Calcutta, June 25: For a state that takes pride in its secular spirit, the offices handing out the Other Backward Classes certificates to Muslims and Christians at the lowermost rungs of the social ladder can come as a major embarrassment.
From being asked to go back in time by more than a hundred years to being told to go to your church, experiences of minorities from the lower strata at government offices have been far from pleasant, according to information available with the West Bengal Minorities Commission.
The commission, after being petitioned by several complainants who felt they were being discriminated against for their religion and social station, has decided to bring the issue to the notice of the state government.
We are going to write to the state government, bringing to its notice several cases of discrimination against religious minorities and social back-benchers that we have come across in the course of our interaction in the city and various districts, chairman K.M. Yusuf said. Just back after a four-day visit to Nadia where Christians complained of discrimination he added that the situation was just as bleak in urban areas, including Calcutta.
A sizeable section of the Muslim community, particularly the weavers (Jolas) and fruit-sellers, and the Christian community some Bengali-speaking social groups fall within the category that can apply for OBC certificates.
The Jolas, according to government officials, stay in the city in places like Metiabruz, Kidderpore, Mominpur, Rajabazar, Park Circus, Zakaria Street and almost all central Calcutta areas. The OBCs among Christians are mostly scattered in the districts, including Nadia and South 24-Parganas. Both categories, however, are united in their resentment against the lower- and middle-level government offices.
Palm Avenue resident Sarfraz Hussain, who went to a Bhawani Bhavan office to claim the OBC certificate, was asked to bring a certificate from the place where his family came here. When he replied that his family moved here about a century and four generations ago from a village in Uttar Pradesh, he was turned away. The argument that no one in his native village would know him now, a hundred years after his family moved out, cut no ice.
The minorities commission had to step in and that set matters moving. The case, officials said, had been transferred to the backward classes welfare department.
Christians in Nadia had another grouse, said minority affairs department officials. The commission team that went there recently was petitioned by several villagers, mainly from the Chapra area, about the shabby treatment meted out to them in government offices.
When we asked for the OBC certificates, we were told to go to our church, one complainant (name withheld) said. Another was asked by the staff at the BDOs office to look for jobs and money at the church. Why did Christians need the OBC certificate when they had the church that got donations in dollars, they were asked.
The commission has taken cognisance of the complaints. We will follow up the matter with the relevant government departments, Yusuf said.