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Ground Report: Unemployment, Demonetisation Have Been Bad for Everyone, But Worse For India’s Muslim Community

“There are already many shops here and we won't get shops in other areas,” said Mohammad, who runs a dairy business in Batla House.

During the 2014 campaign, PM Modi attempted to get rid off of the communal taint he carried by promising “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas” and Modi believers, especially those with degrees in Economics, lapped up the promise and assured the critics and that no one, not even the minorities, would be left behind when Modi’s economic magic wand will work. But it didn’t work. Unemployment is at its highest in the past 45 years.

Business Standard reported that according to the National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) periodic labour force survey (PLFS), that the Modi govt tried to bury, unemployment was 6.1 per cent — the highest since 1972-73. To compare, the unemployment rate in the country had gone down to 2.2 per cent in 2011-12, according to NSSO data.

The Muslim community across the country has mostly been in the news for being victims of ‘cow vigilantes’ and other hate-crimes in the past few years. What is missing from the mainstream media is the unemployment plaguing the community already hit by hate, demonetisation, religion and caste-based discrimination.

The twin blows of GST & demonetisation

Thirty-five-year-old carpenter, Mohammad Arshad, who came to Delhi told NewsCentral24x7, “We have a group of 40-45 working people, all living in Shaheen Bagh. Before demonetisation, each of us worked 25-26 days per month. Now, many of us find work for 10-15 days only.”

Mohammad Arshad
Mohammad Arshad

Market ka bura haal hai (The market is in a terrible state),” forty-six-year-old Khalid Ahmed, who owns a small manufacturing unit near Sadar Bazaar— one of the largest wholesale market in Delhi— told NewsCentral24x7. 

Thousands of small manufacturing units operate in this part of Delhi. Each unit employs around 8-10 craftsmen, most of whom are migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in search of a better life. The businesses in this area are predominantly informal.

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Ahmed added, “Till 2012-13, I employed 15-17 people to produce and sell goods worth Rs 50-55 lakh per year. In the recent past, sales have dropped to Rs 20-22 lakhs. Hence, I have cut down the number of karigars (workers) to six-seven people.” “Ab utna order hi nahin aata (I don’t get as many orders anymore),” he added.

“Under the previous taxation system, I was paying 12.5 per cent Value Added Tax, and now I have to pay 18 per cent Goods and Service Tax (GST),” Ahmed further said. He underlined that the burden of an increase in tax rate cannot be passed to the customer due to stiff competition from big corporations. “We were already working on a thin margin, now we are forced to sell on an even thinner one,” he said, adding, “Hamein aur bade bade udhogpatiyon ke brabar hi tax dena padta hai. Kitno ka to band hi ho gaya kaam (We have to pay as much tax as the big industrialists. Many people had to shut down their businesses).”

Since the Muslim community has not been a part of mainstream economic structure and relies overwhelmingly on the informal economy — Ranganath Mishra Commission— headed by the Chief Justice Ranganath Mishra noted that Muslims are under-represented and sometimes wholly unrepresented in government jobs — the flawed implementation of Goods & Services Taxes and demonetisation has affected the livelihoods of the community.

No jobs, only hopelessness

Ahmed lives in Batla House, Jamia Nagar, along with his family which includes an unemployed younger brother Shamim Ahmed, who graduated in English literature from Aligarh Muslim University in 2017. Shamim has not been able to find a suitable job since graduation. Ahmed’s eldest son, Atif, completed a diploma in civil engineering from Pusa Polytechnic College in 2017. Atif is currently studying hard to crack the railways and other competitive exams. Khalid seemed uncertain about his children’s future. He said, “Mehnat to bahut karta hai lekin naukri hi kam nikalti hai (He works very hard, but there are a few job opportunities).” As per a report published in The Times of India, over 2.8 crore people applied for 90,000 Railways job in March 2018.

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Twenty-six-year-old Mohammed told NewsCentral24x7 that he was hoping to get a job in the construction sector after completing B Tech in Civil Engineering in 2016. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation on November 8, 2016, which severely impacted the largely cash driven construction sector. It is noteworthy that after agriculture, construction sector creates the highest number of jobs in the country.

At present, Mohammad is managing his father’s dairy business in Batla House. He said, “It isn’t like there isn’t profit in the milk business. The problem is that there are already two other competitors. There are already many shops here and we won’t get shops in other areas).”

Mohammad's Dairy
Mohammad’s Dairy

Ayesha Khan, a resident of Zakir Nagar, mother of two told NewsCentral24x7 , “Instead of treating us as culprit mainstream media should ask the ruling party why it does not talk about its own 2014 manifesto in which it promised economic development and two crore jobs per year”.

Khan, who has two children, further said, “There is not even a single good school in our locality,”. She is worried about the growing Islamophobia in the country. “Even in school a 7-8 years old child is being called Pakistani or terrorist,” she said and asked, “How do you respond to that?”.

Twenty-five-year-old Shamsh Azam, a Shaheen Bagh resident, has been looking for a job. He was working in Concentrix, a Gurgaon-based business process outsourcing (BPO) company. However, his services were terminated without any prior notice in March 2018.

Shamsh graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Majhigharini Institute of Technology and Science, Odisha in 2015, for which he paid a yearly fee of Rs 90,000.

Speaking to NewsCentral24x7, he said, “I came to Delhi in 2016 in search of a stable job, but there aren’t many jobs in Mechanical field. I tried really hard. When I couldn’t manage to find a job in this domain, I started working in the BPO sector).” While his family — a mother and five sisters — live in Muzaffarpur, his ageing father, and now the sole breadwinner, owns a small mechanic shop in a remote Bihar village, right by the India-Nepal border. Shamsh has been under a lot of pressure to start earning to share that burden. Recent reports on job loss in rural areas have only added to his worry.

Since 2014, after Narendra Modi-led government came to power, discrimination against the minority has escalated. Shams told NewsCentral24x7, “I use my uncle’s address— who lives in Mehrauli while applying for a job. I hesitate to mention my Shaheen Bagh address in my resume”.

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Why is it more difficult for Muslims?

Amitabh Kundu, a visiting professor at the New Delhi-based Institute of Human Development, explained, “Muslims are the most deprived in the job market; their condition is worse than even the scheduled tribes (STs) in urban areas.” Professor Kundu headed the Post-Sachar Evaluation Committee, also known as Kundu Committee, constituted by Dr Manmohan Singh-led government on August 5, 2013, to study the socio-economic condition of Muslims.

The Sachar Committee had also pointed out that the Muslim representation in Indian Administrative Services (IAS) is only three per cent; 1.8 per cent in the Indian Foreign Services (IFS); four per cent in Indian Police Services (IPS); 4.5 per cent in Railways (almost 98.7 per cent are employed at the lower level); and share of Muslims in all recruitments by the State Public Service Commission is about 2.1 per cent. As per 2011 census, Muslims represent 14.2 per cent of the total population in the country.

The demolition of Babri Masjid followed by riots in different parts of the country in 1992 changed the manner in which migrated Muslims occupied spaces in the cities. Now, they are forced to live in ghettos, where roads are unconstructed, garbage is not collected for days and drains overflow every monsoon. It can be seen in every city from Mumbara in Mumbai to Juhapura in Ahmedabad. In Delhi, it is called Jamia Nagar, located in the south-eastern part of the city, next to the Jamia Millia Islamia University. The inhabitants of Jamia Nagar — almost all of them have migrated from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — are ghettoised, which means they not only remain segregated from others in the city but have to also struggle for basic public amenities.

Tikona Park, Jamia Nagar
Tikona Park, Jamia Nagar

The Ranganath Mishra Committee report also mentions that community have the highest ratio of unemployed graduates cutting across all the Socio-Religious Communities. Lack of proper training and discrimination based on religious line restricts their zone of operation to traditional areas and keeps them trapped in the vicious circle of poverty.

In Jamia Nagar there is only one school for science, located in Noor Nagar, and it does not have a science teacher. Lack of access to education facilities leads to lower participation in the labour force. The Sachar Committee Report calculates that only 17 per cent Muslim children aged 17 and above are matriculated, as against the national average of 26 per cent. Only 50 per cent Muslims who finish middle school complete secondary education, compared to 62 per cent at the national level. And one-fourth of Muslim children aged between 6-14 have either never attended a school or are dropouts. The report also notes the low levels of education among Muslim women.

Rizwan Qaisar, professor of the history department at Jamia Millia Islamia told NewsCentral24x7, “It’s not that Muslim parents are averse to mainstream education or to send their children to an affordable government school but access to government schools for Muslim children is limited”.

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