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Published On:06 December 2011
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Quota for OBC Muslims: A step forward towards Social Justice

By M. Naushad Ansari

The government is considering giving reservation to the backward Muslims within the 27 per cent quota in jobs fixed for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and a decision in this regard will be taken soon, law minister Salman Khurshid said on Thursday.

He said that under the law all reservations can only be on the basis of OBCs. "Indira Sawhney judgment is what we can go by in this regard," he said. Admitting that there already was reservation for backward Muslims, he said the effectiveness of this reservation, which is not happening and to which the Sachar Committee has also pointed out, is to be ensured.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi had reportedly assured a delegation of Muslim leaders in May this year that modalities for providing reservation to Muslims would be worked out in six months. Congress is learnt to be in favour of providing reservations to Muslims on the lines of the quota structure already in place in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Though many Muslims welcomed this announcement as a step forward in helping marginalised Muslims, others demand reservation for the Muslims as a whole. On this Syed Shahabuddin, ex-MP and President of All India Majlis-e-Mushawarat, said: “if caste can be interpreted as class, why not religion; that all Muslims are, socially and educationally, marginalized and deprived”.

When State government of Andhra Pradesh had announced reservation for pasmanda Muslims, Jamia Nizamia of Andhra Pradesh had issued a fatwa against state government’s move to provide reservations for Muslims on the lines of castes. However most of the prominent ulema of the country, cutting across the lines of sects and organisations, had sharply reacted against the fatwa. Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari of Jama Masjid, Delhi, had declared that the fatwa will harm the interest of the community.

Taking a different view Prof. Imtiaz Ahmed of JNU says that ‘en bloc reservation of Muslims is not a viable idea. Inclusion of Muslim Dalits as OBCs makes the most sense’. The pasmanda Muslim groups demand caste-based reservation as given in the constitution. They argue that according to Indian constitution religion-based reservation is invalid; that if the reservation will be given to all Muslims, the ashraf, who have historically been forward in all aspects, would corner the benefits of reservation; that if for endogamy and khilafat purpose caste could be the criteria, why not for reservation in job also? They also argue that all Muslims are equally deprived is incorrect. True, by and large, Muslims are deprived and face discrimination, but within the community pasmanda Muslims. And, moreover, the creamy class among them has already been excluded from the reservation benefits.

Indeed, the existence of caste system and reservation for backward Muslims has always been a controversial issue. Though it is an undisputed fact that there is no caste system in Islam; the Holy Quran and the Prophet’s sayings are crystal clear that all human beings are equal, Indian Muslims did develop a hierarchial structure by characterizing numerous biradaris. Some Muslims established superior status for themselves as ashraf or noble, while some indigenous converts are commonly referred as ajlaf or ‘lowly’. Some Islamic jurists too, deviating from Islamic teachings, in the name of kufu i.e. parity in marriage between the parties, legitimize and encourage caste system. Muslim law of marriage recognizes the doctrine of kufu in all vital respects including social status and descent, which, in India, means nothing but casteism. Even many scholars consider that ‘khilafat’ should only remain with so-called ashraf Muslims.

On the existence of castes among Indian Muslims the Sachar Committee Report says: “Based on the arguments and data presented, it is logical to suggest that Muslim in India, in terms of their social structure, consist of three groups- ashrafs, ajlafs and arzals. The three groups require different types of affirmative action. The second group, ajlaf/OBCs, need additional attention which could be similar to that of Hindu-OBCs.’ (Page 214)

Similarly, the Justice Rangnath Mishra Commission finds prevalence of castes among various sections of the Indian citizenry. It concludes:

“The caste is in fact a social phenomenon shared by almost all Indian communities irrespective of their religious persuasions”. (Para 16.3)

On the level of backwardness of pasmanda Muslims, the Sachar committee finds:

“Out of every 100 workers about 11 are Hindu OBCs, three are Muslim-general and only one is Muslim OBC” (Page 209), whereas the population of OBC Muslims is as much as 75% of the total Muslims’ population.

The Sachar Committee’s findings further suggests: “The incidence of poverty is highest among Muslim-OBC followed by Muslim General … Overall, the conditions of Muslim-OBCs are worse than those of Muslim-General …Within the Muslim community a larger percentage of Muslim OBCs fall in low income category as compared to Muslim-General.” (The Muslim OBCs and Affirmative action)

Likewise, Justice Rangnath Mishra Commission recommends that “the caste system should be recognized as a general social characteristic of the Indian society as a whole, without questioning whether the philosophy and teachings of any particular religion recognize it or not. It further recommends that Para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 should be wholly deleted by appropriate action so as to completely de-link the Scheduled Caste status from religion.

Historically, a good number of backward and dalit Hindus converted to Islam. But after conversion their socio-economic status remained impoverished and downtrodden. Most of them continued with their traditional professions as artisans, peasants and labourers, except those which were considered impure or unacceptable in Shariah. Nevertheless, of late, some of these Muslim caste groups got Islamised. They also became organized and given themselves Muslim nomenclatures. They identified and associated themselves with Islamic personalities. For example, the butchers designated themselves as Qureshi; the weavers as Ansari; the tailors as Idrisi; the Bhishtis as Abbasi; the vegetable vendors as Raeen; the barbers as Salmani; the carpenters and blacksmiths as Saifi etc. By joining the fold of Islam they did not get such a boost to their talents and abilities that they could face equal competition with all others.

The Constitution prohibits any discrimination between the citizens. Hence, any religion-based discrimination conflicts with the letter and spirit of the provisions. In the famous Indra Sawhney Case the Supreme Court had decided that ‘a caste can be and quite often is a social class in India’. Further it conceptualizes: ‘If it is backward socially, it would be a backward class for the purpose of Article 16(4). Among non-Hindus, there are several occupational groups, sects and denominations, which for historical reasons are socially backward. They too represent backward social collectives for the purpose of Article 16(4). Identification of the backward classes can certainly be done with reference to castes among, and alongwith, other occupational groups, classes and section of people. (AIR 582 SC 1993) Reservation in public employment is specifically covered by Article 16(4) of the Constitution, for any backward class of citizens, which are not adequately represented in the services under the State.

Hence, instead of shoving the issue of reservation for pasmanda Muslims under the carpet it is duty of our ulema and community leaders to realise that this group needs special attention and there should be no roadblock in the way of their getting fair share, for, they are, as suggested by the Sachar Committee report, ‘cumulatively oppressed’. Repeated appeal to the Muslim community to maintain unity in the name of Islam, foregoing the constitutional benefits for OBCs, would not be a wise idea. May be some day in the future reservations will be based solely on community’s impoverishment, but until then caste-based reservation seems to be perfectly justified.

No minority group, anywhere in the world, can achieve its legitimate goals without solidarity and united action. True, the Muslim community must reject the proposition of fragmentation, but they should apply the same principles of social justice as much within the community as it demands for itself within the nation.

[M. Naushad Ansari is Director, Centre for Dissemination of Universal Message, Bangalore. He can be contacted at ruby.naushad@gmail.com]

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on December 06, 2011. Filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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