by MKA Siddiqui
Constituting over 10.6 million persons, or 25.2 per cent of the total population of West Bengal, 84.26 per cent of the Muslims are rural-based, while 15.74 per cent live in urban areas. Those in the rural areas are predominantly peasants and agricultural labour. In the city they are mainly artisans and handicraftsmen, as well as small traders.
Muslims constitute about 21 percent of Calcutta’s total population. Over 75 per cent of them live in slums or bastis around the Central Business District, in unimaginably bad housing condition, while a substantial number of the rest inhabit the older areas which do not differ from the slums.
A sample survey of the slum-dwelling Muslims showed that:
64.92 % are born in the slum, 12.58 % are born in the city (Calcutta), 3.90 % are born in West Bengal and 18.58 % are from the neighbouring states.
Male / Female Ratio among Muslims is 1000: 841, compared to the total population ratio of 1000:799.
The data discounts the idea that Muslim population in the slums is a "floating" population. Rather it is rooted in the city.
The living condition of the vast bulk of the Muslims can be judged from the fact over 65 per cent of the Muslim families, of the average size of 6.65 members, occupy from 67-160 sq.ft. of space, in which they live and work, engaging themselves in various crafts. The details are as follows:
2.31% occupied up to 66 sq.ft., 19.61% occupied 66-86 sq.ft., 17.12% occupied 81-100 sq.ft., 15.96% occupied 101-120 sq.ft., 2.12% occupied 121-140 sq.ft., 8.27% occupied 141-160 sq.ft., 5.00% occupied 161-180 sq.ft., 3.46% occupied 181-200 sq.ft. and 5.00% occupied 350 sq.ft. and above.
The occupational structure of the Muslims in the city differs sharply from that of the non-Muslims, in so far as Muslims are not only left to themselves for their own support but quite often face challenges from the socio-political system and often get dislodged from some of the comparatively more comfortable niches they carve out for themselves.
According to a survey of age grades in the Muslim population, numbering 926,769 in the city, those from 6-18 years, constituting about 40 %, or numbering 307,000, are supposed to be normally in educational institutions, but their enrollment figure did not exceed 15,000, or 4%. If we take into account all sorts of maktabs, madrasas, private schools, the enrollment figure does not exceed 9% of the total. Thus 91% of the boys and girls have no chance of going to school because they have no schools to go to, nor their socio-economic condition allows them to do so.
A large proportion of the lucky 4% or 15,000 who have the good fortune of getting admission in affiliated schools, drop out before reaching school final stage. The drop-outs have been estimated to be 80% of the total number enrolled. It is tragic that not less than 75% of the total number of Muslim children of school going age serve as child labour, absolutely unhindered by the administration.
Out of total number of over 600 schools in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation area, there are only 43 Urdu medium schools, and actually only 27 of these are recognized and the rest remain unrecognized.
Consequently the educational attainment of the Muslims in Calcutta was found to be as follows:
16.95% can only sign, 14.19% have studied up to primary level, 6.23% have studied up to secondary level, 2.75% have studied up to higher secondary level and 0.17% have studied up to graduate level or above.
But what is cause for a greater worry is the fact that the rate of literacy of Muslims in Calcutta is much lower today than what it was on the eve of Independence in 1947.
This is not the occasion to go back to the historical developments leading to a systematic downward mobility of the Muslims in the city and recession of their ‘social expectation’ that adversely affected their educational achievement. How they were simply made a tool in the hands of the dominant, to be utilized in their socio-economic endeavour. Muslims had taken this trend as their destiny until the very recent past.
Today they are gaining a vague consciousness of the gigantic problems that confront them, which are larger in proportion to the resources at their disposal. They are also not aware of the path that can lead them to achieve the goal, avoiding complications.
The plight of the people of this region is not only reflected in extremely bad living condition, political disempowerment, negligible employment in the organized sector, low level of literacy and education, marginality of their occupational pursuit and incredibly bad housing condition, but also the fact that they are the victims of the most sophisticated form of parochialism that shelters behind modernity and secularism. This has resulted in a low level of ‘social expectation’ and consequently retarded development.
The key to the solution lies in correct understanding, through hard and irrefutable facts, and through motivating and enabling the members of the community to take appropriate action for their solution.