It's crunch time for Faidul, and Nazma, his mother, is worried. He is in class 10, and the sole hope of his parents for a better future. The three-member family lives in a small house in Pahari Imli, Old Delhi. They earn a meagre living making necklaces at home, from material provided by contractors. Faidul is an indifferent student, and Nazma is desperately looking around for somebody to help him. They can't afford a regular tuition.
"Once he clears 12th, he will get a job. Otherwise, he will have to spend his life like us," she says. But Faidul has to help in the necklace work at home apart from going to school. Between them, Nazma and Faidul symbolize the hope and the shackles of a large section of the Muslim community.
Like other under-privileged sections in India, Muslims have taken to education in a big way, hoping to escape from poverty. Attendance of Muslim children in schools has increased much more rapidly than other religious communities. This rush to school is even more marked in rural areas and among girls.
But is better education leading to better jobs? It is too early to say, but trends of employment still show much lower opportunities, even for educated Muslims. 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.
A comparison of data collected by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) in 1999-2000 and in 2004-05 shows that in rural areas, attendance of Muslim boys (5-14 years old) increased by nearly 12% compared to about 9% for other communities, and for Muslim girls it increased by 16% compared to about 13% for others. As a result, 76% of Muslim boys and 71% of girls were attending school in 2004-05, quite close to boys (84%) and girls (71%) from the Hindu community.
In urban areas, the pace of increase in school attendance in the 5-14 years age group was practically the same for Muslim boys compared to other communities, while it was almost double, at 12%, for Muslim girls compared to Hindu girls. Here too, the gap is fast closing, except that the pressure of finding work appears to be telling on the boys more, costing them their education. A similar, though somewhat muted, trend is visible in the older age group of 15-19 years.
Attendance rates among Muslim boys have increased at nearly twice the rate as Hindu boys, both in urban and in rural areas. The participation of Muslim girls too has increased at a faster pace than their Hindu counterparts in this age group. The highest increases have been shown in the Christian community.
In the 20-24 years age group, there has been a very rapid increase in attendance in higher education centers among Muslim youth, except for men in urban areas, where there has been a decline in attendance. In the urban areas, the gap between the two communities becomes deep in the older age groups, primarily because of steep fall in attendance of Muslim males. Like Faidul, they are under pressure to earn as well as learn.
But, 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.
"Many educated boys spend the whole day hanging around at tea shops. Who knows what is going on in their minds," says a Muslim resident of Jamia Nagar, the scene of a recent police arrest of alleged terrorists. He did not want his identity revealed. (Courtesy: The Times of India, October 27, 2008)