Whither Muslims of Jharkhand?

Jharkhand, the 28th state of the Indian Union, was brought into existence by the Bihar Reorganization Act on the 15th of November 2000. The day is considered to be the birth anniversary of the legendary leader Birsa Munda. Jharkhand, famous for its rich mineral resources, occupies an area of 28,833 square miles (74,677 square km) and has a population of nearly 300.1 lakh people according to 2008 estimates. As per the 2001 Census, out of the total Muslim population of India of 139.2 million, about 37.3 lakhs or 13.8% of the population of the state of Jharkhand constitutes Muslims. This makes it the largest minority community in the state. R R Diwakar, a former Governor of erstwhile Bihar in his book ‘Bihar Through Ages’, writes that the first Muslim contingents arrived in the territories of Jharkhand some 800 years ago and settled in the villages of Mundas.

The population of Muslims in the state is spread over almost all the 24 districts, with more than 15 districts having a Muslim population of more than 10% of the total population. Of the top fifty Muslim districts of the country, listed according to their percentage share of the total Muslim population, two districts, Pakur and Sahebganj, with percentage shares of 32.4 % and 31.3% respectively, figure at the 47th and 48th place. These two districts occupy the highest share of the Muslim population in the state while the lowest population is in West Singhbhum (2.4%). According to the Jharkhand Department of Industries, Pakur and Sahebganj have been listed under the most backward category along with 10 other districts. The report of the Task Force on “Identification of Districts for Wage and Self-employment programmes”, by Planning Commission, 2003 also lists these two districts as backwards and had recommended for the two, out of 100 backward districts to be chosen for the implementation of NREGA in the first phase. It is also to be noted that majority of the Muslim population in the state comes under the Others Backward Caste (OBC) category. According to the Ranganath Mishra Commission, the Muslim population which comes under the other backward category is around 62.8 percent of the total Muslim population of the state.

Educational Scenario: Muslims in Jharkhand, in terms of literacy rate stand slightly better than the state average. According to 2001 census, 55.6% Muslims are literate, which is 2% more than the state average. However, at the same time, among all the minority communities, Muslims are the least literate as Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists have a literacy rate of 87.8%, 67.9%, 62.5% respectively. The same Census Report states 40.8% to be educated up to High School level, 2.8% technically or up to Degree level and only 1.1% educated up to University level. While in the case of non-Muslims the figure is 55.0%, 11.0% and 4.2% respectively.

According to a 2001 report, the mean years of schooling of children aged 7-16 years is 3.16 for boys and 2.58 for girls. Not only that, in terms of education, Muslims in Jharkhand figure second from the bottom in a list of the 28 states of India. According to ‘Flash Statistics: Elementary Education in India and Progress Towards Universal Elementary Education (2006-07)’, released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) on 22nd January 2008, Bihar remains the state with the worst elementary education report card, while Jharkhand is the second-last. The same report also states Jharkhand as having very low levels of Muslim enrolment in schools.

What about higher education? Although, there isn’t any official or unofficial data regarding the same, a glance at the State’s most important, if not prestigious institution, Ranchi University, can tell you about the position of Muslims in higher education. According to Shariq Ansar, a student activist and student of Journalism at the University, except in the Urdu department, the number of Muslim students is almost negligible or can be counted on the fingers. In premier institutions like the Indian School of Mining (ISM), Dhanbad, Birla Institute of Technology (BIT), Mesra, Xavier Institute of Social Services (XISS), Ranchi, Xavier Labour Relation Institute (XLRI), Jamshedpur, Rajendra Institutes of Medical Sciences (RIMS), Ranchi and other technical and professional institutes, the situation is equally bad. In Jharkhand the total number of constituent, affiliated and aided minority degree colleges is nine in which Muslims’ share is only two i.e. Karim City College, Jamshedpur and Maulana Azad College, Ranchi. Delaying affiliation compelled the management of Kabir Women’s Degree College to close down the college. The college was located in densely Muslim populated area of Jamshedpur and was catering to the needs of Muslim girls for the last 24 years. It had more than sufficient infrastructure in comparison to most of the other constituent colleges in the state. But it was forced to pull its shutter down.

A sample survey done in 2006 by the PUCL in Singhbhum (East) which has a Muslim population of 27.84% (i.e. 5,17,768 persons) as per 2001 census, notes that, “A large number of Muslim-managed schools are waiting for affiliation and financial assistance from the Government. The condition of the teachers working in these unaided schools is horrible. Trained PG teachers or TGT in these schools are paid very meagre salaries (i.e. Rs. 500/- to Rs. 1200/- a month) without any other benefits. They spend their entire lives in the fond hope that at any time in the future they may get what other persons of same qualifications are getting in nearby Government schools”. It also states, “Books in Urdu are not available to the Middle School, High School, Intermediate (Senior Secondary) and Graduation level students. The Government supplies books and other stationeries to the students of Government managed schools but these are denied to the Muslim-managed educational institutions”. A recent news report that appeared in the daily Dainik Bhaskar of its Ranchi edition also confirms this phenomenon and reports that the Urdu medium schools are forced to change their medium of instruction as text books are not available in Urdu. Lack of Urdu teachers in government schools is also a big problem. In Bokaro, a district which has a Muslim population of around 15%, there are only nine teachers out of 1123 schools. Three blocks of the districts namely Jeridih, Bermo and Petarwar have no Urdu teachers. It seems worth to mention here that Urdu is the second official language of the state and for majority of the Muslims, it is their first language. That is precisely why the Muslims of the state are literate but not educated.

Economic Condition: When one looks at the economic condition of Muslims in the state, the work participation rate for Muslims was 43.5% for males and 18.8% for females in 2001, according to the report of the Rangnath Mishra Commission. The report further states that Muslims of Jharkhand have recorded the highest employment in household industries, among all other religious communities. Other occupations which recorded sizeable employment were cultivation (25.2%) and agricultural labour (27%). In this regard, the Sachar Committee report shows figures of 6.7% as state employed, 3.4% in health, female and child welfare department and, 7.4% in the home department. What is the most startling fact about the economic condition is that urban Muslims of Jharkhand are more deprived as compared to their rural counterparts. Sachar Committee, in its report tells us that the state’s urban poverty for Muslims stands at 32% while it is much lower at 18 % for the rest of the population of the state. This stands in contrast to rural poverty which is 36% for Muslims and 38% for the rest of the state. What is important to note here is the fact that even though the rural poverty level is higher for Muslims in the state in comparison to the urban population, it is almost at par with the figures for the rest of the population in the rural areas. In contrast, the poverty gap between urban Muslims and the rest of the population in the urban areas is remarkably huge, with a record difference of almost 14 percentage points.

The income per capita (or per person) and the consumption expenditure per person are considered to be the most important indicators of the wellbeing of an individual or any community. In this regard, as compared to urban areas, the condition of Muslims is relatively better in rural areas, although the monthly per capita expenditure level itself is much lower than that in the urban areas. Here also, the gap between the monthly expenditure per Muslim in the urban areas and the rest of the population is much higher than the same gap for the rural areas. It is only Rs. 727 for urban Muslims while Rs. 1017 for the rest of the population in the urban areas. At Rs. 423 for Muslims in the rural areas and Rs 439 for the rest of the population, they are much better when compared to their urban counterparts.

Politically nowhere: Politically, Muslims in Jharkhand are no different from the other development indices. In fact, the political scenario is the worst amongst all. In 2000, there were 5 Muslim MLAs out of 82 but in 2005, there were only 2 MLAs out of 81 and in the last assembly election, they somehow managed to equal the number of seats won in 2000. Likewise in 2004, the first general election after the formation of the state, one Muslim Member of Parliament was elected. But today there is none as the lone Muslim MP, Furqan Ansari, lost his seat in the last general elections. Even if one forgets the numbers, there are other things to depict the political backwardness of Muslims in the state. Since its formation, only one person has been appointed as the minister time and time again and that too, with a portfolio of much lesser importance as compared to others. Muslims are the most divided community politically and they don’t have any considerable political influence or weight, despite recording a higher population than the Dalits in the state.

In the recent Panchayat elections, which took place after a long gap of 32 years a group of Muslims till the last minute of the elections tried influencing the community to boycott the elections allying with some groups of Sadan, the non-tribals. The argument was-it will further marginalise the community as it gives special powers to Tribals since the elections would be held according to the provision under PESA, an Act which provides special provisions for functioning of Panchayats so as to protect and promote the tribal interests (including reservation of seats) in accordance with the scheduled areas as enshrined in the constitution. However, the fact is that the argument was more for misleading and an attempt to ensure the non-participation of Muslims in the elections. What is also interesting to note here is that the same groups of Sadan which were opposing the election, took an active part in the elections and won seats while Muslims could not do the same and were used by these forces. The most important point to be noted in the entire anti-PESA campaign is that it gives an impression that Muslims are anti-Tribal.

Issues and Challenges before the Community: As has been noted above, the state government hardly shows any interest in the welfare of Minorities, especially Muslims. According to a report released by the Ministry of Minority Affairs (MMA), Jharkhand is at the top of the list for not using this fund, with just 39.91 % utilization of Rs. 44.29 crore, the total amount released to it by the Ministry. Jharkhand had reported utilization of only Rs. 17.68 crore till August 2010 for its 4 MCDs under MsDP. The Multi-sectoral Development Programme (MsDP) for Minority Concentration Districts (MCDs) is a development programme run and supervised by the Ministry of Minority Affairs (MMA) and considered as the follow up of Sachar Committee Report. Two of the highest Muslim concentrated districts of the State, Sahebganj and Pakur come under this programme.

So, both the issues and challenges before the community are manifold. The reasons of backwardness of the community are also twofold, apathy of the Government towards the community and lack of proper initiative on the community’s part. In education, there are various challenges both in terms of quantity and quality. While lots needs to be done at the government level like appointments of teachers, publication of textbooks in Urdu, giving affiliation to the deserving institutions without any delay, providing grants etc., the community also needs to take some concrete steps like improving the quality of the institutions managed by them, providing at least minimum facilities to the teachers and staff members, etc. In this regard, Muslims can and should learn from the other Minority educational institutions especially the ones which are governed by the Christian community.

Regarding political empowerment of the community, the biggest challenge before the community is the crisis of leadership and lack of political awareness among Muslim masses. One can argue, there is nothing special about it as the crisis of Muslim leaders is an all India phenomenon. The argument cannot be fully denied but what needs to be understood in Jharkhand’s context is that most of the Muslim organisations and groups are controlled and run from Bihar. There is an acute crisis of local leadership and what is unfortunate is that there is a strong feeling of outsiders and locals amongst the Muslims of Jharkhand. Though there has been no major clash between Muslims and Adivasis in the recent past, however the fact is that the ground is all prepared for that and communal fascist organisations and political parties can anytime use this for their vested interest. So, it would always be a great challenge before the community to bridge the gap between two marginalised groups.  

Conclusion: As we can see, almost in all the fields, the situation of the community is really pathetic. It has been ten years since the state’s formation, which was a result of long years of struggles of Muslims of the state with other communities. But, it is disheartening to note that no significant improvement has been made in the situation of Muslims. In fact, there is a growing feeling amongst Muslims of Jhrarkhand that the government has no place for development of their community. And it is confirmed by the apathy of the government. Thus, the situation needs urgent intervention by the state, so that the Muslims of Jharkhand are not left behind and feel cheated.

At the end, I must say that while the recommendations of the Sachar Committee are important for the community’s development and empowerment given the overwhelming percentage, most backward communities amongst the Muslim population (62.8 %) of the state are covered by the recommendations of the Rangnath Mishra Commission and Deshpande Report which are more important and need urgent implementation.

Mahtab Alam is a Civil Rights’ Activist and Journalist currently based at Ranchi.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 March 2011 on page no. 9

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