Past the Muslim monolith

What, exactly, unites Indian Muslims and what divides them?

The Sachar Commission Report compared the situation of Muslims of India at the state level, but the next step is to disaggregate a community that has often been considered a homogenous whole. In the volume Muslims in Indian Cities, which I co-edited with Laurent Gayer, we offer a dozen local case studies. We analyse the socio-economic condition of the Muslims in 11 cities and examine how their neighbourhoods are structured — and how they relate to the rest of Ahmedabad, Aligarh, Bangalore, Bhopal, Calicut, Cuttack, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Lucknow and Mumbai.

National statistics show that Muslims are over-represented in towns and cities: 35.7 per cent of them lived in urban areas, while the urbanisation rate was only 28 per cent on average in 2001, according to the census. This harks back to the Muslim origin of many Indian cities — as their very names suggest, Ahmedabad, Ahmednagar, Aligarh, Allahabad, Aurangabad, Hyderabad, etc. But statistics also say that Muslims are over-represented among the poor: 37 per cent of the urban Muslims live below the poverty line, against 27 per cent of the rural Muslims — against, respectively, 22 and 28 per cent of Hindus. Why? Because, according to the Sachar Committee report, 8 per cent of urban Muslims are part of the formal sector whereas the national average is 21 per cent for Indian city and town dwellers.

These aggregates conceal a wide range of trajectories. In the cities that were capitals of princely states, like Bhopal and Hyderabad, decline started at the time of Partition and even more after the merger with the Indian Union, which deprived the local Muslim minorities of their old privileges. In eastern and southern cities where communalism has been less pronounced, socio-economic standards remained better (partly because of the Gulf connection, sometimes) and urban patterns were overdetermined more by class and caste than by religion.

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