People's Democracy

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


No. 42

October 17, 2010


Minority Development, Reservations

And Bengal Left Front Govt – III

Moinul Hassan

A NATIONWIDE debate has been going on concerning the extent of aid that will be rendered to Muslims through provision of 15 per cent reservation in employment and education. West Bengal is not outside this discussion. In the meantime, in the month of December 2009 Justice Ranganath Mishra's recommendations were placed in the parliament. The main features of the recommendations were as follows:

1.  In the matter of criteria for identifying backward classes, there should be absolutely no discrimination whatsoever between the majority community and the minorities; and, therefore, the criteria now applied for this purpose to the majority community – whatever that criteria may be – must be unreservedly applied also to all the minorities.

2.  All those classes, sections and groups among the minorities should be treated as backward whose counterparts in the majority community are regarded as backward under the present scheme of things.

3.  All those social and vocational groups among the minorities who but for their religious identity would have been covered by the present net of Scheduled Castes should be unquestionably treated as socially backward, irrespective of whether the religion of those other communities recognises the caste system or not.

4. The groups among the minorities whose counterparts in the majority community are at present covered by the net of Scheduled Tribes should also be included in that net; and also, more specifically, members of the minority communities living in any Tribal Area from pre-independence days should be also included irrespective of their ethnic characteristics.

5. As the meaning and scope of Article 30 of the Constitution has become quite uncertain, complicated and diluted due to their varied and sometimes conflicting judicial interpretations, the commission recommend that a comprehensive law should be enacted without delay to detail all aspects of minorities' educational rights under that provision with a view to reinforcing its original dictates in letter and spirit.

6. As by the force of judicial decisions, the minority intake in minority educational institutions has, in the interest of national integration, been restricted to about 50 per cent, thus virtually earmarking the remaining 50 per cent or so for the majority community – the commission  strongly recommend that, by the same analogy and for the same purpose, at least 15 per cent seats in all non-minority educational institutions should be earmarked by law for the minorities. The break up within the recommended 15 per cent earmarked seats in institutions shall be 10 per cent for the Muslims.

7. As regards the backward sections among all the minorities, the commission recommend that the concessions now available in terms of lower eligibility criteria for admission and lower rate of fee, now available to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, should be extended also to such sections among the minorities.

8. In respect of the Muslims – who are the largest minority at the national level with a country-wide presence and yet educationally the most backward of the religious communities, the commission recommend that select institutions in the country like the Aligarh Muslim University and the Jamia Milia Islamia should be legally given a special responsibility to promote education at all levels to Muslim students by taking all possible steps for this purpose. At least one such institution should be selected for this purpose in each of those states and Union Territories which has a substantial Muslim population.

9. In the funds to be distributed by the Maulana Azad Educational Foundation, a suitable portion should be earmarked for the Muslims proportionate to their share in the total minority population. Out of this portion, funds should be provided not only to the existing Muslim institutions but also for setting up new institutions from nursery to the highest level and for technical and vocational education anywhere in India but especially in the Muslim-concentration areas.

10.  Anganwadis, Navodaya Vidyalayas and other similar institutions should be opened under their respective schemes especially in each of the Muslim-concentration areas and Muslim families be given suitable incentives to send their children to such institutions.

11. As many minorities groups specialise in certain household and small scale industries, the commission recommended  that an effective mechanism should be adopted to work for the development and modernisation of all such industries and for a proper training of artisans and workmen among the minorities – especially among the Muslims among whom such industries, artisans and workmen are in urgent need of developmental assistance.

12.  As the largest minority of the country, the Muslims, as also some other minorities have a scant or weak presence in the agrarian sector, the commission recommend that special schemes should be formulated for the promotion and development of agriculture, agri-economy and agricultural trade among them.

13. It  recommended that effective ways should be adopted to popularise and promote all the self-employment and income-generating schemes among the minorities and to encourage them to benefit form such schemes.

14. The commission  recommend that a 15 per cent share be earmarked for the minorities – with a break-up of 10 per cent for the Muslim (commensurate with their 73 per cent share of the former in the total minority population at the national level) – and 5 per cent for the other minorities in all government schemes like Rural Employment Generation Programme, Prime Minister’s Rozgar Yojna, Grameen Rozgar Yojna, etc.

15. Since the minorities – especially the Muslims – are very much under-represented, and sometimes wholly unrepresented, in government employment, the commission  recommended that they should be regarded as backward in this respect within the meaning of that term as used in Article 16 (4) of the Constitution – notably without qualifying the word ‘backward’ with the words “socially and educationally” – and that 15 per cent of posts in all cadres and grades under the central and state governments should be earmarked. The break up within the recommended 15 per cent shall be 10 per cent for the Muslims.

16. It  recommended that the reservations are to be  extended to the Scheduled Tribes, which is a religion-neutral class, should be carefully examined to assess the extent of minority presence in it and remedial measures should be initiated to correct the imbalance if any.

17. The commission  recommended that as the Constitution of India guarantees freedom of conscience and religious freedom as a Fundamental Right, once a person has been included in a Scheduled Caste list, a wilful change of religion on his part should not effect adversely his or her Scheduled Caste status.

18. The commission felt that in order to enact the recommendations, there is no need for amending the Constitution. The enactment can be done through parliamentary and administrative orders.

Another significant recommendation of the Ranganath Mishra commission states “We recommend that para 3 of the Constitution (Schedule Castes) order - 1950, which originally restricted it to Sikhs and Buddhists, thus still excluding from its purview the Muslims, Christians, Jains and Parsis etc, should be wholly deleted by appropriate action so as to completely de-link Scheduled Caste status from religion and make the Scheduled Castes also religion-neutral on the lines of STs.

The other major recommendations of the commission are regarding creation of Parliamentary committee; a Task Force at the state level to look into the minority affairs; and a Minority Welfare Committee in minority districts.

If we deeply look into the recommendations we will see that mainly three types of recommendations are there. Firstly, directly reserve 15 per cent for the minorities in education and employment and out of this 10 per cent for the Muslims and the rest 5 per cent for the other minorities. Secondly, if that cannot be done then look into OBC reservations of 22 per cent. Within the OBCs, the minorities are 8.4 per cent.  So, out of the 22  per cent OBC reservation, 8.4 per cent can be reserved for the minorities. And out of this, 6 per cent will be for the Muslims and the rest 2.4 per cent for other minorities. Thirdly, the scheduled caste list  be made secular. Engaged in the same work reservations will be there for Hindu Scheduled castes and it will not apply for Muslims is a strange phenomenon.



The chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, welcomed the Justice Ranganath Mishra report immediately after it was published. And on 8 February, he announced 10 per cent reservations in government jobs for socially, economically and educationally backward Muslims belonging to the OBC list. At present in West Bengal, 7  per cent reservation exists for the OBCs. That will now be reaching 17 per cent. The families whose annual income is Rs 4.5 lakh or above are to be treated as creamy layer and excluded from the ambit of reservation. At present, the reservation will hold good for jobs only. Whether it will be extended to education or not will be decided later and the mechanism will be worked out then. At present 70 groups are there among the OBCs in Bengal. Some more have appealed to the Backward Development Commission. There are chances of some of them getting incorporated within the list shortly.

The entire process has to go through three stages. Firstly, those Muslim  groups are to be identified who can come under the OBC list. Secondly, the creamy layer has to be excluded and thirdly, they have to be given certificates without any problem.

Muslims constitute one-fourth of the total population of the state. Almost 10 per cent  Muslims are within the OBC list. Out of the present 70 groups, 13 groups are Muslims. Those in the list are jola (ansari-momin), potidar, kasai, noshya, seikh, paharia-muslim, kujra, sershabadi, hajam, beldar, khetta, sarkar, chaudhuli.

Many more can come in the list namely ‘guri’ people who catch small fishes. Their counterparts among the Hindus are in the Scheduled Caste list. In my own village, a locality was there called Guripara. In this, the Muslims lived by catching fish and selling it. Very recently, I was travelling from Beliaghata to Sealdah in Kolkata and suddenly came across Gurimahal para before getting on the Sealdah bridge. I went down and asked the people in and around there. I came to know that once Muslim Bengali fishermen stayed there. After partition, they caught a train from Sealdah through Banpur upto Moimonsingha in Bangladesh. They never returned only leaving their name which still happens to identify that area. I have seen roads in Baharampore, Murshidabad by the same name.

Very less in number but dhukris still remain. The name itself is strange to hear. Our mothers and grandmothers were fond of stiching “kathas”. The embroidery of the kathas is a very delicate artwork. A similar type of inflated thing called” dhokra” were also made using unused clothings. The makers of this product are called dhukris and they are still found in Murshidabad, Malda and in Amdanga  (North 24 Parganas). They also can come in the OBC list. Khalifas are makers of umbrellas. From the Dewansai area in Murshidabad they have spread to different parts of the state and the country. Anyhow, I will not go on furnishing more examples. The groups that can come under OBC list may be like this: mandal, sikdar, majumdar, tatia, kolu, molla, guri, dhukri, pechi, ghoshi, mahaladar, aabdaal, bosni, kankhalifa, behara, dai, sanakar, turki, malo, sabjiwala, mahefras, dhuli etc.

The work of inclusion has picked up pace. People can appeal either through the form available on the commission’s website or on a plain white paper. The commission will have a hearing and thereby decide upon. The commission has the right to call any group and make decisions.  It can be said that a large section of Muslim groups will be incorporated in the OBC list once it is finalised.



What are the reasons behind such an announcement of the West Bengal Left Front government? The first consideration is the Article 15(4) and Article 16(4) of the Constitution that speak for such reservations. Secondly, the backwardness of the Muslims is a hard fact that is apparent without the commission’s report also. Hindus and Muslims live together and everybody is well aware about the day to day realities. The much discussed and debated Sachhar Committee report has stated that the socio economic conditions of the Muslims are in a real bad shape and needs to be rectified on an urgent basis. Thirdly, the summary of the Ranganath Mishra recommendations has argued for reservations directly.

Many people ask whether reservations exists for Muslims in other states of the country. The answer is no. Before the Constitution was amended in 1950, there were reservations in states like Travancore, Saurashtra and Mysore, keeping the social considerations in mind. Before the finalisation of the Constitution in the Constituent Assembly, personalities like Jawharlal Nehru, B R Ambedkar and K M Munshi spoke in favour of cancelling all existing reservations and formulate something afresh. But unanimity was not achieved. At that point of time, framing the Constitution was the most important consideration for the country and it was adopted.  And it is precisely for this reason that there are reservations on the basis of religion in some states like Kerala and it is continuing since before independence.

In the states of Tamilnadu, Bihar and Karnataka, within the OBC list another list called MBC (most backward communities) list have been created. In Tamilnadu and Bihar, nearly 95 per cent Muslims have been brought under reservations. It is well known to us that recently the Andhra Pradesh government spoke of 5 per cent reservation for the Muslims, which was turned down by the state High Court. The Supreme Court again has taken somewhat positive stand in this regard. The complete verdict is yet to come and we are looking hopefully to the honourable Supreme Court.

The government at the centre seems to be not in a hurry even after the publication of the Ranganath Mishra report. It has so far not even placed the action taken report. The most important thing now is that the central government needs to speak in a frank manner. Muslim organisations and eminent personalities met recently in Delhi and they have adopted a resolution which states “The participants are convinced that reservation has become a universally accepted device for equalising opportunities in heterogeneous and multi-segmented societies. If equality and justice reach the weaker sections, they are equally convinced that within the democratic framework all deprived and frustrated groups have a right to place their problems before the bar of the nation and receive their share in the national pie.”

Along with this the resolution mentions “the participants pay their tribute to the Sachhar Committee which diagnosed the malice and to the Mishra Commission which has prescribed the panacea and urge the government, the secular parties and the parliament to dispense the remedial measure urgently.” So, everybody is eagerly looking towards the central government though no positive steps have been taken by them in this regard so far.

We need to conclude our discussion here. The development of the minorities in West Bengal is not a stray incident. It has been an integral part of the democratic movement. It is driven from the understanding that we have to take decisions standing on the firm realities. We have to take separate initiatives for the backward Minorities and it will overall strengthen our process of development.

Some speak of minority appeasement. We, as Leftists, believe that the minorities are persons not to be looked down upon and they are a people craving for justice. With this belief, all our works are to be planned. In West Bengal, the Left Front government does not look at the religion of the common man while bringing about changes in their lives. The poor people have been the greatest consideration of the government. Muslims, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are comparatively more poor, so their development needs to be prioritised. And, if for that some people raise the slogan of appeasement, they will definitely be isolated from the people.

Development will be ensured through the path of mass movement. The Left has always believed in the development of common man, independent of caste, creed, religion, language, race etc and will continue to do so. In no way can we be deviated from our ideals.