The SPECT Foundation, a non-profit organization, conducted a development audit in ten districts with a high concentration of minority populations. The audit report, titled ‘Marginalization of Muslims in Ten Minority Concentration Districts: Bringing the Equity Question Back Into the Political Discourse’, was recently released at a Press Club of India event. The report highlights the socioeconomic challenges faced by minorities in these districts and challenges the narrative around the alleged “rise of radical Islam” in border areas of India.
The audit focused on ten districts that have a significant Muslim population of approximately 14.1 million, representing 52% of the districts’ overall population. The selection of these districts was also influenced by their targeting by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for various reasons, including allegations of population growth and “illegal infiltration” from neighboring countries.
The audit report focused on ten specific districts, namely Araria, Purnea, Kishanganj, and Katihar in Bihar; Dhubri and Kokrajhar in Assam; Shravasti and Balarampur in Uttar Pradesh; and Malda and Murshidabad in West Bengal.
According to the audit report, the Muslim population in the ten selected districts has been deprived of basic resources and amenities more than other regions of the country, indicating a lack of preferential treatment or “appeasement” of Muslims. This data challenges the prevailing narrative that Muslims receive favorable treatment and opportunities over other communities.
The report highlighted the poor socioeconomic conditions in four districts of Bihar. These districts had lower literacy rates than the state average, and the student-teacher ratio in schools was also significantly higher than the state average, indicating inadequate educational infrastructure. The report also exposed systematic discrimination against minorities in the distribution of government schemes. Despite a significant low-income population, only 31.20% of the beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awaas Yojana (PMGAY) in these districts were Muslims, which is 17.5% less than the Muslim population’s total average. The report also revealed that there was a higher demand for work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in these districts than the state average between 2014-15 and 2020-21. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the already dire situation.
The report discredits the myth of population explosion among Muslims in two districts of Uttar Pradesh. In Shravasti, the decadal population growth (DPG) was -5.02% between 2001-11, representing a decline of 32.23% from the previous decade. In Balrampur, the DPG increased marginally compared to other districts. The literacy levels in both districts are lower than the state average, with Balrampur at 49.51% and Shravasti at 37.89%, compared to the state average of 57.25%. The NFHS-5 data further reveals that only 16.8% of women in Balrampur have completed ten or more years of schooling, while the state average is 39.3%. Shravasti also has poor health infrastructure, ranking as the poorest district in Uttar Pradesh.
The report reveals that the situation is similar in the two districts of Assam included in the audit. Kokrajhar has witnessed a decline in the number of functional lower primary schools, while Dhubri and Kokrajhar both have poor infrastructure and health outcomes. In the West Bengal districts of Malda and Murshidabad, where Muslims make up 51% and 66% of the population, respectively, the BJP has targeted the rising population due to infiltration from Bangladesh. However, the report indicates that the decadal population growth in both districts was negative, discrediting the BJP’s propaganda. The report also highlights the poor state of education and health infrastructure in these districts.
In addition, the report criticized secular parties for giving in to the “appeasement” narrative created by the BJP, which is motivated and prejudiced. As a result, these parties often avoid addressing the problems related to the marginalization of Muslims.