People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 51

December 17, 2006



Socio-Economic Condition Of Indian Muslims - II


Moinul Hassan


THE BJP, which has decided to fall back upon its communal agenda in order to revive its sinking electoral fortunes, has already started a slander campaign against the Sachhar Committee, terming it as another instance of ‘Muslim appeasement’. The very premise of their campaign is ridiculous since the Sachhar Committee, through its findings of the pathetic condition of the Muslims has in effect demolished the myth of ‘Muslim appeasement’ which has been zealously propagated by the Sangh Giroh for all these years. How can a community which has been “appeased” by the successive governments land up being at the very bottom of society in terms of socio-economic indicators? In fact it is the rigourous exposition of Muslim deprivation contained in the Sachhar Committee which has unnerved the BJP and its communal cohorts because it has buried the myth on which they have thrived for decades. The UPA government, rather than going on the defensive in the face of the communal campaign mounted by the BJP should muster the required political will and unite all secular parties in initiating the implementation of the Sachhar Committee recommendations. The Congress Party should realise that vacillation on this issue would amount to another great betrayal.




The socio-economic condition of the Muslim minorities has not changed despite recommendations made by several committees in the past, largely due to the apathy shown by consecutive central governments. The Sachhar Committee has also shown that the situation is not the same everywhere, and varies across states in the country. This heterogeneous nature of the problem must be kept in mind before formulating any policy or plan for the socio-economic uplift of the Muslims. Rather than recommending blanket reservation for Muslims, which is problematic within the framework of the Indian Constitution, the Sachhar Committee has proposed many affirmative action measures. The main recommendations are following:


  1. Equal opportunity should be created to eradicate inequality.

  2. A Central Information Bank, where all relevant information will be collected, should be created.

  3. An autonomous assessment and monitoring authority has to be formed, which will assess the progress of the programmes undertaken for development of minorities in different states.

  4. An Equal Opportunity Commission, which will redress all related complaints, has to be formed.

  5. Care and responsibility have to be taken to find out a selection process in administrative jobs, by which a better representation of Muslims is possible.

  6. An integrated approach has to be developed for textbooks and other educational tools, as far as Muslim education is concerned.

  7. UGC has to be careful to bring in, restore and protect diversity in student composition in all academic places.

  8. It should be ensured that the most backward classes could avail alternative admission procedures in universities and autonomous colleges.

  9. Government should construct hostels for Minority students and make hostel facility available at cheaper rates.

  10. Improvement in infrastructure for the Urdu schools has to be done.

  11. Madrasah and general Secondary schools have to be linked in such a way so that any student can shift easily, and this will bridge the isolation of the educational systems.

  12.  Certificates and degrees given by madrasahs should be acceptable for appearance in any competitive examination; barriers for such transfers should be removed.

  13. Easy educational and commercial credit facilities for minority sections have to be made available.

  14. Regular audit of the performance of commercial banks in providing business loans to minorities has to be initiated.

  15. Experts from minority sections have to be included in different interview boards and commissions.

  16. Since the overall growth rate is higher now in the economy, adequate measures should be taken to improve skills and education of all backward classes to build up the pre-requisite human capital needed to maintain such a growth.

  17. Financial assistance has to be provided to improve employment opportunities in Muslim-dominated areas.

  18. Waqf properties have to be revived, rescued and finally used prudently for development of Muslims.

  19. Participation of Muslims in different infrastructural areas has to be enhanced.

  20. Special mechanisms have to be developed for the most backward sections among Muslims who are almost comparable historically with SCs and STs.


The Sachhar Committee Report has critically discussed the issue of treating all Muslims as single entity in the OBC list. The Report has opined that among all 82 different communities among Muslims coming under the OBC list, the Muslim OBCs face simultaneous discrimination on the basis of both religion and caste. There is an implicit suggestion of including more communities within Muslims into the OBC list of the centre and the states. The Report has also favoured the inclusion of Dalit Muslims in the SC list. The Committee has argued that, “It would be most appropriate if they were absorbed in the SC list, or at least in a separate category, Most Backward Classes (MBCs) carved out of the OBCs”. 




The Sachhar Committee Report has provided with data which shows that the socio-economic condition of Muslims in West Bengal is quite dismal and compares unfavourably with many other states in the country. Opponents of the Left and a section of the media have launched a diatribe against the West Bengal government and the Left Front based on the findings of the Sachhar Committee. To hold the Left Front government solely responsible for the plight of the Muslims in Bengal today is not only unfair but also reflects a lack of understanding of the historical evolution of West Bengal and the Muslim community within it. To understand the specificities of problems faced by the Muslims in West Bengal, it is important to recollect a bit of history. Impoverishment of the Muslim masses in Bengal started during the British colonial rule, mainly on account of the Permanent Settlement of Lord Cornwallis. Since mostly the Hindu landlords could afford to pay the high taxes levied by the colonial administration, the “Jamidars” were predominantly Hindus and the Muslims lost much of the land possessed by them. In fact the Muslims formed the majority of agricultural labourers. The Muslim middle class by and large vanished in this process of massive social realignment. Except for a few madrasahs, the Muslims remained outside the purview of the education system. This situation continued till the end of the colonial rule.


Immediately after independence, West Bengal had to suffer the tragedy of partition. Whatever small section of educated middle-class Muslims had developed in the colonial period migrated to East Pakistan. A steady stream of migration continued till the mid-1960s. The Muslims who stayed back in West Bengal were overwhelmingly agricultural workers in the rural areas. In the backdrop of communal riots and Partition, security of life and livelihoods remained to be their primary concern. The Congress which ruled the state since independence did virtually nothing for the upliftment of the Muslim minority. It was not until the formation of independent Bangladesh in 1971 and the advent of the Left Front government in 1977 that things started moving. Developmental issues related to the Muslims in West Bengal started getting addressed only after the Left Front came to power in the State. It is no wonder therefore, given the significantly late start, that the condition of Muslims in Bengal continues to compare unfavourably with those in other states. The upward trend in the socio-economic indicators among Muslims under the Left Front rule is unmistakable. 


Muslims have been significant beneficiaries of the land reforms initiated by the Left Front government. Redistribution of ceiling surplus land has not only reduced asset inequalities in the rural areas, it has also reduced the gap between the Hindus and Muslims, as far as land ownership is concerned. It can clearly be seen from the Table A that the gap between the average landholdings of Hindus and Muslims is among the lowest in West Bengal among all Indian states. Unfortunately, this crucial aspect of socio-economic development has not been considered by the Sachhar Committee. Empowerment of the Muslims in the rural areas, along with the SCs and STs, which has been achieved through land reforms, is also reflected in their fair representation in panchayats and zilla parishads. 


Average Size of Landholdings

(in hectares)




Andhra Pradesh















Himachal Pradesh



Jammu & Kashmir









Madhya Pradesh


















Uttar Pradesh



West Bengal





Another significant initiative of the Left Front government related to the welfare of the Muslim minority has been the reform of the madrasah education system. Besides recognising the rights of the teachers in the madrasahs, 507 higher and senior madrasahs have introduced a new curriculum combining traditional and modern education. Madrasah reforms in West Bengal have been widely acclaimed and recently a team of delegates from Pakistan also visited there to gain experience about the state’s modernised madrasah education system. A major initiative has also been taken by the West Bengal government to build hostels for Muslim girl students. Besides the Bengali speaking Muslims, West Bengal also has a substantial Urdu-speaking Muslim population, especially in places like Kolkata, Asansol and Islampur. New Urdu schools and facilities to teach Urdu in these places have been established. Finding enough teachers in these Urdu medium schools has been a problem. Initiatives are being taken to fill the gap. The state government has also taken a right step by abolishing reservation for Arabic teachers in madrasahs and opening it up for Urdu knowing candidates. The government has recently decided to upgrade the historic Calcutta Madrasah to the status of a full-fledged college. The Left Front government has also actively helped non-governmental organisations like the Al-Ameen Mission, who are doing exemplary work in imparting education among the Muslims. Al-Ameen needs a special mention because it is helping the poorest section among the Muslims. Because of such efforts, Muslim children coming from poor families of daily wagers and landless labourers have done very well in the secondary and higher secondary examinations in the recent past. Many of these students have also successfully competed in the entrance examinations for medical and engineering education as well. 


As far as employment opportunities for the Muslim minorities are concerned, several steps have been taken by the West Bengal government. The Paschim Banga Sonkhyaloghu Unnayan Bitto Nigam (West Bengal Minority Development Finance Corporation), since its inception in 1996, has registered significant achievements in terms of providing soft loans to Muslims, promoting self-employment and developing entrepreneurship. It is one of the best fund utilisers among the state level channelising agencies of the National Minorities Development Finance Corporation. Conscious steps have been taken to prevent discrimination against Muslims in appointment in government jobs. This has shown results as far as recruitment of school and college teachers through School Service Commission and College Service Commission. The industries with a higher concentration of Muslim workers, like garments, tailoring, leather, silk and the bidi industry has been specially focused for schemes for worker’s welfare. 




The Left Front government of West Bengal is aware that despite its sincere attempts to uplift the condition of the Muslim minorities the situation continues to be grim, as has been brought out by the Sachhar Report. Along with the central and other state governments, the West Bengal government also needs to make a special effort to bring about a marked improvement in the socio-economic condition of the Muslim minorities in the state, especially with regard to employment and educational opportunities. However, it is upto the UPA government to initiate the implementation of the recommendations of the Sachhar Committee. While some of the recommendations need wider discussion, providing reservation for Dalit Muslims for instance, implementation of most of the recommendations can start immediately. The Eleventh Five Year Plan, which was discussed in the NDC meeting a few days back, would be a good opportunity to make a fresh beginning. The CPI(M) has already demanded that a Sub-Plan for the Muslim minorities be made in the Eleventh Plan for all centrally sponsored development programmes in the areas of education, health, employment generation, housing, sanitation etc. This was articulated by the chief minister of West Bengal in the regional consultation meeting of the Planning Commission held in Kolkata earlier this year. The general secretaries of the CPI(M) and the CPI have called for additional allocation of funds earmarked for Muslim minorities, on the lines of the Special Component Plan for the SCs and the Tribal Sub-Plan, in their letter sent to the prime minister on the eve of the NDC meeting on the Eleventh Plan. The UPA government should take this suggestion seriously and allocate adequate resources for the implementation of the Sachhar Committee recommendations. The dubious attempt on the part of the BJP to create a controversy over the remarks of the prime minister in the NDC meeting should not deter the government from moving ahead.