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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 9 New Delhi February 16, 2019

Understanding Socio-political Assertion of Muslims in India Today

Sunday 17 February 2019

by Shamsher Alam

As far as Indian democracy is concerned, Muslims are one of the important parts of the same. They are a decisive factor of Indian democracy. However, when it comes to map and comprehend their socio-political cons-ciousness and assertion, then it appears a vague picture altogether. Therefore, this paper is an attempt to understand and map the current socio-political assertion, consciousness and awareness of the Muslims in India today from three vantage points: first, the assertion and protest when there is attack on their religious belief and sentiments; second, understanding their consciousness and assertion in the context of the atrocities against them; and third, the demand for the Schedule Caste status for Dalit Muslims. Moreover, this paper also sketches the current trend of the Muslims’ socio-political assertion in India today.

Assertion when there is Attack on Religious Belief and Sentiments

To begin with, it can be argued that Muslims are an important part in Indian politics and society. However, their socio-political assertion is not visible in the public sphere although they are politically aware but not very much assertive in nature. Nevertheless, they show more valorous strength when there is an attack on their religious beliefs and sentiments. It can be substantiated by the fact that there was a huge protest when Hindu Mahasabha leader Kamlesh Tiwari made an objectionable remark against Prophet Mohammad. His remark came in response to a statement made by Azam Khan, wherein he (Khan) opined that ‘all RSS leaders are homosexual, and that’s why they don’t marry’ and he (Tiwari) described Prophet Mohmmad as the ‘first homosexual’. In the backdrop of this statement ‘Muslims have held large protest rallies in Ludhiana, Indore, Bengaluru, Lucknow, Bhopal and other regions over the last few days. ..., there were protests in Hyderabad and Lucknow, with protesters blocking the Lucknow-Hardoi road for hours.’ (The Indian Express, 2015)

Similarly, a TV reporter made a hateful comment about the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima, calling her ‘sexy Fatima’. This odious statement came at the time when the film Padmavat was stuck in the Censor Board and there was also a controversy around the naming of a film as ‘Sexy Durga’. The comment made by the TV reporter also led to protests across the country along with a campaign on the social networking sites such as Facebook and What’s App. However, these protests were not covered by the main- stream media.

Raising Voice in the Context of Atrocities against Them

When it comes to the assertion and protest against the physical atrocities against them either in the name of the cow or in any form, then it is evident that such kind of huge protests (as in the case of the statement against Prophet Mohammad) have not been organised by Muslims groups or organisations under their banner or leadership (particularly by religious scholars and Muslim political leaders). This can be substantiated by various examples such as in the cases of disappearance of Najeeb from the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus or the murders of Pehlu Khan, Rakbar Khan, Junaid Khan or any other disappearance or killing in the name of the cow by the cow vigilante groups. In these types of incidents, Muslim political and religious leaders do not come and share their anxiety and concern while expressing their anger and anguish under a common banner. Moreover, they also do not organise protests under their leadership in the context of the alleged fake encounters by the state machinery. Perhaps all these atrocities and violence do not shatter them and that is why they do not come under one platform to raise their voice as they do when their religion is explicitly under attack.

However, if valorous protests had been organised by the Muslim groups on the disappearance of Najeeb, on the lines of what the Dalits had organised across the country after the murder of Rohith Vemula and the Una attack, this would have acted as a pressure upon the government to look into the matter more seriously and he (Najeeb) would have returned to his family and the university. In addition to this, if intensive protests, movements and campaigns had been launched across the country by the Muslim groups, particularly after the killing of Akhlaq Khan in the name of beef consumption, the situation would have been different. The silence of Muslims, particularly the religious scholars and Muslim political leaders across party lines, on such occasions is a matter of grave concern not only for the safety and security but for the political and social wellbeing of the Muslims. Raising their voice by religious scholars and political leaders on such issues is very important because they are important stake-holders and having the power to influence the society more than the common people.

Albeit the protests were not being organised solely by the Muslim community, particularly the religious scholars and political leaders, in the context of the atrocities against them, they also did not manage to blockade the roads as they had done in the context of the odious statement against the Prophet. However, this does not mean that protests have not been organised against the spate of killings, communal and sectarian violence against the Muslims. To substantiate this, in 2017 there was a protest in the form of ‘Not in My Name’ led by Saba Dewan against the killing of Muslims and Dalits in the name of cow protection. Later on, civil society and the common people joined this movement. But, the participation of Muslims as protesters or the leadership of Muslims in such types of protests was not very much visible and their participation in these was not reported by the media groups. This was a matter of deep worry. Silence on such issues and not organising protest campaigns under their own leadership and banner also show lack of socio-political awareness, consciousness and strength of Muslims. This kind of attitude is not good for the political, social and other aspects of Muslims in India today.

Mapping Consciousness and Assertion in the Context of Demand for Reservation

In addition to this, if we analyse the consciousness and assertion of Muslims in the context of other social issues such as the demand of the Schedule Caste status for the Arzal Muslims (the lowest and very backward section among the same), then it can be argued that there is a lack of valorous protests to achieve this benefit. Albeit the legal fight is going on for the Schedule Caste status for the same. However, the protests and campaigns for the inclusion of Dalit Muslims in the Schedule Caste status are not as much visible as the Marathas in Maharashtra and Patidars in Gujarat. Muslim groups are not having a common opinion as far as the demand of Schedule Caste status for Dalit Muslims is concerned. They are divided on the issue. To substantiate this, it is worth discussing how Hassan argued and tried to map the debate on the demand for the reservation of Dalit Muslims.

There are generally two groups among the Muslims, one who oppose and one who support the reservation for Dalit Muslims. Those who oppose, their arguments are: ‘The Constitution talks about protective discrimination in the context of class, not caste. If caste can be interpreted as class, why not religion? There is no casteism among Indian Muslims, so reservation should be given to all Muslims on economic grounds (emphasis added). All Muslims are socially and educationally marginalised, deprived and they have been sidelined from the mainstream (emphasis added).’ (Hassan, 2012:121-22) Further, she observed: “All profound Muslim religious and political organisations are headed by the so-called superior caste of Muslims (ashraf) and they are supporting it. It has also been supported by the majority of intellectuals and leaders of ‘ashraf’.” (Ibid., 122) This kind attitude and approach is a stumbling block for the demand for Dalit Muslim reservation and its movement. Moreover, the movement on this demand is in a fragile stage because of the superior Muslims’ obstructionist approach.

When we focus on the other side or the supporters of the Dalit reservation, their major arguments are: 1. If reservation will be given to all Muslims then the upper-caste Muslims (syed, shaikh, pathan, mallik etc.), who have historically been forward in all aspects of life, will benefit from the reservation and SC, ST, and OBC Muslims will be completely overshadowed by them. 2. First of all ‘ashraf’ should demolish caste-boundaries prevailing in the Muslim society and then should ask for reservation to all Muslims on economic grounds. 3. If Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist SCs can be given reservation, why should Muslim SCs be kept away from that reservation? (Ibid., 122) These are the arguments of those supporting reservation for Dalit Muslims. Hence, it becomes clear that there are two groups on such a demand for social justice and because of this, the mandate for the same is not gaining momentum. Therefore, there is absence of valorous protest in this regard.

Having discussed the internal dynamics among Muslims in the context of reservation, it is worth mentioning some modalities and constitutional framework about the Schedule Caste status. Initially, this was reserved only for them as ‘no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Schedule Caste’. (Ahmad, 2007: 18) Later on, because of ‘pressure from Ambedkarite and Sikh organisations, this was ... amended to include Dalits who profess Buddhism and Sikhism’. (Sikand, 2007: 104) Hence this category is reserved only for those religions that are Indic in nature. This reservation is guaranteed under the constitutional (Schedule Caste) order 1950 also known as The Presidential Order, 1950. This order excludes those religions that are not of Indian origin such as Islam and Christianity. Several scholars and political scientists argue that the state is discriminating on the basis of religion in this regard. To substantiate this, it is worth mentioning (Ibid.,103) that ‘the continued denial by the state of SC status to the Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians despite consistent demands on the part of these communities is a patently anti-democratic and anti-secular stance and gross violation of the fundamental principles of the Indian Constitution’.

Moreover, it is also worth discussing that political parties (at least those who believe in the social justice principles) do not directly support such a demand or even they did not give space to this in their manifestos. Shahabuddin (2002: 480) in this context has asked those people (Dr Ejaz Ali) who want to lift the religious ban in this matter ‘if the SC leadership was prepared to accept Muslim groups and share their benefits with them’. To this day, no answer has come. No SC leader of national eminence has publicly supported his ‘request for opening the door’. On the basis of this statement it can be seen that no political leader supports this social justice cause. What are the reasons behind this is a matter of considerable debate and discussion.

Having discussed the evident realities regarding the demand for the SC status for Delhi Muslims, it can be argued that although there are no demonstrations of grave intensity to get the same, there is an immediate need to assert for the Muslims protective discrimination. Moreover, the present period is very precious and appropriate to assert for the Schedule Caste status because there are protests and demands by Patidars (in Gujarat) and the Marathas (in Maharashtra) to get reservation. Even the Maharashtra Govern-ment has cleared the avenue for 16 per cent reservation for Marathas, the dominant caste in the same State. At the same time, the state denies the demand of five per cent reservation for Muslims on the ground that it violates the Constitution, which does not grant the opportunity for reservation on the basis of religion.

At this juncture, it is worth discussing that although there is no caste-like description or scripture in Islam, which does not adhere to untouchability practices, there are various studies (Ansari 1960 and Ahmad 1978) which argue that there are caste-like practices among the Muslims too. Moreover, there is presence of untouchability among the same. To substantiate this, there is an excerpt from the work of Trivedi et al. which argues that ‘relatively well-off sections among Dalit Muslims report higher incidences of untouchability, and the perpetrators admit to it even more so. It leaves no room for any confusion that the practice of untouchability is not confined to Hindus alone. It spreads far and wide and perhaps no Indian religious community can escape it, including the Muslims.’ (2016: 36) Therefore, it is indispensable to focus on the ‘field view’, ground realities and other dimensions and dynamics, while considering reservation for the ostracised Muslim community and not resort to a ‘book view’ of the same.

Mapping the Current Trend

However, recently there was protest at a gathering of Muslims at Jantat Mantar, New Delhi, which led to the initiation of the #EqualCitizens—“Vote Hamara Baat Hamari” campaign to draw the attention of the Opposition political parties and to highlight the plight of Muslims across the country. ‘The campaign aims to highlight the growing numbers of fake encounters in the name of law and order, lynching cases in the name of cow protection, missing names from voters’ list, illegal arrests, and systemic discrimination and injustice that Muslims are facing in their own country.’ (Caravan Daily, 2018) Scholars and political analysts are arguing that this gathering can be seen as an upsurge of the socio-political consciousness and understanding of Muslims at the present juncture. The recent protest (in the month of October 2018) was not highlighted by the mainstream media. It took place at Jantar Mantar under the leadership or banner of the Association of Muslim Professionals and was a clear sign of the rising socio-political consciousness of Muslims particularly at a time of atrocities, violence, bigotry and hatred towards them. This is also very important because the general elections of 2019 are not far away.

This kind of protest would make the Muslims aware of their political and social rights. Such demonstrations and awareness campaigns would make Muslims more conscious about their political and social importance. This would help them to understand that they are not just the vote-bank, and they would not turn out to be victims of vote-bank politics. This would also benefit them to become a pressure group, which would force the government and Opposition to listen to their unheard voice.

Conclusions

To argue succinctly, it can be said that Muslims show valorous strength and become assertive in the face of religious offences, but fail to do so on other occasions affecting the nation’s socio-political life. The question that arises is: why is this so? This question is the subject of inquiry, debate, discussion and research. Although there have been protests and gatherings in the context of atrocities against them in the name of cow protection and other issues, the participation of Muslims, particularly their religious and political leaders, is not easily visible. Muslim political leaders do not come under one platform to condemn the heinous hate crimes against them. The demand for reservation for the Dalit Muslims or the demand of Schedule Caste status is also not supported by some upper-caste and elite sections of the Muslim community. Only the Pasmanda movement is extending support to and fighting for the demand of Schedule Caste status for the ostracised community among Muslims.

However, the assertions and protests are nowadays visible as there are protests under the leadership of the Association of Muslim Pro-fessionals. This can be understood as the upsurge of political consciousness and assertion of the same. It can be argued that the socio-political consciousness of Muslims is getting enhanced and growing in India today. However, they must learn from the Dalit community as they are fighting not only for their political rights but also for social rights and equal treatment from their own community. Like the Dalits, Muslims must fight and struggle for their social, political, educational and other rights on their own. Since, the epistemological position of individuals and groups is more powerful than those who are on the outside, it is high time and the need of the hour for the Muslims to assert for their political representation, social upliftment and against the atrocities committed on them by own their own community members.

Bibliography

Ahmad, I. (1978), Caste and Social Stratification among Muslims in India, 2nd edition, New Delhi: Manohar Publications.

Ahmad, I. (2007), “Recognition and Entitlement: Muslim Castes Eligible for Inclusion in the Category ‘Schedule Castes’” in Ansari A. H. (ed.), Basic Problems of OBC and Dalit Muslims, New Delhi: Serial Publications.

Ansari, G. (1960), Muslim Caste in Uttar Pradesh: A Study of Culture Contact, Lucknow: The Ethnographic.

Caravan Daily (2018), Muslims Protest Across India Demanding Equal Rights, Retrieved from http://caravandaily.com/portal/muslims-across-the-country-come-forward-to-demand-equal-rights/? fbclid= IwAR35vTbTvi-CFEtFvTY6pQudRRE6JNvVJdAdnkATfKur-tUiQ7Pt-2sbwqokk on December 1, 2018.

Hassan, H. (2012), ‘A Sociological Study of Dalit Muslims in India’, Unpublished M. Phil. Dissertation, New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Shahabuddin, S. (2002), Comments on Yoginder Sikand’s Article on Dalit Muslims, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 22, No. 2, Carfax Publishing: Taylor & Francis Group.

Sikand, Y. (2007), ‘SC Status for Dalit Muslims and Christians’, in Ansari A.H. (ed.) Basic Problems of OBC and Dalit Muslims, New Delhi: Serial Publications.

The Indian Express (2015), ‘Row Over Anti-Prophet Statement: Amid Protests, Hindu Outfit Denounces Remarks’, Retrieved from https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/row-over-anti-prophet-statement-amid-protests-hindu-outfit-denounces-remarks/ on December 1, 2018.

Trivedi et al. (2016), ‘Does Untouchability Exist Among Muslims?: Evidence from Uttar Pradesh’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 51, Issue, 15, (April 9, 2016), pp 32-36.

The author is a Ph.D scholar at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His areas of interest are sociology of education and Indian electoral politics. He is currently working on marginalisation of Muslims in higer education.

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