10 years of Jharkhand: Whither Muslims?

Special series on Jharkhand’s Muslims- Part- 1

By Mahtab Alam and Mary Abraham for TwoCircles.net,

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Jharkhand, the 28th state of the Indian Union, was brought into existence by the Bihar Reorganization Act on November 15, 2000, considered to be the birth anniversary of the legendary leader Birsa Munda. Jharkhand, famous for its rich mineral resources, occupies an area of 28,833 square miles (74,677 square km) and has a population of nearly 300.1 lakh people according to 2008 estimates. On the completion of 10 years of Jharkhand’s formation, TwoCircles.net presents a special series on the Muslims’ socio-economic, educational and political situation in the state, their contribution in the movement that led to the formation of the state of Jharkhand and issues and challenges ahead for the community. –Editor.

Muslims in Jharkhand

As per 2001 Census, out of the total Muslim population of India of 139.2 million, the population of Muslims in Jharkhand was 37.3 lakhs, that is, 13.8% of the state population. Of the top fifty Muslim districts of the country, listed according to their percentage share of the total Muslim population, only two districts, Pakur and Sahibganj, with percentage shares of 32.4 % and 31.3% respectively, figure at the 47th and 48th place. These two districts occupy the highest share of the Muslims’ population in the state and are the most backward in every sense.

The oldest Jama Masjid of Ranchi which dates back to mid 19th
century [Photo Courtesy – newswing.com]

Literate but not educated

Muslims in Jharkhand, in terms of literacy rate stand slightly better than the state average. According to 2001 census, 55.6% Muslims are literate, which is 2% more than the state average. However, at the same time among all the minority communities, Muslims are the least literate as Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists have a literacy rate of 87.8%, 67.9%, 62.5% respectively. According to a 2001 report, the mean years of schooling of children aged 7-16 years is 3.16% for males and 2.58 % for females. Not only that, in terms of education, Muslims in Jharkhand figures second from the bottom of a list of 28 states of India. According to ‘Flash Statistics: Elementary Education in India and Progress Towards Universal Elementary Education (2006-07)’, released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) on 22 January 2008, Bihar remains the state with the worst elementary education report card, while Jharkhand is the second-last. The same report also states Jharkhand as having very low levels of Muslim
enrolment in schools.

What about higher education? Although, there isn’t any official or unofficial data regarding the same, a glance at the State’s most important if not prestigious institution, Ranchi University, can tell you about the situation of Muslims in higher education. According to Shariq Ansar, a student activist and student of Journalism at the University, except in the Urdu department, the numbers of Muslim students are almost negligible or can be counted on the fingers. In premier institutions like the Indian School of Mining (ISM), Dhanbad, Birla Institute of Technology (BIT), Mesra, Xavier Institute of Social Services (XISS), Ranchi, Rajendra Institutes of Medical Sciences (RIMS), Ranchi and other technical and professional institutes, the situation is equally bad.

Urban Muslims are more deprived

When one looks at the work participation rate for Muslims in Jharkhand, it was 43.5% for males and 18.8% for females in 2001, according to the report of the Rangnath Mishra Commission. The report further states that Muslims of Jharkhand have recorded the highest employment in household industries, among all other religious communities. Other occupations which recorded sizeable employment were cultivation (25.2%) and agricultural labour (27%). In this regard, the Sachar Committee report’s figures of 6.7% as state employed, 3.4% in health, female and child welfare department and, 7.4% in the home department. What is the most startling fact about the economic
condition is that urban Muslims of Jharkhand are more deprived as compared to their rural counterparts. Sachar Committee, in its report tells us that the state’s urban poverty for Muslims stands at 32% while it is much lower at 18 % for the rest of the population of the state. This stands in contrast to rural poverty which is 36% for Muslims and 38% for the rest of the state. What is important to note here is the fact that even though the rural poverty level is higher for Muslims in the state in comparison to the urban population, it is almost at par with the figures for the rest of the population in the rural areas. In contrast, the poverty gap between urban Muslims and the rest of the population in the urban areas is remarkably huge, with a record difference of almost 14 percentage points.

The income per capita (or per person) and the consumption expenditure per person is an important indicator of the well being of an individual. As compared to urban areas, the condition of Muslims is relatively better in rural areas, although the monthly per capita expenditure level itself is much lower than that in the urban areas. Here also, the gap between the monthly expenditure per Muslim in the urban areas and the rest of the population is much higher than the same gap for the rural areas. It is only Rs. 727 for urban Muslims while Rs. 1017 for the rest of the population in the urban areas. At Rs. 423 for Muslims in the rural areas and Rs 439 for the rest of the population, they are much better when compared to their urban counterparts.

Politically nowhere

Politically, Muslims in Jharkhand are no different from the other development indices. In fact, the political scenario is worse. In 2000, there were 5 Muslim MLAs out of 82 but in 2005, there were only 2 MLAs out of 81 and in the last assembly election, they some how managed to equal the number of seats won in 2000. Likewise in 2004, the first general election after the formation of the state, one Muslim Member of Parliament was elected. But today there is none as the lone Muslim MP, Furqan Ansari, lost his seat in the last general elections. Even if one forgets the numbers, there are other things to depict the political backwardness of Muslims in the state. Since its formation, only one person has been appointed as the minister time and time again and that too, with a portfolio of much lesser importance as compared to others. Muslims are the most divided community politically and they don’t have any considerable political influence or weight, despite recording a higher population than the Dalits in the state. Notably, Muslims here are essentially viewed as mere vote bank.

In the end, one can ask if it was better for Muslims in the erstwhile state. No, it is not that Muslims were not in favour of a new State. On the contrary, they played an important role in the formation of the state of Jharkhand and other political movements. “The dream of the formation of Jharkhand has been cherished by the Jharkhand Movement in which the Muslims have played a vital role. The contribution of Muslims in the formation of the state is no less than the contribution of any other community,” says Ali Hassan, a senior political activist from Jamtada, a district of Jharkhand. “But, it is a matter of grave concern that the contribution of Muslims in the movement that led to the formation of Jharkhand is already being completely neglected,” he adds.

The next article in this series will be on Jharkhand Movements and the Muslims’ Contribution.