By Jyoti Punwani
Jun 6, 2014
It took a little over seven months, and a final order by the State Information Commissioner Ratnakar Gaekwad himself, for the Movement for Peace and Justice (MPJ) to get a copy of the Mehmood-ur Rahman Committee report on the status of Muslims in Maharashtra. The MPJ received a copy of the report on June 2, after applying for it in October last year.
It had been submitted to the government in October last year, and was expected to be tabled in the December session of the Assembly, but that didn't happen. Till date, the report has not been officially released. With Assembly elections just five months away, it seems unlikely that it will be tabled, for its findings are a damning indictment on the state, which has been mostly ruled by the Congress since Independence.
The most disturbing finding was the community's loss of faith in the state's willingness to protect it during riots. The community felt police were against it and felt targeted by them. While Muslims were the first to be rounded up, even the perpetrators of violence against them were not arrested. Though the community constituted 10.6 per cent of the population, it comprised 27 per cent of prisoners in the state.
Among other measures such as dismissal of policemen who indulge in communal conduct, the report recommends greater recruitment of Muslims in the police, and a drive both by the state and by community leaders to get more Muslims to apply for police jobs.
One unnoticed fallout of the resultant feeling of insecurity is the restricted opportunities for women, who are often withdrawn from schools and forced to earn within their homes or neighbourhoods, making them subject to exploitation by middlemen and their own families.
Ghettoisation, primarily a result of insecurity, was seen as a major reason for discrimination by the state. Schools, colleges, public hospitals and sanitation facilities were found to be lacking in Muslim ghettoes, in which 90 per cent of the community was found to be living (only eight per cent lived in mixed areas). Even the distance to the nearest bus stop from these ghettoes was found to be 1.3 km away.
The report says that transport authorities admitted that Muslim areas were seen as trouble-prone, and thus few routes were planned through them. Many little-known forms of discrimination have been highlighted in the report. One was discrimination in health care.
Apart from the lack of public hospitals in ghettoes, the experience of Muslim women in these hospitals is a major reason for them to prefer private doctors, even if these were of dubious quality.
Hospital staff was especially rude with Burqa-clad women, making remarks about them being 'dirty', 'Ladaku' and having too many children. Incidentally, Muslim girls also complained that Burqas exposed them to harassment and discrimination in educational institutions, public transport and jobs.
The report breaks some myths about Muslims. Their fertility rate has decreased from 4.11 in 1992-'93 to 3.3 in 1995-'96, and further down to 2.8 in 2005-06, which is better than the rate for Maharashtra as a whole. The immunisation rate (63.9 per cent) is also higher among Muslim infants than the state average.
To overcome the discrimination faced by Muslims, the report recommends an anti-discrimination law on the grounds of the SC/St Atrocities Act, the creation of an equal opportunities commission, inclusion of Dalit Muslims into the SC category, and 8 per cent reservation in public housing, as well as government jobs and educational institutions.