Inequity and discrimination

Print edition : October 02, 2015

IN the past decade a number of studies and surveys have analysed the deprivation of the marginalised sections in India. If these analyses have highlighted one thing it is that the question of population and development cannot be addressed in isolation and must include issues relating to social inequities and discrimination. A singular feature of all these studies is the finding that historical deprivation of segments of the population belonging to the minorities, the Scheduled Castes (S.C.) and the Scheduled Tribes (S.T.) has continued apace. Indeed, the minority Muslim community was identified as a group that required special attention. The latest of such studies is the “District Development and Diversity Index Report for India and Major States” (DDDIx) prepared by the United States-India Policy Institute and Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy and published in January 2015 .

In its approach and orientation, the DDDIx adopted tools to assess grass-roots level realities of development by creating indices for easy comparison at the district level. The report studied the development indices of all the 599 districts (2001 Census) of the country using 17 variables to measure development and livelihood and sought to arrange them in the order of the percentage of deprived communities. It also sought to evolve an agenda on the basis of a number of development parameters and objectives focussing primarily on overall economic situation, material well-being, health and education.

The report identified the two most important issues confronting the communities at the district level: “To begin with financial allocations are inadequate; yet huge proportions of the development funds earmarked for annual expenditures on essential programmes such as mass primary and elementary education, women and child development services, public health care and the employment guarantee scheme are never appropriated and spent.” Underlining this major operational deficiency, the report pointed out that another major component of inequity and deprivation was social and political discrimination. It stated: “The inequity at the level of the district is a serious issue; there are many versions to it such as based on occupation, education level and also social identities expressed in terms of religious and caste affiliation. The last dimension is important at the local level in the distribution of welfare benefits; they have become contentious at the national-political level leading to promotion of discrimination at the grass-roots.”

In fact, all the other major studies that have emerged in the past decade, including the Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee report of 2006, which went into the socio-economic condition of the Muslim community, have talked about the political and social discrimination faced by Muslims, the S.Cs and the S.Ts. The Sachar Committee report even recorded that in terms of several development parameters the Muslim community lagged behind even the S.Cs and the S.Ts. These included education, income, work participation, health, access to infrastructure and so on at the national and State levels. The report also suggested measures to address these issues.

Studies and committee reports that followed the Sachar report, including important ones such as the Diversity Index report and the Equal Opportunity Commission report, both of 2008, and the Sachar evaluation committee report of 2014, went on to state that the inequities, deprivations and discrimination continue to hold sway over the administrative and development mechanisms despite their recommendations and the seemingly positive responses from successive governments.

Thus, when the DDDIx completed the task of arranging all 599 districts in the order of percentage of deprived communities, especially the S.Cs/S.Ts and Muslims, it became a repetition of the story of unimplemented proposals and promises and the multiple discriminations that were the reason for the non-implementation. The listing of the least developed districts in categories such as economic situation, education, health and material well-being only reaffirmed this situation. The least developed 15 districts in terms of the economic index were Mandla, Balaghat, Umaria, Betul and Dindori in Madhya Pradesh; Jamui, Munger, Sitamarhi and Sheohar in Bihar; Basti and Fatehpur in Uttar Pradesh; and Mayurbhanj, Malkangiri, Kalahandi and Baudh in Odisha. The top 15 districts as per economic parameters are the six districts of Delhi and Gautam Budh Nagar and Gurgaon in the National Capital Region, Daman, Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune and Bhopal. The urban-rural divergence in terms of population and economic well-being is exemplified by this categorisation.

All the studies that looked at population, development and deprivation also pointed out that the Muslim population lived predominantly in rural areas compared with the total population and even the S.C./S.T. population. The economic analyst Amirullaha Khan, who took an active role in bringing out both the Diversity Index report of 2008 and the DDDIx, points out that the percentage increase of Muslims in the urban population is very low. “This reflects social factors constraining their mobility, particularly into smaller urban centres. Their share in metro cities is slightly higher than in the smaller cities and towns, as the social discrimination may be less there because of anonymity in larger urban settlements,” he said. In terms of poverty measured through monthly consumption, in urban areas Muslims figure at the bottom. The increase in income of Muslims is 40 per cent for those moving to urban areas and 70 per cent for those moving to metro cities against the national average of 90 per cent and 140 per cent respectively. In the category “employer”, the number of Muslims as a share of the workforce is lower than in all other religious groups, even fewer than Hindus belonging to Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Furthermore, Muslims form the smallest percentage of urban males who are regular salaried workers. As high as 18 per cent of the educated non-OBC Muslim youth report unemployment. The percentage of boys who neither attend educational institutions nor are in the labour force, described as “nowhere children”, is very high for Muslim boys, said Amirullaha Khan.

In all this analysis, however, there was a surprise in health indicators, he said and referred to it as the “Muslim mortality puzzle”. “Simply put, the Muslim population in India fares better on child mortality than Hindu populations which are financially better off and more literate. Paradoxically, Muslims, in general, lack access to health-care facilities, live in areas that are denied public services of any kind and have considerably lower incomes than their counterparts in all socio-economic groups. However, by age five, mortality among Muslims is nearly 18 per cent lower than among Hindus. What this means is that among Muslims, an additional 1.7 children survive up to the age of five years among every 100 children.”

The public health activist Bobby John, who was actively involved in initiatives that led to the putting together and propagation of the DDDIx, told Frontline that the most important fact that all these studies have highlighted is that discussions that seek to look at population growth and development cannot be meaningful if the categories of inequity and discrimination are also not factored in.

Indeed, all the studies and reports on inequity and deprivation that have emerged over the past decade have been efforts, albeit limited, to move towards a level playing field. As the track record of the past decade has shown, the removal of deprivation and inequities will happen not just by the creation of studies and reports but by resolute action from the administrative and governance system. But there is no concrete movement in this direction even as partisan discussions on population growth and development abound at the levels of politics, media and academics.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan