the largely Sikh west Punjab. 

4. How are the unemployed spread geographically? This one can lead to a chicken & egg problem.

If we explore these questions, will be denying discrimination? I don’t think so. I think we will just be separating the real from the reported. Let me recall the incident that makes me say so.

Many moons ago, I saw a TV programme where writer and lyricist Javed Aktar gave out a series of statistics to show that Muslims were grossly underrepresented in government jobs. Some months after that I came across a book on Kashmir, whose author I forget. Anyway, this fellow contended that Muslims were overrepresented in government jobs in Jammu & Kashmir! He argued that the key figure was not ‘population’ but ‘qualified population’. Once you looked at the latter, you realised that in J&K, especially the Valley, at every level, the Muslims’ share of government jobs was considerably larger than their share of the eligible population.  

Now, both gentlemen had axes to grind. Nonetheless, the latter’s point of view was more credible since it went deeper. That is not to say that bigotry against Muslims does not exist, or that we should provide fuel to Hindu bigots. It is to plead for some thinking.

For put yourself in the shoes of a young Muslim college student. The deck is most probably stacked against you in every way. Then, you read this headline: ‘Unemployed among Muslim graduates twice that among Hindus’. The related article insists that negative bias is the only reason for this disparity. What motivation will remain in you? Why will you want to ‘act Hindu’ any more?

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