Narenda Modi’s election as prime minister of India in May of 2014 brought new hope to India’s underprivileged Muslim population. That’s because during his campaign Modi presented an ambitious agenda for improving the educational and economic condition of those Indian Muslims living in poverty.
There was no doubt that Prime Minister Modi’s intentions were good then and they remain good now. Time will tell, however, the extent to which Modi’s agenda will be implemented.
There is no question that the broad scale implementation of that agenda will require significant support from Indians of all creeds and castes. As importantly, it will require substantial assistance from Indian Americans and most particularly from Indian Americans of Muslim Origin.
That’s because the need is great and those of us who have connections to India have an obligation to provide a helping hand to enable those Muslims in India to secure greater educational and economic opportunities.
We can accomplish this through civic engagement here in the United States as well as in India. In a phrase, we should do well here in order to do good there.
The Nature of the Need
The fact that Muslims in India are socially, educationally and economically disadvantaged is well documented and plans to correct that have been on the Indian government’s radar screen for some time.
The 2001 Census Report showed that the literacy ate of Indian Muslims was 59.1%. The rate for Muslim males in urban and rural areas was 76% and 62% respectively compared to the much lower rate for females of 63% and 43%.
In 2006, a high level committee convened by the Prime Minister and headed by Justice Rajindar Sachar submitted the Sachar Committee Report to Parliament. The Report identified a “development” deficit” among Muslims in many areas.
A 15 point across-the-board program for the development of minorities in India was launched in response to the Report. A major focus of that program was on improving educational opportunities and advancement for Muslims.
Unfortunately, as a report issued in 2013 by the U.S. India Policy Institute titled, Six Years after Sachar: Review of Socially Inclusive Polices in India, progress for Muslims has been far below expectations. The Report finds that,”…the conditions of the largest of the minorities, the Muslim has not shown any measurable improvement over the period when the Sachar Committee findings were made public in 2006.”
Performance was especially problematic in the educational arena, where the Report states that “…the literacy level and the quantum of improvements for Muslims were modest compared to other populations.” In fact, at the higher levels of schooling there was actually “…a net decline in case of the general Muslim category, and hardly any improvement in the case of OBC Muslims.”
These are devastating findings framing the critical nature of the need presenting the challenge and opportunity for those of us who are Indian American Muslims to participate in solving this problem. Because of who we are and what we have accomplished in the United States, I absolutely and firmly believe that we are up to meeting this challenge.
The Status of Indian Americans
Interestingly, there is quite a bit of data available in the public domain on Indian Americans but very little on Indian American Muslims.
In 2013, there were 3.1 million Indian Americans comprising about 1% of the population of the United States. According to a Pew Research Center study conducted in 2012 and released in 2013, 51% of Indian Americans classify themselves Hindus; 18 % as Christian; and 10% as Muslim.
The Pew study disclosed that economically and educationally Indian Americans outperformed those in other Asian-American subgroups and the U.S. population in general. The median annual household income for Indian Americans was $88,000 compared to $66,000 for all Asians and $49,800 for the U.S. population.
38% of Indian Americans held advanced degrees compared to 30% for all Asian Americans and 10% for the entire population.
Indian Americans also excel as high tech entrepreneurs. Research by Vivek Wadhwa covering the period from 2006-2012 revealed that immigrant entrepreneurship “stagnated” compared to the period from 1995 to 2005.
In contrast, Wadhwa found that the rates of Indian and Chinese start-ups increased. The increase was most notable for founders of startups from India with an increase of 7% over the prior comparison period and a full 33.2% of all start-up companies being Indian.
Among the more well known Indian Americans are Governors Nikki Haley of South Carolina (born into a Sikh family and converted to become a Methodist) and Bobby Jindal (raised as a Hindu and now a practicing Catholic). Other well- known Indian Americans include: Sanjay Gupta (Hindu), Satya Nardella (Hindu); and Fareed Zakaria (Muslim).
The bottom line is that Indian Americans of all religious beliefs are doing well here in the United States. That means we – especially those of us who are Indian American Muslims – are in a position to do good. Civic engagement provides the basis for doing that.
The Nature of Civic Engagement
Let me explain what I mean by civic engagement. Some times when I say civic engagement people mistakenly think I mean political engagement. Political engagement is a form of civic engagement but just one form.
My definition of civic engagement follows. It is borrowed from a collection of readings titled, Civic Responsibility and Higher Education:
Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.
The Introduction to that collection states:
A morally and civically responsible individual recognizes himself or herself as a member of a larger social fabric and therefore considers social problems to be at least partly his or her own; such an individual is willing to see the moral and civic dimensions of issues, to make and justify informed moral and civic judgments, and to take action when appropriate.
Civic engagement takes five primary forms:
- Individual – being the best one can be and personally responsible for one’s actions
- Organizational – contributing to the success of the groups (e.g., business, religion, associations) to which one belongs
- Political – participating in those processes that shape the structure and nature of government
- Community – collaborating to make the locale and the world in which we live a better place
- Social – advocating for justice and equality of treatment and opportunity for all
As practicing Muslims, the concept of civic engagement is central to our belief system. AFMI provides the perfect vehicle for expressing those beliefs on behalf of less fortunate Muslim brethren in India.
AFMI and Action
AFMI’s mission and vision for Muslims in India is transformative. Through the years, it has built a strong track record with its bottom-up strategy of supporting educational projects at the primary level. More recently, it has focused on expanding to higher grades of school and supporting the establishment of computer centers.
In an article that I wrote and in a speech at last year’s annual convention, I recommended that AFMI add specific support of higher education as a priority in its agenda. I still think that additional focus makes sense.
For my part, I am putting my money where my mouth is. I have underwritten the building of a new school of management with an emphasis on entrepreneurship at my alma mater, Aligarh Muslim University. I have also pledged to provide considerable financial support to develop a technical training school for women so they can be empowered through higher education.
The truth is higher education matters for the future of Muslims in India. Higher grades of school matter. Primary grades matter. They all matter.
But, what matters most is civic engagement from Indian American Muslims through AFMI. Targeted civic engagement is the key to promoting educational and economic opportunities for Indian Muslims.
Many of us came here from India to pursue our dreams. Most of us have achieved them.
We have done well. Now, in return, we should do well.
We should invest in AFMI’s programs. By doing so, we will empower Indian Muslims to achieve their dreams.