Home > 2019 > Mapping Pasmanda Politics in India: Demands and Challenges

Mainstream, VOL LVII No 27 New Delhi June 22, 2019

Mapping Pasmanda Politics in India: Demands and Challenges

Monday 24 June 2019

by Shamsher Alam

Understanding the Pasmanda and Dalit Muslims

The word ‘Pasmanda’ has a Persian origin. ‘The term pasmanda ... is a combination of two words, pase and manda which when joined together means those who have been left behind. The pasmanda, therefore, are the depressed, the downtrodden and the marginal sections of Indian Muslim society.’ (Alam, 2009:172) According to Ali Anwar, the President of All India Pasmanda Muslims Mahaz, word “pasmanda” should be understood more in class terms rather than in caste terms. He argues that the Mahaz represents a class of people, in the lower Muslim castes who ‘experience discrimination based on their caste status’. (Ibid., 177) Moreover, Dalit Muslims are the most deprived and marginalised Muslims among the Pasmanda Muslims. Muslims in the Indian context are not monolithic category. They are divided in various caste groups. To know the heterogeneity among the Muslims, the Sachar Committee made a very realistic observation regarding the same and argued that “the census of India, 1901 listed 133 social groups wholly or partially Muslim. The present-day Muslim society in India is divided into four major groups: (i) the Ashrafs who trace their origins to foreign lands such as Arabia, Persia, Turkistan or Afghanistan; (ii) the upper-caste Hindu who converted to Islam; (iii) middle-caste converts whose occupations are ritually clean; and (iv) the converts from the erstwhile untouchable caste, Bhangi (scavenger), Mehtar (sweeper), Chamar, Dom and so on.” (Sachar Committee Report, 2006: 192) The above mentioned fourth category could be called as the Dalit Muslims or Arzal Muslims. Therefore, it can be argued that Pasmanda is the amalgamation of the two sociological categories Ajlaf (OBC Muslims) and Arzal (Dalit) Muslims in the Indian context.

Political Representation of Pasmand Muslims

Representation of Muslims, particularly in the Lok Sabha, is not according to the proportion of their population. They are underrepresented in the same. Does it mean that in the name of low representation of Muslims as a whole, it is futile to talk about the representation of Pasmanda Muslims? The answer is very straight, that is, no. It is very much valuable to talk and discuss about the same. At this juncture, it is worth mentioning about the representation of Pasmanda Muslims in the Lok Sabha since the inception of Indian democracy.‘If we go through the members of parliament from 1st to 14th, then it appears that 400 out of 7500 members were from the Muslim community. 340 out of 400 members were from the Ashraf section of the Muslim community. According to the 2001 census, Muslims constitute 13.4 per cent. Since Ashraf Muslim constitute nearly 15 per cent of the total Muslims population. This tells that 2.01 per cent are Ashraf Muslims and their representation in Lok Sabha is 4.5 per cent. This is the more than double of their percentage of population. At the same time, Pasmanda Muslims constitute 11.3 and their representation in Lok Sabha is only 0.8 percentage.’ (Translated version from the undated pamphlet of All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz)

Moreover, if we focus on the 17th Lok Sabha, the situation is no different from the earlier position. Ansari, who collected the data on the Pasmanda Muslim MPs in the present Lok Sabha, argues that ‘out of 251 Muslim MPs 18 are higher caste while 7 are OBCs/STs’ (2019).2 One MP is from Muslim ST community, while six MPs belong to Muslim OBCs. This suggests that 28 per cent of the total elected Muslim MPs are from the Pasmanda group, while 78 per cent of Muslim MPs are from the Ashraf community. Although it is evident that Muslims as a whole are not adequately represented, however, we cannot deny that Ashraf Muslims are more represented in proportion to their percentage of population. Hence, it is explicitly evident who is getting the benefit from Muslim politics. This fact raises an important question as to why there is lowest representation Pasmanda Muslims. The answer lies in the exclusionary distribution of tickets. For example, if we see the distribution of ticket for Pasmanda Muslims then ‘only one out of seven Mahagathbandhan’s Muslim candidates in Bihar is a Pasmanda and both the BJP-led NDA’s candidates are Ashraf. In Bihar, the population of Ashraf community is not more than four per cent of the State’s entire population, yet they got 15 per cent representation among the Mahagathbandhan candidates. In Uttar Pradesh, only one of the nine Muslim candidates fielded by the Congress is a Pasmanda. The Bahujan Samaj Party has fielded two Pasmanda candidates out of six Muslims and one Pasmanda is fighting on a Samajwadi Party ticket (out of four Muslims). It is true that in the BJP, there seems to be no space for Pasmanda Muslims, but the flag- bearers of secular and social justice politics have also disappointed the Pasmanda Muslims.’ (Ansari, 2019)

Demands of Pasmanda Politics3

Pasmanda politics is very vocal and critical as far as the Indian political discourse is concerned. They are making several demands under the leadership of the All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz. There is a fourteen-point demand of the Pasmanda political discourse. These demands could be clubbed together in four categories: political representation; demand of Schedule Caste reservation; socio-economic equality; and educational equality. To elucidates on the first dimension, they continuously demand the political representation of backward and Dalit Muslims. In their view, all political parties mostly give the ticket for the upper castes while they ignore the backward Muslims. To put in another way, upper-caste Muslims, who are roughly 15 per cent of the total Muslim population want the support of 85 per cent of backward Muslims not only to show the strength of the consolidated Muslims but also to win the election. Hence, their winnability more likely is depending on their co-religious members who are backward. Further, they found representation in the government and hence backward Muslims in spite of having a vast population, are deprived of their political representation. For this, they implicitly endorse the political view of Kansiram, where he gave the famous slogan ‘jiski jitni sankhya bhari uski utni hissedari’ (the representation should be proportionate to the percentage of population).

The second demand of the Pasmanda politics is the ‘demand of Scheduled Caste reservation for Dalit Muslims. Along with this the demanded has come that the OBC list of UP should be divided into annexure I and annexure II as Bihar has done in this regard. Further, to bring the other Pasmanda castes (those who are not included in the OBC list of the Centre or State) into the OBC list of State and Centre.’ (From the manifesto and charter of demands of All India Pasmanda Muslims Mahaz). They argue that the Scheduled Caste status was reserved only for Hindus since the inception of the Presidential Order, 1950 as the order reads: ‘no person who possesses a religion different from the Hindu religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.’ (Ahmad, 2007: 18) Further, they argue that after some time, because of ‘pressure from Ambedkarite and Sikh organisations, this was ... amended to include Dalits who profess Buddhism and Sikhism’. (Sikand, 2007: 104) But the same amendment does not include the Dalit Muslims in it. Hence, it can be deciphered from such an amendment that the Scheduled Caste category is reserved only for those religions that are Indic in nature. This reservation is guaranteed in the Consti-tution under The Presidential Order, 1950. This order excludes the religions which are not of Indian origin such as Islam and Christianity. This evidently suggests that the state is discriminating on the basis of religion in this regard. To substantiate this, it is worth mentioning that (Ibid., 103) ‘the continued denial by the state of the 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 a gross violation of the fundamental principles of the Indian Constitution’.

The third demand is the socio-economic demand. This demand could be understood as the demand for economic security in the form of job and business. It is a widely accepted argument that a large section of the Muslims falls in the artisan groups such as handloom, power-loom and other works which come under the unorganised sector. There is a well-recognised fact that a large section of the Indian population works in the unorganised sector. They earn their livelihood from small-scale business. Their demand for secured livelihood for the Pasmanda is very inclusive in nature. It is not only limited to the Pasmanda people. They are demanding the inclusive economic policy which could serve the interest not only of the weavers but also for the common masses who are working in the unorganised sector. The fourth demand is regarding the reservation of Dalit and Pasmanda Muslims in the minority institutions. They are also demanding the complete implementation of the Sachar Committee Report and discussion and debate on the Ranganath Mishra Committee Report in Parliament.

Challenges before Pasmanda Politics

 

The political parties see Muslims as a monolithic whole, the biggest challenge before the Pasmanda politics. This political discourse has not been widely recognised by the different political parties across different political ideologies be it Rightist, Centrist or Leftist. All political parties acknowledge Muslims as one category. Even they try to address the problems of Muslims under the nomenclature of minority. It has been or widely accepted fact that the problems of the Muslim minority are different from the other religious minorities. However, the term minority has been implicitly associated only with the Muslims. They do not acknowledge the social stratification and differentiation among Muslims. At this juncture it is worth mentioning the manifestos of various political parties which address the Muslim issue under the heading of minorities.

If we shed light on the Congress manifesto of 2019 then it appears in a very interesting way. ‘Congress promises to uphold the rights of religious minorities: to non-discrimination, to equal opportunity in employment, to religious freedom and to establish educational institutions guaranteed under Articles 15, 16, 25, 26, 28, 29 and 30 of the Constitution’. ‘We will pass a new law in the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha and in the Rajya Sabha to prevent and punish hate crimes (emphasis added) such as mob-engineered stripping, burning and lynching. The law will contain provisions to compensate the victims and to hold accountable the police and district administration for proven negligence’. (Congress Manifesto 2019: 43) Although hate crimes get mention in the manifesto, the Congress did not have the courage to add the word Muslim. Since Muslims (from Akhlak to Pahlu Khan) and Dalits (from Una attack to Saharanpur) have been victims of hate crime during the NDA rule in the last five years (2014-19).

Further, if we focus on the Samjawadi Party’s manifesto of 2019, then it appears that even the word Muslim or minority did not find mention in the same under the heading of ‘the economics of social justice’. The manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party under the heading of ‘development with dignity for minorities’ says: ‘We are committed to the empowerment and ‘develop-ment with dignity’ of all minorities (Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsisetc). (Manifesto of BJP 2019:34) The Bahujan Samaj Party does not release manifestos.

At this juncture, it is also worth mentioning the manifesto of a Left party, that is, the Communist Party of India-Marxist. The manifesto of the party mentioned about the attack on the Dalit and Muslims by the cow vigilante groups under the heading of ‘attacks on secularism’. ‘Patronising private armies in the guise of cow protection or moral policing. Murderously attacking Dalits and Muslims. Private armies’ unrestricted activities leading to incidents of mob lynching’. (Manifesto of Communist Party of India-Marxist 2019:3) The party’s manifesto under the heading of ‘in defence of secularism’ made the roadmap for the minorities. The CPI-M will work towards: ‘Enacting a comprehensive law against communal violence; ensuring speedy justice and adequate compensation and state support to the victims of communal violence without infringing on the federal framework. Immediate banning of all illegal private armies and vigilante groups like the various ‘senas’ that are attacking Dalits and minorities in the name of cow protection and spreading communal hatred. Enactment of appropriate legal measures for reining in and taking action against organisations and institutions involved in spreading communal hate and attacking minorities; enact a law against lynching. Ensuring exemplary punishment for perpetrators of communal violence regardless of their public or official position. Protecting the rights of minorities to lead a life of equality and dignity without any fear or discrimination.’ (Ibid., 2019:11)

It is evident from the above-mentioned manifestos of various political parties, be it from Left, Right or Centrist ideology: they address issues of Muslims under the heading of minorities. They (Left party) assure the protection of Muslims from the cow vigilante groups and communal violence. These political parties rarely give attention to the political representation of Muslims, particularly the Pasmanda Muslims. As it has been mentioned earlier in this paper under the heading political representation of Pasmanda Muslims. The word Pasmanda Muslims is not being mentioned in their manifestos. This kind of attitude shows that the political parties do not acknowledge the Pasmanda Muslims, their political assertion and political discourse.

The second challenge lies within the Muslim community itself. This can be seen from two vantage points: first, the debate between the Pasmand and Ashraf Muslims. Second, the lack of consensus among the Pasmanda category itself on Pasmanda politics. To elucidate the first, it can be argued that in the name of Muslim representation Pasmanda Muslims are being denied. From mainstream politics to the media, there is discussion only about Muslim representation, not about their ostracised community, the Pasmanda Muslims. This underrepresentation of the very lowest section of the Muslim community led to Pasmanda politics, movement and assertion. While throwing light on the second part, it can be argued that the assertion from the Pasmanda group is viewed against the Muslim community itself. Some sections of the Muslim community, particularly the upper strata or Ashraf Muslims, considered Pasmanda politics as going against the Muslim community. They are also of the opinion that this kind of politics divide the Muslim community and there is no scope and future of this politics.

Furthermore, the demand of Scheduled Caste status for Arzal Muslims also led to division among the Muslim community or they do not support Pasmanda politics. There are generally two groups among the Muslims, one who oppose and one who support the reservation for the 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; all Muslims are socially and educationally marginalised, deprived and they have been sideline from the mainstream.’ (Hassan, 2012:121-22) The supporter of Pasmanda politics acknowledge the social stratification among Muslims in terms of caste. Those who oppose argue that there is no caste practice among Muslims and there is absence of caste in Islam. Their argument is based on the premise of Islam, while they do not want to focus and see the ground reality in the form of caste practices among Muslims.

The third challenge is about its locale. This movement started in Bihar and later on expanded to several parts of Uttar Pradesh. Further, with the passage of time it spread to other parts of north India during the 2000s. However, it lacks a pan-India flavour and it seems that Pasmanda politics is largely a north Indian phenomenon. However, the Vice-President of the All India Pasmanda Mahaz, Haji Nesar Ahmed, and his companion are trying to expand its footprint across the country. For this purpose, he always travels across the country (from Bengal to Maharashtra) and conducts local level discussion, public meetings and seminars, to raise the Pasmanda discourse among the common and backward Muslims in the different regions of this country.

The fourth challenge: the feasibility of Pasmanda discourse in binary of minority/majority or Muslim/Hindu politics. The results of the 2019 general elections debunk the theory and arithmetic of caste equation. The Modi wave demolished the fort of Mahagathbandhan (alliance of the SP, BSP and RLD) in UP and also in Bihar. At this juncture, it is worth asking if Pasmanda politics would survive in the future or not? To answer this question it is worth quoting the slogan coined by the Pasmanda politics, that is, ‘Dalit pichda ek saman Hindu ho ya Musalman’ (Dalit and backwards are alike whether they be Hindu or Muslim). It is evident from the slogan that it tries to merge the communal divide of Indian politics in the name of Hindu-Muslim binary. They argue about the inclusive character of politics which is based on the backwardness and underrepresentation of historically marginalised and ostracised community. They do not endorse the politics based on religion.

However, the biggest challenge is: how to penetrate this idea into the mind of political parties and leaders as they are not explicitly acknowledging the idea of Pasmanda politics? They are focusing on Muslims by considering them as a monolithic whole. This could be done only by highlighting to them the importance of Pasmanda politics and its character, the inclusive and representative. As along as the political parties would acknowledge Muslims as one unit for political purpose, they would be haunted by the ghost of being a Muslim party, Muslim appeasement or minority appeasement. The political parties could remove such kinds of tags by two methods. First, acknowledging the concept of Pasmanda politics. Second, by giving their due share in the form of representation in politics. By adopting these methods, the binary of Hindu-Muslim politics would cease to exist.

Conclusion

Muslims in Indian politics have been seen as a monolithic whole. The social reality and their stratification have not been acknowledged by the political discourse in India. This led to the marginalisation of Pasmanda Muslims in Indian politics. Due to the underrepresentation of Pasmanda Muslims in the same, they started the Pasmanda discourse to ensure their political representation along with the demand of Scheduled Caste status for Dalit Muslims.

Moreover, there are some very serious challenges before this politics. First,various political parties do not acknowledge the Pasmanda discourse or they generally do not give ticket to the Pasmanda candidate and offer ticket for Ashraf Muslims. Second, there is lack of consensus among the Muslims regarding Pasmanda politics. It has been seen as an effort to divide the Muslims. Third, it lacks pan-India phenomena. Last but not the least, its feasibility in era of Modi, when all Mahagathbandhans have been demolished. The feasibility and importance of Pasmanda discourse could achieve a new milestone by the acknowledgement of the same. This could be done by mainstream political parties, particularly those who are the flagbearers of social justice. The acceptance of the same would eradicate the binary of minority/majority or Muslims/Hindu politics.

Further, this approach is not only having the power to strengthen the secularisation process of Indian politics but also in making it more representative, the ostracised community according to the proportion of their population. This kind of representative politics is the beauty and premise of democracy.

References

 

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

Alam, Arshad (2009):”Challenging the Ashrafs: The Politics of Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz”, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol 29, No 2, pp 171-181.

Ansari, Khalid Anis (2019): General Election 2019: A Short Comment on Muslim Representation’ on Roundtable India: For an Informed Ambedkar Age, retrieved from http://roundtableindia.co.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9657%3Ageneral-elections-2019-a-short-comment-on-muslim representation&catid=119%3Afeatur e&Itemid=132& fbclid=IwAR1PFwwBFTryPZ3k xFtlqvp30AFDB5KzmZRLtZ8266Cux7sjCM-SgeWSp10 on 10 June’ 2019.

Ansari, Khalid Anis (2019): India’s Muslim Community under a Churn: 85% Backward Pasmandas up against 15% Ashrafs, online article, retrieved from https://theprint.in/opinion/indias-muslim-community-under-a-churn-85-backward-pasmandas-up-against-15-ashrafs/234599/ on 9 June’ 2019.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Manifesto (2019): Sankalp Patra Lok Sabha 2019, retrieved from https://www.bjp.org/en/manifesto2019 on 8 June 2019.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) Manifesto (2019): retrieved from https://cpim.org/sites/default/files/documents/2019-ls-elc-manifesto.pdf on 9 June’ 2019.

Congress Manifesto (2019): retrieved from https://manifesto.inc.in/pdf/english.pdf on May 30, 2019.

Government of India(2006): Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community in India: A Report. Prime Minister’s HighLevel Committee, Cabinet Secretariat, New Delhi:Government of India.

Hassan, Huma (2012): A Sociological Study of Dalit Muslim in India, Unpublished M. Phil. Dissertation, New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Manifesto of All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz (undated).

Samajwadi Party manifesto (2019): Vision Document 2019, retrieved from https://www.samajwadiparty.in/document_of_2019_eng.pdf on 9 June’ 2019.

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

Footnotes

1. Although it has been said that there are 27 Muslims MPs in the current Lok Sabha. However, Mohammad Sadique, who won from Faridkot, fought the election on a reserved constituency. The author of the article argues that since no Muslim can contest election from the SC Reserved seat hence, technically he cannot be called a Muslim. Moreover, he is from the Doom community which falls in the Scheduled Caste. He admitted in court in 2012 that he started professing Sikhism from 2006. This Doom community has fluid religious identity which shifts the faith between Muslim and Sikh. Another MP, Aparupa Poddar (Afrin Ali), from Arambagh Bengal also won on an SC reserved constituency. Hence technically cannot be a Muslim.

2. For detail of Pasmanda Muslims on the basis of OBC/ST category, see an article titled as ‘General Election 2019: A Short Comment on Muslim Representation’ on Roundtable India: For an Informed Ambedkar Age.

3. The demands of Pasmanda politics have been taken from the manifesto and charter of demands of All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz (undated)

Shamsher Alam is a Ph.D scholar, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62 Privacy Policy Notice Addressed to Online Readers of Mainstream Weekly in view of European data privacy regulations (GDPR)