India ’s Muslim Social Welfare Schemes Revisited
Syed Ali Mujtaba
In wake of the recommendations made by the Sachar Commission report for the economic upliftment of the poor Muslims in India , both central and state government have launched several schemes for their welfare.
One such scheme launched by the Tamil Nadu government is Muslim Women’s Aid Society (MWAS), to help the destitute Muslim Women in the state. MWAS was established in 2007 as a pilot project first in Chennai and after its success in the state capital, the government extended this scheme to all the 32 districts of the Tamil Nadu in 2008-2009.
The state government has sanctioned seed money of Rs.1 lakh to each of the 32 MWAS branches in the state for the infrastructure facilities and releases matching grant to them equal to the donation collected by such societies.
The MWAS is supposed to raise funds from the public that is deposited into the bank and then the society applies for a matching fund from the government. The maximum fund that can be deposited is Rs. 10 lakh per annum and MWAS can avail a matching fund of Rs.10 lakh from the state government. The funds so availed have to be utilized only for the development of the destitute Muslim women.
The District Collector acts as the President of the MWAS, the Project Officer of Women Welfare as Vice-President, and the District officer for Backward Class and Minority’s Welfare as Treasurer, besides there are six women members from Muslim community in this self-help group.
MWAS is rendering a yeomen service to the needy Muslim community providing them vocational training, sewing textile garments, women’s beauty parlour, computer education, driving school, silk embroidering, destitute widow’s pension, interest free loan, loans for auto rickshaws in lowest interest possible, financial aid to disabled persons, home for Muslim deserted women, free medical service etc.
As far as the functioning of the MWAS is concerned, few issues need attention. The foremost among them is the fund allocated by the government remains unutilized due to gross ignorance of the Muslim community. There is little awareness among the community members of such initiative being made for their welfare. They have hesitation, shyness in coming forward for utilizing the funds as it involves dealing with government officials.
Few MWAS, which have collected funds and deposited them in the bank, are struggling for the release of the matching funds supposedly promised by the government. The funds raised remains stuck in official red tapes and the government releases no matching fund.
The other issue is; fund raising itself is quite a difficult task. Individual or institution donors remain unconvinced about the proper utilization of their funds and do not like to come forward to patronize such a self-help group.
In order to address such anomalies, a sympathetic watchdog body called Federation of Muslim Women’s Aid Societies (FMWAS) has sprung up in the state. Its job is to launch public awareness campaign for the MWAS. It also guides the MWAS to avail the seed funds allocated to them.
The FMWAS also liaison between the MWAS and the district government officials for the early release of the matching funds. It has been campaigning that the government provide the office space for the MWAS within the collectorate campus to ensure speedy action so that amount collected by the MWAS do not remain dormant in the banks.
The FMWAS appeals for public support in the form of individual charity and its team meets Muslim philanthropists and elicit their support. The Federation also approaches Muslim institutions for donations. It calls upon Muslim organizations to donate a fraction of the Zakath Funds, estimated to be Rs. 1.5 crore, in the state.
Notwithstanding the MWAS initiative in Tamil Nadu, there are multiple schemes, initiated by the government for the welfare of the Muslim community all over the country. The need is to develop a greater synergy between Muslim community and the development sector for actualizing the dream of socio-economic development of the Muslim community.
It is the duty of the Muslim community to come forward and form NGO’s and work among the community and help realize the goal. This has to be done with utmost importance; else, various schemes of the government of their socio-economic development may remain unimplemented.
Having said that, the responsibility of the welfare of the Muslim community is not an issue confined to the leadership of the community alone; the government too has a major responsibility towards addressing their problems.
For instance, the conditions imposed by Tamil Nadu Minorities Economic Development Corporation Ltd. (TAMCO) to avail loan one has to give surety from two persons who are in government service, has to be modified to ensure poor Muslims avail the credit facilities being sanctioned by the Corporation. Such loans, as in other cases, should be given through nationalized banks.
At the all India , level the role of the government in implementing ‘Prime Minister’s New 15 Point Programme for Welfare of Minorities’ is seminal. This includes enhancing opportunities for education, equitable share in economic activities and employment, improving the conditions of living of minorities.
However, when it comes to dealing with the welfare of the Muslim minority there are certain issues in the new 15-point programme that needs consideration by the government.
The government should ensure that the poor Muslim families be given BPL cards as many Muslim families living below poverty line a re being left out. The works implemented under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) should be culturally sensitive so that Muslim community could also get benefit from such a scheme.
In the field of education, the government should provide recognition and support to Muslim minority educational institutions. It should provide adequate number of scholarships for Muslim students particularly for girls. The government should give permission for more educational institutions in minority-dominated area with priority for residential schools for girls. It should also give permission to open technical institutes in Muslim concentrated areas and ensure equitable admission to Muslim girls.
The government should provide equitable bank loans to Muslims in priority sectors as well as commercial and business sectors and ensure that they get a fair share of these loans. It should create easy credit facilities for Muslim Women, crafts women and women involved in petty trade and commerce and provide a marketing network to women employed in this sector.
The government should ensure better representation of Muslims in government jobs and public sector units and see that at least one Muslim representative is there on all recruitment boards.
Government should prepare a sub-plan for the socio-economic including educational, health and other development activity of the Muslim community. It should set up a separate department at the state level exclusively to deal with Muslim affairs and allocate adequate budget for schemes aimed at Muslims welfare. The office bearers of the Muslim welfare schemes should comprise persons from NGOs working among the Muslim community.
The government should set up a database, collect, and compile data on the socio-economic and educational status of Muslims on a regular basis to monitor the progress of the welfare of the welfare schemes
Finally, the last thought. The developmental goals of the country have to be inclusive and the government has to play a seminal role in the social development of the country. However, it is being seen that the government is absolving from its responsibility of creating a welfare state. It is delegating its role to the Non Governmental Organisations. This developmental paradigm shift of the government does not auger well for creating a welfare state in India . It negates the principles of the word ‘Socialism’ enshrined at the preamble of the constitution of the country.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org