The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bengal orders survey of minorities

Calcutta, June 11: For the first time, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government has commissioned a survey of the state’s minority communities with the aim of assessing their position in society.

The move follows a directive from the chief minister, officials said.

“The first such exercise in 30 years of Left Front rule will help us assess the minorities’ socio-economic condition, standard of education, lack of employment opportunities and other problems. I met the chief minister before the Assembly elections and he readily agreed,” said Syed Sajjad Zaher Adnan, chairman of the West Bengal Minorities Commission.

The Indian Statistical Institute has been asked to conduct the survey. Atish Dasgupta, a professor at the institute and brother of finance minister Asim Dasgupta, said a team under him had been formed to carry out the survey. He said the institute would complete its job in three months.

Adnan said Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists are the five communities notified as minorities by the Centre. The five-member commission, which has a representative from each community, has been receiving a large number of complaints about discrimination and unemployment over the past few years.

“The survey will bring out the condition of minorities. The results would help the government redress their grievances,” he explained.

K. Sathiavasan, the secretary in the minority affairs department, confirmed that the survey had been commissioned but refused to disclose its objectives. “Since it is a very sensitive matter, I shall not elaborate. First, let us get the report from ISI,” he added.

Commission members recently visited some remote villages of Murshidabad and Malda where they were appalled by the condition of the minorities. “In Bengal, Muslims are in the majority among minorities. They have problems in plenty. In some villages, an entire family depends on a lone earning member. Unemployment is a major issue,” the chairman said.

Kalyan Chaudhury, a member of the commission representing Buddhists, spoke of much the same problems for the community in districts like Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling. “Most of them are below the poverty line and the community is also deprived of constitutional rights. Even tribal Christians have been subjected to discrimination. The survey would be an eye-opener.”

The decision is laden with dangers of political controversy. Some time ago, the Manmohan Singh government came under attack after revelations that it had ordered a survey of minorities that would cover the army too.

Much of the hue and cry, however, was over including the army in the survey with opponents arguing that issues such as community composition should have no place in the military.

It is not clear what a Bengal-specific survey will achieve as a countrywide exercise is already under way. The Rajindar Sachar committee’s report is expected on October 31.

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