Casteism In Islam May Help Mayawati’s Dalit-Muslim Coalition

Casteism In Islam May Help Mayawati’s Dalit-Muslim Coalition

by Dr A.K Verma - Saturday, October 29, 2016 07:51 AM IST
Casteism In Islam May Help Mayawati’s Dalit-Muslim
  • Is Mayawati trying her new social engineering founded on the secular interest aggregation of Dalits and ‘lower’ Muslims?

    This transformation in her social engineering has the potential to cause some upsets in the upcoming assembly polls in UP.

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati’s recent attempt to forge Dalit-Muslim coalition has attracted everybody’s attention. The ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) is especially worried for two reasons: one, Muslims had traditionally voted for SP and their loss to the party could be suicidal; two, the current schism in SP may facilitate the Muslim shift to BSP, which is aggressively wooing Muslims. What could be the socio-economic profile of Muslims that might be attracted to BSP? Are there substantial numbers of Muslims, who feel closer to Dalits than to their own religious fraternity?

Despite Islam’s egalitarian character, the Muslim community is highly fragmented at the social level, suffering from a virtual caste system. Casteism in Indian Islam is a reflection of how the religion came to India. According to popular belief, soon after the death of the Prophet, a group of 20 Muslims, arrived in 643 AD in Kerala to preach Islam. They founded the first Indian mosque at Kodungallur, in today’s Thrissur district, nearly a century before the first arrival in India in 711 AD of a Muslim conqueror, Muhammed bin Qasim.

While political patronage and post-conquest coercions may have been factors in the spread of Islam, many disadvantaged and deprived sections of Indian society moved to Islam to escape miseries of caste discriminations prevalent in the Hindu society. Even Swami Vivekananda (1897) said:

The Mohammedan conquest of India came as a salvation to the downtrodden, to the poor. That is why one-fifth of our people have become Mohammedans. It was not the sword that did it all. It would be the height of madness to think it was all the work of sword and fire.

After challenging the hierarchical Arab society, Islam’s egalitarian social ideology upholding equality and fraternity came to north India in the 12th century. At that time, India had already developed its own form of social stratification known as the caste system.

The Census Report 1901 records existence of three social divisions among Muslims - Ashraf, Ajlaf and Arzal. Ashrafs included descendants of Arabs or converts from upper caste Hindus, Ajlafs from middle castes and Arzals were Dalit converts to Islam. The census listed castes under each division with a social precedence as among Hindus.

Muslim scholars differ on whether Islam permits inequality and discrimination on the ground of birth. Some argue that Ajlaf and Arzal communities are only occupational divisions without any status implications. Once their members move outside occupational realm they are on par with everyone else. Others view existence of these communities as reflecting a system in which groups were ranked as superior and inferior and individuals carried the burden of their group status through having to suffer disabilities and exclusion as members of groups. In reality, however, the Muslim community remains diversified, fragmented and as caste-ridden as any other community of India.

Islam may not discriminate between people but Muslims do. In the Constituent Assembly, during decision on reservation for minorities it was suggested by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar that even Muslims include Dalits in the same fashion that Hindus do and changing one’s caste does not improve his social and financial status. Therefore, Muslim Dalits should be provided reservation. This suggestion was opposed by five Muslim members of the committee, saying Muslims do not need reservation on the basis of their religion. However, Muslims have formed ‘Pasmanda Front’, which is working for the recognition of Dalit Muslims as scheduled castes (SC).

A Muslim Khatik organisation had appealed to Supreme Court (writ petition no. 13 of 2008), on why Muslim Dalits were denied SC status, challenging as discriminatory para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled caste) Order, 1950 issued by the President of India under Art 341 of the Constitution. The petitioner, an organisation from Maharashtra argued that:

...historically speaking, there was only one caste of Khatiks. Later on, some of them converted to Islam and became Muslim Khatiks... Sometimes, the names are such that it is difficult to distinguish between a Hindu Khatik and a Muslim Khatik. Muslim Khatiks etc are as educationally, socially and economically backward as the Hindu Khatiks, but they have not been declared as the Khatik scheduled castes. Likewise, Muslim Mehtars/Halal Khor/Lal Begi/Bhangi/ Muslim /Dhobi, Mukri, Garudi and Mochi etc. have been denied the status of scheduled castes, whereas their Hindu counterparts have been enjoying the benefits and privileges granted to the scheduled castes.

Scholars estimate that an overwhelming 75 per cent Muslims fall into Ajlaf and Arzal category. Backward Class Commission in most states have included Muslim castes in the list of OBCs, a status that entitles them for affirmative action benefits, mainly reservations in state services and educational institutions. But, that has not been done in case of Dalit Muslims.

In Uttar Pradesh, Muslim castes viz. Qassab, Qureshi, Idrisi, Abbasi, Shekh, Faqir, Momin (Ansar), Muslim Kayastha are all included in the state OBC list. If Muslims could be included in OBC list, why can’t they be included into SC list? There are a lot of Dalit Muslims in Uttar Pradesh that include Muslim Mehtars, Halal Khor, Lal Begi, Bhangi, Muslim Dhobi, Mukri, Garudi and Mochi etc. Why they can’t be included in SC list on the lines of OBC list? Could they be a prospective constituency of Mayawati and BSP?

And, therein lies the scope for bonding between Ajlaf and Arzal Muslims with Mayawati’s Dalit constituency. In fact, ordinary Muslim masses feel closer to OBCs and Dalits, placed adjacent to them and not in relationship of dependence. There is an alignment of interests of secular nature, a social coalition of oppressed forces. Is Mayawati trying her new social engineering founded on this secular interest aggregation of Dalits and ‘lower’ Muslims? This transformation in her social engineering has the potential to cause some upsets in the coming assembly polls in UP.

A K Verma is Director, Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, Kanpur.

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