Uttar Pradesh (U.P.), the most populous state in India, has been a melting pot of Muslim and Hindu identities for millennia. Famous for its legacy of Nawabs and Awadhi culture, the diverse demography of Uttar Pradesh is clearly visible in its culture, history and politics as the state houses the largest Muslim population in the country. The popular image of UP today however, does not coincide with its grand history of splendour and riches.
In the past 7 years, since the infamous Muzzaffarnagar riots broke out one has seen a highly consistent stream of images and stories of almost a post-apocalyptic UP, plagued with violence and communalism, so much so that entire Hindu vote banks have been swayed by the polarised sentiment in the area and have become key to the success of the ruling party in the state, winning by an overwhelming majority. UP thus serves as the centre stage of oppression of the largest religious minority in the country.
Although oppression of the Muslim community is a multifaceted issue, one of the most integral components retarding the progress of this community is unemployment. This goes beyond hindering financial capability and security, but one that on the whole restricts any sort of economic progress. It also leaves the community comparatively more vulnerable to illiteracy, disease, crime and various other socio-economic problems. Most methods provided by the government are rendered ineffective due to another key problem, underrepresentation. The overwhelming majority of the NDA government in the state had not a single Muslim representative as a member.
Both these issues have been concurrent and consistent in the state for a large part of the past decade. One important correlation between underrepresentation and unemployment within the Muslim community in the state is that they have been largely aggravated and intensified by the wave of communalism that swept the state in 2013.
UP has had a long history of decreased employment opportunities, and this affects the minorities more than the average population, especially ones vulnerable to discrimination and bias. The Sachar Committee report (2006) shows that Muslim employees working in the government sector constitute less than 23% lower than any other minority group.
This is lower than the SC/ST group which constitutes about 39.4% of the government jobs. In the 14 years since the report was published, most Muslim communities have shownshown little to no progress, even steadily declining in states like Uttar Pradesh.
Employability is increasingly dismal in the public/private sector with just 6% of the populations still holding paid jobs. Unemployment hit record highs in 2014 after communal violence peaked the previous year. From 2018 to 2019, there was an increase of 9.95% in unemployment among Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, this was significantly higher than the national average of 7.23%, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy data. This economic handicap further alienates the community from the rest of the population.
One can see consistently decreasing numbers of children from the community attending school and even lower of Muslims pursuing higher education. A slow ghettoization of the community, with very poor living conditions in most of these areas can be observed. These ghettos are the least politically active areas, with polling booths standing almost empty in such areas like Chamanganj in Kanpur which recorded the lowest turnout in the 2014 and 2019 elections. These elections were vital in demonstrating the communal polarisation and Islamophobic sentiment, as for the first time since Independence, Muslim candidates were entirely obliterated from the Lok Sabha in the state.
With majoritarian politics in play to sway vote banks in their favour, one is witnessing an erasure of Muslim culture and history in the state. Renaming of cities like Allahabad, now Prayagraj which was founded by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, are very revealing of the current government’s polarising politics and a spread of communal sentiment to solidify their power in the state. The Muslim community, once central and intricately interwoven within the rich tapestry of Uttar Pradesh is now being forced to live on the fringes of society.
Feature image: The Business Standard, “Who did Muslims vote for in UP?” https://www.business-standard.com/elections/uttar-pradesh-assembly-elections-2017/who-did-muslims-vote-for-in-up-117031200015_1.html