Begum Roquia: the first Indian woman sci-fi writer

Sultana’s Dream a science-fiction was first published in 1905 making it probably the first Indian sci-fi work. It is a short story written by Roquia Sakhawat Hussain. Begum Roquia was born in 1880 at Rangpur which is now in Bangladesh.

Begum Rokeya
[photo from Wikipedia]

Sultana’s Dream was first published in The Indian Ladies’ Magazine. Fortunately, the text of the story has survived. It reads like a feminist vision of the future. But it is not just a feminist vision but also a wonderfully written sci-fi story. It is a vision where women rule the country and men are holed up in “zanana” which is now called “mardana.” Since women are ruling there is peace everywhere and through the use of science all work is done efficiently and smartly.

Some snippets from the story:

Why men should be locked-up:

And you do not think it wise to keep sane people inside an asylum and let loose the insane?’

‘Of course not!’ said I laughing lightly.

‘As a matter of fact, in your country this very thing is done! Men, who do or at least are capable of doing no end of mischief, are let loose and the innocent women, shut up in the zenana! How can you trust those untrained men out of doors?’

‘Since the “Mardana” system has been established, there has been no more crime or sin; therefore we do not require a policeman to find out a culprit, nor do we want a magistrate to try a criminal case.’

Harnessing solar power:

The kitchen was situated in a beautiful vegetable garden. Every creeper, every tomato plant was itself an ornament. I found no smoke, nor any chimney either in the kitchen — it was clean and bright; the windows were decorated with flower gardens. There was no sign of coal or fire.

‘How do you cook?’ I asked.

‘With solar heat,’ she said, at the same time showing me the pipe, through which passed the concentrated sunlight and heat. And she cooked something then and there to show me the process.

Vehicle of the future:

Then she screwed a couple of seats onto a square piece of plank. To this plank she attached two smooth and well-polished balls. When I asked her what the balls were for, she said they were hydrogen balls and they were used to overcome the force of gravity. The balls were of different capacities to be used according to the different weights desired to be overcome. She then fastened to the air-car two wing-like blades, which, she said, were worked by electricity. After we were comfortably seated she touched a knob and the blades began to whirl, moving faster and faster every moment. At first we were raised to the height of about six or seven feet and then off we flew. And before I could realize that we had commenced moving, we reached the garden of the Queen.

My friend lowered the air-car by reversing the action of the machine, and when the car touched the ground the machine was stopped and we got out.

Read the full story story here. I thank Nasiruddin Haider Khan for telling me about Begum Roqiya.

Poor Health Infrastructure In West Bengal; Muslims Worst Affected

By Sabir S. Ghaffar,

India is looking forward to becoming a Developed Country by 2020. However, its aim of being a developed nation would necessarily encompass its Health Sector as well, the condition of which can be judged by looking at an important state like West Bengal.

If we look at Germany, it is one of the 8 most developed countries in the world. The population of Germany was 8,22,70,000 in 1998 and in 2003 the population of West Bengal equaled that of Germany. Thus West Bengal should have had 30,00,699 health practitioners, 8,26,923 nurses (B.Sc) and 9,698 midwife nurses. Moreover, there should have been an arrangement for 72 beds per 10,000 population (which is the least population in a Gram panchayat of West Bengal). But West Bengal’s poor health infrastructure can in no way be compared to that of Germany.

If India is to become a developed nation, it must aim for the health infrastructure as in other developed nations.

Kerala and West Bengal

Kerala’s progress in development of health infrastructure is praiseworthy and worth emulating amongst all the States in India. If a state like Kerala with very less revenue from very limited Industry can progress so much that its Health Sector can be nearly compared to that of any developed country, then how come a state like West Bengal, whose industrial revenue touches 1.5lakh crore, be so backward?

In 2001, 11.4% of rural people in Kerala did not get Health service prior to death, while in West Bengal the figure stood at 85.3%.

Health Model in Gram Panchayats

In West Bengal around 5-25,000 people reside in each gram panchayat. In a gram panchayat area with an average population of 15000 people, at least 30 nurses, doctors, health assistants along with 30 beds are required which is not fulfilled in most cases.

The health sector being in such poor condition in rural West Bengal, has severely affected the Muslim Minority community in particular as 83% of Muslims reside in rural Bengal.

Muslims of West Bengal are the worst affected of poor health-care in the state. [TCN Photo]

Children’s Nutrition

In 2004-2005 Mid day Meal Scheme for school going children has benefited 35.6% of SCs and STs and 33.3% of Muslim children. However, in Karnataka 42.8% of Muslim children and in Himachal Pradesh 39.7% of Muslim children have been benefited from the Mid Day Meal scheme. Thus in West Bengal, the percentage of Muslim children being benefitted from this scheme is not only behind those in other states of India but also behind the percentage of SC and ST children in West Bengal being benefitted under this scheme.

Moreover, Government recognized Madrasas in West Bengal have not been included in the Mid day Meal Scheme and as a result the weight of Muslim children is very less due to malnutrition.

Arsenic Contaminated Ground Water

West Bengal has the world’s largest case of Arsenic contamination of ground water along with Bangladesh. Around 3000 villages are affected by this menace which leads to several deadly diseases.

Thalassemia: In West Bengal, 5000 Thalassemia affected children are born every year. But treatment facilities for this disease are available only in Kolkata and Bardhaman Medical College. Thus from Toofanganj to Purulia, many people affected from this disease are deprived of this treatment owing to financial constraints.

Heart Diseases: 10% population in the cities and 5% population in rural areas of Bengal are affected by heart diseases. In a gram panchayat of about 15000 populations, at least 950 people are affected by heart related diseases. At least one heart specialist is required in every gram panchayat of West Bengal and at least one heart specialist for every 7000 population in cities. This requirement is far from being fulfilled.

Life Expectancy: In West Bengal cities average life expectancy is around 68 years (2001). In Kolkata it is 74 years while in Howrah, it is 73 years. It should be noted that in spite of pollution, the life expectancy is high in Kolkata and Howrah due to improved health infrastructure. However in Malda life expectancy is 55 years, in Murshidabad 59 years, in Coochbehar 55 years and in Birbhum 57 years. These are minority dominated districts with the least life expectancy. Here the health infrastructure is poorest. 35% of Muslims in rural Bengal have a life expectancy upto only 50 years of age.

Women: Men ratio: In India the population of Males surpasses that of females by 10 crores. In India, there is 933 female for every 1000 males. In 6 years, there will be 927 girl children per 1000 boy children. However, amongst Muslims that will be 950 girl children per 1000 boys, and amongst Muslims of West Bengal it will be 968 girls per 1000 boys. In Kerala it will be 956 girls and other communities in West Bengal will have 960 girls per 1000 boys.

Presently in West Bengal districts like Kolkata for every 1000 boys there are 828 girls, Howrah (909girls:1000boys), Bardhman (921girls:1000 boys), North 24 Parganas (927 girls:1000 males). In Kerala for every 1000 males there is 1058 females.

The ratio of girl child to male child is low due to prevalence of girl child abortion. Amongst Muslims in West Bengalthe female: male ratio is higher due to their religious beliefs which forbid killing of girl child. Moreover it has been seen that girl child abortion is prevalent most amongst economically strong states and communities as we can see in case of Chandigarh (773 girls per 1000 boys), Punjab (874 girls per 1000 boys) and Haryana (861 girls per 1000 boys).

Livelihood Related Diseases: It has been mentioned in the Sachar Report how Muslims especially in West Bengal are deprived from education and Government jobs and look for employment as unskilled labourers and artisans.

These unskilled labourers are made to work in extremely unhygenic environment and as a result are affected by many diseases like malaria or diarrhea. There are many Muslims who work as construction labourers and fall down from tall high rise buildings, either getting paralysed for life or face instant death. However, there are no government hospitals and schemes/insurances to provide assistance to them.

Big populations of Muslims work in small tiny leather factories in extremely unsafe conditions. Many a times labourers are burnt to death due to inadequate or absent fire safety regulations in these tiny one room factories.
Also, thousands of Muslim women and children are employed in bidi weaving works, who suffer from lung diseases.

Therefore livelihood related diseases and accidents among Muslims are prevalent, but the government has hardly looked into these matters.

Pulse Polio Vaccination

A big section of the Muslim Population boycott Pulse Polio vaccinations due to a number of other reasons apart from the religious taboos.
• There is a widespread belief that such vaccinations will make them impotent.
• Due to opposition from a section of local maulvis
• Due to inadequate experience of health officials giving the vaccination, children develop blisters or boils around the area of vaccination. The local health centre or health officials have no cure for this and the poor villagers need to run to ojhas or local quacks to relieve their child from the pain. When the ojhas and quacks fail, the poor villagers need to visit a doctor in Kolkata which is a strain on their finance and they also lose time for labour for earning.
• Due to less awareness of the gravity and danger of illnesses and diseases
• Villagers boycott such campaigns as a symbol of protest to government apathy towards neglecting their demand for drinking water, ration and below poverty line cards, etc.
• Many a times health officials use threat of police if villagers refuse to participate in such campaigns which lead the villagers to adopt a resistant mentality towards such campaigns.

Initiatives Needed

To create a new developed India, health services must be given foremost priority which includes proper nutrition, clean arsenic free drinking water, developed sewerage system, regular health awareness campaigns, proper living conditions for the poor etc. Special plans must be implemented for development of minority dominated districts as well as proper living conditions must be ensured. Health Insurance schemes must be launched and more and more of rural poor especially minorities must be brought under its gambit. Health infrastructure needs to be improved and made affordable and accessible to the poor villagers. Proper vision, efficient administration, able and willing Government is required to bring in the required impetus for development of West Bengal and the living conditions of its poor, women, children, adivasis and Muslim minorities.

  • 35.6%of SCs and STs and 33.3% of Muslim children benefitted from Mid day Meal Scheme
    (2004- 2005)
  • 5000 Thalassemia affected children are born every year in WB
  • 10% population in the cities and 5% population in rural areas of Bengal are affected by heart diseases
  • Average life expectancy in WB is 68 yrs but in Malda is 55 yrs, in Murshidabad 59 yrs, in Coochbehar 55 yrs and in Birbhum 57 yrs.
  • 35% of Muslims in rural Bengal have a life expectancy upto only 50 yrs
  • 85.3% population did not get Health service prior to death

Children in west Bengal suffering from low weight on birth

Comparison % wise Less Weight Child(0-71months) Extremely less weight children
Muslim 50 15.0
Hindu 43.0 12.2

Children detected with anaemia In West Bengal Comparison %wise

Muslim 98.6
Hindu 96.4

Pregnant Women in West bengal suffering from anaemia Comparison %wise

Muslim 98.6
Hindu 96.8

Source: Reproductive and Child Health Survey (2002-2004), International Institute For population science, Mumbai 2006

(The writer can be reached at

Reservation For Muslims In West Bengal – Gimmick or Affirmative Action

By Sabir S. Ghaffar,

The Constitution is the State Religion of India. Every state, administration, judiciary, and every citizen is duty bound to abide by the Constitution. Equality of every citizen irrespective of caste, religion, language, place of birth, profession etc. is the vision and aim of the Constitution. If in any office, or state administration, or in any post the representation of any community is below its proportion of population, it must be understood that inequal treatment has been meted out to that particular community.

According to the Constitution, any form of discrimination based on religion, caste, race, and gender is punishable by law. Yet no observer can deny that caste is a ubiquitous aspect of Indian social life. Caste is something that the state does not recognize and approve of, but its presence is undeniable.

State-wide Feb. 2010 campaign by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind for Muslim reservation in West Bengal

Empowerment of the community through legal, constitutional ways

We can be proud of having such a secular, democratic constitution of ours. Our constitution can be described as one of the best in the world. I would like to cite certain vital clauses of Indian Constitution which ensure Minority Rights.

Article 14: Equality before Law

Article 15(1): Prohibition of Discrimination on the ground of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth etc.

Article 15(4): Enabling provision for advancement for socially and educationally backward citizens including SC/ST

Article 16(1): Equality for Educational Opportunities

Article 16(2): Protection against discrimination on employment

Article 16(4): Enabling Provision for making reservation in employment

Article 25: Freedom of Faith etc.

Article 29: Protection of Culture, language etc.

Article 30: Right for establishment and administration of educational institutions by the minorities according to their choice.

In addition to the above constitutional guarantees, there are volumes of recommendations by various commissions such as:-

1. 1985 Kaka Kalekar Commission
2. 1980 B.P. Mandal Commission
3. 1983 Gopal Singh Panel
4. 1986 National Policy On Education With A Separate 5. Chapter For Minority Education
6. 2006 Sacchar Committee
7. 2009 Ranganath Misra Commission

State-wide Feb. 2010 campaign by Popular Front of India for Muslim reservation in West Bengal

It may also be noted that several state level committees and commissions were also constituted in the same direction. If we analyze the situation in its reality of contemporary Indian situation in respect of the minorities it is not at all happy. Sachar Committee and Ranganath Misra Commission both agree that the Muslims in the country has been neglected like anything and in many cases their position is lower than SC/ST. Sachar Committee which looked into the various problems connected with equity, identity and security reveals that the position of the Muslim minority in India is really deplorable. If you verify all the development indicators, Muslims are in the lowest minimum. Both these commissions are of the view that empowerment of the community can be possible only through the united effort of the Community. Both these committees have arrived at a conclusion that unless political power is gained things will go from bad to worse.

Sachar Committee Report

On 9th March 2005 The Prime Minister’s Office in India, through a Press Release, had ordered a High Level Committee headed by former Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajinder Sachar to find out the social, economic, educational status of the Indian Muslims. By November 2006, the committee submitted its findings in the form of a Report to the Prime Minister’s Office. The findings of the Report included the states and districts in which Muslims were concentrated, their occupations, their income and property, the literacy level in the community, school drop-out rate, child death rates etc. and their comparison with other communities, the percentage of Muslims in government and private jobs, the percentage of Muslims getting Bank Loans, the availability of educational and health services to the community, and even the percentage of Muslims included in the OBC category in various states.

In this Report, it is found that the Muslim population of West Bengal state stands at 25.2%, however only 9.2% have got bank loans and only 2.1 % are in Government Jobs. This Report also compares the conditions of Muslims in various states. Amongst the recommendations of the Sachar Report are increasing the participation of Muslims in the Political process in order to bring them into the mainstream, giving importance to madrasa education, increasing the percentage rate of Muslims in government and non-government jobs, helping the community to get loans from banks and other agencies, as well as improving the infrastructure in Muslim concentrated districts and areas. However, the Sachar Report stopped short of recommending reservations for Muslims in education, jobs and other sectors. However on the basis of the facts and figures including detailed research by the committee and included in the report, it was beyond doubt that the Indian Muslim community was a backward community, and the unfavorable bias of the State and Administration towards the Muslim minority was to a great extent responsible for this backwardness of the community. Without ‘affirmative’ action by the state, and serious policy changes to uplift the single largest religious minority of the country, it will not be possible to take out the community from this backwardness. In spite of the Sachar Report falling short of recommending Reservation of the Muslim minority of the country proportionate to their share in population, in order to materialize its other recommendations extending reservation to the Indian Muslim community in all spheres was important.

Ranganath Mishra Commission Report

In the year 2004, the government of India formed a commission “National Commission For Religious and Linguistic Minorities”. Former judge of Supreme Court Ranganath Mishra was appointed Chairman of the Commission. Its purpose was to identify the socially and economically backward people among religious and linguistic minorities. The commission was meant to recommend reservation and other development-oriented measures for educational and economic development of this portion of the Indian citizens.

The commission submitted its report to the Prime Minister in 2007. After that no proceedings and movements were seen in this regard. Some part of the report got leaked and was published in the Hindu newspaper. (The entire report was published on Later it was produced in the winter session of the Parliament in December 2009. The commission has given suggestion on many issues like education, job, administration and legislative system. The recommendations are made considering the 16(4) of the Constitution. While the recommendations were made, the provisions of article 16(4) were kept in mind.

Two recommendations are very important. Firstly, 15% posts in every Central and State Government department must be reserved for minorities — 10% would be for Muslims and 5% for other minorities. If Muslim candidates are not found for the above mentioned 10% posts, then those would be filled with candidate from other minority communities. By any means it must not be done with candidate from the majority part. Secondly, if it becomes a judicial deadlock with the situation which cannot be avoided, the recommendation is that among the total population of other backward classer 8.4% is minority. For that reason from the total 27% reservation for OBC’s 8.4% seat must be kept aside for minorities. This 8.4% would be divided into two parts – 6% for Muslims and 2.4% for other minorities.

Two things are also attached with this issue. One is that in the 3rd paragraph of 1950’s Constitutional Order, only the backward part of Hindu population was considered and they were recognized as Scheduled Caste. Sikhs and Buddhists were included later.

It was done clearly on religious basis. Muslims, Christians and Parsees were not included and the reason behind that was also religious consideration. Then how does reservation remain a secular process? The commission justly recommended abolishing the directive principles of the Constitution of 1950’s. The recognition of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes should be done secularly. That means, the manner in which a portion of the Hindu population namely Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are given recognition and reservation, Muslims and other minorities should also be given the same privilege of reservation like them.

Mishra Commission and Responsibility of Central Govt

In order to materialize the recommendations of the Ranganath Mishra Commission, the Central Government’s role is most significant. In order to declare any community SC/ST the Central Government needs to pass legislation in Parliament, in the same manner in order to materialize the 15% reservation for Minorities the central government will need to play a significant role. The problems in extending reservation to minorities as came out in the Balaji case, the central government will need to ensure that the reservation for minorities is extended by overcoming the problems by adopting adequate measures, including amending the constitution to allow reservation for any community ‘backward’ in proportion to its population. In the Balaji case 50% had been capped as the highest permissible quota. In the Commission it has been shown that as per article 15(4) of the Constitution, any community may be declared as backward and required measures and ‘ affirmative action’ may be taken to remove the backwardness of the community.

Reservation for Muslims in West Bengal

What is the Government Announcement?

Religion cannot be the basis of this Reservation. The sole criterion is backwardness. From now on, 10% jobs are reserved for Muslims who remain economically, educationally and socially backward. Already there is 7% reservation for other backward class which reaches 17% after addition of this 10%. This privilege is only for Muslims who are lagging behind. The leading Muslim population will not be under the ambit of Reservation. Muslims having a yearly Income of 4.5 lakhs or above are out of this Reservation. Presently Reservation will be provided in the job sector.

Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen conference on Muslim reservation in March 2010 in Hyderabad

What is the process of identification of the backward Muslims?

A commission has been working in West Bengal on this regard. After receiving application from relevant person the commission will investigate the case, summon the applicant as witness, visit the area if needed, and will take the decision. As many as 12 sections of Muslim community are already in the OBC list. Three-four new sections are going to be included. Another 10-12 new applications are with the Commission for consideration. The Chief Minister of West Bengal has promised to see that the total process is accelerated.

The Total Process will comprise of 3 stages; Firstly, identifying the backward section, secondly, identifying the rich section whose yearly income is 4.5 lakhs or above ; Thirdly, supplying the identified persons with certificates by the respective Govt. Official at the earliest.

What will be the Process of Implementation? Whether it will be through a bill in the assembly or through an Ordinance or by an administrative order it will be finalized later through observation. The Chief Minister has announced formation of a Committee that will look upon the entire situation. Representatives from the State Minority Development, OBC Welfare Department, and two commissions – Minority Commission and West Bengal Commission for Backward Classes would be engaged in this matter.

Who will benefit?

Muslim population in West Bengal is more than 2 crore. In percentage it is 25%. About 8.3% of the total Muslim population belong to the OBC list which stands at 16,38000. In this State the OBC list comprises 66 communities which include both Hindus and Muslims. Among them 12 are Muslims.

The literacy rate of the Muslims in West Bengal is very poor and stands at 54.5%, while the literacy level in the state stands at 64.6 %. The literacy rate amongst Muslim women in West Bengal is a poor 49.8% while the Women literacy level in the State stands at 59%. Madhyamik level school drop-out rate in the state is 78.74% while in the whole of India it stands at 62.54%. Mishra Commission report has mentioned the poor administration and facilities in Muslim girls hostels in the State. The Chief Minister of West Bengal Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has informed the Ranganath Commission about the very less number of Muslim educational institutions in the State. The Ranganath Mishra Commission Report has recommended 15% reservations for minorities in the country, out of which 10% would be for the single largest religious minority Muslim community. It has also recommended lessening the cut off marks, reducing price of forms, and other facilities extended to the SC and ST community in the country. It has also recommended special facilities in education for Muslim girls in particular.

In the 30 years of Left Front rule in West Bengal, the representation of Muslims in government jobs is lowest among all the states of India. The CPI-M led Left Front Government should have extended reservation to the Muslim minority community much before the forming of the Sachar Committee or Ranganath Mishra Commission. However the CPI-M led Left Front government kept harping on the constitutional obstruction to extending reservation to any religious minority or community. However there would have been no constitutional barrier to declaring the Muslim community as ‘backward’ and extending reservation benefits to the community on this basis. Many other states like Karnataka and Kerala in India had extended reservation benefits to the Muslim community much before the forming of the Sachar Committee was announced. Even Tamil Nadu has declared the Muslim community as OBC and the Muslims thereby stand to gain from the 70% reservation extended to the OBCs in Tamil Nadu. In West Bengal 12 sub communities amongst the Muslim Community were declared as OBC, however the OBC enjoy only 12% reservation in the State and no reservation in higher education. Therefore, in West Bengal, neither the Hindu OBC nor Muslim OBC has benefitted much from this.

In Kerala the reservation for the OBC is 40% (Muslims 12%, Erauya 24%, Latin Catholic 4%, Nadar 2%, ST 1%, dheerab 1%, vishwakarma 3%, other backward communities 3% ) and for schedule castes 10%. Had the CPI-M led Left Front State Government in West Bengal wanted they could have extended reservation benefits to the Muslim Community by declaring them as “backward”. However their version of not being able to include Muslims in the Reservation gambit due to constitutional barriers is nothing but a Big Lie to cover up their shortcoming.

After the Ranganath Mishra report was placed in parliament, the Chief Minister of West Bengal Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya announced 27% reservation for the OBC and 10% reservation was extended for the Muslim community in the state. However, the ambit of this reservation was limited to jobs and not education sector. On 8th February 2010 the announcement was made by the chief minister and on 9th February 2010 the CPI-M mouthpiece Ganashakti carried an article with the headline “10% reservation for Muslims in the State: The first step by West Bengal state in the light of the Mishra Commission report”. The CPI-M actual tried to bluff the Muslims by propagating that all these years the Muslim community could not be brought under the ambit of reservation due to constitutional barriers, however after the Ranganath Mishra Commission was tabled in Parliament, West Bengal was the first state in India to extend reservation benefits to the Muslim community.

However there are some serious questions to the 10% reservation extended to the Muslim community in West Bengal;

* Out of 2 crore Muslims residing in West Bengal, how many would be benefitting from this 10% reservation? In the current OBC List only 12 sub-communities of Muslims are included which are jola, fakir, hauyari, dhunia, kasai, nasa sheikh, pahariya muslim, shersabadi, bayen, hajam, chauduli, and batidar. The State Government puts their combined numbers at 15,38000. This number is merely speculation, as there is no official census to prove this. Khota, sardar, and beldar are also going to be included in the ambit of OBC, whose combined numbers stand at 10 lakhs as per the state government version. Apart from this mahaldar, abdaal, basni, and kankhalifa will also be brought under OBC. Thus the total number of Muslims which would be brought under OBC category would be less than 40 lakhs in number. This is less than 20% of the Muslim population of West Bengal. 60% of Muslims of West Bengal will still stand deprived of the advantages of Reservation. One more problem is the fact that Muslims have no solid proofs to prove their caste identity due to the absence of caste system in Islam and Muslim society, thus they face immense difficulties in securing OBC certificates.

* A few examples in this case might be helpful. There is a community among Muslims named ‘Guri.’ They are basically fishermen. Actually they are called so because they catch tiny (Guro) fishes. In my village only, there was a ‘Guripara’. Berhampore has a road named Gurimahal Road. Non-Muslims who catch fish enjoy reservations as schedule castes. The question is that why the Muslims doing the same work will be left out of reservation? In my village only, there was ‘Kolupara’. The Kolus make oil that means they produce mustard oil in wooden machine using cattle power. The number of Muslim ‘Patuas’ cannot be neglected. They live in Midnapore and are inside reservation. But ‘Lodha’ Muslims in that same Midnapore are not under the ambit of reservation.

* The ‘Lodhas’ live on primitive hunting system and their behavior, customs are almost like tribals but they are Muslims in their religious belief. In Midnapore there are also the ‘Kelas’ and ‘Kherias’ who have many things in common with the Hindu tribes. As Hindu the tribes are enjoying reservation but ‘Kherias’ miss it only on the ground of being Muslims. There is the ‘Ghoshi’ community in Barrackpore and Kharagpur who once came there from North India. They raise animals. ‘Tantias’ live at different places in Midnapore. They are connected with sericulture. There is a community named ‘Dhakuri’ at Amdanga, a place very near to Kolkata. They are very few in number and very poor in status. They recycle old clothes by making ‘Dhokra’ (heavy bedspread). There is a community called ‘Penchi’ at Aurangabad in Murshidabad. Their number is considerable. Some Muslims earn their livelihood as cobblers. Hindu cobblers are inside the periphery of reservation but Muslim cobblers are left out of it.

The second question is related to the percentage of reservation. The percentage recommended by the Ranganath Mishra Commission Report was 10%. This is a fair percentage keeping in mind that Muslims from 13% of the total Indian population. However, in a state like West Bengal where Muslims comprise 25.3%, at least 20% reservation must be extended to the community in education and jobs. Like in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, and Orissa where Muslims comprise less than 5% of population, the 10% reservation will not be extended to them.

The third question is related to the economic criteria for reservation. As per the State Government announcement, only those Muslims would be eligible for reservation whose income is less than Rs 4.5 lakh. Thus, children of school teachers or college teachers will be deprived of advantages of reservation. Thus it stands that one would not be able to apply for high posts in administration. This announcement would be welcome if the state Government had said that those with below the cap of Rs 4.5 lakh income per annum would be given first preference to the creamy layer.

If the CPI-M led Left Front State Government is actually serious in extending the Reservation benefits to the Muslim community in West Bengal they must:

* Declare the entire Muslim community in West Bengal as Backward Community.

* At least 20% posts must be reserved for Muslims in Government and semi-government jobs, Medical and engineering seats, and in all spheres of education.

* The state Government must say that those with below Rs 4.5 lakh income per annum would be given first preference to the creamy layer, however the creamy layer must not be deprived from the advantages of reservation.

It is through reservation benefits extended to them that the Muslim community in Kerala has been able to progress in education and jobs and empower themselves politically and socially. Even in Andhra Pradesh Muslims have been able to secure reservation for themselves by taking advantage of the constitutional articles for reservation in 340, 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution of India.

Article 16(4) of the Constitution lays down – “Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from

making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.” This article can be called a safeguard for minorities in order to enjoy benefits of “Reservation” as an “affirmative action “by the government. Kerala and Andhra Pradesh Muslims have been able to secure “reservation” for themselves on the basis of this article.

(The writer can be contacted at

Fate Of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s Descendants

The story of middle-aged Sultana Begum brings tears to one’s eyes. She runs a tea-stall in Howrah to earn a living for her family. Twenty-five years ago her husband Mirza Bedar Bakht, the great grandson of last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, died in penury.

Bedar Bakht sharpened knives to eke out living. After his death, the West Bengal government was approached by several organisations to provide an accommodation for the family. Sultana Begum ultimately got an accommodation but it was near the Red Light District. The goons occupied the house.

She continued to live in the slum. The anti-social elements preyed upon her daughters and she ran hither and thither to get protection for her daughters. Eminent writer Firoz Bakht Ahmad recounts that when he visited the house he stunned at the condition the family was living in. “There was absolutely nothing in the room in the name of household goods”.

The pension ended with her husband’s death long ago. The poignant story of the descendants of the last Mughal who had to see the sight of his own sons’ eyes gouged out and brought to him by the British and was exiled to Burma, proves the failure of the state and more so, the people to acknowledge the contribution of the heroes of our freedom struggle.