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Published in the 1-15 December 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Half of Bihar Muslims below poverty line

A recent survey on the socio-economic condition of Muslims in Bihar says that half of them live below the poverty line and that migration is high among Muslims than the general population of the state. There are 63 migrants for every 100 Muslim households in rural Bihar and 24 migrants for every 100 families in urban areas. The Muslim community is not free from caste-system. There are 43 castes in the community. They are divided into upper castes, middle castes and lower castes, the survey said. 

The survey shows that Muslims are the poorest community in the state. The 14-year-long rule of Lalu Prasad Yadav failed in alleviating the sufferings of Muslims on whose electoral support he has been ruling the state.

The survey was conducted by Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) and sponsored by Bihar State Minorities Commission. The 273-page, yet-to-be released, report bares the fact that about 49.5 percent of rural Muslim families and 44.8 percent of the urban Muslim households fall below the poverty line, 19.9 percent among them are acutely poor, and 28.04 per cent Muslims in rural areas are landless labourers.

About 84.5 percent of Muslim population live in rural areas and 15. 5 percent in urban areas. Nearly 41.5 percent of Muslim families living in rural areas are debt-ridden and in the urban areas the percentage of indebtedness is 24.0 per cent.
There is much economic disparity between Muslims and the general public in urban areas in comparision to rural areas because of the combined effect of resource disadvantage and employment discrimination. Poor Muslim families are mainly engaged in low-paid occupations and they mostly belong to the lower castes. They depend on land and other properties for livelihood. 

The report says that under the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) government’s much publicised Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP) only 5.8 percent Muslim households were benefited. The reach of other poverty-alleviation programmes like Old Age Pension, Antodya Yojna and Annapurna Yojna was abysmally low among Muslim families. Under Indira Awaas Yojna (IAY) only 4.1 percent rural and 0.4 percent Muslim households were benefited. The remaining poverty-alleviation programmes were non-existent for the Muslims, both in rural and urban areas.

Even Minority Finance Commission (MFC) scheme, designed to help Muslims and other minorities proved to be a non-existent poverty alleviation programme for Muslims in Bihar, the report adds.

The high percentage of migration among Muslims is a result of the overall poor socio-economic conditions of Muslims. Two out of three Muslim households in rural Bihar send at least one of their working members away to earn. Most of the Muslim migrants are males aged 28.5 years in rural areas and 27.4 years in urban areas. As a result of high migration of men, 10.5 percent women head their families in rural areas and 10.5 percent in urban areas, the report says.

Migration is particularly high among Muslims in Gaya, Aurangabad, Vaishali and Darbhanga districts. More than 40 per cent of Muslims in Siwan and Gopalganj districts go to Gulf countries to earn a living.

The average annual remittance by migrants from rural areas is about Rs 1,350 per month and from urban migrants it is Rs 1,840 per month. 

The ADRI report identifies 43 castes in the state. Unlike Hindus, among whom the upper castes constitute a small part of the population, the upper castes among Muslims constitute about 40.4 percent of the Muslim population in rural areas and 41.1 percent in urban areas. In the Muslim community, upper castes include Syed, Shaikh, Pathan and Malik. The middle castes comprise Ansaris, and they account for the 25 percent of the Muslim population. 

There are 38 “lower” castes among Muslims, accounting for 34 percent of the populace in rural areas and 34.4 percent in urban areas. They include the Bakkho, Bhatiara, Chik, Churihara, Dafali, Dhunia, Dhobi and Idrisi.

In Patna, Munger, Darbhanga and Madhepura districts, upper castes constitute over 60 percent of Muslim families. In Rohtas, Jamui, Gaya, Aurangabad and West Champaran, the middle caste Ansaris account for over 40 percent of Muslim households.

The report is based on the 1991 census report of the Muslim population in the state which stood at 10.119 million, around 15.7 per cent of the state’s total population. According to 2001 census, however, the Muslim population in Bihar is 13 million out of a total 83 million. 

The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) had conducted a survey of the general population recently. The NSSO found that 44.3 per cent of Bihar’s rural population and 32.4 percent of the urban population lived below the poverty line. 

- M. Mazharul Haque

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