People's Democracy

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


No. 09

February 28, 2010

On Reservation for Backward Muslims in West Bengal


                                                                                                        Moinul Hassan


FEBRUARY 8, 2010 is likely to be regarded as a red-letter day in the socio-economic history of West Bengal. It was on this day that Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the chief minister of West Bengal, announced 10 per cent reservation in the field of job for the Muslim minority who remain economically, educationally and socially backward.




We do understand that religion cannot be the basis of reservation in jobs, but here the sole criterion is backwardness. From now on, 10 per cent of the jobs will be reserved for such Muslims as are economically and educationally backward. As already there is seven per cent reservation for other backward classes (OBCs), the total reaches 17 per cent after the addition of this 10 per cent. This benefit is only for those Muslims who have been lagging behind. The forward Muslim population will not come under the ambit of this reservation. In concrete figures, Muslims having a yearly income of Rs 4.5 lakh or above cannot avail of this benefit. At present, reservation will be provided in the matter of jobs; the question of providing reservation for backward Muslims in education is being discussed and will be decided later

What will be the process for the identification of backward Muslims? A commission has been working in West Bengal in this regard. After receiving application from a person in this connection, the commission investigates the case, summons the applicant for enquiry, visits the concerned area if needed, and then takes a decision. As many as 12 Muslim communities are already in the OBC list, and about three-fourths of the other sections are going to be included. Another 10 odd applications are pending with the commission for consideration, and the chief minister has declared the intention to accelerate the process.

The whole process will consist of three stages --- identifying the backward sections; excluding the rich among them (whose yearly income is Rs 4.5 lakh or above); and providing the identified persons with certificates by the concerned government office at the earliest.

What will be the process of implementation? Whether it will be through a bill in the assembly or by an ordinance or by an administrative order? That will be finalised later after thorough consideration. The chief minister has announced the formation of a committee that will take stock of the entire situation. Representatives from the state’s minority development department, OBC welfare department and the two commissions (minority commission and West Bengal commission for backward classes) will be involved in this task.




The Muslim population in West Bengal numbers more than two crore. In percentage terms, it is about 25 per cent. About 8.3 per cent of the total Muslim population belongs to the OBC category, and numbers 16 lakh 38 thousand. In this state, the OBC list comprises 66 communities that include both Hindus and Muslims. Among them, 12 communities are Muslim by faith. These are --- Jola, Fakir, Hawari, Dhuniya, Kasai, Nasya Sekh, Paharia Muslim, Sershabadi, Bayan, Hazam Choudhury and Pratidar. Apart from these, applications from Khottas, Sardars and Beshdars are under consideration. The number of these three communities is as high as 10.5 lakh. The concentration of Khottas is higher in Murshidabad and Maldah. In addition to the cases of these communities, hearing is going on, on the requests made by the Mahaldar, Abdal, Basni and Kankhalifa communities. At present, the number of persons who might be included in the OBC list, other than those who are already there in the list, is an estimated 12 to 15 lakhs. Apart from this, there is the chance that three more communities may be included in the list.

A few illustrations may be helpful in this regard. Among the Muslims, there is a community named Guri. They are basically fishermen. Actually, they are called so because they catch tiny (guro) fishes. In this author’s own village, there is a hamlet called Guripara. Berhampore has a road named Gurimahal Road. The non-Muslims who catch fish have the benefit of reservation as schedule castes. The question is: why are the Muslims doing the same work left out of the ambit of reservation? In the author’s village, there is another hamlet called Kolupara. The Kolus extract oil from the mustard seeds by using a wooden machine driven by cattle. Nor can the members of the Patua Muslim community be neglected. They live in Midnapore and have the benefit of reservation. But the Lodha Muslims living in the same Midnapore are not covered. The Lodhas live by primitive hunting methods and their behaviour patterns and customs are almost like those of tribals, but they are Muslims by religious belief.

In Midnapore, again, there are the Kelas and Kherias who have many things in common with the ‘Hindu’ tribes. However, though the latter have the benefits of reservation, Kherias miss it on the ground that they are Muslims. There is the Ghoshi community in Barrackpore and Kharagpur; they once came there from North India. They raise animals. Tantias live in various parts of Midnapore. They are connected with sericulture. There is a community named Dhakuri at Amdanga, a place very close to Kolkata. They are very few in number and very poor in status. They recycle old clothes by making dhokra (heavy bedspreads). There is a community called Penchi at Aurangabad in Murshidabad. Their number is considerable. Some Muslims earn their livelihood as cobblers. Hindu cobblers are inside the ambit of reservation but Muslim cobblers have been left out.

These are the specific reasons that justify an expansion of the OBC list. At present, there are 66 communities in the list, but the number must increase. When any community applies for inclusion in the OBC list, a hearing takes place to determine its status. The commission can also take an initiative on its own in this regard. Today, some people say the number of applicants in this connection will be only a negligible portion of the Muslim population. However, if all the backward Muslims are enlisted in accordance with the chief minister’s announcement, the number will not be that small. In this connection it s pertinent to recall what Dr B R Ambedkar said on this score: “Someone will get the advantage of reservation and some others will not as they have a different worshipping process. It cannot be so. That means reservation is to be done on the basis of profession. If a fisherman or a cobbler gets the privilege of reservation, it will be so because he is a fisherman or a cobbler by profession, not that he is a Hindu or a Muslim.”




The first and foremost perspective for reservation comes from the constitution of India. The constitution makes it very clear that religion cannot be the basis for providing reservations as far as education and job are concerned. But some questions still remain unanswered. What will happen to those who are socio-economically backward due to various historical reasons? The constitution itself provides the answer: “Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the state from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes”  [article 15(4)]. Further, “Nothing in this article shall prevent the state from making any provision of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the state is not adequately represented in the services under the state” [article 16(4)]. Of relevance in this regard is article 29(2): “No citizens shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the state or receiving aid out of state funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.” 

Thus it is clear that the constitution provides enough justification for reservation for the economically and educationally backward classes.

As for the actual situation of Muslims, a careful observation of their status clearly reveals the depth of their backwardness, though this varies from state to state. Thus, the socio-economic status of Muslims in West Bengal is not what it is in Kerala. But, overall, the fact is that the Muslims could not achieve equality as far as job and education are concerned. One cannot find many Muslims in sectors like banking service or in private educational institutions. Muslims are lagging behind in the matter of getting government loans. A ‘fearless’ Bengali daily has, through its editorial column, ridiculed the chief minister’s declaration about reservation. It is titled ‘Love for Interest.’ But one may humbly ask: How many Muslims work in that particular daily? One can be sure of finding, at the best, a microscopic number only.

It is true that reservations cannot be the panacea for the ills gripping the Muslims, or for that matter any social group. Many other and more radical steps are needed for the welfare and development of those who are lagging behind. Moreover, political will and honesty are also needed. If they are not there, all facilities are going to leak out through the loopholes in the law.

Yet another perspective for reservation comes from Justice Ranganath Mishra commission’s report. In 2004, this national commission under Justice Ranganath Mishra was constituted to identify the socially and economically backward people among the religious and linguistic minorities. The commission was asked to recommend on the reservation and development issues in the fields of jobs and education for this portion of the Indian citizens. The commission submitted its report to the prime minister in 2007. After that, however, no action in this regard was coming forth. The Left repeatedly pressured the government to table the report in the parliament. It was tabled in December 2009, in the winter session of the parliament, only after a part of the report got leaked and was published in The Hindu daily.




The Mishra commission has made suggestions on many issues like education, job, administration and legislative system. Here we are not going into the details of this matter. As for the job aspect of the problem, the commission’s recommendations are in accordance with the already mentioned article 16(4) of the constitution. Two of the recommendations are as below. First, 15 per cent of the posts in every central and state government department must be reserved for the minorities --- 10 per cent for Muslims and 5 per cent for other minorities. If Muslim candidates are not found for these 10 per cent posts, these may be filled with candidates from other minority communities. In any case, it must not be done with candidates from the majority community. Secondly, in case there is an unavoidable judicial deadlock, the recommendation is that 8.4 per cent of the seats out of the total 27 per cent reserved for the OBCs must be kept aside for the minorities. This is because the minorities account for 8.4 per cent of the total population of other backward classes. This 8.4 per cent would be divided into two parts --- 6 per cent for Muslims and 2.4 per cent for other minorities.

An aspect is noteworthy here. In the third paragraph of the directive principles of state policy, only the backward part of Hindu population was considered in 1947-49 and recognised as the scheduled castes. Sikhs and Buddhists were included later. It was done clearly on a religious basis. Muslims, Christians and Parsees were not included in it. But if that was done on a religious consideration, how is reservation a secular process? The Mishra commission has justly recommended abolition of this paragraph in the directive principles, adding that the recognition of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes must have a secular basis. It means that the sections of the Muslims and other minorities having the same socio-cultural, educational and economic status as the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, must get the benefits the latter are getting.

The chief minister of West Bengal welcomed the Justice Mishra commission’s report the very next day of its tabling in the parliament. The Left Front government began to work on its recommendations without bothering about what the central government wants to do with the report. This way the Left Front government once again proved its commitment for the all round development of the minorities.

There is no doubt that the Left does not support religion based reservation. The constitution of the country reflects the same thinking. But the Left has been constantly waging struggles in and out of the parliament for the uplift of the backward classes and will continue to do so as a part of the fight for social justice. The Left Front government has already excluded the ‘creamy layers’ from the ambit of reservation --- precisely what Justice Mishra commission has suggested.

To our greatest surprise, however, extreme opposition to the Left’s striving in this regard is coming from those very people who till yesterday believed reservation to be the only requirement for the uplift of the minorities. The basic reason is that they are scared about their existence. The so-called movements they have been spearheading may get blunted. Quite recently, a traditional organisation of Muslims, led by incompetent leaders, suddenly came up with the war cry that “We want reservations for all Muslims.” But if the owners of Pataka Industries, Howrah Biri or Wipro start demanding reservation, it is going to be the height of absurdity. Regrettably, such people forget that a minimum common sense is required even if you blindly oppose something.

On its part, the Left Front government is committed to assist in the forward march of backward Muslims. Its commitment is not limited to the sphere of jobs; it covers the basic and important question of expansion of modern scientific education. The entire process is integrally associated with the overall development of West Bengal. We hope the latest decision of the Left Front government will be recognised with this very spirit.