Who is to be blamed for backwardness of Malda and Murshidabad?

By Mumtaz Alam Falahi, TwoCircles.net

TCN Series: Visit to Malda and Murshidabad, Part 4

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As soon as I stepped out of Malda Town Railway Station on April 2 the first person approached me knowing about my destination was a rickshaw puller. While taking me on his rickshaw to the bus stand to catch a bus for Murshidabad, the man told me he was Ziaur Rahman. There are in fact thousands of Ziaur Rahmans in Malda and Murshidabad. The two Muslim-dominated cities in West Bengal, once abode of Nawabs and royal families, are now the mines of rickshaw pullers, tonga wallas and agricultural laborers.

In our Delhi also, you will find every second rickshaw puller hailing from Bihar or West Bengal. If from West Bengal, most probably he would be from either of the two districts. This is Sheikh Noorul Islam standing with his rickshaw in Jamia Nagar in New Delhi. Father of six, Noorul Islam who is from Noorpur area in Malda is pulling rickshaw for the last one year. He says there are a number of people from his hometown doing the same work in this city. Near him is Mohibur Rahman from Kalia Chak area in Malda. For the last one month he is pulling rickshaw in Delhi. Earlier he would work as a laborer in fields in Malda. Both have their families in their hometown.

Economic condition

Syed Noore Khuda, Murshidabad Secretary, Madrasa Teachers’ Association, says: Murshidabad is financially and educationally most backward in the country. Malda is not better either. Since Independence till 1977 Muslims share in government jobs decreased from 13% to 8% in West Bengal. But according to Sachar Committee report submitted in 2006, now the percentage is 2.1.

According to Census 2001, Muslims constitute 63.67% of population of Murshidabad while 49.72% of Malda.

Ghulam Kibriya Sarkar, mechanical engineer who teaches at a polytechnic in Murshidabad agrees: Muslims are very poor here. There is lack of facilities. NREGA, a central government scheme for rural employment, is not implemented properly here. Out of 100 days compulsory job, they are getting job for just 4-7 days.

Migration of Muslim elite class caused backwardness

When did the backwardness of Muslims in two districts begin? Dr Mujeebur Rahman, ex-Principal, Ziaganj College in Murshidabad, says: After Independence the district (also Malda) was given to Pakistan for three days. After that it was segregated to India. The educated and elite class left for Pakistan. Only marginalized people remained here. Muslims here were agriculturalists. They lost land to other side of the border. They became agricultural and landless laborer. Very few Muslims are in white collar jobs.

“Until 1971, the educated and intellectuals who did not find job here shifted to Pakistan but after the emergence of Bangladesh the Muslims in Murshidabad find it inevitable to remain here as the condition in Bangladesh was not good, there was crisis and lack of job and other facilities,” says Dr Mujeebur Rahman.

Syed Noore Khuda gives the same reason that is lying in the past for the backwardness of the present. “The backwardness began after Independence when the elite Muslims left for East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Those who remained here became economically very weak since then. While other communities changed their lives through businesses and government jobs, Muslims couldn’t. They are now rickshaw wallas, tonga wallas and agricultural laborers,” he says.

“Majority of those living in town areas in Murshidabad are non-Muslims. Among Muslims there are teachers and madrasa teachers, who have earned little more than other members of the community. They prefer to live in the town areas. Over the last 50 years Muslim percentage in town is just 2-3,” he adds.

Economic condition in Nawab era

S M Raza Ali Khan, eldest surviving son in the 8th generation of Nawab of Bengal Mir Jafar, argues the same reason rather strongly. “50 or 60 years back there was no such poverty among Muslims in the region. People were weavers and cultivators patronized by nawabs and rajas. Scholars, educated persons and maulvis were also patronized by nawabs. Nawabs had built 700 mosques in Murshidabad and each of them was attached with a madrasa. Each madrasa was patronized by either a nawab or a begum,” says the son of the dynasty long gone, rightly boasting of the shining nawab era.

In hot season people got involved in cottage industry in making nets and jalis. They were employed in orchards and gardens of mangoes. Nawabs cared for cottage industry of achaar, chatnis and murabbas. Today there is no factory and mill in this district. And the cottage industry has almost gone extinct. There is jute crop but no jute mill, Raza Ali Khan says.

“After the fall of the nawab empire and after Independence the Indian government has done nothing to look after the people because this is a Muslim-dominated district. Another reason is that political leaders particularly Muslims and maulvis did not work or think seriously for the community which was ignorant and uneducated. They never thought to educate the masses and bring them into mainstream. They just cared for their vote,” he laments.

Is the migration of the cream of the Muslim society also responsible for the current situation? Raza Ali Khan agrees and says: “Nawabs and their families and relatives had residences in Murshidabad but their zamindaris were in Rajshahi, Silhat and Khulna (all now in Bangladesh) from where they would fetch lakhs of rupees. Bengal was divided and that portion went to Eastern Pakistan (now Bangladesh). So those people who had businesses there migrated to Pakistan.”

Besides, the educated members of the nawab families were employed in government offices. Murshidabad was declared to be part of Pakistan for three days. When the government asked them about their choice of the country, they opted for Pakistan because Murshidabad was declared Pakistan. But after three days the district was returned to India but the option was not changed, so they had to migrate to Pakistan, Raza Ali Khan says and adds, after partition the government was reluctant to care for poor people and their education

Educational condition

“Due to economic impoverishment the educational awareness has not been up to the mark. The number of primary schools in ratio with population is very low. Due to economic backwardness, high school going students find it difficult to continue. It’s a vicious circle. Educational and economic backwardness are going side by side,” says Dr Mujeebur Rahman who has retired as principal of Ziaganj college in the district.

“Most of Muslim students now are first generation learners. They are thinking to improve their lot through education,” he says.

Syed Noore Khuda, who teaches in a high madrasa, blames the government for the educational backwardness of the district. He says: “Total primary schools in the district are 3174 and higher secondary madrasas are 500. Given the size of population the numbers are very low. Required is more than 1000 high schools but there are just 500 only.”

“So poor are people that Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Sarva Shiksha Mission did not get much success here as children dropped after some initial classes because parents needed money to keep the home kitchen burning. The children are working in brick fields or in construction sector or in fields,” Syed Noore Khuda says.

S M Raza Ali Khan says: “The current educational condition not very satisfactory. There is no high educational institution, no university in the district of Murshidabad which had a galaxy of learned people, a nucleus of education. But after partition the government did not open any institute just because the district was Muslim dominated.”

Original Murshidabad has no institution, no college. The government offices have been shifted to new district headquarters Behrampur where Muslims are about 2-3%.

Three decades of Left Front government and Muslims

Over the last thirty years the Left Front led by CPM has ruled West Bengal but the condition of Muslims in Malda and Murshidabad has not changed. The political representatives (from Panchayat to Parliament) of these two districts are either from Left or Congress (majority of them, and many Muslims, from Congress over years) but they could not help the community improve their lot.

Has the state government been biased regarding development of Murshidabad and Malda as they are represented by Congress? Syed Noore Khuda says, yes. “The state government has not been honest in implementing welfare schemes in Murshidabad and Malda as these districts have generally been represented by the Congress.”

Dr Mujeebur Rahman does not agree that the state government of Left Front has been biased regarding development of Murshidabad and Malda. “I don’t think so. But the schemes and projects implemented by bureaucrats and among them there is apathy towards Muslims, there is indifference about Muslim community. Along with it Muslims have been not very careful about health and sanitation issues.”

“What is irony is that the districts are mostly represented by Muslims yet they are backward. Malda is at the bottom of literacy and Murshidabad just over it.”

He says that over some years there has been some improvement in economic and educational condition of Muslims in the two districts.

“After the formation of School Service Commission and educational awareness spreading among the community, Muslim youths have got some job in teaching field. Over one decade, Muslims boys are getting jobs in schools. In ratio to total population, however, it is very scanty.”