Few jobs for Muslims in Bengal; housing and banking discrimination

February 23, 2009

No jobs, Muslims only fobbed off in Bengal
Stink of prejudice at every step
Sorry, you’re Muslim : Visually impaired techie’s house hunt horror
Clash in Midnapore town after Muharram procession stopped


No jobs, Muslims only fobbed off in Bengal

The West Bengal Government has often dismissed the Sachar committee report on the condition of Muslims in the state as an exaggeration. But data related to Muslim employees in two major government departments shows how abysmally low their representation is. The data was made available by the two organizations following an RTI query filed by a Kolkata-based NGO.

Even though Muslims in the state officially represent over 25 per cent of the population, the community does not even have a representation of 10 per cent of the workforce in the Kolkata Police (KP) and Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) two biggest government organizations.

The picture of Muslim women in government jobs is worse still, with their representation barely touching two per cent.

According to the information revealed by the Kolkata Police, the total number of employees in the force is 24,840 of which only 2,267 are Muslims, constituting a mere 9.13 per cent of the overall strength. Of a total of 24,840 employees in the Kolkata Police, only 414 are women, and only 12 of them (2.9 per cent approximately) are Muslims.
The figures from the KMC paint an even grimmer picture. The municipal body has only 1,555 Muslim employees in its workforce of 34,731. Of the 4556 women employees it has, only 136 are Muslims, comprising just 2.98 per cent.

“The statistics speaks for itself regarding the representation of minorities in the policing and public works,” said Sabeer Ahamed, who filed the RTI application.

The Sachar Committee report, which was tabled in November 2006, had pointed out the abysmally low percentage of Muslims in government services in West Bengal.

A further scrutiny of the data shows the number of Muslim employees in higher positions that comprise Group A and Group B is about 4.7 per cent. In the lower division (Group C and Group D), it’s about 1.8 per cent.

The data also shows that the situation has not improved since the Sachar committee placed its report in 2006. The state government had then said it would make amends in ensuring equal opportunities for the minorities in key areas like policing and public works.

Syed Shamshul Alam, the vice-chancellor of Alaih University, the first Muslim University in the state, blamed the low penetration of education among the Muslim community. Alam, who was the former head of department of mathematics at IIT Kharagpur, said, “In recent times, the state government has taken some measures in the area of education, like setting up universities for Muslims and better facilities at madrasas. But it would take 10 to 20 years before the results of these efforts are actually seen.”


Stink of prejudice at every step

The Telegraph, January 21, 2009

Communal prejudice is out of the closet in Calcutta. From opening a bank account to finding a house, people of a particular community are becoming victims of discriminatory profiling. It doesn’t seem to matter who they are and what they do — only their names do. ZEESHAN JAWED of Metro found this out the hard way.


It was the first week of December, shortly after the terror attacks in Mumbai. I scanned the real estate listings in The Telegraph and zeroed in on a 2-BHK (bedroom, hall, kitchen) flat in Phoolbagan. After showing me the house, the middle-aged landlady told me the rent she was expecting and the rules to be followed.

I agreed to whatever she said and was about to leave when she asked me what my name was. On hearing the first name, she asked me what my surname was. That was it.

“My neighbours might object if a Muslim family moves in here. There is not a single Muslim family in the neighbourhood,” she said.

She even suggested that I look for a flat in Park Circus because it was an “upmarket area”. She perhaps meant “cosmopolitan”, or maybe just a “Muslim para”.

At the bank

Also in December, I went to the Brabourne Road branch of Bank of Baroda to open a no-frills savings account and was greeted by an executive who was eager to help me. He rattled off all relevant information before I could enquire what documents were required. “We need photo-identity proof, address proof and two latest passport-size photos. What is your name?”

When I introduced myself, he said: “You will have to be introduced by an existing account-holder.”

But a friend — a Hindu by religion — had opened an account last week without being introduced, I argued. “No, you have to,” he insisted.

I next visited the Brabourne Road branch of State Bank of India. A board to the left of the main entrance mentioned the requirements for opening such an account. I found no mention of the old rule that a new account-holder must be introduced by an existing one.

When I sought a confirmation, the executive at the counter nodded. “That’s not required any more,” he said.

I filled up the form and returned it at the same counter along with two photographs. I received a call from the executive on my cellphone the same afternoon. “Can you come and meet me between 10am and 5pm tomorrow?” he asked. “You missed a few things in the application,” he explained.

On reaching the bank the next day, he said: “Sorry, but you will have to get an introduction from an existing account holder. My senior officers are insisting that you must be introduced by an account-holder. I hope you understand.. .”

I didn’t go back to the bank.

At SIM card stores

I was pursuing a report on the easy availability of pre-paid cellphone SIM cards last December when I discovered that the “hassle-free verification” retailers promise is not for everyone.

“It will be difficult if you are a Khan, Jawed, Ali, Muhammad or Ahmed,” said Tariq Iqbal, sitting in his shop on Free School Street.

“Now that the Calcutta connection in the Mumbai attacks has been established, everyone with a Muslim name will be scrutinised before being given a cellphone connection,” said Omar Amanullah, a salesman in a cellphone shop on Kyd Street.


Sorry, you’re Muslim : Visually impaired techie’s house hunt horror

The Telegraph, January 20, 2009

Mohammed Asif Iqbal, 32, is a braveheart. The visually impaired youth from College Street has battled the odds to make it as an information technology (IT) consultant with a multinational company in Sector V and be hailed as a role model by former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

But there is one battle that even Asif cannot win — that against the growing prejudice against his community in the so-called cultural capital of the country.

When he went house-hunting in Salt Lake this month, he was denied accommodation just because he was a Muslim. Deeply disturbed by the communal profiling and discrimination he faced, Mohammed Asif Iqbal poured his heart out to Metro…

I decided to go house-hunting in Salt Lake along with my wife Sajida Khatoon as commuting every day all the way from my College Street house to my office in Sector V was proving to be cumbersome and tiring.

I was looking for a 1-BHK (bedroom, hall, kitchen) flat where we would stay during the week and come back to the College Street house for the weekend.

The first flat I went to was in AL Block. The landlord was clearly uncomfortable when I broached the topic of renting his flat after introducing myself. After some dilly-dallying he apologetically told me that it would not be possible for him to rent out his flat to me because “I was a Muslim”.

I was shocked. I have spent a considerable part of my life in the US and my work takes me to various parts of the world, but this was the first time I had come across such communal profiling and discrimination.

I still dismissed the entire incident as an aberration and continued my hunt for an apartment in Salt Lake. But everywhere I went I got more of the same. I visited another six to seven places to be turned away by landlords for only one reason: that I am a Muslim.

At one address, a gentleman who also happens to be the personal assistant of a Muslim politician agreed to rent out his flats to me. Negotiations were on when he suddenly called me up one day and apologised that the other tenants in the housing co-operative had objected to my moving in as I was a Muslim.

Whenever somebody refused to let out the flat to me I produced my testimonials and tried to make them understand that all Muslims are not terrorists but nobody was willing to listen.

At one of the places my wife Sajida was in a naqab (veil) and the landlord panicked. He said he had not realised earlier that we were “Mohammedan”.

In the entire episode of being turned away in house after house, the worst part was when people tried to be sympathetic. Some suggested we look for an apartment in a “Muslim colony” where we would feel “comfortable”.

Others tried to clarify that they had Muslim friends but it was their neighbours who would object to our presence in the building.

I am tired.


Clash in Midnapore town after Muharram procession stopped

Express News Service, January 09, 2009

Kolkata Curfew was clamped in Midnapore town following a clash between members of an akhada and Muslims during a Muharram procession on Thursday.

Four people, including two police personnel called in to control the mob, were injured.

District Magistrate of West Midnapore N S Nigam said that four companies of CRPF have been deployed in the town.

“Prohibitory orders under Section 144 CrPC have been imposed. We will monitor the situation through the day. If we are convinced that the tension has eased, we will lift the curfew in the evening. As of now, the situation is under control,” Nigam said.

District administration officials said the police force deployed in Lalgarh in the wake of tribal protests have been asked to return to Midnapore following the tension.

Sources said that trouble began in the morning when youths from the Bajrang Club blocked the Muharram procession near Sipai Bazar.

Members of the Bajrang akhada have a long-standing rivalry with some persons who were part of the procession. Such clashes have taken place during Holi and Muharram last year, but were stymied before it snowballed into a riot, said a police officer.

“Many members of the Muharram procession were emotionally charged up due to its significance. When they found their way blocked, they attacked the obstructing youth with the sticks they were carrying. In retaliation, the gymnasium members damaged the “Tajia”.

In a short time, the news spread through the town and people began gathering. Many were armed with swords. Clashes took place in Sepai Bazar, Burrabazar and Barastana areas of the town,” sources said.

The police said that while major thoroughfares have been cleared of people, residents have collected in groups in their localities, including all-women groups, in an effort to maintain a vigil.