Modern society leaves Indian Muslims behind

Although home to a Hindu majority, India has a Muslim population of some 150 million complaining of few job opportunities, or even the chance of a decent education.

India's booming economy has left its largest minority group lagging behind. Muslims, who make up 14 per cent of the population, experience low literacy and high poverty rates, and Hindu-Muslim violence has claimed a disproportionate number of Muslim lives.

The leader of a Muslim community in the eastern state of Bihar, Mustafa Kamal Subhani, complains that “Muslims today are living in fear, wondering when we will be detained and branded as traitors. It is a big problem for us. We have no idea at what point someone will stop us and lock us up. We are not issued voter identity cards easily, the authorities delay giving these to us, and police stations do not accept our complaints readily.”

The community now realizes that the key to its success lies in better education, and some community leaders are taking the step to improve the educational prospects available to it, from the ground up.

In Rahmani-30, a training institute in the eastern city of Patna they prepare talented, but underprivileged, young Muslims for entry into India's best engineering colleges – the Indian Institutes of Technology or IITs. Only the top 2 per cent make it through the tough entrance exam.

15-year-old student Javed Akhtar, the son of a laborer, says this is an opportunity to lift his family out of poverty. “I can change the whole situation completely, not only for my family, but for my relatives too.”

His father, Khursheed Alam, may be illiterate, but he is proud that his son has reached farther than anyone else in his family – and under his own steam too.

“Sometimes as a kid, Javed would say he will do this and do that. But in anger I would tell him he wouldn’t be able to do anything,” remembers Javed’s father. “Let’s see what destiny has in store for him, and where he can reach. I thank Allah most of all for this,” Khursheed Alam said.

Most Muslims end up studying in madrassas [Muslim schools], which means they have little chance of being employed in the private sector or government. So this initiative is significant.

Rahmani-30 is the brainchild of a senior police officer, Abhyanand, who takes time off from his day job to supervise the training. He feels this will encourage young Muslims to aspire to higher professional qualifications and jobs.

The senior police official hopes that, “They would reconcile to that, branch out to some other country or perhaps this country, and settle down to something.”

“This is targeting higher levels and succeeding. Now they have got a dream to dream,” Abhyanand said. He now wants to establish 15 similar schools across India over the next few years.

The Muslim community here is often said to have low education standards and a conservative outlook. Now in one of India's poorest states, a small initiative is trying to break the mould.