Dr. Omar Khalidi is the author of well-researched book 'Muslims in Indian Economy.' This book is a study of conditions of Muslims at all levels of economic ladder and from Muslim dynasties to the post-independent India. Editor of TwoCircles.net Kashif-ul-Huda interviewed him recently about Muslims in Indian economy from past to present.
TCN: What was the status of Muslims under 'Muslim-ruled' India?
OK: At that time Muslims were divided into three groups economically. One was the family of the ruler or the ruling dynasty members at the top of the pyramid. After that was the group consisting of courtiers, landlords, and jagirdars etc. This second group had most wealth, they had land ownership and other resources. The third group at the bottom is where majority of Muslims were. These were peasants, craftsmen, lower rungs of soldiers. So in other words just because Muslims dynasties were ruling does not mean that all Muslims were prosperous.
TCN: Did general Muslims benefit in anyway under these Muslim dynasties that would have encouraged people to convert to Islam?
OK: No, they did not benefit directly. They had to work as hard as anyone else. They were not privileged group during the so called Muslim rule of India. Even when people converted to Islam they remained economically were they were, there was no upward mobility. As a result of their conversion they did acquire social mobility because curse of untouchability was lifted. Disabilities arising as being part of Hindu caste system was no longer relevant. But it did not mean an upward economic mobility.
TCN: What was the effect of introduction of English under company raj on Muslims?
OK: Most of the Muslim members of the elite did not take English education as fast as upper caste Hindus did. As a result, the were left behind in the path of modernization that lead to greater prosperity to the upper caste Hindus. Muslims could not progress because they were reluctant to acquire modern scientific education. Muslims being part of the old nobility wanted all the benefits and the British have no reason to please them. As a result Muslim elites did not accept English education and they were left behind.
TCN: After independence of India, the fewer number of Muslim officers in the bureaucracy was reduced as a result of a large number of them migrating to Pakistan. How much of this migration was due to idealogical reason and how much was economic or other reasons?
OK: After the formation of Pakistan, those who went there initially were top most officials who were in the top most positions of bureaucracy, military and so forth. They thought Pakistan was a land of opportunity. Even then it was not quite sudden, often younger brothers went and older brothers or parents remained behind. So migration was gradual and it was not uniform everywhere. Migration happened mostly in UP, Bihar and obviously Punjab and surrounding areas of Pakistani borders. Bhopal and areas south to that was less affected by migration to Pakistan. Hyderabad was affected after Operation Polo of September 1948. Lot of Bombay businessmen moved because they saw better opportunity in Pakistan because Pakistan did not have much of an industry. So flow of migration was uneven.
TCN: How much discrimination or lack of education should be blamed for lower representation of Muslims in government services?
OK: I believe that primarily it is the lack of modern scientific education. India is still a very poor country with fewer opportunity. We have to see that India is poor and Muslims are less educated, therefore Muslims are less able to compete.
There are geographic differences as well. India is not uniform and Muslims in India are not uniform. Most well off Muslims in India are in Tamilnadu comparable to upper caste Hindus. But if you go to the eastern UP and Bihar, then the Muslim condition is comparable to Dalits. So, we have to see India in segments, an all India picture can be very misleading.
With regards to discrimination, yes it exists but it is subtle and hard to establish in courts. But discrimination in of itself does not explain Muslims lower representation.
TCN: What are your recommendations for improving Muslims socio-economic condition?
OK: My strongest recommendation is for the government to open good schools on a massive way in Muslim concentration areas. If the primary education is strengthened then it will enable Muslims to compete successfully with the rest of the nation in acquiring high paying modern jobs. In other words, problem must be attacked at the root and root is education at the primary level.
Muslim private organizations can supplement the efforts of the government. They can not establish a parallel system of education, that's not possible and that's not right either. As taxpayers, we are entitled to educational advancement at the expense of the state. Muslim organizations can play a supplementary role to advance it further.
Muslims in Indian economy: interview with Dr. Omar Khalidi | Indian Muslims