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Muslims in Manipur being reduced to a non-entity
By Mohammad Shakil Ahmed, Imphal
|Manipur, lying in the extreme eastern part of the country, is a multi-ethnic State. Muslims (Pangals) of Manipur came to the region in the late 16th or early 17th century. Since then Muslims have remained an integral part of Manipur society, participating in the state’s various ups and downs as it evolved from its tribal nature to the level now attained by the Manipuris. But the present state of Manipuri Muslims is deplorable to say the least. The pathetic nature of this community is reflected all too obvious in the statistics provided by the All-Manipur Muslim United Coordinating Committee (AMMUCOC), a Muslim representative body in the state.
Out of the 1.8 million population, Muslim strength is 135,000 according to the 1991 census. By the end of the year 1995 the Muslim community had 5704 matriculates, 1822 graduates in addition to 86 technical and professional graduates. Muslims had 51 class (I) officers including three women, 101 class (II) officers with 1270 and 1663 employees belonging to Grade III and IV categories respectively. The total number of rickshaw-pullers was found to be 2160. Only five persons were reported to have had engaged in small-scale industries. Literacy rate among them is only 8 percent in a state where overall literacy rate has already crossed 60 percent mark. If anything, this is a a picture of gloom.
Muslim backwardness in every way of human development can be attributed to many factors. The leaders of the community feel that successive governments in the states have done little, if at all, for the upliftment of the community. Their view is that the nature and degree of their backwardness demand major and urgent initiatives from the government. To their utter disappointment, Muslim leaders find the government doing nothing substantial in the direction of bailing the community out of the present state of pathetic existence. Muslims express extreme fear that they may not be able to do anything in other spheres of life while most of their energies are consumed in trying to meet two-square meals a day. Even that proves to be hard in the prevailing situation, a situation characterized by ethnic rivalry.
The fear is not totally unfounded. Meiteis by virtue of being a majority community do not have much of a problem. They form the most educated and economically well-off community. The twenty-nine officially recognized tribal groups (all Christians) have 20-seats exclusively reserved for them in the 60-member Manipur state assembly and upto 31 percent reservation in all government jobs. By contrast Muslims have been forced to linger with no form of help from any quarter.
It is of utmost concern to the Muslims that given their deplorable condition the government ought to do something to improve the lot of the one important section of Manipur society.
‘We must be given whatever constitutional safeguards enjoined by the constitution to a marginalized group,’ Imam Nasir Khan, general secretary of AMMUCOC, felt.