Muslims constitute 27.01 per cent of the population of West Bengal but their share in the population of the state’s poor is much higher. Over 80 per cent of the Muslim families of West Bengal survive on a monthly income of Rs 5000 or less. Precisely 38.3 per cent of families have to make do with Rs 2500 per month or less.
These sordid facts have come to light through a report Living Reality of Muslims in West Bengal, released on 14 February at Kolkata’s Gorky Sadan in the presence of renowned economist Professor Amratya Sen. Talking to mediapersons, Sen said that since the Trinamool Congress government came to power in the state in 2011, the condition of Muslims had improved a little but it was nothing to write home about.
This report, which did not figure prominently in the Indian media, focuses on the socio-economic, health and educational indicators of Muslims. The 368-page report has been compiled by two Kolkata-based research agencies Association SNAP and Guidance Guild under the auspices of Professor Sen’s Pratichi India Trust.
The former CPM and the current TMC governments never tire of claiming that they brought about a significant improvement in the socio-economic status of the Muslims. The report says that the condition of the Muslims has improved slightly under the TMC rule in comparison with the CPM regime. The Muslims are now slightly better off in terms of health, educational status and representation in government services. But much needs to be done. To quote just one instance, the literacy rate of West Bengal’s Muslims is 7 per cent less than the national average.
Around 5 per cent of the Muslims who had dropped out of school said that they did so because they had no one who could tell them about the importance of education. No one around them inspired them to continue with their studies and they erroneously concluded that education would benefit them in no way.
The condition of Muslims is miserable if one considers the health facilities available to them. That the successive governments discriminated against them is very apparent. Using the state government’s own statistics and survey results, the report shows that the number of hospitals in any area is inversely proportional to the share of Muslims in the population. It says that in areas where the Muslim population is less than 15 per cent, the number of hospital beds is twice the average while in areas where they form more than 50 per cent of the population, the number of beds is half of the average.
Though the report underlines discrimination against the Muslims in West Bengal in the fields of employment, education and health, it refrains from laying the blame at the door of any political party. It says that Muslims were subjected to criminal discrimination but fights shy of saying who committed the crime. The report also does not put any government agency or department in the dock.
Muslims are the second-biggest religious community in West Bengal. In many assembly constituencies, Muslims voters play a decisive role. How then could the Left parties and TMC dare discriminate against the Muslims? That is because they know that the Muslims have no third alternative – they have to either vote for the Left Front or the TMC.
But both the sides are committing a grave error. This report has been released at a time when the elections are round the corner and both the political formations are living in a fool’s paradise if they think that the report won’t assume political colours. It remains to be seen what explanations the political parties proffer for their indictment in the report.
(Published in the April 2016 issue of the FORWARD Press magazine)