(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 06, 2011
LF Govt and Minority Development in West Bengal
DEMOCRACY cannot consolidate and expand in any form of society without the establishment of the minority rights. The struggle for equal rights of the minorities is continuing in different parts of the globe and it is now an integral part of the mass movements. A state only performs its duty through establishment of equal rights for minorities. This duty, however, must not be equated with compassion. For, the non-performance of this duty creates tension within the society, and the call of the time is to avoid any such tension.
If we analyse the socio-economic conditions of the people, we can identify the issues of poverty, illiteracy, joblessness and lack of educational facilities etc among the minorities. With these are associated a sense of insecurity and the anxiety about being treated as second class citizens.
ISSUE IN INDIA
In our country we have some practical problems. Here minorities are of two types --- religious and linguistic minorities --- though the word minority generally means religious minorities. Muslims are quiet considerable in number in this part of the globe. The country was divided on religious lines in 1947 but all Muslims did not migrate to the newly-created Pakistan; that was not desirable either. The label of minority has been an integral part of the life of Muslim population in India.
The constitution of the country uses the word minority without any definite explanation of the term. Muslims constitute a majority in one state of our union and the same is the case in several districts in other states of the country. Further, there are almost a hundred districts where the Muslims constitute one fourth of the population. In total, the Muslim population in India is about 15 crores and the number may go up with the ongoing census. Irrespective of the issues of religious beliefs of the population, a country cannot progress if such a huge mass of the people remain out of the ambit of socio-economic development.
This is the crux of the minority problem in India where this vast population continues to be in the grip of underdevelopment despite the passage of more than six decades of our political independence. The Muslims in India are still fighting in several ways to achieve an equal status. Identity, equality and security questions continue to be the issues of major concern for the minorities in our country. The union government has, at various point of time, constituted a number of commissions and committees on the minority welfare issue, and the reports of some of them have caused some ripple. But appropriate actions have not been forthcoming and the recommendations made by various committees and commissions have gone into oblivion.
Recent examples are the report and recommendations of the Sachar committee and the Ranganath Mishra commission. The Sachar committee report said the socio-economic condition of the Muslims continues to be in a very sorry state. The report pointed that in some places the condition of the Muslims is worse even than the scheduled tribes. The committee suggested immediate remedial reforms and even warned that things might go out of hand in the absence of prompt measures. Continuing in consonance with the Sachar findings, which hold true more or less for all states, the Ranganath Mishra commission suggested reservations for Muslims in education and jobs. It further suggested a secularisation of the list for other backward sections.
But the logical question coming up is about the necessity of these bodies and their recommendations. If the central government is unwilling to show political will, all such fact finding exercises and proposals of remedial measures have no meaning. The harsh reality is just that. After the Sachar committee submitted its report, the central government came up with a declaration which was said to be an Action Taken Report (ATR). The Ranganath Mishra recommendations were not even that much fortunate. The government has paid no heed to the repeated demand to hold discussions about the two reports in both houses of parliament. The government had earlier appointed a cabinet rank minister for the Department of Minority Welfare. Most unfortunately, now the department is in charge of one minister of state.
As for resource allocations, the minorities constitute 14 per cent of the population in the country but the central budget has allotted less than one per cent of the resources for their development. The last three or four central budgets bears testimony to this fact.
IN WEST BENGAL
It is against this background that one can assess the activities of various state governments and the state of West Bengal needs special mention in this regard. For the last 34 years, the Left Front government of West Bengal has been steadfast in its drive to help the poor people, eradicate poverty, expand the mass education and strengthen the fight for equality. Muslims too have benefited from this drive.
West Bengal is one of the four states in the country which has a Muslim population of more than a crore. In West Bengal, the Muslim population is more than two crores. The majority of the Muslim population in the state had been poor and marginalised and its socio-economic condition had been miserable. The poverty eradication programmes of the Left Front government has helped these people in a big way and benefited them considerably.
Apart from the general development programme for the minorities, the Left Front government of West Bengal had already taken up a series of programmes before the publication of the Sachar report. In some sectors the success of this government has been remarkable. The Minority Development and Finance Corporation has been a landmark throughout the country in this regard. While similar corporations have not been able to make any substantial headway in the other states, the West Bengal corporation has been praised time and again for its feats in the matters education and employment. The formation of a Waqf tribunal, the consistent works of the Haj Committee and the construction of girls hostels, among other measures, have helped the minorities to gather strength and self-confidence.
Without going into the titbits of the story, it would be better if we concentrate on the main achievements of the Left Front government in this direction.
The history of Madrasa education dates long back, as far as West Bengal is concerned. The West Bengal Madrasa Board is the body responsible for this particular form of education in the state. The madrasas of our state are different from those in north India. In Bengal, madrasas do not provide religious education alone or mainly. They impart modern education to their students in a big way. Boys and girls have an opportunity to go to the same madrasa together. There is very little difference between the secondary madrasas and general secondary schools regarding curriculum. Eminent experts have made valuable inputs in framing a modern curriculum for the state madrasas. There was a point of time when students from madrasas had to face extreme difficulties while entering the arena of higher education. Ten per cent marks from their grand total were deducted before they got an opportunity to compete for entrance to the institutions of higher studies. Now the madrasas in our state are complete educational institutions. Bengali Muslims have passed through a phase of constant construction and deconstruction and they have been able to acquire modern ideas during this passage. Madrasa education, too, is no exception to this phenomenon. In Bengal, the government has guaranteed higher secondary status to the madrasas. In senior madrasas, too, modern courses are being incorporated in the curriculum. Along with experts from Pakistan and Bangladesh, delegations from different states of the India Union frequent the Bengal madrasas to see their structure and functioning. During the liberation war of Bangladesh, celebrated Bangladeshi poet Al Mahmud had written: “Swadhinata tumi maktaber meye/ Beni khola Ayesha Akhtar” (Independence is the girl of the maktab; she is Ayesha Akhtar who got an opportunity to let loose her hair knots.”
The dream of Al Mahmud were not realised in his own land. The Left Front government of West Bengal has put his dream into reality.
In 1976-77 the allocation for madrasas was a measly Rs 5.60 lakh; it stood at Rs 610 crores in 2009-10. In 1978, 1565 students were there in the Bengal madrasas. Now the number stands at 4.5 lakhs. A Madrasa Service Commission has been created to ensure the recruitment of quality teachers. The Madrasa Board has been given an autonomous status; this was done long before the Sachar committee submitted its report. Also, the madrasas have been given the status of minority institutions under article 30 of the constitution, meaning a recognition of the socio-cultural rights of the minorities as defined in the constitution. As many as 599 madrasas have got this status. The number would go up to 1499 if, along with these, the Madrasa Siksha Kendra and the Sishu Siksha Kendras are also considered. Now 10 new madrasas are in the process of creation; here the medium of instruction will be English. In West Bengal, madrasa is basically a secular institution. So much as that a portion of the students, teachers and non-teaching staff are not Muslims by religious affiliation. This is in complete consonance with the spirit of Bengal. In this respect, we would take the opportunity to refer to the autobiography of India’s former president and eminent scientist, Bharatratna A P J Abdul Kalam, where he said he went to a madrasa in the morning, came back to his house for food and then again went to a school imparting modern education. He has lamented that the entire process was very tedious for a child. But West Bengal is different in this regard. In the madrasas here, modern education is the base for creating doctors, engineers, professors and scientists.
The century old Calcutta Madrasa was transformed into Aliya University in 2007 by an act passed in the same year. The Aliya Act 2007, XXVII, thus states its aims:
ii) To encourage study of modern technology and professional courses along with the classical languages, oriental studies, religious studies and Islamic culture.
iii) To promote higher education amongst the Minorities in the state.
vi) To develop centres of excellence for higher studies and research in theology, Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic culture, comparative religion, science and technology, professional and management education in the state through a joint invite, i.e. state- private partnership, if required.
A section has been alleging that religious teachings in this university have come to a grinding halt. But in reality the ambit of subjects has been expanded. Advanced study has been encouraged in Fazil (10+2), Kamil (3 year honours), Kamil (general, 3 year degree) and MS (2 year post graduate degree) courses. As turning a blind eye to the changing socio-political scene around the world is not acceptable, subjects like science, management, languages and sociology have also been incorporated in the 5 year MSc and MA courses in this university. Along with Islamic studies, modern science and technology are also being taught here as a coherent integration of study. This institution has made a mark as an institution for the minorities.
Another opinion says the term madrasa should have been retained in the name of the university as it was Calcutta Madrasa that was transformed into the Aliya University. This in not only irrational, but childish too. Al Azahar, one of the world’s most renowned universities, does not have the word madrasa in its name, but that has never been a glitch to its reputation.
CENTRE OF AMU
On the persuasion of the chief minister of West Bengal, the prime minister has asked the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) to look into the prospect of setting up a new campus in West Bengal. In purview of this, the AMU decided to setting up its campus at five different places, including one in Murshidabad. The union finance minister has allotted the requisite fund for this project. At present, more than 2000 students from West Bengal are studying and doing research at AMU. Among these, the percentage of students from Murshidabad and Malda is the highest. In the meantime the centre in West Bengal has been inaugurated and courses will commence from this year. In the next 10 years, this centre would fully transform itself into a full-fledged central university.
Around 300 acres of land has been allotted to the centre free of cost. This land was with the Water Resources Ministry of the Government of India and, as per the law, the state government could not take this land free of cost. Hence the state government paid the requisite amount on behalf of the university to the central government and now the land now vests with the university. In the meantime, the task of constructing a new building has already been started. The centre is working in temporary premises at present and it is being funded by the state government.
A lack of education and the dearth of proper educational facilities is the most important reason as to why the Muslims are still backward in West Bengal. Thus the most important problem that needs to be addressed by the Left Front government is the promotion of proper educational facilities among the backward classes. That is the primary reason we sought to highlight the working of different educational institutions meant for the minorities in the state. This year, around 17 lakh students would appear for secondary and higher secondary board exams, Muslim students among them number more than 4 lakhs. Such a scenario was unthinkable only a few years back. This is a result of the Left Front government’s constructive policies.
In the districts where Muslims are in a majority, the central government has undertaken a Multi-Sectoral Development Programme (MSDP). In the current year, the union government has allotted Rs 1440.35 crore for this purpose. The amount spent so far is Rs 604.67 crore, which is 42 per cent of the allocation. In West Bengal, the allocation was Rs 686.10 crore. The concerned districts of the state are working in full swing in this regard. A report in November 2010 stated that Bengal had by then spent 53.86 per cent of the allocated sum. The work has further progressed since then.
One thing that needs to be kept in mind is the Sachar report’s contention that the socio-economic condition of the Muslims around the country is deplorable. The steps taken by the central government to address these issues are not at all satisfactory. The MSDP has been there much before the UPA government came into existence. But the irony is that no money was allotted for the scheme. The amount that now has been allotted is also not adequate.
At this juncture, our demands are as below:
1) The districts where 20 per cent or more of the Muslims is backward, need to be brought within the ambit of the MSDP.
2) The density of backward classes has to be categorised from the block level upward and not from the district level.
3) There is the need to increase the proportion of allotted money.
4) Vigilance needs to be given priority, both at the central and the state levels.
As far as the implementation of this project is concerned, West Bengal is in the forefront. This project is helping in the nurturing and growth of education, development and other social security schemes among the Muslim backwards.
The Ranganath Mishra commission’s report was tabled in the parliament during the winter session of 2009. The report, in many ways similar to the Sachar committee’s report, recommended reservations in educational institutions and employment. As for the constitution, reservation on the basis of religion is strictly prohibited. But reservation can easily be done for the people who are economically backward. On the other hand, the commission stated that 15 per cent reservation should be given to the minorities --- 10 per cent out of that for the Muslims and 5 per cent for others. If this does not materialise due to some inevitable circumstances, the 22 per cent reservation which is there for the OBCs, out of that 8.6 per cent has to be kept for the minorities. Out of this 8.6 per cent, 6 per cent should be reserved for the Muslim minority and the rest for other minorities.
To date, nothing noteworthy has been done by the Government of India in this matter. Due to some reason best known to itself, the GoI has not even presented an Action Taken Report. The coalition partners of the present government who pretend to be empathetic to the cause of minorities have so far remained silent on this issue. But the Left Front government has not been a mute spectator. On February 8, 2010, accepting the recommendations of the Ranganath Mishra report, the state government provided reservation for the OBC-listed minorities in the employment sector. Earlier, there was 7 per cent reservation for the OBCs which has now been increased to 17 per cent. In West Bengal, the percentage of Muslims in the OBC category was pretty less earlier but now it has swelled to almost 1 crore 80 lakhs. According to the 2001 census report, Muslims in West Bengal account for more than 2 crore.
Common people have been absolutely unaware about the listing process of the OBC category in the state. The condition of administration was really bad for them but, post-1977, a sea change has taken place, though still a lot needs to be done. The two things that can solve their problem is a sensitive administration and a vibrant mass movement for equality. West Bengal boasts of mass political awareness. Be it the Operation Barga or the distribution of land pattas, vibrancy has been a common feature of all such programmes. The Muslim minority seems to be pretty enthusiastic in this regard.
In the meantime, the state’s higher education minister has made a proposal regarding reservation in higher education. Efforts are already on for its implementation.
The Left Front government has done exemplary work on all such issues, even though the Left believes that reservation is not the panacea to all the ills. Not only the Muslim minorities but other sections of the population have also been suffering from the same plight. There is the definite need of a mass movement for eradication of socio-economic inequalities.
It is blatantly wrong to say that the Left Front government has not done anything to better the socio-economic conditions of the minorities. The record of the Left Front government in these matters needs to be put up before the people today. There was indeed a time when, for the economically backward sections, West Bengal was as good as a jungle. Then also, Muslims were the worst sufferers since most of them were economically backward.
Moving away from that stage, Muslims have now come to a stage where they can put forward their own stakes. This is indeed a glorious achievement of the Left Front government whose duty it is to enable the youth of today to progress with proper education, employment and developed infrastructure. That is what the Left Front government is doing at the lightning speed. Equality, which has been enshrined in the constitution, is the demand of all and it is the duty of the state to ensure it to everyone without any discrimination.