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Updated: March 12, 2011 16:21 IST

Barefoot: If we walk together

Harsh Mander
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Urgently needed: Effective initiatives to close the livelihood gap between communities. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt
The Hindu Urgently needed: Effective initiatives to close the livelihood gap between communities. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

The Sachar Committee report had clearly said the Muslim community needed targeted interventions to bring them socially and economically on par with the mainstream. But that doesn't seem to be happening.

Each year, a fresh but weary harvest of young boys migrate from Baruliya — a village of mud and thatch homes of mostly Muslim residents, in Darbhanga district of Bihar — to seek work in small factories or as domestic help in cities and towns scattered across the country. Some save a little money to send home, but most can barely fend only for themselves. There are boys and young men who return to their families once or twice a year; others leave never to return, lost to their families for all time. For their parents left behind, the only work to be found is in the fields of landowners. Even this work is uncertain, dependent on whether the rain falls, when it falls and how much: there can be drought and there can be floods, or both. For farm employment, they are paid wages of little more than Rs. 50 a day. In lean months, the adults also migrate to bidi factories across the state.

A dusty, two-hour drive from Kolkata is another Muslim settlement in Diamond Harbour — part village, part slum. Most residents pull rickshaws in Kolkata, or labour in farmers' fields closer home. The women earn at most Rs. 50 a day, in home-based embroidery or tailoring. There is no drainage, sewage disposal or piped water. Their hovels are surrounded by slime. Only a fifth of them have ration cards, but even these are almost useless because the shop selling subsidised grain rarely opens. The residents believe that education is the only path which can lead their children to a better life. But they are convinced that life will be only worse, not better for their children. This is their life's only certainty.

Our travels to districts with a high Muslim population in three states, Bihar, West Bengal and Haryana — demonstrated to my colleagues and me how little recent government initiatives had altered significantly the conditions of penury and settled despair of poor Muslim households. The high-level committee of 2006 — chaired by Justice Sachar and appointed by India's Prime Minister to examine the conditions of Muslims in the country — had suggested many ways to reverse their cycles of poverty, low-end employment and poor educational attainments, and secure for them a better future. We tried to understand why the recent slew of official initiatives has so far failed to illuminate the lives of millions of India's largest socio-religious minority.

Low allocation

There are extraordinarily low budgetary ambitions of programmes for socio-economic development of a historically disadvantaged community of 177 million people. The per capita Plan allocation of resources for minorities in 2010-11 was as paltry as Rs. 797, below even allocations for Scheduled Tribes of Rs. 1,521; and Rs. 1,228 for Scheduled Castes. Religious minorities, including Muslims, constitute 19 per cent of the population, but budgetary allocations for schemes designed for them is a little over five per cent of total plan allocations.

The Government's major flagship programme in response to the Sachar findings, the Multi-Sectoral Development Programme (MsDP), identifies 90 districts in which Muslims are 25 per cent or more of the population. In these districts, officials prepare area-development programmes, mostly for augmenting infrastructure. They are not required to — and are often actively discouraged from — actually targeting expenditure to Muslim dominated villages, hamlets or urban settlements. As a result, although money from this modestly funded programme is spent in districts with higher proportions of Muslims, we found that the projects mostly are neither located in nor benefit the Muslim populations.

Unanimous demand

Muslim women and men, rich and poor, of all ages, in villages and in towns who my colleagues and I encountered in our travels were unanimous about one thing: the single most important and valued contribution that they wanted from government was education, in government institutions with both Hindu and Muslim children. Muslim settlements have few government schools, and those that exist lack facilities and staff. They also require for older girls exclusively girls' schools, and residential hostels for both boys and girls. If this deficit is to be addressed, those Muslim villages, hamlets and urban slums which lack schools at various levels should be identified, and schools opened and equipped with buildings, teachers and facilities.

In Mewat district in Haryana — with 80 per cent Muslims in a state in which they constitute barely five per cent of the total population — there are less than 5,000 Muslim students in secondary school. My colleagues visited a Muslim village and found the primary school with ‘a dilapidated building, barren courtyard and dingy classrooms'. But instead of spending MsDP funds to upgrade this school, the government preferred to spend it on a neighbouring, wealthier non-Muslim village. This pattern was repeated in all the other districts we visited. In Darbhanga, in 2009-10, 66 new primary schools were opened, ostensibly for enhancing access to children from minority backgrounds. Curiously, only seven of those were in minority concentration areas. Programme projects were to build additional classrooms for schools and hostels, but these had few Muslim children enrolled and mostly in areas with few minority habitations.

Officials we spoke to shared in private that they were actively discouraged to map and target their plans to Muslim settlements. In any case, this is not mandated in the scheme instructions. There appears at all levels a reluctance, once again, to boldly target services to this disadvantaged community, for fear of accusations of ‘appeasement'.

For Government's attempt to close the vast livelihood gap of Muslims in 24 Parganas, we found that only 2.2 per cent minority BPL households have been covered by the self-employment SGSY scheme, and less than 1 per cent of the households have actually received bank credit. Likewise, in MG NREGA, although Muslims constitute 36 per cent of the population and 45 per cent of the job card holders, they account for only 13 per cent of the wage employment generated under the programme.

There are grave problems also with the institutional machinery created by government to deliver these modest initiatives. In districts, we encountered officials who were de-motivated, untrained and often carried mainstream prejudices against Muslim people. They prepare plans without ever consulting the intended recipients: Muslim youth, women and impoverished workers. In state capitals, minority departments were typically marginalised, under-resourced and under-staffed. At the apex in Delhi is the union Ministry of Minority Affairs. It faces role confusion similar to other Ministries such as for tribal, women and child welfare. These ministries tend to have a self-image of being marginalised to the side-lines in the hierarchies of power. They have modest budgets because they are not primarily implementing, but advocacy departments. They should monitor and advocate for the disadvantaged group with each central Government department and state government. But for this responsibility, they neither have the clout, nor the motivation.

Instead, as acutely observed by the lead researcher of our study, Sajjad Hassan, ‘...there seems excessive anxiety to dissociate schemes for minority development from the minorities... Government has been unable to cut through the tired, and by now defeated argument that schemes specially for Muslims are potentially socially disruptive, and hence best avoided. If anything, social cohesion is best promoted by engendering equity, something that requires tailor-made targeted interventions for those left behind by the development process... In practice, the programme has been reduced to an area-scheme, that misses everyone'.

Workable solutions

If governments are to assist millions of indigent people of Muslim faith in India out of poverty and exclusion, the answers are so not hard to find. The Sachar Committee Report itself lists many solutions. Government must create a separate budgetary sub-plan for investment exclusively on development programmes for Muslims, in the way that governments have done for Scheduled Castes and Tribes. It must spend the greatest part of these earmarked resources in building schools and technical institutes which are located in or near Muslim habitations, and to provide stipends, scholarships and residential schools to make it feasible economically for impoverished parents to send their children to school and college rather than to work. Textbooks and the school environment must be egalitarian and respect diversity. The doors of banks should open to people of minority faiths, and disadvantaged castes, and traditional livelihoods of small producers protected. Diversity should be actively promoted in the work place – public and private – and in habitats. Discrimination should be legally and resolutely resisted.

The burdens of history cannot be shed in a day. But we can surely walk that path if we walk together.

Excellent artcicle by Mr. Mandar. There is no doubt that the muslim
community is disadvantaged in India and face discrimination in
admission, jobs, bank loans, housing,etc. There was a study done
by professor at Princeton University,New Jersey, USA, which involved sending CVs for job openings with hindu names and the same CVs with muslim names. All hindus were called for interviews and only 30% muslims were called although CVs were the same. Shakespeare was wrong when he said what is in a name. In India it signifies a lot. Any one who wishes to verify the findings can contact the professors at Princeton.

from:  sajid khan
Posted on: Mar 21, 2011 at 22:29 IST

I am appalled at the charge on me of being a sanghi which i presume is a euphemism for communal mind.While I have claimed equal rights for all and not for only hindus,the so called secularists are batting for a particular community and yet calling me communal.If this is the logic then I am a proud sanghi.

from:  Ganesh Rao
Posted on: Mar 21, 2011 at 21:45 IST

@soumitra Pant I respect your opinion on the prejudices and stereotyping of Muslim community. For a start just observe any blog on Kashmir problem and the views of the readers who comment on it.This so called Indian muslims show that they are more muslim than Indian by the stand they take in favour of Kashmir separatists.This is just one example of the many that exists.How can you blame the general public in seeing them with suspicion.It is time the ones like Mr.Pant keep their eyes and ears wide open.

from:  K.Parameshwar
Posted on: Mar 21, 2011 at 19:37 IST

Mander makes the case for Muslims as if they are the only disadvantaged and neglected community living in India currently, and suffering because of lack of governmental attention. These problems are common to all communities across India. Why single out a particular religion? By trying to compartmentalize these problems to a community will only aggravate the Muslim identity problem. Instead of trying to see a person through the lens of religion(whether he's a Muslim) or the lens of caste(Does the person belong to Scheduled Caste), it would be more prudent to see it through the category of economical status. Let's not restrict the solution to a single community alone. It would be well in India's interest to uplift every person educationally than Muslims alone.

from:  Sagar
Posted on: Mar 18, 2011 at 18:55 IST

Extremely insighful article. We all know that prejudices exist in our political system, and it would be living in a fools paradise to claim otherwise. Apart from apathy and exclusion from economic activities, the Muslim community often faces harmful social stereotyping. We are secular only on paper. If you want evidence of the same, look no further than the housing industry. Try looking for accomodation with a muslim name. You will get exactly what I am talking about. Muslims are viewed with suspicion, disregard and, in some cases, hostility. The fact that the Govt. is doing very little to change this social stance, and catering to populist beliefs is extremely disheartening. I expected more from the New Age leadership of the Congress. However, the media with its open discussion platforms presents some hope to us as people, and to India as a secular nation day-dreaming of becoming an Economic Superpower. So lets be optimistic.

from:  Saumitra Pant
Posted on: Mar 16, 2011 at 23:16 IST

It is an eye opening article revealing the veracity of Muslim community in India. We ourself pompously boast the terms: Unity in diversity and the egalitarian society but are they really significant in this partisan democracy? The derogatory behaviour ostracizes them from the mainstream and then we say that these communities are pulling India back. But we have to assess ourself before that are we providing them enough opportunities to move ahead and stand with us.

from:  Saurabh Singh
Posted on: Mar 16, 2011 at 20:54 IST

Excellent artice by Harsh Mander. I am wondering why people are used to opposed any scheme for the upliftment of the poor in Muslim community? Overall upliftment of community means upliftment of our nation India. If they are giving excuse that upliftment policies should not be based upon religious beliefs then can anybody justify the facts that Washerman or cobbler etc. from the Hindu Community can avail the benefits of reservation but the same profession occupied by Muslim community can't avail the same benefits - why..? Overall the professions of both the persons are same so logically both of them should be provided with equal opportunities of upliftment or neither of them provided with benefits. Also, what does development of India means? Do you people don't think development means development of every people regardless of caste or religion? How can you imagine development of one community and other community will be lagging behind?

from:  Shakilur Rahman
Posted on: Mar 16, 2011 at 04:53 IST

There is poverty in every community. The degree may vary. Government should look after every poor individual irrespective of caste, creed or community. It is time for starting a debate against present caste based reservation in government jobs and in politics. The reservation and financial assistance should be based on the poverty and not on the caste. Only then we can think of India which will lead the world.

from:  Prahlad Pandey
Posted on: Mar 15, 2011 at 22:13 IST

Education is the only means through which our country can pave the path towards the devloped nation. And as far as muslim minority is concerned both government and community have to play thier role in a productive fashion.The schemes designed by the govt needs to be formulated systematically.Also as Islam advocates us to achieve education, so community should drop their veils of ignorance and step out from darkness towards illumination.

from:  Sadiya Sayyed
Posted on: Mar 15, 2011 at 18:53 IST

It is very sincere on part of 'The Hindu' to make space for an insightful presentation of this kind. This has further re-inforced my belief in your esteemed newspaper's impartiality. The article is very factual, well researched and well-intended. It is very true that honest intentions of targeted welfare projects can be interpreted as 'appeasement'.This is the case not only for religious but also for tribal, regional and various caste minorities. All the problems that the author describes are typical of Indian welfare disbursal, project execution, bureaucratic apathy, incompetence and indifference. Addressing all these issues means resolving all of India's problems. Sharing one's wealth and helping poor and needy is one of the five basic tenets of Islam. Despite placing such importance on social welfare, Muslim rulers historically had scant regard for the conditions of the poor. Sadly, within the Muslim world, the indifference has continued to this day. The educated and prosperous lot of the Muslim community try to avoid contribution and participation in any form lest they will be classified as the extremist minority. The ones that do question the establishment, do so with vested vote-bank interest in mind.

from:  Sabil Ahmed
Posted on: Mar 15, 2011 at 18:19 IST

It is dangerous for any Government to implement 'special' schemes for a poor people of one faith. If the Government implements schemes for the upliftment of the poor regardless of their religious beliefs, it will receive universal support from all people and bureaucrats cannot give excuses for their failures. The largest number of poor are in fact Hindus and they suffer the most because of the callous, corrupt bureaucracy. The Government must address its very poor track record in implementing any scheme. Otherwise it means throwing money down the drain.

from:  Amby
Posted on: Mar 15, 2011 at 10:22 IST

I think these are justifying and prejudiced minds that say 'Oh poverty is everywhere in India, so what if it is with Muslims, they aint no special creatures of the planet?' But the point here more of concern for me is not that Muslims or Hindus don't get their deserved bit. It's how Committees like Sachar waste money on their research and bring results only to see their findings go to the Trash Centres. Why just muslims, their should be study on the backward and downtrodden of India and steps be taken to uplift them too, if India aims to be a super power we need educated, well off and healthy societies to exist, not whinning crying gentlemen, justifying government iniquities.

from:  Mohammad Nisar
Posted on: Mar 14, 2011 at 23:26 IST

Excellent article. It exposes the ordeal and suffering of Muslim society due to the discrimination of state machinery.
Commenters like Shailendra and Ganesh rao just wanted to hide the reality, by giving some unrelated and false information. That is usual politics of Sangh group and like minded people.

from:  sundarRaj
Posted on: Mar 14, 2011 at 15:38 IST

I entirely agree with Mr.Ganesh Rao that this livlihood problem is not exclusive for Muslims. All poor suffer the same fate. One thing Mr Harsh mandir always conveniently gloss over is the muslim community's attitude towards modern education.I hail from Tamilnadu and some of the "famous " muslim educational institutions especially for girls have more non muslim girl students than Muslims. Unless muslims change their attitude towards education it is impossible to lift them up. People like Harsh Mandir who thirve in this "minority" syndrome will thrive

from:  Rajaram
Posted on: Mar 13, 2011 at 22:36 IST

The author portrays these problems as if they are exclusive monopoly of the Muslims. Every Indian, rich and poor, suffers discrimination at the hands of the state. We all suffer from poorly implemented schemes, bad infrastructure from corruption, and govt officials working overtime to usurp for themselves the benefits meant for us. Most of the poor Hindus in southern states of TN, Kerala, AP and Karnataka have converted to Christianity for getting 'subsidized' education in Church run schools. Does this not amount to discrimination against the poor? There is no point in encouraging exclusivist feelings in the Muslim or any other community. The people of that community must overcome their own mind- blocks, work hard and develop secular attitude. The money and time spent in constructing Mosques and in offering Namaz is better spent on schools and in studies- this is how individuals in Hindu society have progressed - and as a consequence Hinduism in on the decline ! You can't unfortunately, have a cake, and eat it too.

from:  Shailendra
Posted on: Mar 13, 2011 at 15:45 IST

Whatever the writer has stated about the livelihood problems of the Muslims is true of any community in this country. It is not religion specific by any stretch of imagination.No right thinking person should fight poverty on the basis of faith and religion.There is serious politics in these compartmentalised movements.

from:  Ganesh Rao
Posted on: Mar 13, 2011 at 12:50 IST
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