Gender equity and inclusiveness are important indicators of human development. Women’s equal participation in decision making, economic and social contributions ensures that women get their due share in the society. As most societies progressed, women were able to achieve many accomplishments. However, this progressiveness and the narratives of equity and inclusiveness failed to recognize Indian Muslim Women as its indispensable agent. With a very low level of education, almost negligible economic participation and no political representations, the situation for India Muslim women is gloomy and startling.
According to the 2011 Census, 48.1 percent of Muslim Women in India are illiterate. This is the highest rate of illiteracy among all the religious community. In terms of higher education, they are worse off than schedule caste and schedule tribes (AISHE 2014-15). The NSSO data on female labor force participation has constantly shown that Muslim women’s participation is lowest among all the communities. The Sachar Report (2006) stated that their uncounted labor is as high as nearly 70 percent within all workers. These troubling statistics, however, failed to capture attention from direct stakeholders like the government, civic societies or Muslim community members themselves. Muslim women are invisible, inexistent and purposeless in the discourse of basic human rights and denied the existence of any personal individuality. The perpetual cycle begins with a low level of education, dropped out mostly at school level, and then married at a young age. She then struggles all her life within the confines of patriarchal expectations. The burden of being an ‘ideal’ woman degrades her own capabilities as an active social and economic agent to grow and prosper.
The problems with Muslim women in India are multidimensional. The poor religious community demeans their economic viability in the hues of norms and conservatism. The government’s indifferent approach towards them betrays their dignity as a human being. The obligations imposed on them from religion and society lead them in the pit of nonconformity to all the developmental prospects. The problem is pervasive, and the efforts are inadequate. Inclusivity is key for a society to prosper. Muslim Women as an active agent for social, cultural and economic change have to be recognized. The efforts have to be multilayered as well as multidirectional.
The policy intervention from the government can be focused on increasing the number of Muslim girls who complete their primary schooling , encouraging more enrollment in higher level education, and accommodating education to their specific needs. But the biggest challenge comes from the community itself. The productive benefits of investing in girls’ education have to be realized and worked upon. The conservative approach regarding women as an economic agent needs to be broadened in the realms of economic justice and gender equality.
The trajectory of Muslim women as helpless, fragile and marginalized needs to be changed. As Amartya Sen puts it, ‘every individual should have the capability of achieving the kind of lives they have reason to value’. It is time to stop whining and engage in a cumulative effort to provide the capabilities that would give Muslim women the kind of life they aspire to lead. No more dictating norms for them but let them choose their own discourse and look for better alternatives.