Khalid Anis Ansari
Caste is a
Brahminical disease that not only plagues the Hindu society but the entire
South Asia is infected by this social evil. Despite regional and cultural
variations, caste is a common feature among all religious communities in this
region, and it plays a pivotal role in the distribution and control of
knowledge, power, property, resources, sexuality and dignity.
Muslims, too, are victims of caste-based stratification, and are divided into
three main classes and hundreds of Biradaris. At the top of the hierarchy are
the ‘Ashraf’ Muslims who trace their origin either to western or central Asia –
they are either Syed, Sheikh, Mughal, Pathan, etc or are native upper caste
converts (Rangad or Muslim Rajput, Taga or Tyagi Muslims, Garhe or Gaud Muslims
etc). Syed Biradari is highly revered and their status is almost symmetrical to
the Brahmins in Hinduism.
of social inequality within Muslims is termed Syedism, and movements against
the Ashraf dominance have been led by the ‘lower’ ones — Ajlaf (backward
Muslims) and Arzal (Dalit Muslims)—at least since the beginning of the 20th
And Representation Among Muslims
Muslims constitute about 15 per cent of the entire Muslim population in India,
while the rest comprise the backwards, Dalits and tribal Muslims. The 1990s saw
the rise of several social movements that gave voice and a new direction to
abolish casteism in the Muslim society with several organisations leading from
the front — the All India Backward Muslim Morcha of Dr Ejaz Ali from Bihar, the
All India Pasmanda Muslims Mahaj of Ali Anwar, and the All India Muslim OBC Organisation
of Shabbir Ansari from Maharashtra.
Two books –
Ali Anwar’s Masawat Ki Jung (2001) and Masood Aalam Falahi’s Hindustan Mein
Jaat Pat aur Musalman (2007) – were especially instrumental in exposing the
caste-based discrimination prevalent in the Muslim society. These books
demonstrated how the Ashraf Muslims had hegemonised and were overrepresented in
Islamic organisations and institutions (Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, Jamat-e-Islami,
All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Idaar-e-Sharia etc.), government-run
institutions for minorities (Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Millia Islamia,
Maulana Azad Educational Foundation, Urdu Academy etc.) and power structures
also illustrate the many layers and forms of caste-based discrimination that is
practised in the Muslim society — caste-based endogamy and observation of
social distance, the mocking or taunting of subordinate caste Muslims, the
existence of separate burial grounds, the practice of forcing lower Muslims to
stand in the back rows during Namaz prayers in certain regions, and the
practice of untouchability against Dalit Muslims among others.
It is the
result of such literature and efforts of the aforementioned organisations that
the backward, Dalit and tribal Muslim communities — Kunjre (Raeen), Julahe
(Ansari), Dhunia (Mansuri), Kasai (Qureishi), Fakir (Alvi), Hajjam (Salmani),
Mehtar (Halalkhor), Gwala (Ghosi), Dhobi (Hawari), Lohar-Badhai (Saifi),
Manihar (Siddiqui), Darzi (Idrisi), Vangujjar, etc. — are now organising under
the identity of ‘Pasmanda’: the ones who have been left behind.
Vs Communalism and Neglected Pasmandas
politics arranged around the axis of religion is often employed by the
Brahminical and Syedist forces to protect their own interests and social dominance.
Incidents of mob lynching and communal riots are often sponsored and
orchestrated by these forces to trap the subordinate caste communities in the
web of emotional issues; thereby suppressing the far more pressing issues of
the latter’s social and economic upliftment.
In a way,
the Hindu and Muslim communal forces are hand in glove and feed on each other.
The victims in nearly all communal incidents are almost always the subordinate
castes while the beneficiaries are the forward caste sections. It is somewhat
perplexing that a population otherwise divided into hundreds of castes and
communities is precipitously transformed into “Hindu” and “Muslim” during
communal incidents and riots.
numerical minority – the upper caste Hindus and Muslims – has successfully
captured Indian democracy by deploying the secular-communal and
majority-minority binaries based on religious identity. That is why the
Pasmanda movement insists on social identity instead of religious identity. The
slogan of Pasmanda movement — Dalit-Pichda Ek Saman, Hindu ho ya Musalman (All
Dalit-backwards are alike, whether they be Hindu or Muslim)— emphasises on the
unity of Bahujan communities from all religions. Following what Babasaheb Bhim
Rao Ambedkar used to exhort, the Pasmanda movement does not wait for any
saviour anymore but is instead trying to find the solutions to its miseries
through increased representation and participation in the democratic processes.
Politics and the Missing 85% Pasmandas
are being raised about the representation of Pasmanda Muslims in the 2019 Lok
Sabha elections. As per one analysis, of the 7,500 elected representatives from
the first to the fourteenth Lok Sabha, 400 were Muslims — of which 340 were
from Ashraf (upper caste) community. Only 60 Muslims from the Pasmanda
background have been elected in fourteen Lok Sabhas. As per 2011 Census,
Muslims constitute about 14.2 per cent of India’s population. This means that
Ashrafs would have a 2.1 per cent share in the country’s population. But their
representation in the Lok Sabha was around 4.5 per cent. On the other hand,
Pasmandas’ share in the population was around 11.4 per cent and still they had
a mere 0.8 per cent representation in Parliament.
that the situation will be the same in the 17th Lok Sabha, too. For instance,
only one out of seven Mahagathbandhan’s Muslim candidates in Bihar are a
Pasmanda and both BJP-led NDA’s candidates are Ashraf. In Bihar, the population
of Ashraf community is not more than 4 per cent of the state’s entire
population, yet they got 15 per cent representation among the Mahagathbandhan
candidates. In Uttar Pradesh, only one of the nine Muslim candidates fielded by
the Congress is a Pasmanda. Bahujan Samaj Party has fielded two Pasmanda candidates
out of six Muslims and one Pasmanda is fighting on a Samajwadi Party ticket
(out of four Muslims). It is true that in the BJP, there seems to be no space
for Pasmanda Muslims, but the flag bearers of secular and social justice
politics have also disappointed the Pasmanda Muslims.
Lohia, Kanshi Ram on Caste-Based Discrimination among Muslims
Kanshi Ram had once narrated his experience of working with Indian Muslims: “I
thought it was better to contact Muslims through their leadership. After
meeting about 50 Muslim leaders I was astonished to witness their Brahmanism.
Islam teaches us to establish equality and struggle against injustice but the
leadership of Muslims is dominated by so-called high castes like Syeds,
Sheikhs, Mughals and Pathans. The latter do not want the [subordinated Muslim
castes like] Ansaris, Dhuniyas, Qureshis to rise to their levels…I decided to
groom only those Muslims who had converted from Hindu SC communities [Pasmanda
Muslims] for leadership” (Satnam Singh, Kanshi Ram ki Nek Kamai Jisne Soti Qaum
Jagai, Samyak Prakashan, New Delhi, 2007, p. 132). Even Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and
Dr. Rammanohar Lohia have categorically acknowledged casteism within Muslim
Ambedkar opines thus: “Take the caste system. Islam speaks of brotherhood.
Everybody infers that Islam must be free from slavery and caste. Regarding
slavery nothing needs to be said. It stands abolished now by law…But if slavery
has gone, caste among Musalmans has remained…There can thus be no manner of doubt
that the Muslim Society in India is afflicted by the same social evils as
afflict the Hindu Society”.
basis of the Census Report 1901, Dr Ambedkar notes about the Dalit Muslims:
“With them no other Mahommedan would associate, and they are forbidden to enter
the mosque or to use the public burial ground”. In contrast to the social
reform movements to combat caste among the Hindus, Dr Ambedkar feels that: “The
Muslims…do not realize that they are evils and consequently do not agitate for
their removal. Indeed, they oppose any change in their existing practices” (Dr
B. R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or the Partition of India, Kalpaz Publications, Delhi,
1945, pp. 218-223). In the same vein Dr. Rammanohar Lohia suggests: “India’s
politicians have hitherto not cared to promote the interests of the really
oppressed minorities of the country, the numberless backward castes among
Hindus as well as Muslims. They have served the cause of the strong on the
pretext of their being a minority, the Parsi, the Christians, the high castes
among Muslims as also among Hindus” (Dr. Rammanohar Lohia, Guilty Men of
India’s Partition, B. R. Publishing Corporation, 2000, Delhi, p. 47). Now a
vital question is that why the parties who idolise Ambedkar, Lohia and Kanshi
Ram are shying away from the issue of representation for Pasmanda Muslims?
Pasmanda Muslims try to contest an election, the Ashraf Muslims taunt them as
Dhunia, Julaha, Kalal, Kunjra or Quasai. They make all efforts to ensure their
defeat. On the other hand, whenever an Ashraf candidate is fielded, voting for
him and ensuring his victory is termed as an Islamic responsibility and virtue.
Now, the Pasmanda Movement has launched a struggle against Syedism in Islam
with “85 per cent versus 15 per cent” slogan. The Pasmanda community is now
talking about politics of rights instead of Sawab (virtue/piety), and dawa
(medicine/healthcare) instead of Dua (supplication)..
politics of marginalised communities is akin to lava burning for centuries
below the earth’s surface. When the volcano erupts, it changes the entire
landscape. In the 1990s, the BSP gave us our first female Dalit chief minister,
which upset all expectations and equations. The Pasmanda movement is now trying
to forge a pan-religion unity of OBC-Dalits and expanding the extant notions of
Bahujanwad. The Pasmanda community is now working tirelessly towards completing
the circle of social justice.
Khalid Anis Ansari is Senior Assistant Professor
of Sociology, Glocal Law School, Glocal University. He is also the director of
Dr Ambedkar Centre for Exclusion Studies and Transformative Action.