MOSTLY UNEDUCATED, the Muslim community of West Bengal also suffers from lack of job opportunities with 55
per cent of rural and 60 per cent of urban population — in the age group of 15 to 65 years — not engaged in any form of employment.
The findings, published in the report “Living Reality of Muslims in West Bengal”, throw light on the community’s dismal state and counters Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s claim that a lot has been done by her government to alleviate the condition of Muslims who account for 27 per cent of the state’s population.
The lack of employment opportunities also validates the Sachar Committees report, whose critical findings had first brought out the community’s poverty-stricken state in 2006. The academics involved in the recent study, carried out by NGOs and released by Prof Amartya Sen’s Pratichi Institute, had set out to establish whether the findings of the Sachar Committee was indeed “authentic”, taking into account the then Left Front government’s claim that the report was “based on second-hand information and therefore could not be relied upon”.
The study says under both governments — the former Left Front and the incumbent Trinamool Congress — the Muslim community has been lagging far behind in terms of education and employment.
“What makes things complicated is that low expectation regarding the possibility of getting a decent formal sector job (recognised income sources on which taxes are paid) may have a discouraging effect on the demand for education. Thus, certain groups in the economy tend to be trapped in a vicious cycle of low human capital-low earning-low human capital,” the study says.
In rural areas, the non-participation of Muslims in the workforce (55 per cent) holds a wide gap between the male and female members of the community. While 78.2 per cent of the Muslim male population are involved in some form of employment, only 8.9 per cent of their female counterparts earn.
This figure is even lower for the urban population, with only 70.1 per cent of men and 7.7 per cent of women engaged in employment. Nearly 60 per cent of the urban Muslim population do not have any kind of job.
Female work participation is the lowest in South Dinajpur (2.8 per cent) while Murshidabad records the highest with 21.5 per cent of them working. Significantly, half of the Muslim female population in Murshidabad and 70 per cent in Malda are involved in rolling bidis.
“The data shows that in West Bengal, women tend to have lower work participation in blocks where men too have lower participation, which is indicative of limited opportunities in general. Alternatively, an equally reasonable argument would be that the areas with high concentration of Muslims are also the areas with fewer job opportunities,” says the report.
Most of those employed work as daily wage labourers, mostly in the non-agricultural sector. The study finds that only 21.6 per cent of Muslim households are dependent on agriculture as many do not own land.
Only 1.54 per cent households depend on public sector jobs while employment in the private sector is even rarer. Out of the nearly 8,000 households surveyed, only one had a university teacher and none had any members employed as doctors, engineers or advocates. About 80 per cent of the Muslim households earn Rs 5,000 a month or less — close to the cut-off for BPL families — while 3.4 per cent earn Rs 15,000 a month or more.
Despite the high levels of poverty, only 31.8 per cent of the rural households own BPL cards and only 39.5 per cent have MGNREGA job cards. In many of the villages surveyed, those who did have MGNREGA cards and had been employed would very often have to pay bribes to their local panchayat to receive their dues, the study says.
A large portion of the Muslim community has also not been able to avail of government schemes such as Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme, Integrated Child Development Services Scheme, Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana and Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana. The lack of employment opportunities and access to benefits has also resulted in 17 per cent of the Muslim population migrating to other states in search for work.