Thursday, February 25, 2010

On the Reservation for Backward Muslims in West Bengal

8th February, 2010 is going to be regarded as a red letter day in the socio-economic history of West Bengal. On this very day Sri Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, chief minister of West Bengal, announced 10% reservation in the field of job for minority Muslims who remain economically, educationally and socially backward.

What is the government announcement?

Religion cannot be the basis of this reservation. The sole criterion is backwardness. From now on 10% job is reserved for Muslims who remain economically, educationally and socially backward. Already there is 7% reservation for other backward classes which reaches 17% with the addition of this 10%. This privilege is only for those Muslims who have been lagging behind. The leading Muslim population will not be under the ambit of reservations. Muslims having a yearly income of Rs.4.5 lakh or above are out of this reservation. Presently reservation will be provided in the job sector. The questions of providing reservations for backward Muslims in education are being discussed and will be finalised later.
What is the process for the identification of the backward Muslims? A commission has been working in West Bengal on this regard. After receiving application from relevant person the commission will investigate the case, summon the applicant as witness, visit the area if needed and will take the decision. 12 sections of Muslims are already in the O.B.C. list. 3/4 new sections are going to be included. Another 10/12 new applications are with the commission for consideration. Our honourable Chief Minister has declared to accelerate the total process.

The total process will consist of three stages. Firstly, identifying the backward section; secondly keeping aside the rich section among them whose yearly income is Rs.4.5 lakh or above; thirdly supplying the identified persons with certificates by the respective Govt. 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 observation. The Chief Minister himself has announced the formation of a committee that will look upon the entire situation Representatives from the state Minority Development, OBC Welfare Department and two commissions—Minority Commission and West Bengal Commission for Backward Classes would be engaged in this matter.

Who will benefit?

Muslim population in West Bengal is more than 2 crore. In percentage it is 25. 8.3% of the total Muslim population belong to the OBC list which numbers 16 lacs 38 thousand. In this state the OBC list comprises of 66 communities which include both Hindus and Muslims. Among them 12 communities are Muslim. These are – Jola, Fakir, Hawari, Dhuniya, Kasai, Nasya Sekh, Paharia Muslim, Sershabadi, Bayan, Hazam Choudhury and Pratidar. Apart from these applications from Khotta, Sardar, Beshdar are also under consideration. The number of ‘Khotta’s is greater in Murshidabad and Maldah amounting to about 10 lakhs. The number of these later three communities are as high as 10.5 lakh. In addition to these hearing is going on the basis of prayers from Mahaldar, Abdal, Basni and Kankhalifa. Presently, the number of persons who might be included in the OBC List other than those who already belong to the List is already 12-15 lakh. Apart from this there is a chance of three more communities to be included in the list.

A few examples in this case might be helpful. There is a community among Muslims named ‘Guri.’ Theyare basically fishermen.. Actually they are called so because they catch tiny (Guro) fishes. In my village only, there was a ‘Guripara’. Berhampore has a road named Gurimahal Road. Non-Muslims who catch fish enjoy reservations as schedule castes. The question is that why the Muslims doing the same work will be left out of reservation? In my village only, there was ‘Kolupara’. The Kolus make oil that means they produce mustard oil in wooden machine using cattle power. The number of Muslim ‘Patuas’ can not be neglected. They live in Midnapore and are inside reservation. But ‘Lodha’ Muslims in that same Midnapore are not under the ambit of reservation. The ‘Lodhas’ live on primitive hunting system and their behavior – custom are almost like tirbals but they are Muslims in their religious belief. In Midnapore there are also the ‘Kelas’ and ‘Kherias’ who have many things in common with the Hindu tribes. As Hindu the tribes are enjoying reservation but ‘Kherias’ miss it only on the ground of being Muslims. There is the ‘Ghoshi’ community in Barrackpore and Kharagpur who once came there from North India. They raise animals. ‘Tantias’ live at different places in Midnapore. They are connected with sericulture. There is a community named ‘Dhakuri’ at Amdanga a place very near to Kolkata. They are very few in number and very poor in status. They recycle old clothes by making ‘Dhokra’ (heavy bedspread). 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 periphery of reservation but Muslim cobblers are left out of it.

These are the specific reasons for expansion of the OBC list. Presently there are 66 communities. The number will increase. When any community applies for inclusion in the OBC list, a hearing is taken to determine its status. The commission can also take initiative to do so. Today, some people question that number of applicants in this case will not be of a substantial amount and thus will include a negligible portion of the two crore Muslim population. But the reality is different. If all the backward Muslims are enlisted accordingly to the Chief Ministers announcement then the number will not be a small one. In this connection I am going to use some words of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar – Someone will get the advantage of reservation and some others will not as they have 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 Perspective of Reservation

The first and foremost perspective for reservation is 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. This very belief is the manifestation of modern society. Expansion and strengthening of this value stands to be one of the main pillars of modern state polity. But some questions still remain unanswered – what will happen to them 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. “– [Art. 15(4)] It is again stated “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.” – [Art. 16(4)]. I would like to present the relevance of article 29(2) in this case, – “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.” So it is clear that the Constitution provides enough imperative to the subject of reservation for economic, educational and social backward classes. The second cause is the actual situation of Muslims. A careful observation of the Indian Muslims clearly reveals the intensity of their backwardness. However this backwardness varies from states to states. Rich cultural diversities are integral part of the concept of India. It has many different languages and opinions and as far as the concentration of Muslims habitats is concerned those remains to be scattered regionally. The socio-economic status of Muslims in West Bengal and Kerala varies. But this is a fact that the Muslims overall could not achieve equality as far as job and education is concerned. One cannot find Muslims in sectors like banking service and private educational institutions. Muslims are lagging behind in getting govt. loans. A ‘Fearless’ Bengali Daily has brought out its editorial column ridiculing the CM’s declaration about reservation. It is titled as ‘Love for Interest’. If I humbly ask, how many Muslims work in that particular daily, I am sure of receiving a number which will be microscopic.. The practical situation of today has become the prime force behind reservation. Although it cannot be denied that mere reservation can never be the gateway of development – political and social honesty is needed. If it is not there all facilities are going to leak out through the gaps of law.

A third reason behind reservation is the report of Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission. In 2004 a national commission was constituted under Justice Ranganath Mishra to identify the socially and economically backward people among religious and linguistic minorities. The commission was meant to recommend about the reservation and other development-oriented matters in the fields of job and education for this portion of the Indian citizens. The commission submitted its report to the Prime Minister in 2007. After that no proceedings and movements were seen in this regard. The leftists repeatedly pressurized to bring out the report before the Parliament. Some part of the report got leaked and was published in the Hindu newspaper. Later it was produced in the winter session of the Parliament in December, 2009. The commission has given suggestion on many issues like education, job, administration and legislative system. I am not going very deeply in this matter. Our friend comrade Sk. Saidul Haque has already discussed it on the pages of Ganashakti. I am going to mention the job oriented matter. The recommendations are made considering the 16(4) of the Constitution. While the recommendations were made, the provisions of article 16(4) were kept in mind. I have mentioned about the article earlier. Two recommendations are made. Firstly, 15% post in every Central and State Government department must be reserved for minorities. 10% would be for Muslims and 5% would be for other minorities. If Muslim candidates are not found for the above mentioned 10% posts, then those would be filled with candidate from other minority communities. By any means it must not be done with candidate from the majority part. Secondly, if it becomes a judicial deadlock with the situation which cannot be avoided, the recommendation is that among the total population of other backward classer 8.4% is minority. For that reason from the total 27% reservation for OBC’s 8.4% seat must be kept aside for minorities. This 8.4% would be divided into two parts – 6% for Muslims and 2.4% for other minorities.
Two things are also attached with this issue. One is that in the 3rd paragraph of 1950’sdirective principles of the Constitution, only the backward part of Hindu population was considered and they were recognized as Scheduled Caste. Sikhs and Buddhists were included later. It was done clearly on religious basis. Muslims, Christians and Parsees were not included and the reason behind that was an also religious consideration. Then how does reservation remain a secular process. The commission justly recommended abolishing the directive principles of the Constitution of 1950’s. The recognition of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes should be done secularly. That means, the manner in which a portion of the Hindu population namely Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are given recognition and reservation, Muslims and other minorities should also be given the same privilege of reservation like them.

The Chief Minister of our state welcomed the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission’s Report on the very next day of its submission to the parliament. West Bengal Government has taken the recommendation and started to work on this matter not bothering about what the Central Government wants to do with the report or about the ‘Action Taken Report’ which has to deliver. The commitment of Left Front Government for the all round development of minorities has been proved once again.


Leftists do not support reservation based upon religion. The Constitution of the country also carries the same essence. But for the upliftment of the backward classes the left has been constantly waging struggles in and out of the parliament and will also continue to do so as far as the fight for ensuring social justice are concerned. But to our greatest surprise we are watching those people are making the highest form of opposition who till yesterday believed reservation to be the only solution for upliftment of the minorities. The basic reason behind this has been envy of the ugliest order. They are actually scared about the reality. They are realizing that their existence will be at stake. The so called movements they were spearheading will now be blunt. The Left Front Government has excluded the ‘creamy layer’ from the ambit of reservation. Two or three days back a traditional organization of Muslims (led by incompetent leaders) has suddenly come up with a war cry-“we want reservations for all Muslims”. The Ranganath Mishra Commission however, has suggested for the exclusion of the creamy layer. If owners of Pataka Industries, Howrah Biri or Wipro start demanding reservations it is going to be an absurd thing. Alas! Many people are forgetting that a minimum level of common sense is required even when you are blindly opposing something. The Left Front Government is committed to ensure the forward march of backward Muslims. The commitment is not only limited to the sphere of providing jobs; it also covers the basic and important questions of expansion of modern scientific education. The entire process is integrally associated with the overall development of West Bengal. And the present decisions of the Government will be recognized in that very spirit.

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