60 percent of Maharashtra's Muslims below poverty line: Panel

Mumbai, Oct 22 (IANS) Nearly 60 percent of Muslims in both urban and rural areas of Maharashtra fall in the below poverty line (BPL) category, a state-government appointed panel has revealed.

As much as 59.40 percent of the urban Muslim population and 59.80 percent of the rural Muslim population fell in the category, while another 25 percent of the community was living just barely above the BPL mark, said the report by a committee headed by retired civil servant Mehmoodur Rehman.

Rehman headed a committee of social scientists which was set up five years ago to study the educational, social and economic backwardness of the Muslim population in the state. It submitted its report to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan here Monday.

A top official said that the report has been received and the government will study it before taking further steps on its recommendations.

Among other things, it had urged a ban on the practice of 'triple talaaq' (divorce in one sitting) and called for reforms in the Muslim community with regard to gender equality.

According to the findings, while 70 percent of the Muslims were centred in urban areas, they faced a major problem problem of housing.

The remaining 30 percent in the rural areas did not have satisfactory access to various poverty alleviation programmes of both the central and state governments.

The record in educational opportunities was equally disturbing, with only 2.2 percent of the total Muslims completing graduation, while only 1.4 percent of Muslim women do so.

"The work participation rate among the Muslims is 32.4 percent and the women work participation is only 12 percent."

It also mentioned the low representation enjoyed by Muslims in government jobs at various levels.

While in the Indian Administrative Service cadre of Maharashtra, the presence of Muslims is "as good as non-existent", in the police force, they account for a presence of about a mere 4.4 percent.

"Muslims should have a reservation of 10 percent, or at least 8 percent in the employment and admissions to all educational institutions including the professional courses," it recommended.

The committee suggested a ban on the practice of 'arbitrary' talaaq (divorce) and making alimony compulsory to the divorced woman.

The report also expressed concern over police harassment and the large number of cases registered against Muslims.

"While the total populace of the community in the state is 10.6 percent, the jail occupancy statistics range between 32-35 percent," it said.

Given these figures, it has suggested setting of a commission to find out the causes behind the disproportionate share of Muslims in state jails and suggest corrective actions that can be taken to avoid this.

The committee also asked the government to come down heavily on police personnel violating the basic fundamental rights of the Muslim community and stressed the need for an open dialoge and interaction between communities on the lines of several European countries.

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