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HindustanTimes Fri,19 Sep 2014

Meo Muslims - Left out of the development loop

Srinand Jha, Hindustan Times  Alwar, April 07, 2012
First Published: 22:01 IST(7/4/2012) | Last Updated: 22:14 IST(7/4/2012)

Suman prances about like a normal six year old, except that she gets irritated when people call her "angrez" (westerner).

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"I am not the only one", complains Suman angrily, pointing to other children who have blonde hair like her.

Vitamin-A deficient children with golden hair abound at village Thoss in the Tijara block of Rajasthan's Alwar district - for understandable reasons too.

Against a population of 1800, Thoss has just one Anganwadi Center (AWC) - located on top of a steep and inaccessible hillock.

The nearest Nutrition Rehabilitation Center (NRC) is at Kishangarh - 18 kilometers away. The Public Distribution System (PDS) outlet is at Jhiroli - six kilometers away.

After having taken round of 13 other villages, the Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) turns up at Thoss AWC approximately after gaps of two months each.

Weather conditions are harsh, the terrain is rocky, land-holdings are marginal, educational, health and hygiene levels are low and crime rates are high. 
 
Some Meos trace their ancestry as Muslims, as converts to various 'sufi' saints who began settling in the area from the 11 th century onwards. Some also claim to be Rajputs, believing they are direct descendants of Hindu gods Rama and Krishna.

Socially unacceptable by both the Hindu and Muslims, successive governments in Rajasthan have also remained passive towards the plight of this marginalized community.

Caught up in medieval social customs; the community has remained unable to shed off its tag as a 'criminal tribe'.

At village Hussaipur last 19 January, a woman and her lover were tied to a tree and burnt alive in as ghastly incident of honor killing.

Majority of the accused in the case relating to the poaching of tigers in the nearby Sariska sanctuary have been Meos.

With the governments having remained unable to crack down effectively on illegal mining activities, some Meos has found access to easy money.
Meo youth remain accused in crimes including vehicle theft and cattle smuggling.

Budgetary allocations
Budgetary allocations have been low for Mewat (comprising Alwar and Bharatpur where Meos are estimated at 13 lakhs), while the percentage of utilization is even lower.

Of the Rs.298.31 lakhs available for Alwar in 2006-7, only Rs.80.49 lakhs were spent - a mere 26.98 percent having been utilized.

In 2007-08, 43.60% funds were utilized, followed by 59.04%, 66.34% and 32.16% in the following years.

Of the funds spent, maximum amount is spent on non-constructive activities such as building boundary walls of cemeteries.

"Apparently, the government does care about the dead Meos, but not about the living", said Noor Mohammed of the Alwar Mewat Institute of Education and Development (AMIED).

Of the Justice Sachar committee recommendations on multi-sectoral development, not one has been implemented in the Meo-dominated villages of Alwar.
 
The percentage of children going to the Anganwadi Centres (AWCs) in Alwar stands building boundary walls of cemeteries.

"Apparently, the government does care about the dead Meos, but not about the living", said Noor Mohammed of the Alwar Mewat Institute of Education and Development (AMIED).

Of the Justice Sachar committee recommendations on multi-sectoral development, not one has been implemented in the Meo-dominated villages of Alwar.
 
Health and Education 
The percentage of children going to the Anganwadi Centres (AWCs) in Alwar stands as low as 11.60%.

Education levels are low, with the drop-out rate of girls in village primary schools has remained consistently high - ranging between 55% and 63.1%.

Against the district's literacy rate of 62.48%, the literacy rate among the minorities is placed at 30.10%.

Of the 31 schools that have the ideal ratio of one teacher for every five students, just two are in the Mewat region.

A random survey conducted in two villages last year (Gari Mewat and Kakada) by the Society for All Round Development (SARD) - engaged in capacity building work at Meo villages in Bharatpur district -  brings out glaring facts:

-Deaths of eight infants were reported in the two villages, apart from three maternal deaths.

-As health workers do not visit the village regularly, the pregnant mothers do not get Iron Folic Acid (IFA) tablets. The pregnant mothers eat multani mitti, burnt mud of Chula and pieces of earthen pot.

-Majority of villagers are unaware about vitamin 'A' solution. Participants said hardly any child of the village had received any dose of vitamin A.
    
-Most of the deliveries occur at home and conducted by local traditional birth attendants (Dai).

"The scenario is much the same in a majority of Meo villages", said Sudhir Bhatnagar of the SARD.
 
Gap in perceptions
"The entire backwardness debate among Meo Muslims needs to be approached differently", said Ashutosh AT Pednekar, the district magistrate of Alwar - who has been attempting to engage business houses at nearby Bhiwadi to run schools for deprived Meo children on a Private Public Partnership (PPP) model.

"We build the schools and the corporates pay for the teacher's salary. I am working out such arrangements with corporate houses', Pednekar said.

"But what about the 16 government schools built in 2008, which have been lying abandoned for the last three years for lack of teachers", asks Noor Mohammed?


Voices:
Ashutosh AT Pednekar, DM, Alwar: "Skill development centers are being started. A minority officer has recently been appointed to the Mewat Development Board. Meos have been included in the central OBC list.Things are looking up".

Ayesha, 12 years, village Thoss: "I stopped studies after class-V, as there are no middle schools".

Amina, 56 years, village Mirzapur: "I am a widow with seven children. I do not own an inch of land and get no facilities from the government. I do not have a BPL card. I survive on the mercy of family and friends".

Shahabuddin, former Sarpanch, Mirzapur village: "Education is the main problem. This village with a population of 2500 should have at least four Anganwadi centers. But there is only one".

Shabnam Khan, 16 years: "I am the first girl of the village to have entered class-X. I want to study further and become an engineer".


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