Minorities in Assam’s Chars, Dropouts in Telangana: Tracking India’s Most Excluded


The India Exclusion Report 2019 also talks about waste pickers and migrant labourers.

New Delhi: The Centre for Equity Studies released the fifth edition its India Exclusion Report (IXR), this time focused on four ‘vulnerable groups’, on Tuesday. The idea behind the report is to influence policy-making so that governance becomes more inclusive and equitable.

Speaking at the launch, director of CSE and editor of the report, Harsh Mander, said, “It is fitting that we are releasing our report today on Constitution Day, as I think it’s the finest tribute to Dr [B.R.] Ambedkar.”

“Often when we talk about exclusion or inclusion, we take a very broad view but forget those who are very last in the line,” Mander said.

On the aim of the IXRs, Mander said, “This endeavour began as an attempt to examine the role of the state in public provisioning, and to generate public knowledge, concern and debate on the many profound and widespread forms of exclusion, injustice and exploitation in Indian society. The objective in the end is to contribute to attempts to combat and ultimately overcome these.”

Truth-telling in times of fake news, hate crimes
On the relevance of the report, he said, “Today, in the time of fake news, indifference and rising hate targeting minorities, as well as elite capture, this has also become a collective exercise in truth-telling. After all, as Orwell said, ‘In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act’.”

Examining the processes and consequences of exclusion, the IXR 2019 has profiled four highly excluded ‘vulnerable groups’ – Char residents of Assam, workers in a small-town waste economy in south India, circular migrant labourers and out-of-school adolescents in Telangana.

The report has defined exclusion as processes by which individuals and population groups face barriers through discrimination, neglect, denials, violence, dispossession and customary practices to their access to public goods. It also deals with adverse inclusion and how non-state actors facilitate the exclusion of disadvantaged groups.

The report has also mapped the experiences of particularly vulnerable persons.

Problems aplenty for Char residents in Assam
The report studied the problems faced by residents of the Char region in Dhubri, Goalpara, Bongaigaon, Barpeta, Kamrup (R), Morigaon and Darrang districts of Assam, and in particular of three villages of Sipajhar in Darrang district.

Since Chars are formed due to the complex ecological processes of the Brahmaputra, they are extremely unstable and can be wiped out by erosion during floods.

The report said despite this the Char region, which covers 4.6% of the total geographical area of Assam, has a population of 25 lakh and twice the population density of the rest of the state. Most of the residents are Miya Muslims or Muslims of Bengali origin. Along with flood and erosion, lack of infrastructure has restricted their socio-economic growth.

Abdul Kalam Azad, who authored this chapter, said, “In Assam, we have more than 2,200 Char villages.” Noting that “there are a lot of layers in exclusion,” he said, “they are geographically excluded as there are no roads”.

The area also lags behind on education and health. “The last survey said that there were only 52 primary health centres for 2.5 million people.” Also with just one lower primary school for a village, he said, “in four districts literacy rates have declined.”

The study also said that as per the Human Development Report of Assam, 2016, the mean year of schooling in Char areas was 4.76 years, which was the lowest among all marginalised communities.

Also, 91% of the population does not have access to safe drinking water and only 1.4% has access to proper toilet facilities.

Most Char residents are Miya Muslims or Muslims of Bengali origin. The report said that “the community faces systematic political persecution with questions being raised on their racial identity. They’ve been branded as `illegal Bangladeshi immigrants’ encroaching on land occupied `unlawfully’.”

The state also “fails to provide any relief to the community in the face of a calamity,” the report said, adding that often the support is “minimal” or “disproportionate”.

Waste-workers face exclusion, discrimination
The chapter on “Small-Town Waste and its Life-World: Social Indispensability and Social Exclusion” written by Barbara Harriss-White looked at the life of most vulnerable workers in the waste economy, through interviews with government officials and 84 workers.

The report traced how waste-workers as a whole group face social exclusion and discrimination, and even denial of equal social, political and economic citizenship provided by public goods and services.

Besides, these workers face discrimination at the workplace, their children are prevented from pursuing higher education and they also face denial of housing and land ownership rights and expulsion from public spaces.

`Migrant labour faces hostility’
The paper on “Denied the Right to Have Rights: the Social and Political Exclusion of Circular Labour Migrants in India” by Indrajit Roy delved into how such labourers are barred from fully exercising their basic rights.

“There is a general attitude of hostility towards migrant workers, often fostered by powerful politicians, prevailing in India with the workers being labelled as the source of numerous social evils without any evidence,” the report said.

For the study, Roy conducted ethnographic fieldwork in north Bihar’s Araria district. The report also noted that “migration allows the blurring of lines between previously concrete caste identities, allowing the possibility for a change of status. However, this does not entail that they are liberated from all forms of injustice.”

Most out-of-school children are SCs, STs or Muslims
The chapter on “Lost Childhood: Exclusion of Out of School Children” by Shantha Singh focussed on the lives of 15- to 18-year-old boys and girls who dropped out of schools in Telangana.

The study said a majority of these children belonged to marginalised communities such as scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs) and Muslims. “They are poverty stricken and face social exclusion. The proportion of girls not attending schools is bigger relative to boys and the benefits they receive from state schemes are minimal,” the report added.

Sinha said the reasons for this exclusion ranged from inability to understand what was taught in school to health issues of family members and the inability of parents to sustain and provide facilities because of poverty. The author said most of these students later took up unskilled tasks as casual labourers at construction sites and garages besides other informal work sectors. As for girls, most of them either got confined to their homes or were married off early.

Report evaluates state’s actions, inactions
During the launch of the report, Anirban Bhattacharya of CES also spoke about how it “tries to evaluate the state’s action and inactions based on those principles and values that were enshrined 70 years back”.

Bhattacharya, who co-authored a chapter on ‘Justice in the aftermath of communal violence’, said ‘given the range of exclusions”, the IXR has tried to “highlight particularly extremely vulnerable excluded groups, that do not find mention in the larger discourse.”

A professor of IIT Delhi and an expert on mobility issues, Dinesh Mohan, spoke about how “you can get the best air-conditioned bus transport but if you can’t walk to the bus stand it’s pointless and you can’t walk to the bus for many reasons.” He commented that often, “women can’t because there are Indian men on the roads.”

Mohan also demanded that “poorer people of our society should be allowed to live anywhere in the city so that they can live closer to work.” He insisted that “public transport is not a solution to poor people.”

Atul Sood, who authored the chapter `Thinking Growth, Thinking Employment’, said: “The key ideas that you take back home from the chapter are two – “that the outcomes and exclusions of the labour market that we are experiencing is not a surprise” and that “if you want to look at the labour market outcome, one needs to look at it in relation to the larger growth strive.”

Courtesy The Wire..

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