Pasmanda Muslims and Their Decades-Long Fight for Equality

Pasmanda Muslims, who are an attractive vote bank, comprise more than 85% of the entire Muslim population in India. However, how much the BJP's ‘sneh' and 'samman’ yatras will help them is little-known.

“Ek hi saf mein khare ho gae Mahmood-o-Ayaz
Na koi banda raha na banda nawaz.”

The great Urdu poet Allama Iqbal wrote the above lines to establish that there was equality among the followers of Islam in India.

The reference, in the couplet above, is to Mahmud of Ghazni and his slave Ayaz. Both would, during the battles and other administrative work, take a brief halt to offer namaz.

The great Sultan would stand in the same row alongside Ayaz and offer his prayers. This moment, in the poet’s mind, erased all differences between the master and his slave.

We are sure the Sultan prayed standing in the same row as his slave, but one wonders if Mahmud and his slave ever sat to have a meal on the same Dastarkhwan (meaning on the same table).

No community which entered India and made the country its home remained untouched by the rigid caste system. Islam and Christianity were no exceptions. The Muslims who came from Arabia, Turkey, Persia, Central Asia, and Afghanistan considered themselves purer and therefore higher than the local converts.

Among the Indian converts, too, there was a hierarchy. Converts from high caste Hindus were accepted, though condescendingly, by the immigrants. The working class converts were considered lower than them. Among them, people who were engaged in “clean” occupations, like weavers, were a class higher than those who converted from Dalit Hindus.

However, conversion to Islam bestowed no equality on them as they continued to do the same work as before. The Dalit converts remained “untouchables”.

And yet, in 1950, reservation was introduced only for the Hindu Dalits. Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Buddhist Dalits were barred on the ground that their respective new religions considered them equal.

In 1956, the Dalit Sikhs, on the persuasion, perhaps, of Master Tara Singh, were granted reservation like the Hindus. In 1990, the Dalit Buddhists were also granted reservation.

Muslim and Christian Dalits, however, were not granted reservation despite Article 341 of the Constitution of India.

Sri Anvar Ali had raised this issue in his book, Masawat ki Jung, written in Urdu, and through the All India Muslim Pasmanda Mahaz, the organisation he founded to uplift the Muslims who were left behind.

Pasmanda means “left behind” in the Persian language, which is used by Muslim associations to define themselves as communities who are historically and socially oppressed by caste.

In 2004, the Muslim Khatik Samaj of Maharashtra and some Dalit Christian organisations of Kerala had filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court on the status of Dalits after conversion.

Responding to the top court on the writ petition, the United Progressive Alliance government had set up the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, which suggested that religious restriction should be abolished.

The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the National Minorities Commission had also recommended the abolition of religious discrimination. These recommendations, however, served no purpose because the UPA government didn’t file a counter affidavit.

In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party government said in parliament that they are not in favour of including Muslims and Christians as Dalits. Such a step, they feared, would change the demography of the nation.

Respond to the apex court on the same writ petition, the BJP government had in October this year set up the Justice K.G. Balakrishnan Commission.

Commissions, especially in this case, seem to be only helping to delay the process.

Also read: Panel Report Recommending SC Quota for Dalit Christians, Muslims ‘Flawed’: Centre Tells SC

Muslim and Christian Dalits should have given up all hopes in 2004 when the UPA government didn’t file a counter affidavit, despite every opinion they sought went in favour of abolishing religious discrimination.

And now, amidst the flogging and lynching of Muslims, with jails being the only spaces to boast of Muslim majority, demands of genocide of Muslims, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has told party workers to reach out to the Pasmanda Muslim community by taking out ‘sneh’ and ‘samman’ yatras.

However, it is not exactly clear what the BJP government plans to reach out to them with. In this case, the words ‘sneh’ and ‘samman’ may appear for the drowning man as a straw to cling on to and reach the safer shore. Because, let us not forget, Pasmanda Muslims have been the worst victims of rape, lynching and flogging, jail terms and demolition of houses and shops.

But the Pasmanda Muslims should also be aware that they are an attractive lot as vote banks, comprising more than 85% of the entire Muslim population in India. The remaining are the ‘Ashrafs’, who held high positions in the government during the colonial era. A majority of them had crossed over to Pakistan.

How much will the Pasmanda communities of Muslims gain by the overtures of ‘sneh’ and ‘samman’ is little-known. Additionally, there is no doubt that the offer, if accepted, will further fracture the entire Muslims community.

Parveen Talha is a former officer of the Indian Revenue Service and the Union Public Service Commission.