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Hilal English

Lost Voices: The Systematic Marginalization of Indian Muslims

January 2024

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), concerns arise about Muslim marginalization, notably seen in economic vulnerabilities, limited access to quality education, and discrimination in employment across public and private sectors, accentuating a significant lack of representation.



Celebrated for its cultural diversity, India hosts a rich tapestry of ethnic and religious communities. Within this mosaic, the Muslim community, comprising approximately 14 percent of the population, grapples with multifaceted challenges tied to institutional, economic, and educational disparities. This article explores the nuanced dimensions of these challenges, particularly within the sociopolitical landscape during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tenure, emphasizing constitutional changes that have raised concerns about human rights violations.
Lindsay Maizland’s article, ‘India’s Muslims: An Increasingly Marginalized Population,’ published in the Council on Foreign Affairs, meticulously examines the discrimination and violence faced by Indian Muslim communities, especially under the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. Providing a comprehensive overview, the article cites historical and recent examples of communal clashes, mob attacks, and contentious policies directly affecting Muslims. It also scrutinizes the resistance from both Hindu and Muslim groups, alongside international reactions to India’s treatment of its Muslim minority.


Ghazala Jamil, an Assistant Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, highlights that during Modi’s initial five-year term as Prime Minister, Muslims faced frequent attacks, creating an atmosphere where being a Muslim meant facing potential attacks anywhere, at any time.


Critics have vehemently accused BJP officials of neglecting recent acts of violence against Muslims. Ghazala Jamil, an Assistant Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, highlights that during Modi’s initial five-year term as Prime Minister, Muslims faced frequent attacks, creating an atmosphere where being a Muslim meant facing potential attacks anywhere, at any time. This chilling statement encapsulates the pervasive fear and insecurity gripping the Muslim community in India.
The BJP has faced substantial criticism for enacting policies perceived to curtail the rights of Muslims. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, concerns about heightened anti-Muslim sentiments have gained prominence; the post-2019 period witnessed the implementation of contentious policies, notably the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), criticized for neglecting the rights of Muslims and potentially disenfranchising millions. This law expeditiously grants citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from neighboring countries. Economic disparities further compound the challenges faced by Muslim communities, encountering discrimination in employment and obstacles to wealth accumulation, rendering them disproportionately affected by communal violence. The economic vulnerabilities of the Muslim population underscore the imperative need for inclusive policies to address these disparities.


Discriminatory rhetoric employed by some BJP members during public rallies further contributes to institutional bias against Muslims. Instances include hardline Hindu right-wing groups presenting Muslims with a stark choice between Pakistan or Qabristan (graveyard), a familiar Hindutva chant.


Educational inequalities represent another pressing issue. Despite being one of the world’s largest Muslim populations, the community grapples with systematic discrimination and prejudice within the education system. International efforts to bridge this gap have become paramount in promoting a more equitable and inclusive society, given concerns about the government’s ability to protect Muslims from frequent attacks, leaving them in a perpetual state of insecurity.
Discriminatory rhetoric employed by some BJP members during public rallies further contributes to institutional bias against Muslims. Instances include hardline Hindu right-wing groups presenting Muslims with a stark choice between Pakistan or Qabristan (graveyard), a familiar Hindutva chant. This rhetoric not only deepens societal divisions but also reinforces the sense of exclusion experienced by the Muslim community.
Recent findings from a Gallup survey reveal that Muslim Indians have encountered more significant economic challenges and expressed increased pessimism compared to their Hindu counterparts. Despite legal protections, discrimination against the Muslim population has persisted since India’s independence, with recent years witnessing an intensification of bias, rendering the group more susceptible to the negative impacts of economic issues.
India’s Muslim community confronts significant economic disparities, posing a critical challenge. Despite being the largest minority, Muslims hold a mere 9.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. This disparity becomes evident when contrasted with the Hindu upper castes, constituting less than half of the Muslim population but commanding 6 percent of the nation’s wealth. The economic vulnerability experienced by India’s Muslims results from a combination of factors, including restricted access to quality education, underrepresentation in government jobs, and discrimination within the private sector.
A notable concern revolves around the constitutional immunity enjoyed by the private sector, exacerbating caste divisions in India. Despite being the primary employer, the private sector has not embraced substantial social responsibility or adhered to constitutional mandates. This has spurred a growing demand for a comprehensive anti-discrimination law extending its scope to the private sector.


Despite being the largest minority, Muslims hold a mere 9.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. This disparity becomes evident when contrasted with the Hindu upper castes, constituting less than half of the Muslim population but commanding 6 percent of the nation’s wealth.


Research published in JSTOR sheds light on the prevalence of discrimination in the job application process within private sector enterprises in India. The study reveals discriminatory practices at the initial stages, where applicants from Hindu higher caste backgrounds consistently receive preferential treatment, disadvantaging equally qualified individuals from lower castes and the Muslim community.
Compounding the issue is the limited legal protection against discrimination for a significant portion of the workforce. In the fiscal year (FY) 2019-20, only 16.6 million individuals out of a workforce exceeding 400 million were covered by legislation, leaving the majority without legal safeguards. This lack of protection is particularly pronounced in the private sector, where discrimination in employment and wages is more prevalent, resulting in diminished income.
Moreover, less than five percent of Muslims hold government jobs, highlighting a concerning lack of representation in the public sector. This underrepresentation restricts access to stable employment and exacerbates overall economic challenges.
Reports of discriminatory practices within the private sector add another layer to the economic struggles of India’s Muslims. Instances of boycotting Muslim-owned businesses force individuals, including domestic workers, daily wagers, and roadside vendors, to adopt Hindu aliases to sustain their livelihoods. 


Moreover, less than five percent of Muslims hold government jobs, highlighting a concerning lack of representation in the public sector. This underrepresentation restricts access to stable employment and exacerbates overall economic challenges.


Wealth distribution further underscores the economic challenges faced by India’s Muslim population. Despite being the largest minority group, Muslims hold only 9.5 percent of the nation’s wealth, emphasizing the urgency of addressing systemic issues contributing to economic disparities. Addressing these interconnected challenges is crucial for fostering a more equitable and inclusive economic landscape in the country. These examples underscore the multifaceted nature of economic disparities faced by India’s Muslims, arising from systemic and societal factors.
In an analysis presented by Priya Chacko, a senior lecturer in international politics at the University of Adelaide, in The Conversation, the role of Hindu nationalism in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scrutinized, particularly its impact on the Muslim community. Chacko highlights the recent communal violence in Delhi, targeting Muslims, and attributes it to Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda of suppressing dissent and opposition. Discriminatory policies, such as the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), are identified as threatening the citizenship of Muslims. The article criticizes the international response, noting praise from the former U.S. President Donald Trump and Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham for India’s tolerance and rule of law while overlooking atrocities committed by the Modi regime. Chacko calls for increased international criticism and support for resistance against the Hindu nationalist project in India.
Since the BJP assumed power in 2014, policies have been implemented that neglect the rights of Muslims and other minorities, contributing to a growing sense of alienation and insecurity within these communities. The controversial CAA, which expedites citizenship for non-Muslim migrants, has been a major point of contention. Incidents of violence against Muslims have reportedly risen, including mobs setting fire to Muslim-owned shops and a mosque in northern Haryana state.


Education plays a pivotal role in determining economic well-being, and an alarming trend surfaces among India’s Muslims. Only 39 percent of Muslims aged 15-24 are enrolled in educational institutions, lagging behind scheduled castes (44 percent), other backward classes (51 percent), and Hindu upper castes (59 percent).


On February 19, 2021, the Human Rights Watch underscored pervasive discrimination against Muslims in India, attributing it to governmental policies like the citizenship law, anti-conversion law, and changes to Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir’s (IIOJK’s) autonomy. The criminal justice system is accused of bias influenced by the ruling Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, targeting Muslims and minorities while shielding BJP supporters. Specific instances, including the Delhi riots and actions in IIOJK, are highlighted as illustrative of this bias. Vigilante groups, reportedly emboldened by the government, are implicated in attacks against Muslims with apparent impunity. Human Rights Watch asserts that the government and its supporters contribute to Islamophobia, exploiting laws against hurting religious sentiments to suppress critics. Emphasizing the Indian government’s failure to uphold human rights obligations, it urges the reversal of discriminatory policies and justice for abuses against the Muslim minority.
Education plays a pivotal role in determining economic well-being, and an alarming trend surfaces among India’s Muslims. Only 39 percent of Muslims aged 15-24 are enrolled in educational institutions, lagging behind scheduled castes (44 percent), other backward classes (51 percent), and Hindu upper castes (59 percent). This limited access to quality education significantly contributes to the economic vulnerability experienced by the Muslim community.
Despite being approximately 14 percent of the population, Muslims in India encounter hurdles in accessing education, a critical tool for social mobility and economic progress. While the gross enrollment rate in higher education has improved, it remains a challenge for many Muslims, with their enrollment rate only doubling from 6.84 percent to 13.8 percent over a decade, falling below the national average.
John Kurrien’s article in the Hindustan Times sheds light on the lack of comprehensive data addressing the educational challenges faced by Indian Muslims. Existing official sources lack specific data on Muslim education, hindering the assessment of their progress. The author advocates for a comprehensive review of official publications, including the Census, to provide detailed statistics on enrollment, learning, examination results, and facility/scholarship provisions for Muslims, akin to the available data for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The recent constitutional changes in India, particularly the CAA and the revocation of Article 370 and 35A sparked profound human rights concerns, particularly for millions of Muslims who face the risk of marginalization and statelessness. The CAA, enacted in December 2019, introduces a religious criterion into India’s citizenship framework, granting fast-track citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from neighboring countries. This selective approach violates the principles of equality and non-discrimination enshrined in India’s constitution, leading to widespread protests amid fears of disenfranchisement and exclusion of a significant number of Muslims.
The CAA and broader political climate have heightened concerns about freedom of religion. By explicitly excluding Muslims from fast-tracked citizenship provisions, the act raises troubling questions about religious discrimination, potentially endangering the right to freedom of religion guaranteed under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.
Security measures accompanying these changes prompt questions about balancing national security concerns and individual human rights. The significant military presence in IIOJK, coupled with restrictions on movement and communication, has drawn criticism for potential human rights abuses, such as arbitrary detentions and the use of excessive force.
The revocation of Article 370 has reignited discussions about the right to self-determination for the people of IIOJK emphasizing its importance as a fundamental human right. The United Nations (UN) underscores the significance of respecting this right, raising international human rights concerns about any measures infringing upon it.
In conclusion, this article comprehensively examines the challenges confronted by India’s Muslim population, revealing a multifaceted landscape marked by institutional, economic, educational, and human rights disparities. The leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP has raised concerns about the marginalization of Muslims, particularly evident in economic vulnerabilities stemming from wealth distribution inequalities and limited access to quality education. Discrimination in employment, both in the public and private sectors, exacerbates these challenges, highlighting a notable lack of representation. Institutional bias against Muslims permeates independent institutions like the police and courts, providing impetus to nationalist groups targeting religious minorities without repercussions. Discriminatory practices in the private sector, coupled with divisive rhetoric in public rallies, amplify the sense of exclusion experienced by the Muslim community. 


The writer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of International Relations at the University of Peshawar, Pakistan.
E-mail: [email protected]