Financial exclusion is very much a part of social exclusion. In fact, deliberate attempts of financial exclusion may increase the disparities caused by social exclusion many folds. Before going to discuss financial exclusion and its impact on Muslims of Assam, let us first figure out what is social exclusion.
After the American and French revolution, the ideology of freedom, justice, equality and fraternity became the dominant ideology. For the first time in human history poverty, marginalization, deprivation etc were treated as a construct, which barred the individual from enjoying the essential rights offered by the society to become its full member. Rene Lenior, a French Minister wrote a book “Les Exclus” which means “excluded”. During 1970s, he identified the marginalized groups like poor, handicapped, suicidal people, elderly people, abused children, drug addicted etc as socially excluded people and passed a law to protect their rights and entitlements. It was treated as the responsibility of the state to take the appropriate measures to allow the excluded groups to realise their full potential as members of the society. In Indian context we see that a number of programmes and initiatives were taken by the government to uphold the rights of various vulnerable groups like dalits, scheduled tribes, differently abled, women etc.
Prof. Amartya Sen classified social exclusion into active and passive forms. He says active social exclusion is a deliberate attempt of the state to debar the individuals from a particular group from enjoying their rights provided by the society. We can take the example of Doubtful Voters or D voters of the state. Most of the D Voters are from Muslim community. The state has denied their voting right as well as right to have access to other welfare schemes of the government. There is a looming doubt on the identity of these people.
In case of passive form of social exclusion, though there is no deliberate attempt from the government but the existing setup like poverty, social norms etc nullifies his/her capability to exercise his rights to the fullest. It also hampers strengthening of democracy. Marion Young in her book ‘Inclusion and Democracy’ points out the need on the part of advocates of deliberate democracy to ensure that decision making in a group is inclusive. Hence keeping in mind passive exclusion, there is a need to move beyond formal equality and create institutional measures to ensure participation by marginalised groups on an equal footing.
As far as financial exclusion of Muslims of Assam is concerned, we find both active and passive form of exclusion prevailing towards the Muslims of the state. The Sachar Committee report has clearly mentioned that many Muslim dominated village and mahallas were notified by the banks and other financial institutions as ‘negative area’. The same thing is being continuing in Assam as well. Muslims living in those notified areas are denied easy access to credit and other financial services from banks and other formal financial institutions. This is a deliberate attempt to keep the community out of the ambit of organized financial system. On the other hand Muslims of the state are financially excluded due to passive factors like poverty, illiteracy, lack of financial literacy, non availability of banking facilities and other financial institutions in the Muslims dominated places etc.
Why financial inclusion is necessary? Why the Muslims of the state had never raised their voice for their inclusion in the organized financial system? Are they all right in the present setup? There are many such questions that make room in our mind when we study the state of financial inclusion among the Muslims of Assam. Various studies conducted worldwide have proved that financial inclusion is a pre-requisite for an inclusive growth. The countries which have larger financial inclusion have transformed faster towards growth and development. In India we are observing that 12th five year plan has talked a lot about inclusive growth. But when we critically examine the state of financial inclusion of the Muslims of Assam we find a pathetic scenario and that also tells us how the community is deliberately excluded from the ambit of organized financial system.
We should remember that Assam as a whole is not at all in good health as far as financial inclusion is concerned. But the Muslims of the state are doubly discriminated. On an average a single bank branch serves more than 21000 people in Assam. But when we segregate the same ratio of Muslims dominated districts of Assam we find the clear picture of double discrimination. A bank branch in Barpeta district serves more than 50,000 people, i.e. more than double of the state average. Dhubri is one of the most excluded districts as far as financial inclusion is concerned. Dhubri has one of its development block listed along with the 90 un-banked blocks of the country! On an average a single bank branch of Dhubri district serves more than one lakh thirty people of the district, which is more than six times that of the state average.
Government of India has initiated a project called “Swabhiman”. Under this project, target was set to include all the villages having more than 2000 population with Ultra Small Branch by 31st March’13. The project is being implemented by corporate Business Correspondences. The corporate BCs use to recruit a local Business Correspondence in consultation with the nearest existing bank branch to start the Ultra Small Branch (USB). We got the opportunity to lead such a corporate BC for the north east region for a few months. While visiting the remote villages of Nagaon, Goalpara, Barpeta we have observed that the project had become indeed a liability for the banks. Not a single bank is working wholeheartedly to make the project a successful one.
There are a number of lacuna and drawbacks of the project. The BCs were not getting their remuneration in time. Technical difficulties are a daily part and parcel of their operation. It is again disheartening to note that Swabhiman is also another non starter in the Muslim dominated areas. In Barpeta districts alone, there are at least 118 villages which have more population than the prescribed requirement to have a banking branch. But surprisingly those villages neither have a break and mortar bank branch nor an ultra small branch (USB) or even a post office! The scenario is no way better in other Muslim dominated districts of Assam.
Now let us discuss another flagship programme of government of India and check out how deliberately Muslims of the state are being excluded from the benefit of financial inclusion. National Rural Livelihood Mission is the restructured mission mode of Swarnjayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojana. Today it is one of the most promising programmes to alleviate poverty through financial inclusion, Self Help Groups, capacity building, access to credit, skill development etc. But the status of implementation of this programme among the Muslims of the state is quiet worrisome.
During FY 2012-13 the programme was operationalized in 6 Resource Blocks, 38 Intensive Blocks and 175 Non-intensive blocks. Not a single block from Muslim dominated lower Assam was identified as a resource block out of those 6 resource blocks. Almost the same thing happened in case of identification of Intensive Blocks, for name sake three to four blocks were identified in this category from the Muslim dominated lower Assam.
We were expecting that during the 2013-14 FY some more blocks will be added in these two categories from this area. But not a single block was added in the said category from Muslim dominated districts of lower Assam in FY 2013-14. It is worthy to note that the allocated amount for 42 intensive blocks is Rs. 16679.65 lakhs, where as the total allocation for remaining blocks are Rs. 13580.40 lakhs only!
Why we are crying for the implementation of such programmes in those Muslim dominated districts? Is it only because we belong to the same place? Or we share the same language or even same religion? Let us make it very clear that our concern is not language, religion or place of birth, but it is the continuous systemic discrimination. When the marginalized groups like dalits, tribals etc are getting fruits of positive discrimination called reservation or the concept of equitable distribution, at the same time Muslims being one of the most marginalised communities of Assam are being subjected to multiple negative discrimination in every sphere of life, including financial sector.
The impact of this age long discrimination is beyond our imagination. Gorky Chakravarty of Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata carried out a research study in three blocks i.e. Mandia, Chenga and Rupsi blocks of Barpeta district. His study revealed that Muslims are not in a position that they do not require any more banking facilities or credit. Moreover the poor Muslims of the state require credit facilities more than that of a well off population group. It is shocking to note from his study that as many as 67% surveyed household are indebted. More shocking part of the findings was the source of the credit! Only 2.43% of the indebted household availed credit from organised financial institution whereas again 67% of the indebted household availed the credit from moneylenders.
More than half of those people mortgaged their agricultural land to avail the credit from the moneylenders. The major purposes for incurring the debt were meeting medical emergencies, to solemnize marriage, to purchase fertilizer, pesticide, insecticide etc. Those poor people have to pay an annual rate of interest on those credits from 72% to 360%! They do not need lakhs or crores of rupees as credit. They are in dearth need of small amount of loans. The study reveals that more than 77% borrowed less than Rs. 13000/-. We can only begin to imagine their state of helplessness.
Another major impact of financial exclusion of Muslims was observed during the ponzi scams (Saradha, Jeevan Surksha, ABYSS, Ramel etc) in the state. A large section of the victims of those scams were poor Muslims of the state. These people were forced by systemic exclusion by the present financial system of the state to go to the ponzi schemes to meet their financial services needs. Government did absolutely nothing to protect their hard earned money. Government hasn’t done anything to compensate these victims. On the other hand it is alleged that some powerful minister, politician, top cop of police administration and even some journalists got benefitted from the said scams.
The impact of financial exclusion is clearly visible in other government welfare schemes as well. Media reports say that a large number of Muslim students are being deprived from their pre/post metric and merit cum means scholarship for not being able to get a bank account. The rampant corruption in Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, IAY scheme etc could have been checked to a great extent if the beneficiaries were brought under the banking system.
We shouldn’t ignore another important aspect of financial inclusion. To maintain the financial exclusion, the best way is to keep the people ignorant in financial education or financial literacy. And the government is actually doing the same. Financial literacy enables the individual to take the right decision in his personal financial life. As expected by a group with vested interests, the lack of proper financial education is acting as a huge setback for the Muslims of the state to get the least benefit offered by the existing banks and other organized financial institutions. We can take the example of loan from Minority Development Board and Kishan Credit Card. It is alleged that politician had liaison with the Minority Development Board to sanction loan to beneficiaries of his constituency and the uneducated Muslims were kept in dark about the repayment of that loan amount. The beneficiaries were briefed that the loan was something like relief from their leader. Almost all those loans are now bad debts (NPAs). The board is now unable to disburse any more loans.
The instance of Kishan Credit Card is more pathetic and alarming. The banks operating in Muslim dominating areas are severely indulged in corruption in disbursing the KCC loan. Allegedly, the bank uses to identify some brokers or middle men. The broker collects the customer to offer KCC loan. The borrower is again briefed that there is no need to repay the loan, but to get the loan he will have to pay 30% to 50% as commission to bank through the broker. The commission amount is collected by the broker as soon as the loan is disbursed!
Who should we blame; the politician, the corrupt banker, the greedy broker or the borrower? We strongly believe if the borrower were financially educated, if he were aware of the fact that a loan is not a charity by the politician or a favour of the bank manager or the broker but a win-win financial product for him as well as the bank or if he were aware that there is something called credit bureau and his record is going be to recorded in bureau. Being a defaulter he will never be entitled to get any credit from any financial institution in future thorough out his life. He would never have dared to take such suicidal decision. No doubt if the poor Muslims of the state were financially literate, they wouldn’t be easily fooled by ponzi scams like Saradha, Jeevan Suraksha, ABYSS, Ramel etc as well.
Here again, we must admit that the Government has done absolutely nothing to provide financial education or financial literacy to the Muslims living in the rural areas of the state. We have already discussed the discrimination of Assam State Rural Livelihood Mission towards the Muslims of the state. The Resource Block under ASRLM is supposed to take up Financial Literacy Initiative to strengthen the Self Help Groups, but when not a single block from Muslims dominated lower Assam is selected as Resource Block how this initiative can help the Muslims?
Some private organizations like Ujjivan Financial Services Pvt. Ltd., Rastriya Grameen Vikash Nidhi etc are providing financial literacy to their clients. But their financial literacy drive does not reach the Muslim dominated rural areas of Assam. On the other hand RBI is conducting quiz among the school children to promote financial literacy. Unfortunately, RBI is only targeting the elite schools of the metropolis, hence the people who needed the financial literacy most are again excluded from their programme.
Dr. Ela Bhatt, founder of SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) urges to treat financial services as a fundamental right of human being. Prof. Mohammad Yunus too believes that financial inclusion can alleviate poverty in shortest possible time. Amartya Sen talked of capabilities as a means of enhancing freedom of individuals. Such systemic financial exclusion cuts short the capabilities of vulnerable groups. The deliberate attempt of the state to exclude the Muslims of Assam from the organized financial sector compels us to think that this is a calculated conspiracy to keep the community oppressed and subjugated for another century or so!
Aside Posted on Updated on
The paper is looking forward to have a fair idea of meaning and implications of the term ‘social exclusion’. The paper will also try to have the origination and concept of social exclusion and its implications in various countries in various forms. The first part of this paper will also try to throw some light on the concept of ‘social exclusion’ and its attributes in Indian socio-political, religious and economic discourse.
In the second part of the paper we shall try understand the concept of ‘social exclusion’ in particular reference to the conditions of Dalit in our country. The paper will also try to analyse the Hindu system of society and its relevance to Dalit questions in India. A brief discussion on the present condition of Dalits and caste system will also initiated in the later of the paper.
Keywords: Social Exclusion, Marginalisation, Hindu Social System, Dalit Question, Dalit Movement, Dalit Literature
Introduction to Social Exclusion: The development of the concept of ‘social exclusion’ or vis-a-vis ‘social inclusion’ can be traced back soon after the American and French revolution. The ideology of freedom, justice, equality and fraternity became the dominant ideology after the revolution and that lead to develop the concept of ‘social exclusion’. But it became the proper shape in the later part of 20th century only. In fact the term was coined by Rene Lenior of France in the 70s. He published his famous book “Les Exclus” which means ‘excluded”. He passed law for the persons with disability, when he was Deputy Minister in the government of Jacques Chirac. Lenoir’s identified the marginalized groups like poor, handicapped, suicidal people, elderly people, abused children; drug addicted etc and he included them as socially excluded groups. The concept of ‘social exclusion’ received good popularity in France. Referring Silver (1994), A D Haan in his essay “Social Exclusion: Towards a holistic Understanding of Deprivation” wrote that the term ‘social exclusion’ gained popularity in France basically due to two reasons. First, the concept of poverty developed in Britain was never been popular or acceptable in France. The Christian charity approach of poverty alleviation and the political theorem like utilitarian liberalism were not popular in France. At the same time idea of welfare state was more acceptable. They thought the social exclusion basically breaks the social fabric. Secondly, during the economic crisis of 80s, they used the term ‘social exclusion’ to refer the social disadvantages. But the term ‘social exclusion’ didn’t remain same as it was in France. It has different connotation in different countries. As we have seen in case of France it is used as a rupture for the social fabric, at the same time in United States of America it doesn’t sound as a social issue. In the market driven economy of USA threw the burden of ‘social exclusion’ is to the individual only. If a person is socially excluded, this is his/her fault. The state has very little to bother about the consequences. It is the individual who should look after his inclusion or exclusion in the society.
Meaning of Social Exclusion: But what does the term ‘social exclusion’ actually mean or who is socially excluded or even what is the basis of social inclusion? The society offers a bundle of essential rights to the individual to explore his/her potentials or to enjoy his or life to its fullest. In other words, we can say that the process which helps the individuals to attain the full membership of the society. Those basic social rights or process can be access to power, status, wealth and income. Without the access of those social rights the individual can’t be the full member of the society and thus in absence of any of those rights he/she gets excluded from the society. There are numbers of occasions where the member of any society is denied to access power, status, wealth and income. We can divide those occasions into segments like caste, class, ethnicity, gender etc. Denial to those rights on the ground of those segments leads to an inequality in the society and the social inequality eventually social exclusion. Amartya Sen classified the social exclusion into active and passive forms. In case of active social exclusion the individual is directly debarred from taking part in any social process or his/her right is revoked by the state. We can take the example of migrant workers; their civil and political rights are directly denied by the state. And thus they are not eligible to be the full member of the society. On the other hand passive social exclusion comes through a process where no deliberate attempt is made to exclude the individual from the society or denied to be the full member of the society. But the existing set up nullifies his/her right to become a full member of the society. We can take the example of poverty. Due to poverty the individual remains outside the political and other civil rights.
Social Exclusion in Indian Society: The Hindu social system itself debarred some its members to access those rights as discussed in the previous para and thus fuels the social exclusion. The deep rooted caste system only debars the members to access the right to be the full member of the society; but it also nullifies even the human rights of some the castes. As far as India is concern there are a number of groups of people who are being deprived to get their full membership in the society. We can take the example of dalits, tribal, minorities, women and children etc. These groups are discriminated in name of caste, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, language etc. This continued for ages in the society and continued in the post independent Indian society as well. Under the leadership of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar certain measures were taken while adopting the constitution of independent India to mitigate the menace of caste system and thus social exclusion. But it still it continued, social groups like tribal, minorities and women are still excluded from the ambit of mainstream society on multiple grounds.
Social Exclusion and Dalits: The Dalits are one of the most marginalized or excluded community in India. They are being subjugated by the upper caste Hindu in India for ages. To understand the Dalit questions in India, understanding of the Hindu social system is very important. The Hindu social system itself promotes social exclusion. G.S. Ghurye noted that the indigenous non Aryan races were subdued by the Aryan conquerors and conquered races became the Shudras, they were debarred from sharing the religious and social activities of the Indo Aryans. The verna (colour) came into existence with a elaborate system called Jati. The society got divided into four jati. French sociologist Durmont wrote in his work “Homo Hierarchicus” that the caste system is a sungle hierarchy divided into four varnas i.e. Brahmin; the priest and having the position on top of the hierarchy followed by Kshatriya; the warrior, the Vaishyas; the trader, the fourth varna was Shudras; the manual labourer. He said there is also a fifth verna i.e. untouchables. The Hindu social system eventually, divided the society into various groups and castes. The socio-economic and religious rights became pre-determined by the caste system. The distribution of those rights was so unequal and there was stringent provision in the caste system to make the members to the follow the division without opposing it. The occupation was too pre-determined and the members were not allowed to change their occupation. Predominantly the Brahmins were enjoying the best and untouchables were forced to accept the worst. Hence, the concept of liberty, freedom or democracy was almost missing the Hindu system of society. Even the concept of universal declaration of human right also contradicts with the Hindu system of society. And thus a group of people was denied access to become the full member of the society.
Dalit Movement in India: Large scale oppression and subjugation on lower caste Hindus by upper caste Hindu was even continued after the independence too. During the decade of 30s those untouchable people were called by the colonial government as oppressed class. During 40s, Mahatma Gandhi also observed that those people were badly treated by the upper caste Hindus of the society. He called them as Harijan, which means son of the God, so that his upper caste followers of do not harass them in the name of their caste. But nothing changed. After the independence of the country some material change observed in the scene. For the first time in the history of India, the untouchables became equal before the law! The Indian Constitution which compiled in between 1947 and 1949, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by United Nations. And India adopted the basic principles of human rights in the article 19 in the constitution. The constitution of India termed them as scheduled caste and made provision of positive discrimination called reservation for their rapid upliftment. But it was observed that the atrocities on untouchables hadn’t stopped. The parliament enacted an Act called Ant-Untouchability Act in 1955. After 20 years of the Act government re-evaluated it and found that still the civil right of the former untouchables were not protected. They decided to bring another Act to protect the civil right of the former untouchables called “Protection of Civil Right 1975”. In the mean time a socio-political and literary movement for the upliftment of former untouchables was started. They identified themselves as suppressed or in Indian language “Dalit”. This took the shape of a movement. The rise of political parties like Bahujan Samaj Party in UP is the result of the movement called ‘Dalit’ movement. The terminology they have used to identify the former untouchable community is not beyond criticism. The literary meaning of the term should include all the suppressed communities like tribal, minorities, women etc. The intellectual who are advocating the movement, it seems that they are not much concern about the facts. The Dalit literary movement started from Kanada literature was also a remarkable development as far as the Dalits are concerned.
Present Scenario of Dalits in India: Even after the enactment of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, the scenario has not changed so much. The documentary “India Untouched” by Stalin K has shown the plight of Dalits in present India. Most shocking part is that people after getting higher education too they do not change their behaviour towards the Dalits. The said documentary has shown that the student in Jawaharlal Nehru University also has to face caste discrimination. The untouchables who converted to other religion like Islam and Christianity to escape from the vicious cycle of caste discrimination are still treated badly in their new religion as well. Case based discrimination is still continuing in full swing. The Dalit children being forced to clean the toilet of the school or giving them separate food during mid-day-meal are everyday business in India present India. A few months ago a Dalit youth was killed by the alleged upper caste Hindus in Tamil Nadu for marrying a upper caste Hindu girl. The incident also triggered violence and the perpetrator set Dalit village into fire. The inhuman practice like Devadasi is still continuing in some part of the country.
Conclusion: This is very pathetic to note that after getting modern education also people couldn’t come out from the vicious cycle of caste system. There are instances that the Dalits also accept the caste system without any resistance. On the other hand organised forced like RSS, BHP, etc are always trying to maintain the status qua. Role of the state is something very pathetic. Today while preparing this paper, I got a news item that a tehsildar in Madhya Pradesh demanded a photo clicked with the dead animal from the Dalits to get the scholarship. I also followed the Manual Scavenging Prohibition Bill 2013. The Gujarat government is saying that there are no manual scavengers in the state, whereas the activists are fighting for their right in state as well. So, this is the status of the affair. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru rightly said, only legislature can’t solve the deep-rooted social problems alone. We all need to work for a casteless society.
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