Omar Khalidi. Muslims in Indian Economy. Three Essays, 2006. 240. (cloth), ISBN 978-81-88789-23-8.
Reviewed by M. S. Bhatt
Published on H-Asia (November, 2008)
Commissioned by Sumit Guha
The Economic Conditions of India's Muslims
Intellectuals have long taken the economic conditions of Indian Muslims for granted. This is evident from the scarcity of systematic studies of their economic conditions. Two official reports, the Gopal Singh Committee Report (1982) and the Sachar Committee Report (2006) have addressed their socioeconomic conditions to some extent. A few books are available but these are based on suspect methodologies and do not provide an informed understanding. The rest of the received literature is sharply polarized. A majority of the Muslim writers paint a dismal picture of discrimination and official apathy and concentrate disproportionately on the duties of Indian state towards Indian Muslims and its failures. On the other hand, narratives by right-wing Hindu intellectuals distort religious and demographic characteristics of Indian Muslims to explain not only their economic backwardness, but their “suspect loyalty” to the country. Writers on both sides seem to be blind to the economic transformation of the Indian economy since independence. The absence of informed analysis consequently breeds further distortions. Some micro-level studies, mostly based on cross-sectional data, provide useful information. However, these need to be replicated to juxtapose the inferences in a macro frame.
Against this backdrop, Omar Khalidi’s Muslims in Indian Economy (which is an expansion of chapter 3 of his earlier book, Indian Muslims since Independence) is a bold attempt to understand the economic conditions of the Indian Muslims with special reference to Urdu-speaking Muslims. After formulating a set of questions, Khalidi promises to “inter-weave description with interpretation and analysis” (p. 2). Delineating the inadequacies of the data sources, he presents a macro picture of Indian Muslims, focusing mainly on their origins, spatial spread, occupational distribution, role of the state, and important developments (the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the adoption of English as the official language in 1835; the Mutiny of 1857) which adversely impacted the employment opportunities of Muslims. Khalidi also focuses on the plight of Muslims against the backdrop of partition and the blood-bath which followed it, the share of Muslims in government jobs, and conditions of subaltern Muslims. This is followed by detailing examples of state-sponsored discrimination (under the open patronage of independent India’s home minister, Sardar Patel and his lieutenants, such as G. B. Pant, B. G. Kher and R. S. Shukla, all chief ministers), gross misuse of the Evacuees Property Act and the Enemy Property Act (these laws ruined the Muslim businessmen who could neither sell their properties and nor use these as collateral), and gross misuse of Muslim waqf property. The macro picture is then supplemented by six case studies (Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Deccan/Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra). These, by and large, are designed on a uniform pattern presenting an inter-temporal description of economic conditions of Muslims. In line with the all-India picture these chapters cover sectoral distribution of employment, occupational and spatial distribution, educational status, state interventions, community initiatives, success stories in the areas of trade and commerce, and the orchestration of pogroms. Other major concerns of the book include the causes and consequences of educational lag among Muslims, mismanagement and encroachment of waqf (community trust) property by the waqf boards, the state, semi-government organizations, and individual Muslims themselves. Most of the narratives are based on diverse data sources. Broad inferences by and large correlate with the macro picture. However, significant specificities do emerge, particularly during the pre-independence period. For example, as compared to Uttar Pradesh, Muslims in Bihar did not keep aloof from Western education and consequently had a fair share in government jobs though modern education was not widespread among them. Similarly, alongside the Aligarh movement in North India, there were parallel educational movements, like Anjuman-i-Islam in Maharashtra, which were instrumental in spreading education among Muslims in their respective areas. The post-independence situation across the states is not different than the picture presented in chapter 2. For page after page Khalidi has demonstrated that despite constitutional guarantees, the state has not been able to provide an enabling environment so that Muslims could build capabilities, use them to enhance their well-being, and thereby contribute to the overall development of the country. State inaction and (at times) direct involvement in pogroms directed against Muslims have been confirmed even by the official commissions of inquiry.
The significance of the Khalidi’s book lies in its attempt to match selected macro parameters with micro-economic profiles in an inter-temporal framework. This adds a distinct flavor to the book and makes it a useful addition to the received literature. Be that as it may, there are certain gray patches. Some of these originate from inadequate specification; conceptual and methodological inadequacies; nonobservance of the basics of cliometrics; and inadequate coverage.
Two sets of explanatory variables have generally been used to explain economic underdevelopment. These are “externally induced” and “internally induced” factors. The former generally include the size, nature and effectiveness of state interventions; the overall pattern of economic growth and its impact on income/consumption distribution; consumption and saving behavior; the nature and working of economic institutions; the degree of economic integration with rest of the world; the stage of demographic transition; the availability and health of the environmental capital; the state of knowledge and technology, etc. The latter includes the role of religious beliefs, social institutions, occupational structure, self-perception about deprivation, poverty, wealth accumulation, and attitudes towards scientific education and technology, etc. These are often classified as economic and noneconomic factors.
Analysts have usually found robust linkages between underdevelopment and economic factors. But the same is not true of noneconomic factors. Adam Smith was the first to study the significance of noneconomic factors but it was only Max Weber who pioneered seminal studies focusing on the relations between economic development and religious beliefs. In the recent years number of empirical studies have been conducted. These studies will indeed help researchers to formulate informed opinions. Analysis of the role of noneconomic factors is very problematic though some studies have demonstrated that it is possible to disaggregate their role. A book on the relative status of a religious community should take this basic premise into consideration. Exceptions apart, the available literature on Indian Muslims unfortunately follows a unidirectional approach. Narratives scripted by Muslim authors overemphasize the role of externally induced factors, thereby blaming others for their present plight. Non-Muslim writers often focus on internal contradictions and characteristics of Muslims as the sole factors responsible for their economic backwardness. Khalidi has not been able to insulate himself from this lopsided approach. After identifying relevant questions and promising to “interview description with interpretation,” he answers some questions partially, while some critical questions have not been answered at all. For example, a crucial question raised by the author is: “does Islam or Islam as interpreted and lived, have anything to do with the relative economic backwardness of Muslims?” (p. 1).
The question again surfaces with reference to the educational lag of Muslims across the countries. Khalidi, however, bypasses the question and declares: “Islam itself is certainly no impediment to education and critical enquiry, however, interpretation of Islam by certain vested groups can certainly be a road-block to modern education” (p. 47). After raising the pitch, Khalidi chooses silence over explanation and focuses only on the absence of Muslims from government employment without even naming the "vested groups." Economic backwardness need not necessarily be explained only with respect to the,“absence of Muslims in employment in government jobs.” This is necessary but not sufficient. Thus Khalidi has not been able to specify the problem properly, which violates standard cliometric procedure. This is further reinforced by the very first sentence of the last chapter (summary and conclusions) wherein he argues that “this study of the Muslim community reveals the pattern of the largest minority’s share in the national economy” (p.227). But along with employment this share could also be the share of Muslims in the GDP of India, in aggregate savings, in investment and foreign trade, the distribution of income, poverty, etc. The book has no answers to these aspects of the problem. The methodology of national income computation includes education, commerce, and services in the tertiary sector; these have been treated as separate categories by Khalidi, thereby creating comparability problems. Moreover, data sets have not been carefully examined. There is no harm in employing different data sources but one has to account for their limitations. The author has mostly used data on government employment and population. Out of twenty-eight tables in the entire book, twenty-five deal with employment and population.
In studying the causal relation between a dependent variable (in this case economic underdevelopment of Muslims of India) and independent variables (like demographic characteristics of Indian Muslims and state employment policies), both externally and internally induced factors must be specified with intuitive logic and then tested using standard tools of hypothesis testing. Mere presentation of raw data does not help to establish significant and stable relationships and makes the validity of final conclusions suspect. Khalidi does not respect this basic requirement.
The title of the book does not correlate with spatial distribution of Indian Muslims. It mainly covers the Urdu-speaking segments of Indian Muslims, thus leaving out Bangla-, Kashmiri-, Malayalam-, Assamese-, and Tamil- speaking Muslims without any convincing justification. These form important segments of Muslims in India, each with its own distinct characteristics. Even the passing references do not fit into the main narrative. For example, the linkage between the resolution of the Kashmir problem and its consequent benign impact on the economic conditions of Indian Muslims does not flow from any description of the process of economic transformation of the Muslim-majority states of Jammu and Kashmir. Treating even Urdu-speaking Muslims as a homogenous category is far from convincing. True: it is not possible or even necessary to cover every aspect or the entire population due to variety of difficulties. This can be granted provided title of the book and contents are married properly.
Information used has not been properly cross-checked. For example, on page 150 the author writes, “the government took over Laiq Ali’s companies and properties as he moved to Pakistan in dramatic circumstances.” But in footnote 24 he writes, “the Birlas took over the most of the Laiq Ali’s business when he left to Pakistan.” This appears contradictory.
The inferences have not been contrasted with similarly situated population subsets of other religious groups. Along with Muslims, how have other deprived sections of the society benefited from the economic transformation of the Indian economy since 1947? Have state-sponsored affirmative action and other interventions impacted subaltern classes across the religious formations uniformly or not? Khalidi seems to be aware of this approach. While referring to factors leading to the relative prosperity of Muslims in western Uttar Pradesh (U.P.), he rightly argues that the introduction of the green revolution in the mid-sixties has benefited all sections of the population in western U.P., though not to the same degree. This did not happen in the eastern part of the state, giving rise to regional disparities. Understanding the determinants of the educational lag of Muslims and its consequences is a major theme of Khalidi’s book. However, the approach adopted to address to this crucial question is lopsided. According to K. M Ashraf,
“[U]nder British tutelage capitalism germinated in India in the Hindu majority areas of the Calcutta, Bombay and Madras before 1857. By 1857 Raja Mohan Roy had initiated through his social and education movement the Hindu middle class to the requirements of capitalism. A new middle class emerged among Muslims only after half a century of Roy’s Social Reform Movement. It was weak and preferred to grow under British protection. Compared to the educational movements of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, the Aligarh Movement was dominated by Jagirdars and Nawabs articulating the interest of British rulers. [The] overwhelming majority of the Muslim masses belonged to [the] category of ordinary craftsmen, peasants, workers and practitioners of other such lowly professions. However, this new Aligarh middle class and its leaders had absolutely nothing to do with them.” (Quoted, p. 115)
Khalidi bypasses these important questions and fails to put the problem in its proper perspective.
At the end of the tunnel, Khalidi becomes a victim of the proverbial "tunnel effect." His balance sheet is not balanced. The focus is exclusively on externally induced factors. Internal factors have been taken for granted. This is a serious lapse. Economic backwardness is a multidimensional phenomenon. It cannot be explained by only looking at external factors. Khalidi raises appropriate research questions and derives plausible inferences but fails to weave the two together with interpretations and analysis using now standard cliometric procedures.
. However, between the two only the Sachar Committee Report is available to the general public for scrutiny. Despite Rs. 57.77 lakh having been spent on its preparation, the Gopal Singh Committee Report is not available to the general public. The Sachar Committee Report is available as a pdf at http://www.godgraces.org/files/Muslim%20Report.pdf.
. There are indeed honorable exceptions to this (see for example Marcus Nolaud, “Religion, Culture and Economic Performance” (accessed from firstname.lastname@example.org); and K. M. Ashraf, “An Overview of Indian Muslim Politics,” (New Delhi: Manak Publishers, 2001), 92.
. Omar Khalidi, “Indian Muslim since Independence,” (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1995).
. Externally induced factors, in the case of Khalidi’s book, implies factors that are external to Muslim community, whose members share a set of beliefs, activities, and institutions premised upon faith in supernatural forces. [Internally induced factors would imply internal structures of the Muslim community and their distinctive socioreligious features which are related to or affect their economic status and approach to wealth accumulation.
. See, for example, R. Grier, “The Effect of Religion on Economic Development: A Cross National Study of 63 Former Colonies,” Kyklos, no. 1 (1007): 47-62; L. R. Ianaccone, “Introduction of Economics of Religions,” Journal of Economic Literature 36, no. 3 (1998):1485-1496; T. Kuran, “Islam and Underdevelopment: An Old Puzzle Revisited,” Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, 153 (2002): 41-7; M. Wafissi, “Reforming Orientation: Weber and Islam,” in Max Weber, Democracy and Modernization, ed. Ralph Schroeder (New York: St. Martin Press, 1988); M. Rodinson, Islam and Capitalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1973); and B. S. Turner, Weber and Islam: A Critical Study (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974).
. This quote ends with note 31, which is a reference to chapter 4, entitled “ The Problem of Muslim Educational Backwardness,” of the author’s Indian Muslims since Independence.” This chapter contains a section on “Muslim Social Structure and Appeal of Education.” Even this section (though very informed) does not address the internal vested interests which serve as road blocks.
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