New Delhi: While education provides better employment opportunities, it may not necessarily translate into a job.
A survey of the employment situation among major religious groups in 2004-05 carried out by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) shows that while Christians have the highest literacy levels, they also appear to have the highest unemployment rates.
Christians are the secondlargest minority grouping in the country, aggregating 2.5% of the 1.1 billion population.
The survey results appear to fly in the face of widely-accepted claims that special reservations are needed for minorities in educational institutions so they can better their lives. The problem, the survey suggests, is that minorities such as Christians face bottlenecks in getting access to jobs. One outcome of this: large numbers of Christians and Muslims report being self-employed.
The major religious groups considered by the 61st round of survey include Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs for all states, excluding parts of Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The survey covered more than 1.24 lakh households, of this more than 79,000 were rural households.
In rural areas, like in urban areas, the unemployment rate among Christians was higher at 4.4%, than those for Hindus at 1.5%, and Muslims at 2.3%.
According to the survey, Christians had the lowest illiteracy rate, both for rural (20% males and 31% female) and urban areas (6% for males and 11% for females). In urban areas, while 47% Christians were regular wage and salary-earners, 27% were self-employed and 11%, casual labourers.
Compared to this, almost half of the Muslims were self-employed, and 30% were wage earners or salaried and 14% were casual labourers in urban areas. Hindu households fell somewhere in between.
“The data only confirms that minorities continue to face discrimination in the job market,” said Samajwadi Party’s Shahid Siddiqui, who is a member of the Rajya Sabha and a Muslim. “Muslims have been at the receiving end of this discrimination since Independence and time has come for affirmative action.”
Imran-ur-Rehman Kidwai, a fellow Muslim and chairman of minority department of the ruling Congress party, however, disagrees with the suggestion. “Reservation can’t be a quickfix,” he says. “What is needed instead, is infrastructure development to improve the lot of the minorities socially, politically as well as economically.”
Again, in rural areas, the male worker population ratio (WPR), or the proportion of workers to total population, was the highest among Christians (at 56%), followed by Hindus and Muslims at 55% and 50% respectively. The same pattern reflects for female workers in rural areas. In urban India, the WPR among males was highest for Hindus (56%) followed by Muslims (53%) and Christians (51%.)
A gender-wise break-up, however, suggests that Christian women, urban or rural, are more literate than Hindu as well as Muslim women. The WPR for Christian women was 24%, followed by Hindus at 17% and Muslims 12%. However, Hindu women account for the highest number of casual labourers—34% in rural areas and 18% in urban areas.
“While it may seem that Christians are doing better because of their high WPR, it is worth finding out what is the social environment in the work place. For instance, whether they get weekly (days) off, have a welfare fund or other social security,” said a senior official at the Planning Commission who didn’t want to be named.
The official also said that sometimes being self employed may be more remunerative than working for an establishment.
“Some Muslim communities have been perusing craftsmanship for ages and are earning well. Just because they may be in the self-employed category, it may be far-fetched to conclude that they are worse off than Hindus and Christians,” he said.
The survey shows the emergence of self employment, particularly in rural areas, as the biggest source of jobs.
Among Hindu households, 37% depended on self employment in agriculture, followed by Christians. But for Muslims, primarily non-agricultural self employment were the mainstay for 28% households—more than for Christians and Hindus at 15% and 14%, respectively.
For the communist parties, which support reservations for Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians in addition to quotas for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward castes, this study comes as a relief.
“How many more reports later will it be clear that reservation is necessary for Dalits, whether Hindu, Christian or Muslim?” said D. Raja, Communist Party of India (CPI) national secretary.
However, the Planning Commission official said the NSSO data should not be used to frame the government’s reservation policy.
“Of the 500 million workforce, roughly 30-35 million are in the organized sector, of which reservation applies only to 25-28 million workers. This data pertains to basic employment across the country, and should not be used to judge the reservation scenario.”
In another survey on employment and unemployment in cities across the country, the NSSO has found prosperity growing in urban India, since the unemployment rate in 27 major cities has declined by 2% between 1999-2000 and 2004-05.