Muslims of Calcutta

Muslims of Calcutta

Item Code: IHL829
Author: M.K.A. Siddiqui
Publisher: Anthropological Survey of India, Kolktata
Edition: 2005
ISBN: 818557992X
Pages: 151 (15 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.6 inch X 6.5 inch
Weight 470 gm
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From the Jacket

This study is an attempt to observe aspects of social organization of the Muslims in this massive urban centre. It is based on delineation of various identifiable segments of the Muslim population, drawn from major regions of the country and naturalized in the metropolis like most other citizens. The segments are not only ethnic, based on areas of origin, but also on sects and affiliation to mystic orders, both the latter are of overriding nature and cross cut the ethnic segments. A broad pattern of inter- relationship between the segments including the ethnic groups have been the main focus of the study. The picture of the organization of society that emerges provides unmistakable hints of the pattern of the social organization of the Muslims in the country as a whole. Muslim society in the area of our study has been observed to be meeting point of two divergent systems — the cultural ideals of Islam and the social ideals of caste. A closer look on interaction between the two exemplifies the harmonization of the two systems and emergent pattern in the social life of the community under study.

A Ph. D. in anthropology from the Calcutta University Prof. M. K. A. Siddiqui (b. 1929) had been associated with Anthropological Survey of India for over three decades. He was awarded Senior Fellowship of the ICSSR in 1988. He later joined the Asiatic Society as Research Professor in 1994. Prof. Siddiqui devoted major part of his carrier in Anthropological research, carrying out field investigations among the tribal communities and folk and urban societies and has published 29 books and monographs and over 125 research papers. Some of the main topics of his research include tribal ethnography, inter-community relation- ship, national integration and social change. Among his recent works include Lie in the Slums of Calcutta; Voluntary Association of the Muslim in Calcutta; Marginal Muslim Communities in India; Hindu-Muslim Relations, Educating A Backward Minority and Roots of Communalism in India.

Prof. Siddiqui is a recepient of a number of awards including Netaji Award by Netaji Birthday Celebration Committee in 2000 for his long devotion to social science.


When the proposal for printing the third edition of the Muslims of Calcutta’ was brought to my notice, immediately it is decided that we approach Dr. Siddiqui, who has since retired from service, whether it is possible to update the information. Dr. Siddiqui has very kindly prepared a preface to the third edition. He further opines that in itself the updating needs to be independent endeavour. Survey definitely would look for such opportunity so that social change can be brought into some perspective of temporality and recent thinking of ’Multiculturalism. However reprinting the original, seems to be in order with the demand.

Preface to the Third Edition

The second edition of this monograph having gone out of print, several years ago, and persistent demand for the book has warranted its reproduction for the third time. This third edition does not materially differ from the first and the second.

The scope of this study, as spelt out in the volume, had been limited to aspects of social organization of the Muslims in this metropolis. The author had endeavoured to confine his observation to the social reality focusing on the issues within its purview, without making any deliberate attempt to ignore other aspects. By and large the reviews, both within the country and abroad, were appreciative and encouraging, and though to many the attempt was commendable, there were some implied observations on its limited scope, particularly the inadequacy of data on some related aspects of life of the community under study, mainly on occupational pursuits, economic and educational status, health and housing conditions etc., taking into account the contemporary and modern developments.

Scope for improvement in a work of this nature is always present and anthropological study of, or within a` metropolis of this size has its own problems, yet it may not be difficult to present a glimpse of the aspects of life observed to have been left out or` inadequately dealt with.

The areas of residence of the Muslims in Calcutta are mainly situated in the ecological zone of the city which lies just beyond the central Business District, technically known as the areas of transition. It is in this zone that a number of slums or bustees, as they are called, as also the older areas of the city, are situated. Bustees occupy an area of 21.35 sq. km out of the total area of 187.33 sq. km of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, accommodating only a little less than half of the city’s population. Constituting about 800,000 individuals or 18 per cent of the total population of CMC, around three fourth of the Muslim population is concentrated in the bustees along with some non-Muslim fellow citizens. Slums or the areas of sub-standard housing vary considerably from one ecological zone to other. A description of the kind of life in the bustee may be found in a recent study ’Life in the Slums of Calcutta’ {2004).

A variety of occupations are followed by the members of the community, but the predominant nature of their occupational pursuits has a distinct pattern comprising self—employed or people employed in unorganized sector or artisans and craftsmen or engaged in small trade and figuring insignificantly in government, semi-government and organized sectors. It is interesting that the bustees are both the areas of their residence and place of work and may be seen as the hub of feverish economic activities. Their hard work is not adequately rewarded due to prevailing norms of business in the city. Modern developments have deprived the poorer section of the community of some of their monopolies by powerful business and quite often made them to compete with state enterprise without facilitating their entry in other fields.

Educationally, the community remains backward. Only 11 per cent of the boys and girls of school going age find admission in recognized schools and a total of 25 per cent of children may be found in educational institutions of all sorts, including madras has and maktabs in the city. The predominant linguistic segment of the community suffers from dearth of educational institutions which could cater to the educational needs of its children. Educational scenario of the Muslims of Calcutta has been dealt with in a subsequent work "Educating a Backward Minority" (1984) in considerable detail which needs updating. A recent study on a Calcutta bustee has revealed a disturbing fact that the percentage of literacy in the bustee was lower than what it had been at the time of independence.

Divergent socio—economic developments affecting the dominant and the minority within the framework of modern institution, may be explained in several ways but a close look at the social organizational aspect of the Muslims will continue to lead us to the conclusion that Muslim society in the area of our study remains a meeting point of two divergent system, the ideology of Islam and the structural norms of caste. The two systems are adaptive of one another in the way it has been explained in the study and amply manifests itself in the social organization of the Muslims in this massive urban centre.

Preface to Second Edition

The second edition of this monograph does not materially differ from the first one. Excepting for a few minor additions and alterations here and there to clarify the points raised or to support the argument put forth, in the volume, no major change has been made. A brief quotation from Mir Jawwad Hussain’s Tarikh-e-Hasan (1912), a little known work, illustrates the diversity of origin of the Indian Muslims indicating their derivation from various segments of the Indian population including the higher castes of the Hindu Community. Footnotes have been added and renumbered wherever necessary. A table has been added to provide comparative figures of the various religious communities in the city. Appendix IV is .also a new addition which gives the wardwise Hindu and Muslim population in the city to provide an idea of the areas of concentration of the Muslim population in the city. The main concentration of their population will be observed to lie just beyond the Central Business District, often known as the areas of transition and it is in this area that most of their slums are situated.

The qualitatively poor involvement of the Muslims with the modern institutions and with the socio-economic environment of their habitat, as also their recession into comparative backwardness, from their predominantly artisan background, consequent upon the changes occurring in various trades, either through large scale organization or through the development of state enterprise, deserved considerable attention. This has been pointed out by some reviewers who have otherwise been highly appreciative of the study. This socio-economic aspect of the life of the Muslims of Calcutta has merely been alluded to, in this volume and deserves a detailed treatment in a separate study. I am looking forward to an opportunity for ringing out a subsequent volume on the problem in future.

I am grateful to various reviewers and feel greatly encouraged by their highly appreciative comments on the first edition of the book. The appreciative reception of the first edition resulted in its going out of print within a short period. This has encouraged the publication of the second edition and for this the author is in duty bound to thank Shri H.K. Rakshit, Director, Anthropological Survey of India. Shri M. Das, Publication Officer and Shri J.R. Chakraborty of the Printing & Publication Section have seen this through press which I acknowledge with thanks.

Foreword (First Edition)

During 1962-63 Professor Nirmal Kumar Bose, the then Director of the Anthropological Survey of India, initiated a social survey of the City of Calcutta. In this pioneering research in urban anthropology the main finding was that primordial groups like linguistic and religious communities tended to be socially and culturally segregated in space, occupation and voluntary associations. The process of urbanization did not wither away the community boundaries in a model of “melting pot". In the same report it was pointed out that the Muslims of Calcutta exhibited a tendency to concentrate in certain wards of the City and also to specialize in a few occupations. We were interested in finding out in detail whether, within the Muslim community, the boundaries of region, language and “caste" were maintained in the urban situation.

Dr. M. K. A. Siddiqui, who was entrusted with this task of exploration, became vigorously involved in the programme and performed the amazing task of identifying nearly 60 endogamous caste-like ethnic groups among the Muslims of this City. The segmentation of the Muslims is mainly on national, regional and ethnic lines. It was also discovered, in line with the earlier findings of Ghaus Ansari, that the Muslims of Calcutta are broadly stratified into four blocks of ethnic groups. The groups belonging to the lower blocks have “caste" councils. Dr. Siddiqui critically examines whether the inter group hierarchy among the Muslims could be labelled as a caste system. He Feels that although the Muslim hierarchy shares some of the basic social structural attributes of the Hindu caste system like endogamy, caste council, occupational specialization and notion of social gradation. the hierarchy is rationalized in non-ritual terms. He sums up that the model that emerges out of the interaction of Islamic great tradition and the dominant social structural milieu of caste is not exactly identical with the Hindu model of caste. Yet it bears the main structural features of the caste system and hence it may be labelled as a variant of the caste system.

But caste-like segmentation covers only a part of the story of Muslim social organization in Calcutta. There are sectarian and khanqahi segments cutting across the caste divisions and there are also the overriding institutions, mosques and maktabs, generating an over- all solidarity of the Muslims. In the present dissertation, however, Dr. Siddiqui has been mainly concerned with the nature of segmentation and stratification in Muslim society rather than with a detailed examination of over-all solidarity of the Muslims as an urban minority community.

The author makes it clear that although the numerically dominant Hindus and the Muslim minority generally maintain mutual exclusiveness in ritual life, in the secular spheres there is considerable interdependence among the two communities in the matter of rendering and receiving specialized services. It has been rightly pointed out that the Hindus and Muslims of Calcutta have to continually adjust their economic and social activities taking due cognizance of the annual cycle of life activities of the other group.

In recent years there has been a • growing interest in research on society and culture of the Muslims of India. Dr. Siddiqui’s pains- taking research on the Muslims of Calcutta will undoubtedly be considered by relevant scholars as an important pioneering contribution in this growing field.


Preface to the Third Edition v
Preface to the Second Edition vii
Foreword (First Edition) ix
Acknowledgments xi
1. Introduction 1-12
The Background
Muslims in Indian Society: A Brief Review
Concept of Society in Islam
2. The Setting 13-28
Muslim in the City
3. Segments of Society: National, Regional & Ethnic Components 29-53
The Muslim Aliens
The Muslim Citizens
(1) North Western Region
(2) Western Region
(3)Southern Region
(4) Northern Region
4. Segments of Society: Sects 54-65
Comparative Strength in Calcutta
5. Segments of Society: Khanqah 66-71
Khanqahs in Calcutta
6. Interrelationship of Social Groups within the Society72-105
The Nature of the Groups
Occupational Specialization
Endogamy and Exogamy
Group Councils
Food and Pollution
Inter-ethnic Ranking
7. Muslims within a Larger Social Framework in the City 106-111
8. The System of Caste and the Muslims of Calcutta 112-120
The Two Systems
Appendixes 121-132
Appendix I
Appendix II
Appendix III
Appendix IV
Bibliography 133-136
Index 137-140
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