This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Where Do Muslims Fit In India?

When the Indian sub-continent gained independence from British rule after WWII, the region was partitioned into India (to be the home of Hindus and Sikhs) and Pakistan (to be home to Muslims--eventually divided into Pakistan and Bangladesh). Of course, life is never so neatly contrived. India remains home to the third largest population of Muslims in the world. Only Indonesia and Pakistan have more Muslims than India. So, what happens to Muslims in India clearly matters. As the New York Times reports, a recent election has created a call for quotas to be established for Muslims, in the same way that they have been established for the lower castes, which have been traditionally discriminated against in India.

For decades, the issue of affirmative action for Muslims has been a politically fractious one in India. Many opponents, including right-wing Hindu groups, have long argued that affirmative action policies based on religion violate India’s Constitution and run counter to the country’s secular identity. Quotas, they said, should be strictly reserved for groups that have suffered centuries of caste-based discrimination.But these arguments have been steadily countered by an undeniable and worrisome byproduct of India’s democratic development: Muslims, as a group, have fallen badly behind, in education, employment and economic status, partly because of persistent discrimination in a Hindu-majority nation. Muslims are more likely to live in villages without schools or medical facilities, a landmark government report found in 2006, and less likely to qualify for bank loans.Now, the issue of Muslim quotas has bubbled to the surface in the recent election in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where the winner, the regional Samajwadi Party, has promised to carve out a quota of jobs and educational slots for Muslims, an idea first raised by theIndian National Congress Party. Legal and political obstacles remain, and some Muslims are skeptical that leaders will muster the political will to push through a quota, even as many consider such preferences justified and long overdue.
The irony in this is that many of the Muslims now living in India descend from families that converted from Hinduism to Islam precisely to escape the discrimination aimed at the lower castes.
Yet those caste affiliations never fully disappeared, meaning that a hierarchy lingered among Muslims in India. Two government commissions sought to include “backward” Muslims in the quota system by using their former Hindu caste identity, along with educational and economic indicators.

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