Bengal Muslims worse than Gujarat


New Delhi: Condition of Muslims on the whole is worse than the people belonging to scheduled castes and schedule tribes and they are more backward educationally, economically and socially in West Bengal, the state where leftist or communist government has been ruling for more than three decades and which claims to be more secular than any other party or state. This is the sum and substance of a lecture delivered by Dr. Abu Saleh Sharif, chief economist at National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), a government-funded organisation in a seminar on ‘Relative Development of West Bengal and Socio-Religious Differentials’ at India Islamic Cultural Centre sponsored by Institute of Objective Studies on 22 March ‘11.

The population of Muslims in West Bengal is about 25% of the state’s total population. According to Dr. Sharif Muslims have benefited very little from the state’s development measures and only about 2% (2.1% to be exact) Muslims are employed in government offices, 50% Muslim children do not even go to primary schools and out of the remaining 50% who go to primary schools, 26% go to middle schools and only 12% are able to complete matriculation. About 85% Muslims, more than in any other state, live in villages where there is not much progress. Even the condition of those who live in urban centres is worse than those belonging to SC and ST category. They are deprived of the facilities, concessions and privileges provided by the government to other sections of the population. He said that last year i.e., in 2010 the state government had announced 10 percent reservation for Muslim OBCs. This 10% is in fact illusory because OBC quota is 7% only and 10% of this is 0.7% which is like a drop in the ocean, he said. Dr. Sharif said that all Muslims belong to OBC and hence their quota in all jobs should be 20%. He said that after Gujarat, West Bengal is the only state where not a single pre-matric scholarship has been given to Muslim students.

He said that out of 90 Muslim-concentrated districts in the country, there are 12 such districts in this state for which, in accordance with government schemes, many developmental projects have been introduced and a large amount has been provided but for all these 12 such districts, only a fraction, i.e. only 6% of central government funds, has been spent. This shows utter indifference of the leftist governments towards Muslim minority.

It is true that a fair number of Muslims have been traditionally voting for the leftist government. This is because of government’s steps for land reforms but this too has benefited Muslims very marginally and apparently there appears to be no change in their living standards.

Dr. Sharif made frequent comparisons between Gujarat and West Bengal during his lecture. As regards the condition of Muslims in the field of education in W.B., he said that he got these statistics from the census database and Planning Commission because state government officials are very secretive and not willing to part with such figures, particularly about Muslims. As compared to educational figures/percentages of Muslims given in the second para above i.e., 50%, 26% and 12% in primary, middle and matriculation, the corresponding figures for SCs/STs are 54%, 30% and 13% respectivelyl and for others or general (non-Muslims) the corresponding figures are 80%, 58% and 38% respectively. As compared to only 2.1% Muslims in government jobs in West Bengal, where their population is 25%, their condition is much better in Gujarat where with 9.1% Muslim population out of total population of about 5 crores in the state, their representation in government jobs is 5.4%, he said.

It is significant to note that in 2010 civic elections in West Bengal, performance of leftists was poor which, according to observers, was because of Muslim disenchantment with the government. After that only, and also in view of the forthcoming assembly elections in 2011, the Buddhadeb government announced 10% reservation for Muslims. In order to woo Muslims and also in view of the expected tough competition from Trinamool Congress, the government or communist party increased the number of Muslim candidates for the election from 42 in 2006 assembly election to 56 in 2011 elections in the 292-member assembly.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 April 2011 on page no. 7

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