Muslim women in Gujarat, as in India, are main victims of poverty, segregation, exclusion, insecurity, violence, ghettoization

muslim womenBy Sheba George*

Muslim women in India are in a process of dynamic change. The pendulum swings from extreme poverty, segregation, exclusion, insecurity, violence, and ghettoization to a determined and persistent struggle to reach aspirations of higher education and professional training for career building. They seek increased access to opportunities for socio-economic upward mobility, cultural rights, citizenship entitlements and political participation to be accepted and integrated in the national mainstream and live as equal citizens in a plural, equal civil society. It is against this backdrop that the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) requested India some time back to provide data on action taken on the recommendations of the Sachar Committee report (2005) on the status of education of Muslim women and girls.

Gaps in the implementation of the Sachar Committee findings that highlighted multiple levels of development deficit faced by Muslim minorities, and aggravated for women, do not match with the actual response on the ground. The Prime Minister’s 2006 15-point programme‘s visible intervention has been confined to pre-matriculate and matriculate support to Muslim girls, and schemes for quality education in madrasas, apart from providing infrastructure development in private aided and unaided minority institutions. Low budgetary allocation and inadequate mechanism and scale have further hindered the practical realization of efforts to minimize the inequality faced by Muslims women.

Muslim settlements and the nearby areas continue to have fewer government schools and hostels for girls to encourage them for higher education. Scholarship amount support is modest Rs 1,000 for pre-matriculate level (Class 1 to 7) and Rs 2,200 (Class 8 to 12) for matriculate level once in a year. The 15 point programme does not have a single programme focused on Muslim girls and women to cover issues of empowerment, health, political participation or access to other equal opportunities. Only 30% of pre-matriculate scholarships are earmarked for girls. One of the requirements of the scholarship is that parents’ or guardians’ income should not exceed Rs 1 lakh per year. It is given only to those students get   more than 50% marks from class I to X.

The criterion for selection – below poverty line (BPL) — to many of the further hurdles the Muslim community from overcoming the development deficits that stare in their faces. The 15 point programme gives emphasis to madrassa as the key area to enhance educational status of the Muslim community, when just 3.5% Muslim children go to madrassas, according to the Sachar Committee report. Rest of the 96.5% children does not have any well drawn out programmes, except the scholarship support.

Gujarat situation

In 2002, in Gujarat, 200 registered Muslim educational trusts were running schools with the Gujarat State Board curriculum. In 2013, 769 Muslim educational trusts are running such schools, all non-aided. Since the state government has abandoned its responsibility to educate the community, the community has taken upon itself to take up the job. An affidavit has to be undertaken by the minority-run institutions that they would not apply for grants from the state government.

A public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by a Muslim social activist and Congress leader Adam Chaki for non-implementation of the minority scholarship scheme. The Gujarat High Court gave an order to confirm the constitutional validity of the scheme. The state government subsequently moved the Supreme Court challenging the High Court order. The apex court on May 6, 2013 admitted the appeal and refused to stay the order on May 22, 2013. The Government of Gujarat finally announced its intention to implement the scheme through advertisements in Gujarat papers. Finally, the amounts were distributed in Gujarat in April 2014.

Juhapura, a Muslim-concentrated area of Ahmedabad with a population of 4 lakh, has 30 schools out of which there is only one primary government school and one secondary government school. Others are all run by Muslim educational trusts. Bombay Hotel, another Muslim ghetto in Ahmedabad with 1 lakh population, has only one government school from class 1 to 7 (Urdu/Gujarati medium). As a plan was implemented to build a bus depot/workshop in the area, the school building was demolished and relocated at a distance (Narol), surrounded by factories and a petrol pump next to it. It remains a temporary structure. Girls face issues reaching up to the school.

The 15point programme stresses on self-employment and wage employment for poor Muslims. Yet, the Swarjayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojna (SGSY), the primary self-employment programme in the rural areas  with the help of bank credit and government subsidies has not reached the Muslims, and they experience discrimination. In the Village Chapadia, Sabarkanta district, Gujarat, the Bank of India was approached for a loan under the scheme. The applicants were told that “Muslims don’t their repay loans, so they cannot get loans”, that they under the “negative area”. This is true for other Muslim-concentrated areas, too.

Muslim BPL card holders are refused the Rashtriya Bima Sahay Yojana (Rs 2 lakh medical insurance, to be renewed every year) saying they would require to show ration card to get the benefit of the scheme. To make a ration card one needs the proof of residence — an electricity bill receipt on any other detail. The problem is particularly acute for households with women as heads of family.

One of the items of the 15 point programme relates to improving conditions of slums inhabited by minorities under the Jawarlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). Instead of rehabilitating those who suffered displacement, eviction and displacement looms large over Muslim areas in the name of constructing roads, setting up gardens, building shopping mall and over- bridges. A sizeable population of Muslims lives in urban areas. This affects Muslim women the most.

CEDAW has wanted information on the status of the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims Bill, which is also a commitment of the 15 point programme. The bill has not been tabled Parliament. Meanwhile, illegal detentions of Muslim youth is a common practice based on petty crimes like theft or cow slaughter or closing down of shops after 11 pm. This makes Muslim women run from pillar to post and paying huge amounts of bribe incurring debts for the release of their men folk. Abject poverty has pushed some Muslim women into prostitution. They work in factories in vulnerable circumstances, with fear of law enforcement agencies looming large over them. A lot of informers and plainclothes police move around in Muslim-concentrated slums of Ahmedabad at night.

Arsh colony, Faisal Park, Ektanagar flats, Vatva – these are some of the places in Ahmedabad where the communal riot victims of Naroda Patia and other areas live. Arsh colony has 50 houses, Ektanagar has 112 Houses, Faisal Park has 135 houses — all built by Muslim organizations. Availability of electricity for the internally displaced of the 2002 anti-Muslim violence has improved. Yet, many areas are devoid of street lights. There are no health centres, roads, public transport, and schools within 3 km radius. There are no measures to provide security to school-going girls. Health centres and schools are close to the Hindu majority areas. As Muslims says, “Only police stations are close to where we live.”

Citizen Nagar and Mehtab Colony (130 houses and 12 houses), again built by Muslim organizations, are situated next to a huge waste disposal ground, on one side, and chemical factories, on the other side. Both Citizen Ngar and Mehtab Colony are part of one of the big Muslim ghetto, Bombay Hotel, housing one lakh population with no water or sanitation facilities, hardly any roads, street lights, schools, hospitals, or health care centres. Only anganwadis (crèches) and gyan shalas (informal schools from standards 1 to 7) run by an NGO operate in the area. A few private schools also exist. There are lot health problems, respiratory infections, skin diseases, and kidney related problems here. Drinking water comes in tankers twice or thrice in a week. The area is prone to crimes, with lack of security for women and girls. Many incidents of violence against women are reported from here.

In the five colonies of Alfala, Rashidabad, Alliance Nagar, Sheikulunnagar, and Millatnagar, 550 houses have been built by the Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Hind in which internally displaced persons of the 2002 riots live. Many have come here from as far as Modasa in Sabarkanta district. These five colonies do not have water and sanitation, there are no roads, very few streetlights, no schools or health centres. The situation is not very different in the rest of Gujarat where the victims of the communal riots live. The survivors of the massacre at Dipada Darwaja, Visnagar, Mehsana district, live in the IRC Colony near Kaman village in about 20 houses. Of the 85 accused, 21 got life sentence, while the rest were acquitted. The accused threaten the survivors/ witnesses, particularly women.

Survivors of the Ode massacre (Anand district) live in Faize-e-Abrar colony, Mogri Siva and Town Colony. There are 80 houses in all. They too have no basic amenities yet. People lack of security and unemployment is rampant. In Balol village (Nadiad taluka), the Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Hind built 90 houses. A tar factory has come up next to the relief colony causing health problems. Three women died of cancer in the in colony. Similarly, there are no facilities available for the survivors of the Ghodasar violence (Ahmedabad). The survivors live in Rehmatnagar Colony in 112 houses.  People do not even have BPL cards. The government school is near a Hindu locality. Women and girls do not feel safe as they have to walk four km to reach the main road. No bus services are available. Muslim girls don’t study beyond 7th standard, as secondary schools are far away.

In fact, Ahmedabad Muslims feel that, in the recent past, they were first displaced due to the 2002 violence, and then because of the riverfront development scheme along the Sabarmati river. As many as 1,000 of Muslims were rendered unemployed because of the scheme. Most Muslim youths feel discriminated in jobs and do not get government jobs – whether it is railway service, the Central Reserve Police, or the bank, Nor are they able to get private jobs easily. Mostly, they are self-employed or are in skilled-based trades (embroidery etc.), They feel harassed by the police. Many work as rickshaw drivers. Many Muslim women work as vendors.

All this is happening when statutory bodies like the State Human Rights Commission and the State Women’s Commission do not function effectively. Affirmative action to advance socio-economic, educational and political participation of Muslim women to attain their equality with other Indian women from diverse groups in the country is the way forward. The Muslim community, which is the largest socio-religious minority, needs a separate sub-plan, in the same way as it exists for the scheduled castes and tribes.

*Based on the chapter, “Muslim Women”, prepared by NGO Sahr Waru, Ahmedabad, in “India: 4th and 5th NGO Alternative Report on CEDAW”, July 2014

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