Illiterate landless Muslims: the three levels of vulnerability

By Kashif-ul-huda,

A commission constituted by the UPA government suggests that Muslims in India face vulnerability in employment sector due to low level of education, having no land and being Muslim.

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A Draft Report on “Conditions of Work and Promotion of Livelihoods in the Unorganised Sector” released by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) reveals low level of schooling and high rate of poverty among Muslims who are employed in organized or unorganized sectors. Muslims rank between OBCs and SCs for various indicators studied by the commission.

Commission termed as a “vulnerability” the socio-religious group the worker belonged to. The report notes that socially under-privileged groups get reservation for jobs and provisions for admission to higher education institution while Muslims who are “economically backward” have no such provision.

6.1 years of schooling is an average for non-agricultural worker. For workers belonging to scheduled tribes (ST) it is 3.8 years, lowest in this sector. Muslims workers rank just a bit higher at 4.1 years. Upper castes Hindu workers have the highest average schooling of 9 years.

The commission reports that “[t]he broad pattern in years of schooling remained the same among the socio-religious groups, rising from ST to upper casts [Hindus], with the Muslims being closer the SC.” This is same observation as Sachar Committee’s report which reported that the Muslims rank closer to SCs and STs as a group in various indicators. 

The commission also found that “[w]hile upper caste men and women were most likely to get organised sector jobs, the Muslim men and women were least likely to do so.” For upper caste, this can be explained with high level of education and scheduled tribe and castes are helped by affirmative action, while Muslims without any affirmative action and low level of education are being left out from better paying organized sector jobs. 

Casual work, which pays less and get fewer employment opportunity have highest proportion of ST men (26%) and women (22%) followed by SC. Muslims males (15.6%) and females (10.3%) are more or equal to OBCs. Upper caste Hindus are least likely to be casual worker.

Muslim males and females are overwhelmingly self-employed both in rural and urban areas. Lower levels of education and low level of land-holding was the likely cause for Muslims lower participation in employment in organized and unorganized sector, according to the report.

Employment is also linked to poverty, the commission found similar pattern as employment while observing poverty ratio. STs are the poorest group and “upper caste Hindus having the best status.” Suggesting that the labour market impacts the well-being of the workers.

Even in the same sector, ST and Muslims are most poor than other groups. Half of ST agricultural labourers are below the poverty line; poverty ratio of Muslim agricultural labourers is 40%. The high poverty ratio continues even when some of them own some land.


According to the report, workers from socially deprived groups and women are “employed as bonded labour, child labour, seasonal migrants, or suffering from various forms of social exclusion and discrimination” putting them at a disadvantage.

The report identifies three levels of vulnerability that comes in the way of getting a good employment. First level is created by “low levels of education”, second level of vulnerability is “poor access to land”. These two levels of vulnerability “denies access to “good jobs” in the organised sector and confined one to casual manual labour.” Socio-religious groups that the worker belonged to introduce the “third dimension of vulnerability.” ST and SC populations who have been discriminated for centuries are “protected by affirmative action” but for Muslims this third level of vulnerability forces them into “self-employed activities to meet their livelihood needs.” Higher education level could have made a difference for them in gaining more productive self-employment activities.

Created in 2004, under the chairmanship of Professor Arjun Sengupta, NCEUS under the Ministry of Small Scale Industries released its draft report for questions and comments.

The commission endorsed the recommendation of the Sachar committee for making an Equal Opportunities Commission.

Commission has suggested two bills to better regulate and enforce minimum condition for unorganised workers in agricultural and non-agricultural sectors.


NCEUS: official website