‘One in 7 Muslim Youth Face Discrimination’: Today’s India, in Numbers

Book Excerpt | ‘Jains and Hindus were most likely to not be willing to accept a neighbour from another community.’

6 min read
Hindi Female

“Indians may not always accept that they hold conservative positions on religion. One beloved narrative about India is that while political parties might trade in the business of communal polarisation for votes, the average Indian is actually a liberal person who looks forward to his colleague’s invitation for a home-cooked Eid feast and brings celebratory sweets to the office for Diwali, as the stereotype from innumerable Indian advertisements indicates. The truth is more complicated. Not every Indian might want their religion imposed on the whole country, but that doesn’t mean they want to be friends with people from other religions, let alone accept them as part of their community or family.

In a 34-country Pew survey, India was above the median in its support for people to have the right to practise their religion freely. On the whole, Indians would appear to see religious tolerance as a central part of who they are as a nation. Across all major religious groups, most people said it was very important to respect all religions to be ‘truly Indian’ and that respecting other religions was a very important part of what it meant to be a member of their own religious community. Newspaper headlines quickly seized on this finding to reiterate the beloved position that Indians were, on the whole, tolerant of all religions.


But We Are Not All That 'Liberal'

But more specific questions that do not allow for broad hand-waving about tolerant beliefs uncover deep religious illiberalism and, indeed, outright hostility. A majority of Hindus in India see themselves as very different from their Muslim compatriots (66 per cent), and most Muslims feel the same way, saying they are very different from Hindus (64 per cent). Over a third of Hindu respondents in a 2019 national survey considered Muslims to be unpatriotic (although the Muslim respondents did not feel that way about themselves). Forty per cent of Hindus in a four-state survey and 43 per cent of Sikhs considered Muslims to be mostly violent, while Muslims did not consider people from any religion to be mostly violent.”

The above is an excerpt from from Whole Numbers and Half Truths: What Data Can and Cannot Tell Us About Modern India by Rukmini S, published by Context, an imprint of Westland Publications. Rooted in hard facts and the messy political reality of India, the book presents a portrait of today’s India and uses numbers to interrogate and reimagine it. Continued excerpt:

“The housing segregation that Muslims in particular experience is borne out by data. Jains and Hindus were the most likely to not be willing to accept a neighbour from another community – particularly Muslims. Thirty-six per cent of Hindus were not willing to accept a Muslim neighbour, while the distaste for Hindu neighbours was much lower at 16 per cent among Muslims. In a 2015 experiment, decoy prospective tenants with upper-caste Hindu, Dalit and Muslim surnames answered rental listings in and around Delhi. Despite being identical in every other way, all upper-caste decoys were met with a positive response – the landlord expressed a willingness to give the accommodation on rent.

On the other hand, 59 per cent of prospective Dalit tenants received a positive response, 23 per cent received a positive response but with differential terms and conditions (including higher asking prices), while 18 per cent were rejected. In the case of Muslim decoys, only one of every three received a positive response, another 36 per cent got a positive response with conditions and a full 30 per cent were rejected outright.

Book Excerpt | ‘Jains and Hindus were most likely to not be willing to accept a neighbour from another community.’

The cover of Whole Numbers and Half Truths.

(Photo courtesy: Westland Publications)

Book Excerpt | ‘Jains and Hindus were most likely to not be willing to accept a neighbour from another community.’

Rukmini S.

(Photo: Westland Publications)


Growing Up in a Muslim 'Ghetto'

Sana Iqbal grew up in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar, an area she describes as a Muslim ghetto. Having studied in the United Kingdom and worked in Mumbai, where she met her husband, Iqbal was certain that she wanted to live in a more mixed area when the couple moved to Delhi in 2018. “We weren’t bothered about neighbours. We just wanted to live in an area where you can buy Southeast Asian ingredients and get a drink – the usual yuppie stuff,” the documentary filmmaker said self-deprecatingly. After seven weeks of unsuccessful house-hunting and over fifteen discussions that fell apart after their names were revealed, their broker suggested that they change their names, and the couple gave up and returned to the familiar embrace of Jamia Nagar. “To my mind, this is ghettoisation—being forced to live with your own community because no one else will have you,” she said.

When people from other religions are largely unacceptable as neighbours, crossing the boundary into accepting them as family is an intolerable thought for most.

In a large national survey, 85 per cent of people said that marriage between two people of different religions was not acceptable. Young people in their late teens and early twenties were even more likely than older people to say that inter-religious marriage was unacceptable, and neither income nor education made people more likely to accept inter-religious marriage.

Preventing inter-religious marriages animates far more Indians than is commonly believed. Across a range of religious groups, large majorities said that it is very important to stop people in their community from marrying into other religious groups. Roughly two-thirds of Hindus in India wanted to prevent inter-religious marriages of Hindu women (67 per cent) or Hindu men (65 per cent). Even larger shares of Muslims felt similarly: 80 per cent said it is very important to stop Muslim women from marrying outside their religion, and 76 per cent said it is very important to stop Muslim men from doing so.


India's Youth Aren't Very Progressive Either

Younger people do not have much more progressive beliefs; a 2017 survey on the attitudes of young people found that six out of ten respondents supported banning movies that hurt religious sentiments, even more so among Muslim youth; 70 per cent of Hindu youth were opposed to allowing anyone to eat beef, and one-third of young people opposed inter-caste marriage.

Muslims in India do not demonstrate more tolerance to people from other religious groups than Hindus; the difference lies in the patronage and State backing that muscular Hindu majoritarianism now receives.

Muslim youth were much more likely than others to report having experienced religion-based discrimination. About one in every seven or 13 per cent of them said they had been discriminated against based on their Muslim identity. Muslim youth living in smaller cities were most likely to have been victims of religious bias – 27 per cent reported having faced discriminatory treatment for being Muslim.


When Shoaib Received a Graphic Threat

Shoaib Akhtar (twenty-five) grew up in an affluent family in Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, the son of a university professor and captain of his school’s cricket team. “Up until college, I can honestly say that I personally experienced very little discrimination. It was more something I read of in the papers than experienced,” he said. All that changed when Shoaib completed a business degree and was sent to Bharuch, a town of 1,50,000 people in the western state of Gujarat, an outpost of the petrochemicals company he had landed his first job with.

“I think the idea of a young Muslim man who was better educated than them, wore more expensive clothes and had the latest phone rankled them even more,” he said of his now-former colleagues. In the beginning, there was a slight distance, reminders that the office was vegetarian, and some pointed talk in Gujarati about Modi when Shoaib was around. Things escalated quickly to him being reprimanded for speaking to a female colleague (“About accounts! She was the accountant!”) and being told that he couldn’t wear a skullcap during the holy month of Ramzan. One morning, Shoaib opened his office email to find a graphic death threat from an unknown email address. Two weeks later, he was out. “It wasn’t the end – it was just the beginning of my realisation of what being Muslim in India is like now,” he said from Toronto, Canada, to where he migrated in 2019. “I still can’t post a tweet about an Indian batsman playing a loose shot without someone calling me a [cuss word for Muslims]. At least they aren’t my colleagues and neighbours now.”

There is some evidence that India has become more muscularly majoritarian. A survey of young Indians found that more than half of those surveyed (53 per cent) felt that people had become less tolerant of the views of others and one-fourth of the youth (23 per cent) said that they had hesitated in expressing their opinion on a political issue.

Youth from religious minorities like Muslims and Sikhs, who were more likely to bear the brunt of this intolerance, were likelier to agree that people had become less tolerant.”

(The above is an excerpt from Whole Numbers and Half Truths: What Data Can and Cannot Tell Us About Modern India by Rukmini S. Paragraph breaks, subheadings and blurbs have been introduced by The Quint for readers' ease.)

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Topics:  India   Muslim   Hindutva 

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