Why Have So Many Muslim Ex-Millworkers Ended Up in Ghettoised Occupations?

The economic marginalisation of Muslims in India became a matter of public debate after the publication of the Sachar Committee Report in 2006. The report highlighted that Muslims lagged behind in access to education, infrastructure, credit, and employment in both the public and the private sphere.

Very little is known about the factors that feed into the prejudice against Muslims, which in turn creates barriers for their economic choices. For example, what is the role of religion, emotions, and political patronage in deciding an individual’s economic choices?

In his article in Vol 53, No 29 of the Economic and Political Weekly, Sumeet Mhaskar examines the ghettoisation of economic choices of Muslims in Mumbai. By the term ghettoised economy, Mhaskar refers to that part of the economy, which is a product of the closure and control exercised by the privileged social groups upon the economic choices of the socially marginalised groups. 

His study examines Muslim ex-millworkers’ occupational choices in relation to non-Muslim ex-millworkers and the factors that influence these choices.



The decline of the industrial manufacturing sector in the late 1980s and 1990s in Mumbai meant that thousands of workers, especially those in textile mills, were laid off. This decline was accompanied by the growth in service sector industries like banking, business process outsourcing, and information technology services. Today, the skills demanded of the workforce are completely different and well-paid employment opportunities for individuals with less or no education are few and far between.

According to the 2011 census, Muslims constitute 20% of the population of Mumbai and are therefore a significant minority. How did the change in the economy affect the Muslim ex-millworkers in particular?




The figures below focus on these 578 ex-millworkers. Here are some observations:


Muslim Face Discrimination Based on Their Religious Identity in the Job Market.

Ex-millworkers across groups reported overage, less education, lack of skills and poor health as barriers to finding a new job. However, half of the Muslim ex-millworkers reported that their religious identity acted as a hurdle in obtaining employment while none of the other groups reported facing this issue.

Muslim ex-millworkers who reported barriers due to their religious identity were compelled to look for opportunities in the ghettoised economy.

 Muslims are confined to those occupations which upper caste or OBC Hindus do not enter due to the perceived low status of the job and meagre earnings. 



Muslim Are Over-represented In Self-employed Occupations. 

Amongst non-Muslims, the proportion of self-employment is close to the average proportion, that is 31%. However, in the case of Muslims, it is as high as 45%. 



Muslims Are Over-represented In Industry, Repair And Processing Occupational (IRP) Group.

As far as wage labour is concerned, the average proportion of ex-mill workers who took up jobs in the industry, repair and processing occupational group is 12%. Among Muslims, the proportion is 18%. The occupations in IRP group include bicycle, stove and watch repairing, motor mechanics, motor winding, electricians, plumbing, bag frame-making and screen-printing.

As for self employment, among Muslims, 26% of ex-millworkers are in the IRP occupational group. In the same occupational group, these are the figures for non-Muslims: 5% of upper-caste Hindus, 13% of OBC Hindus, 5% of Nomadic Tribes and none among Dalits. This indicates a substantial over-representation of Muslims in the IRP occupational group, that is seen to have a low social status and low earnings.



Since, over time, Muslims have come to dominate IRP occupations, their fellow community members can opt for it when they are excluded from other occupations. 

The social institution of religion combined with negative emotions such as karahiyat and the lack of political patronage create barriers for Muslims’ participation in the economy, which compels them to work in a ghettoised economy. 

The process of neo-liberal socio-economic restructuring is not reducing the importance of social institutions. Far from being irrelevant social institutions have been reworked by a variety of factors to the disadvantage of the Muslim community, placing their economic citizenship in peril.


Read the complete article by Sumeet Mhaskar here.


Curated by: Sohnee Harshey [sohnee@epw.in]

Design: Chaitanya Mandugula

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