People's Democracy

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


No. 16

April  17, 2011

Upliftment of Socio-Economic, Educational Status of Muslims in West Bengal


Sheikh Saidul-Haque


IN the context of the ensuing assembly elections in West Bengal, some of the intellectuals, backed by a section of the print and electronic media, have come out with virulent attacks on the Left Front government in West Bengal. These attacks are, however, based on either backdated or fictitious facts and figures.


One of the themes of such attacks is the question of minority development. These people are propagating that the minority in West Bengal is in a miserable condition. One example of such remarks is the speech made by Abu Saleh Shariff, chief economist of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, who was the member secretary of Sachar committee. Made at a seminar on March 22, 2010, his speech was published by The Times of India the following day, March 23. According to Sheriff, 50 per cent Muslim children in West Bengal are out of school at the primary level; the figure is 26 per cent for the middle school stage and only 12 per cent go on to complete matriculation. Further, out of 25.2 per cent Muslim population in the state, only 2.1 per cent are in government jobs and only 2.4 per cent have got the OBC status. Thus the scholar went on to observe that the land reforms in West Bengal did not seem to have made any significant difference to the living standards of the community. As this kind of comment is a matter of great concern, it is necessary to have a look on the ground situation. This is what this article attempts.




Mr Sheriff claimed that whatever figures he has cited have been taken from the 2001 census database, and that these figures are already there in the Sachar report. But the question is: is there any justification of citing the same figures after a gap 10 years?


One may recall that the CPI(M) was the first party which, accepting the Sachar recommendations, submitted a charter of demands to the central government for its implementation. But the party also opined that the Sachar report, to an extent, lacked authenticity insofar as the figures about West Bengal were concerned and that they were not comprehensive.


Here, moreover, we must not forget that while presenting its picture of West Bengal, the Sachar committee had itself mentioned on pages 272 and 273 that no specific information about West Bengal was available to it at that time. The second point is that the Sachar committee did not take into consideration the kind of development that took place among the Muslims in the state as a result of the land reforms. We shall discuss it later on. Here we would like to first talk about the upliftment of Muslims that has taken place in the education sector.




As per a survey report of the National University for Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), Muslims constitute 13.4 per cent of India’s population, but account for only 9.4 per cent of all primary students and the figure is 7.5 per cent at the upper primary stage. On the other hand, while Muslims constitute 25.2 per cent of West Bengal’s population, 28 per cent of all primary school going students belong to the Muslim community and the figure is 20 per cent at the upper primary stage.


Now, if we take the figures of Sarva Shiksha Mission released by the District Information System for Education (DISE) for 2009-10, we see that more than 99 per cent of children in the corresponding age group had got admission in primary education; in case of upper primary stage, the figure was almost 90 per cent. According to this very DISE report, the total number of students in the secondary and higher secondary education was 30 lakh 20 thousand 733 --- boys 15 lakh 56 thousand, and girls 14 lakh 64 thousand. Out of this total figure, Muslim boys numbered 6 lakh 41 thousand or 21.22 per cent while Muslim girl students were more than half of the corresponding figure, i.e. 8 lakh 40 thousand. Thus it is not at all the case that 50 per cent Muslim children are out of school at the primary education state or that only 26 per cent remain there at the middle education stage.


Now we take a look at the number of Muslim candidates who appeared in matriculation (i.e. secondary) examination. In 2009, the total number of candidates in the Madhyamik exams under School Education Board were 8,42,999. Out of them, Muslim candidates accounted for 1,59,614 (19 per cent). In 2010, the total number of candidates were 9,38,796, out of which Muslim candidates were 1,88,557 or 20.08 per cent. In 2011, the total candidates were 10,04,931 and Muslim candidates were 2,15,000 (21.39 per cent); boys were 44 per cent and girls were 56 per cent out of these 2,15,000 Muslim candidates. To add to this, the number of Muslim candidates who appeared in secondary level Madrassa exam is very close to 50,000. Thus, taking both these figures together, we see that not 12 per cent but 25.27 per cent Muslim candidates appeared for matriculation. If we take the figures of higher secondary (+2) exams, we see that the total number of candidates this year were 6,35,000 while Muslim candidates were 1,48,000 or 23.31 per cent. This clearly indicates the upliftent of educational status of Muslim in West Bengal.


In this background, it is also pertinent to have a look at the all-India figures. The Mid-Term Appraisal of the 11th Plan clearly stated that “despite the commitments made under (the) PM’s new 15 Point Programme, an assessment of SSA’s performance showed that percentage of minority students at the upper primary school has declined from 99.50 per cent in 2007-08 to 64 per cent in 2008-09. The recruitment of Urdu teachers has also declined from 86.44 per cent in 2007-08 to 72 per cent in 2008-09.” 




Madrassa education in West Bengal has now become a model for the whole nation. Long before the Sachar recommendations, a Madrassa Education Board had been formed here and the madrassa education certificate had been given a status equal to the school education certificate. The syllabus of madrassa education has been modernised in the state. For recruitment of teachers, a Madrassa Service Commission had been established.


While in 1977 there were 238 madrassas in the state, now this figure has gone up to 597. Along with this, there are 400 Madrassa Shikhya Kendras, which are equal to secondary schools. A large number of students are under study in these madrassas. In 1977 the total number of madrassa going students was 4,338, by now the number has increased to 5 lakh 35 thousand. Even the Sachar report has appreciated that whereas 3 per cent of Muslim students study in madrassas in India, this figure is 15 per cent in West Bengal.


In 1977, the total state government expenditure on madrassa education was Rs 5 lakh 60 thousand but now the state government is spending Rs 610 crore on madrassa education. The state government has also spent Rs 77 crore 33 lakh in addition to the Sarva Shiksha grant for infrastructure development of the madrassas. 12 English medium Muslim madrassas will be opened soon.


Apart from these, the state government has established 13 hostels for Muslim girls and a few more are in the offing.


If we look at the all-India figures in this backdrop, the Fatmi committee formed by the union government recommended a grant of Rs 625 crore for madrassa education development in the country but the 11th Plan document sanctioned only Rs 325 crore. In actuality, moreover, the union government spent only Rs 50 crore in 2007-08 and 2008-09. This brings out the lackadaisical approach of the union government for the expansion of madrassa education. 


Further, the Left Front government of West Bengal has established in Muslim dominated areas 1600 new upper primary schools (out of 3300), 42 colleges (out of 70), 25 polytechnics and 24 it is. Along with these, it also established three universities --- one at Malda and another at Barasat while there is a campus of the Aligarh Muslim University at Murshidabad. The Kolkata Madrassa has been given the university status, with the name of Alia Univerisity.




In the Sachar report it has been mentioned that only 2.1 per cent Muslims are in government jobs in West Bengal. But this figure is incomplete. This is because there is no mention of Muslims working in the transport sector and in ‘A’ grade government undertakings. Not only that; the Sachar report has not taken into account the number of Muslim teachers working in primary and secondary schools where Muslim teachers are 11 per cent of the total number of teachers and their full pay is paid by the state government. So is the case with madrassa teachers who number more than 20 thousand.


Nonetheless, state government has indeed admitted the shortage of Muslims in government jobs in comparison to their share in the population. That is why West Bengal is the first state which, following the Ranganath Mission commission recommendation, declared 10 per cent reservation for backward Muslims in all kinds of government jobs. As many as 56 categories of the Muslim community have been declared ‘backward’ and, out of them, 49 as ‘more backward’. Out of 2 crore 2 lakh Muslims in the state, 1 crore 72 lakh have thus been brought under the purview of reservation; it covers almost 85 per cent of the total Muslim population in the state.


On the other hand, the union government has so far not deemed it necessary to place any Action Taken Report (ATR) on the recommendations of the Mishra commission.


Apart from government jobs, the Left Front government has taken initiative to give more bank loans to the Muslims for self- employment purposes, in order to create more employment opportunities. Already Rs 8,864 crore have been provided to them, which is 14.7 per cent of the total loan disbursed. This is more than the national average which is about 13 per cent. The West Bengal Minority Development and Financial Corporation has provided more than Rs 400 crore to 1 lakh 77 thousand minority youths for self-employment, and this is the best figure among all the Indian states.




The Left Front government of West Bengal has done a tremendous job in this sphere. The increased member of Muslims in the beneficiaries of the land reforms and also the increase in Muslim participation in the panchayat raj institutions have led to an uplift of the socio-economic condition of the Muslim minority in the state. No less than 18 per cent of the total patta-holders in the state belong to the Muslim community. Also, there are more than 20 per cent Muslim representatives in the three tier panchayat system in the state.


In a recent survey, it has been seen that during the last 20 years the percentage of total Muslim landless has come down from 39.7 per cent to 20 per cent. One peculiar feature of West Bengal is that whereas 35.7 per cent of the Muslim population lives in the towns and other urban areas in the country as a whole, the corresponding figure is only 17 per cent in West Bengal. That is to say, a large number of the Muslim people live in the rural areas and they are more or less associated with agricultural operations or work in the unorganised sectors. That is why Muslims are a sizeable chunk of the beneficiaries of the state government’s strong emphasis on the development of the rural economy and also of a number of welfare schemes which it has initiated for the unrecognised labourers.


Apart from all that, the state government has taken a special initiative for housing for the Muslims. In the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), 22 per cent housing units have been provided for the Muslims. Under the MSDP (Multi-Sectoral Development Plan), 28,000 houses have been constructed for them. In addition, the state government has launched a programme titled “My House,” in which Rs 138 crore have been allotted to build 11,000 houses for the Muslims. 


Another important feature of empowerment is the formation of Self-Help Groups (SHGs) for women. So far, 12 lakh such groups have been formed, involving 1 crore 20 lakh women; out of these, 20 per cent groups are of Muslim women.


Also, the state government is giving 50 per cent subsidy on loan interest for the minority groups.




While discussing about the upliftment of socio-economic and educational status of Muslims in the state of West Bengal, two historical factors must be borne in mind. First, the Permanent Settlement of 1793, in which most of the zamindars were the Hindus while the Muslim became their subjects, tied the latter to land. Secondly, with the partition of Bengal in 1947, many of the educated Muslims left this country and went to the then East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh. For the Muslims remaining in West Bengal in this scenario, the main factor at that time was security rather than education. As such, the question of security in the state must also be taken into consideration.


Let us recall that the Sachar committee report has emphasised on three things --- Equity, Identity and Security. In regard to equity, we have already mentioned the kind of actions the Left Front government of the state has already taken. A high power committee has been formed under the leadership of the chief minister for taking welfare measure for the minority population in the state and 15 per cent of each department’s budget has been earmarked for their development. On the contrary, the union government has not established so far any “Equal Opportunity Commission” as recommended by the Sachar committee to meet the “development deficit” of the Muslims in the country.


In the 11th Plan, the central government has allotted only Rs 7,000 crore for minority development, which is just 0.32 per cent of the total allocation. Out of that, only 36.1 per cent had been spent in first three years of the 11th Plan. That is why the Mid-Term Appraisal Report of the Planning Commission (chapter on Social Justice, page 197) had to opine that there has been little visible difference in the condition of the minorities. This exhibits the attitude of the union government towards minority development. Nor is the central government paying attention to include a Minority Sub Plan in the planning process, on the pattern of the SC-ST Sub Plan.


Now we come to the question of identity and security. The Sachar report observed that Muslims are, more or less, treated either as terrorists or as treacherous in many parts of the country. A deep sense of insecurity prevails among them. Their identity is in a crisis. This is directly the result of non-action on the part of the union government to bring to book the culprits whose names have come out in the reports of different commissions set up after communal riots. One such example is the report of Srikrishna commission set up for investigation of the Mumbai riots of 1992-93. But nobody can dare deny that the safety and security of the Muslims has been fully ensured here in West Bengal. In this state, there is a deep-rooted tradition of communal harmony and unity of secular forces. This unity has been further strengthened by the democratic movement as well as the Left movement in the state. Here the role of the Left Front government has been noteworthy. This government always took a firm stand in so far as maintenance of unity and communal harmony is concerned.


It is an incontrovertible fact during the last 34 years since June 1977, when the Left Front first came to power in the state, there has taken place absolutely no riot in any part of the state. There is no denying that more needs to be done for the upliftment of the minority groups here. The Left Front government is committed to do that and is moving in that direction. As for the identity and security of the minority people, this government has not compromised at any stage and this has been proved again and again and again. Very recently, an incident at Deganga in North 24 Parganas has proved it once again. (Add a few lines to elaborate the point.)


In sum, what is needed most today is to strongly rebuff the kind of anti-Left campaign that is going on in and outside the state, particularly with regard to minority development. The Left Front workers are doing so in the state. But the democratic minded people outside the state must also be told what kind of upliftment of the minority population has been going on in the state during the last 34 years. This article gives only a glimpse of that.