By Anand Bharat
16 February, 2005
an article while stressing the need for a strong Dalit-Muslim tie that
could make a possible stand against the Hindu fundamentalism, Kancha
Ilaiah wrote, The Dalits and Adivasis have close relations with
the Christians but not with the Muslims. The service of several
Christian missionaries operating in our country has ensured the strengthening
of the Dalit-Christians tie. But despite sharing a certain strong historical
connection with each other, no such common ground could be forged between
the Dalits and the Muslims, which has only resulted in the lack of intimacy
between the two.
for a Dalit-Muslim unity is well understood. Many Muslim and Dalit activists
have also come to recognize how both the sections of society continue
to be exploited by the Hindu fundamentalists and instigated to kill
each other at the time of the so-called communal riot. They have realized
the need for a strong Dalit-Muslim tie in order to counter the fundamentalsits
ulterior motives in pitching the two against each other at the time
of communal violence. Such organizations as the Jamat-ul-Ulema-I Hind,
the All India SC/ST Federation and the Muslim United Morcha have recently
come up with the innovative ideas of organizing Dalit-Muslim Community
Dinner, etc. that has helped provide the two communities enough ground
to understand each other.
Media has reacted
passively to any event of such enormous significance. Its preoccupation
with many other trivial issues leaves no room for its engagement with
issues like this. We must recognize the harm entailed in such Media
passivity. After all, how long would commercial enterprises keep determining
our understanding of such social issues?
Coming back to
the issue of Dalit-Muslim unity, for any such venture to succeed, one
should first stress on the need for the recognision of the caste dynamics
operating in Islam, the understanding of which we have been deliberately
denied by several Islamic religious institutions and English-speaking
Muslim intelligentsia, who find it safe to propound the false
idea of an egalitarian Islamic society. By doing this they consolidate
the Muslim population and make them serve their private political purposes.
Shocking it might
be for many, around 85% of the total Indian Muslim population are Dalits
who have been denied access to those Constitutional provisions that
their Hindu counterparts have enjoyed. Despite this being by and large
a common knowledge that these Muslims are the converts of the Dalit
Hindus, we necessarily ignore the fact that they are very much in the
same social trap as Dalit Hindus are. Even the most strident advocates
of the caste identity have refused to acknowledge the undercurrent of
castes running in Islam. V. T. Rajsekar, the author of the celebrated
Caste: A Nation Within the Nation, writes in the same book: Among
Muslims there are numerous sects such as Moplah, Labbe, Nadaf
are not castes but sects
Among the Muslim sects
nothing like a higher Muslim sect or a lower
Muslim sect. They are separate but equal. For him the Muslim unity
over the issues like Shah Bano case, Muslim Personal Law Board, etc.
are the advantages of castes graduating into sects.
The real state
of affairs of the majority of Muslims is betrayed by the notion of pan
Islamic identity that does not stand true in the context of Indian society
where majority of Muslims are the Dalit converts. The Dalit Muslims
are today victims of a large political and religious conspiracy unleashed
on them by the religious leaders like the ulemas of the madrassas and
the English speaking intelligentsia among the Muslims, who constitute
just a fraction of the total Muslim population in India.
The need for a proper understanding of the caste dynamics at play in
Islam is strong.
Slowly, a few organizations
have come up to struggle for the rights of the Dalit Muslims. Among
them, the All India Backward Muslim Morcha has raised strong voice against
discrimination inflicted on the Dalit Muslims. Sociologists have recently
made many studies dedicated to the understanding of the same caste dynamics
at play in Indian Muslims. In a paper entitled Social Stratification
Among Muslims in India, Zarina Bhatty observes that Muslims in
India are divided into two broad categories, Ashrafs and Non-Ashrafs.
Ashrafs are upper castes by virtue of their foreign descent. And Non-Ashrafs,
being the alleged converts, constitute the lower castes.
the Ashrafs are divided into four castes, Sayyads, Sheikhs, Mughals
and Pathans, the Non-Ashrafs are divided into a number of occupational
castes. In Non-Ashrafs, writes Bhatty, the superiority or
inferiority of a caste is determined by the relative pure or impure
nature of the occupation associated with each.
It must also be
mentioned alongside that despite being in an overwhelming majority,
the Non-Ashrafs have no particular voice of their own; their social
and political situations are largely determined by a handful of upper
caste, English-speaking elites, who in order to keep the whole Muslim
community together, have consequently done away with their identity
as Dalits, thereby depriving them of their claim to social justice and
research has gone in finding caste dynamics in either Hindu or Muslim
community is itself debatable. Questioning the integrity of Indian sociologists,
Gail Omvedt writes in her essay entitled, Caste and the Sociologists,
that the most haunting lacuna of contemporary Indian sociology
remains the lack of data
the apparent lack of concern for even
It is in fact this
lack of understanding among Indian sociologists that has for long put
the idea of the existence of something called Dalit Muslims
under the cover. However, the recent study in the field has given all
those activists who want a separate Dalit identity to the Muslims a
much-needed shot in their arm.
A clear identification
of Dalit Muslims and recognition their political and social needs will
help bring together Dalit Muslims and Hindus, which can prove strong
bulwark against the fundamentalist force working against them.