Travesty Of Social Justice: The Curious Case Of The Inclusion Of
Upper Caste Syed ‘Mallicks' In Bihar Backward Classes List
By Ashok Yadav & Khalid Anis Ansari
04 June, 2011
It must, however, be noted that while Muslim masses are exceptionally hard pressed, the Muslims are not a totally 'depressed' community. There are large numbers of Muslim landlords and semi-capitalistic farmers (beneficiaries upto-medium-scale politically of the Green Revolution), merchants and industrialists, who dominate the Muslim community as the bulwark of reactionary forces within it, and often serve as agents of the Congress and other bourgeois-landlord parties (Habib, Khan, & Singh, 1976, p. 68).
Thus, one can discern three groups among Muslims: (1) those without any social disabilities, the ashrafs; (2) those equivalent to Hindu OBCs, the ajlafs, and (3) those equivalent to Hindu SCs, the arzals. Those who are referred to as Muslim OBCs combine (2) and (3) (Rajindar Sachar et al, 2006, p. 193).
The two extracts reproduced above—one from the vantage point of ‘class' and articulated by the Marxist historians from the Aligarh School and the other based on ‘caste' and drawn from the Sachar Committee Report—indicate clearly that the entire Muslim community cannot be conceived as a backward class in India . Rather, as is the case with any other religious community obtained in India the Muslims too are a differentiated community and informed by variegated levels of marginalization. In the context of social policy caste has emerged as a major factor for determining the social backwardness of a group (including religious minorities) for purposes of affirmative action under the rubric Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (OBCs). In this context, Sachar Committee's observations that the ashraf sections within the Muslim community, as opposed to the pasmanda muslims (OBC and Dalit Muslims), are ‘without any social disabilities' is instructive. Despite this many spokespersons of Muslim politics, often informed by the interests of the upper caste Muslims, have demanded that all the Muslims be brought within the ambit of reservations in India. Quite clearly such a move will be benefitting the ashraf Muslims as they will corner a large proportion of employment and educational opportunities thus opened owing to their cultural capital. A related move by upper caste Muslim sections has been to negotiate with the dominant political powers and sneak into the existing OBC list. In our view both these moves are a travesty of social justice politics and must be contested by all democratic citizens and movements in this country.
In this context the inclusion of upper caste Syed Mallicks in the Backward Classes list (Annexure II) in Bihar by Nitish Kumar government in 2008, in a bid to appease the Muslim leadership and dilute the Saffron charge against himself due to his alliance with the right wing BJP, must be strongly interrogated. Especially, when the Mallicks who claim themselves to be the descendents of Syed Ibrahim Biya Mallick, the military chief of Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, have managed to get approval from the Union Cabinet on recommendations from National Commission for Backward Classes for inclusion in the Central OBC list on June 2, 2011. We think this has been an unacceptable move by the institutions concerned as by no stretch of imagination can the Mallicks be considered an OBC group. All historical and sociological data that are presently available reveal without any doubt that they are an upper caste and prosperous Muslim group [See: Mallick Family; Mallick Tanzeem, 2008; Ahmed, 2009] and so must be immediately ejected from the Bihar State Backward Classes list and, moreover, no further action must be taken with respect to the notification pending in the Social Justice Ministry to include them in Central OBC list.
In fact, when Nitish Kumar led NDA government of Bihar included mallicks in BC category one respected commentator, himself belonging to the mallick community, vehemently opposed this move(Ahmed, 2009). The article that he circulated at that point of time establishes beyond doubt that the mallicks are a socially, educationally and economically advanced group. In fact, the first Chief Minister of Bihar, after elections were held by the British government in 1937, was Mohammad Younus, a mallick by caste and an owner of a bank and a railway line. The British held Census also upheld the status of mallicks as belonging to the privileged ashraf category within Muslims. During Partition many rich mallicks migrated to Pakistan and Bangladesh and rose to eminent positions there in military, bureaucracy and literary fields. The mallick diaspora scattered mainly in Gulf countries and USA is well-networked and emotionally attached to their roots in Bihar. There is no dearth of educated middle class among the mallicks.
However, despite these glaring facts a few notorious sections within the mallick community had been making consistent efforts for slipping into the BC list of Bihar since the 1990s. In fact, the State Commission of Backward Classes of Bihar (henceforth, SCBC) had rejected the application of mallicks for inclusion in BC list in 1999, and had appropriately conveyed the same to the government then headed by Laloo-Rabri Yadav. In this respect the SCBC had carried out field surveys and had found that the literacy rate in mallick dominated villages was around 90% and that most of the houses were pucca . It also found that the mallicks enjoyed the same social status as other Muslim upper castes like syeds , sheikhs and pathans . The mallicks were mainly found occupied in agriculture, services and business, and, moreover, they usually abstained from working in the field themselves and hired field laborers from other lower castes to get their agricultural work done. SCBC report also produced a litany of historical sources that suggested that mallicks and syeds were not different. The report also indicated at the fraudulence and slyness of the mallicks when it noted that in the photocopies of the historical sources that they submitted the word ‘syed' was deleted for obvious reasons. Interestingly, while the applicants claimed that they were a socially exploited section, yet they also made the statement that no case of atrocities committed against them was pending in any court of law. As we know, the caste system is based on hereditary division of labor. Every backward caste has a certain caste occupation. But in the case of mallicks the applicant failed to name any specific caste occupation of theirs. In view of the overwhelming weight of evidence against them the commission appropriately rejected their claim(State Backward Class Commission of Bihar, 1999).
Yet, the rejection of their move in 1999 did not dampen the spirit of these sections of the mallick community. They soon found an opportunity when Nitish Kumar assumed the charge of Bihar in 2005. In the ecstasy of toppling the fifteen years long regime of Laloo Yadav, Nitish fell victim to historical amnesia and conveniently forgot that more than any other social group it were the lower caste pasmanda muslims who having shifted their allegiance from Laloo to Nitish had made his dream of becoming the CM of Bihar a reality. Moreover, he was actively hunting for new constituencies and was eager to demonstrate that despite being in alliance with the BJP he was secular and not anti-Muslim. The mallicks exploited these political infirmities of Nitish Kumar. They once again knocked the SCBC, only this time more stealthily. After having learnt a few lessons from their past failure, this time they posed themselves as telis (oil pressers), after Teli Malik's of Uttar Pradesh with which they had no sociological or historical similarity. Thus, through fraudulent means they were able to contrive a caste occupation for themselves.
As per the procedures the SCBC again undertook field surveys in the mallick dominated villages of Bihar. However, the SCBC had to write in the report that their claim of being oil pressers was wrong and could not be maintained. Yet, this time the SCBC, throwing all norms to the fire, instead of rejecting not only accepted the application but also recommended to the state government that the mallicks be included in the state BC list. No reference was made to the previous report of the SCBC on the same issue. The present SCBC report is also an exercise in falsehood. It has reported that as per procedure the advertisements and news to seek public opinion on the matter were sent to local newspapers, radio, television channels, etc. However, the SCBC has not mentioned any date of any newspaper for publication of the same in the report (State Backward Classes Commission of Bihar, 2008). Interestingly, the Imarat-e-Sharia , Bihar, which is a prominent religious body of Muslims and is expected to rise above partisan considerations, too became a party to this crime when its General Secretary wrote a congratulatory letter to Nitish Kumar for including the mallicks into the BC list and requested him to include the remaining three Muslims castes (i.e. Sheikh, Syed and Pathan) in the BC list as well (Qasmi, 2008). This letter by a key functionary of Imarat-e-Shariah also reveals the distorted notions of social justice that this organization holds and also foregrounds the upper-caste content of most prominent Muslim religious organizations (Ali, 2010).
Subsequently, the backward class Hindu and Muslim sections have protested against the move to include the mallicks in the BC list (IANS, 2008; Yadav, 2008). Petitions were submitted in the SCBC for this purpose but it yielded no results. However, the sporadic protests continued. The tenure of all the members of the SCBC, except the Chairman, who were instrumental in including the mallicks in the BC list, has now ended. New members have taken charge. Very recently, emboldened by the success of the mallicks in entering the BC list, the upper caste Sheikh Muslims also made attempts and submitted an application before the SCBC. However, this time the rank and file of the backward caste Hindu and Muslim organizations was vigilant enough and they jointly protested against this move (AIPMM, 2010; Das, 2010; Rai, 2010). Consequently, their petition was rejected by the SCBC after due verification (Bihar State Backward Classes Commission, 2011). Also, the case of mallicks has been reopened recently by the SCBC after sustained protests by OBC Muslim and Hindu groups. So when on June 2, 2011 the Union Cabinet has taken the decision to include the mallicks in the Central OBC list, scores of petitions against the inclusion of mallicks in BC list in Bihar by both Hindu and Muslim OBC organizations have already been filed before the SCBC. The SCBC has also held some rounds of hearing on this issue from June 1 to June 3, 2011.
Hence , it is imperative that the Social Justice Ministry in the Centre should withhold its notification on the same and wait for the decision of the SCBC on this issue. Otherwise it will be a big mockery of social justice. The horizontal solidarity between Hindu and Muslim OBC groups is growing and translating fast into political action as their joint protests against the inclusion of sheikhs and mallicks in BC list indicates. The Congress Party and JD (U) must stop appeasing the Muslim ashraf castes now and take the concerns of pasmanda muslims seriously, not only because that is just in the context of social policy on affirmative action but also because that may affect the political fortunes of these parties drastically in the very near future, especially in UP where Congress is trying to regain lost ground and where JD (U) will be entering for the first time in 2012 assembly elections.
[Ashok Yadav is a social commentator based in Patna (Bihar) and Khalid Anis Ansari is a social researcher based in New Delhi. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com .]Works Cited
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