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Jharkhand Muslims

I was disappointed to read the article of Dr Kathinka Sinha Kerkhoff on the Muslim community of Jharkhand because it only reflects the divergences and differences within the community and among its well-wishers in the state and does not provide even the basis for reaching a common approach to its future.

The lack of consensus is not surprising because there is a totally unnecessary and avoidable controversy even on the quantum of Muslim population in Jharkhand. No one has taken the trouble of going through the Census of 1991 which will immediately show that the Muslims constitute just about 14% of the state population. Why this kite-flying to exaggerate the number? It serves no purpose except to raise expectations to the skies, only to dash them down to pieces and plunge the community into a pool of despondency.

It is true that Muslims are divided ethnically but what is important is to realize that as a community, they form a Religious minority, a linguistic minority and above all a Backward Class. So if you treat them as a Religious or Linguistic minority they need protection and if you treat them as Adivasis or Moolvasis, as a Backward Class they deserve the benefit of reservation in public employment, educational facilities, welfare and development schemes and flow of bank credit. The only question is whether they should form part of Adivasis or Moolvasis or form a group of their own.

They are not all descendants of indigenous Adivasis or of earlier migrant Moolvasis nor of later migrants from outside Jharkhand. By dividing themselves they lose their bargaining power. By joining the other much more well-positioned and advanced groups they tend to lose their rightful share.

Given the communal polarisation, they can only get something tangible if they have a quota of their own. To have a quota is not to propagate separatism but to claim social and economic justice on the same basis as other identifiable and conscious backward social groups.

Their claim can be accommodated by following the Karnataka pattern of dividing the Other Backward Classes (other than SC and ST) into a number of groups according to the relative level of backwardness like MOST BACKWARD, RELATIVELY BACKWARD and BACKWARD. Karnataka had 5 or more categories and in one category the Muslims were accommodated, as a group, alongwith some other smaller groups. What is necessary, therefore, is for the Government of Jharkhand to establish a Backward Classes Commission and grade all identifiable communities, Sub-communities, Castes and Sub-Castes, Tribes and Sub-Tribes by their level of backwardness as determined by common social and economic parameters.

However, under the existing dispensation (which, in my view, is not correct and may be changed, if Tamil Nadu wins its case now pending in the Supreme Court), there is a 50% limit. The ST and the SC have the first claim on it with 100% weightage for their population of 27% and 11% respectively. That leaves only 12% for the Moolvasis/OBC's. This will mean that 62% of the population will have to be accommodated within 12%. Proportionately then the Muslims can receive only a small quota of 3%! This would be absurd.

In my view, the 50% limit is totally arbitrary. Jharkhand Government should consciously break it, go even beyond the earlier maximum of 73%, upto 88% and give every Backward Class including SC and ST its full weightage and thus a quota equivalent to its population. Thus the Muslims will then stand to gain 15% as on the whole they are very poor and economically close to the STs.

No permanent resident of Jharkhand should be debarred from public employment or any other concession or benefit on ground of domicile or whether he is a descendant of a person whose name was included as a land holder in the 1931 survey. The fact is that there has been a steady migration of population into what is more Jharkhand because of economic opportunity and the migrants have contributed to the development of Jharkhand. That cannot be reversed.

So anyone who has settled down should be an accepted as equal but without any special rights. After all, if the STs constitute only 27% of the population of Jharkhand, the State cannot be called a Tribal State.
Most of the Muslims are also ethnically closer to the STs. It would be natural for the Muslims to form an alliance with the ST's and the SCs but only if they are accepted. However, the Hindutva forces have divided the STs into Christians and non-Christian Most of them are identified as Hindus. Because of this religious schism and tribal rivalries within the STs, Muslims may not get their due. Where do the Muslims go?

All in all, it would be best for Muslims to stand on their own feet, overcome their own internal divisions and rivalries and to demand recognition as a Backward Class. If the Moolvasis are prepared to recognise them as a Backward Class, they can fight together for 100% weightage both for the Moolvasis and the Muslims.

The demand for State-level institutional support like the formation of Waqf Board, Haj Committee, MFDC, Urdu Academy and Madarsa Education Board is nothing more than a logical extension of what they enjoyed in undivided Bihar. In fact that is a statutory assurance. Why should the division of Bihar take away their institutional support?

The Muslim community should also examine its spatial dispersal and in the coming delimitation endeavour to undo division of blocks and panchayats of their concentration into more than one constituencies. They should also see that Assembly or Lok Sabha Constituencies with 20% or above Muslim electorate are not reserved. This would secure the best opportunity of their equitable representation in the Union and State legislatures.

The Urdu-speaking linguistic minority is more or less identical with the Muslim minority. They should demand the use of Urdu as medium of primary instruction for Urdu-speaking students and the teaching of Urdu as a Compulsory Language at the high school level and the establishment of government primary, middle and high schools in all Muslim concentration areas in accordance with the national norms. Teaching of Urdu at the college/university level may be related to meet demand for Urdu school teachers and government translators, but not to the supply of unemployable graduates. Use of Urdu as an additional official language has proved to be a mirage as in Bihar. However, every linguistic minority -- Bengali, Oriya, Santhali, Mundari etc. at the Panchayat, Block, Town, District and State level should enjoy common specified facilities wherever any of them commands more than 10% population. This must be a common demand of all linguistic minorities including those speaking recognized tribal languages and theyshould form a common front.

Syed Shahabuddin

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