IOS and CDPP jointly organises webinar on Growth of the Muslim Middle Class in India

New Delhi: The Institute of Objective Studies, in association with the Centre for Development Policy and Practice (CDPP), Hyderabad, organised a webinar on Growth of the Muslim Middle Class in India on September 17, 2021.

Introducing the topic, the assistant secretary general, IOS, Prof. Haseena Hashia said that Muslims constituted a very important segment of society. They equally contributed to the country’s GDP and job creation. The Muslim community was also the shock absorber of society. The rate of literacy among Muslims had increased. They were also catching up with the expansion of education. Tourism in several states had economically improved their standard of living. Though there was an increase in their income yet they had not reached the level of upper class. The community’s status has improved after Independence but not at the level that was envisaged, she noted.

Former bureaucrat and a member of the Planning Commission, Dr. Naresh Chandra Saxena explained that a middle class person earned Rs. 20, 000 to Rs. 25,000 a month. That was the yardstick to measure the income of this class, though no independent opinion about Muslim middle class could be form due to the lack of specific data. He called for making the middle class to lead in every field. 

Dr. Amir Ullah Khan, member of the board of governors at the Digital Empowerment Foundation, Gyan Shaala and Welham Girls School pointed out that some compelling data on socio-economic condition of the Muslims was available. He admitted that there was leadership vacuum among Muslims. A general decrease in the Muslim middle class had been noticed. Thus there was need to have a look at the data during the last 4-5 years, he said. Professor in the school of development studies, Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai, Abdul Shaban, observed that there were several areas that needed to be discussed by the academics. He viewed the absolute as declining and moving to relative poverty. This was due to the existence of lower classes in middle class. Referring to the role of bourgeois class, he said that this was important for the enlightenment in Europe. Role of this class was also evident in India. Instead of consumption based, Indian society was asset-based. That was the reason why the economists adopted consumption expenditure-based approach. In the case of Muslims, they spent more on source of protein than Hindus. While the former depend on meat as a source of protein, the Hindus went in for other vegetarian sources. Various criteria had been used to estimate the middle class with one of them being developed by the Nobel Laureates, Prof. Abhijeet Banerjee and Esther Duflo. Asset based approach postulated that it was pucca houses that determined the status of the middle class. In 1990 telephone became important to measure the middle class. Commenting on the growth of middle class, he said that in 1998-99 its size stood at 20.2 per cent but rose to 44.6 per cent in 2015-16. Thus an increase of 24.4 per cent was witnessed during the period. It worked out to about 1.4 per cent incremental increase every year. According to the available data, Muslim middle class constituted 21.1 per cent in 1998-99 which rose to 41.6 per cent in 2015-16. It was an incremental increase of 1.28 per cent every year. Hindu upper castes accounted for 19.5 per cent in 1998-99 which rose to 44.5 per cent in 44.5 per cent in 2015-16. This represented an incremental increase of 1.56 per cent every year. He said that Muslim OBCs constituted 18.6 percent as middle class in 1998-99 and 44.5 per cent in 2015-16, registering an incremental increase of 1.62 per cent every year. Similarly, Muslim upper castes constituted 22.3 per cent in 1998-99 and this rose to 39.6 per cent in 2015-16, registering an incremental increase of 1.08 per cent every year, he noted.

Dr. Abdul Shaban observed that while Haryana, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh were worst performing states, Bihar and Assam were low in uplifting the community to the level of the middle class. Attributing the low percentage of middle class among Muslims, he said that it was due to the marginal number of salaried class. This could be well understood by the fact that their share in government job was around 4-5 per cent. By and large, Muslims were engaged in self-employment, micro, small and medium businesses and enterprises. He identified seven major occupations in which Muslims were engaged. Urbanisation played an important role in the formation of the Muslim middle class. Besides, the penetration of formal education contributed to rise in the percentage of the middle class. Muslims were moving to urban areas in search of better life and employment. Eighty per cent of them moved to cities in search of employment. He said that Muslims did not have a share in large enterprises, though they benefited from economic liberalisation with low-mobility middle class. Compared to the north, south Indian Muslims were well-off. He suggested some of the measures, including emphasis on education, financial support for business, women’s empowerment and progressive leadership within the community could change the current scenario. 

Former member of the national statistical commission, PC Mohanan, commented that the middle class was a brand but nobody knew what products did it have. He asked to look at the consumables the middle class consumed. The available figures could be segregated to understand what the position exactly was. There was a correlation between education and the middle class. He concluded by saying that after Covid-19, phenomenal growth in the sale of smartphones had been witnessed, and there were certain dimensions to what one believed was the middle class. Distinguished fellow at the Research and information System for Developing Countries (RISDC), Prof. Amitabh Kundu, held that it was the total value of assets that characterised the middle class. He said that the middle class should be measured through consumption. The middle class was a way of life and the idea of its measurement was shifting to assets. Thus the value of assets was important for measuring the middle class. The middle class might be higher for a community but it did not define the entire middle class community. Referring to the Muslim community, he noted that Muslims spent less on food items as compared to other items. On the basis of assets, one could articulate the middle class as a community. The middle class was basically a sociological and cultural group. Naming internationally acclaimed economists–Prof. Amartya Sen and Prof. Abhijeet Banerjee, he said that the arrogance of certain economists destroyed the concept. He hailed Shaban and Sattar’s perspective on the growth of the middle class in India, and termed it as a departure from the usual narrative on the concept. 

Dr. Mahabir Singh Jaglan, professor of Geography at Kurukshetra University, spoke on the geographical distribution of the middle class. He said that the share of the Muslim middle class in various economic activities was low. In Haryana, Mewat had the largest concentration of Muslims, followed by Yamunanagar with 12 percent concentration. He sought to know if higher concentration of Muslim population made the community more vulnerable to its ghettoisation.

In answers to a question, Shaban said that the bourgeois contributed to the growth of economic development. He observed that consumer expenditure did not take into account the deprivation of Muslims. People were not making assets but consuming them, particularly in urban areas. High consumer expenditure did not mean the community was well-off. Referring to the geography of riots, he said that they took place more in the north. Both indigenous and exogenous factors were responsible for Muslim concentration areas in Mumbai. If the members of one community mingled with the people of other communities, they would benefit. But this might not be possible in clusters, he added. Prof. Kundu opined that Muslims had less access to health services, good jobs, credit facilities and TV than the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. 

In his presidential remarks, the secretary general, IOS, Prof. Z.M. Khan, held that the gender development issue was also very important and must be taken care of. It must also be seen whether the Muslims were playing the same role as they were expected to play. He made special mention of the prevailing political environment in which the deprivation of Muslims was practiced and a propaganda against them unleashed.

The webinar ended with a vote of thanks extended by Dr. Amir Ullah Khan. 


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