By R. Upadhyay
Even after commencing a long march of over six decades for concretizing its secular and democratic establishment, India is continuously facing the challenge of communal politics which has only furthered the gap of mistrust between the two major communities.
The on going competitive bidding on the issue of job reservation for ‘Pasmandas’ (Low-born Muslims) as their right by the ‘secular’ political parties during election rallies in Uttar Pradesh appears to be a part of the same politics. One would like to see the same political leaders show the same seriousness and sincerity even after the elections towards the Pasmanda Muslims.
Partition of the sub continent based on religion led to such widespread Hindu-Muslim conflict that it left a permanent scar on the Hindu-Muslim relations But India followed its pre-medieval secular tradition and provided equal constitutional rights to all its citizens irrespective of their religion. Accordingly, a number of Muslims could also become the members of parliament and state assemblies. Apart from three presidents, a number of ministers, chief Ministers and governors they also held many constitutional as well as statutory posts.
Still a lot remains to be done. Muslim representation in bureaucracy, other government jobs and institutions of higher education is not proportionate to their population but it is not due to any discrimination in the system of governance. The fault in fact lies more with the Islamists who have discouraged to this day the larger majority of Indian Muslims from modern education that is needed for government jobs. They rather encouraged the Muslim masses to send their children to madrasas for religious education which has no place in the job-market. This is known and yet some Islamists in the country not satisfied with this situation are found to continue to have a mind set that ‘Muslims cannot be fully Muslims without exclusive Islamic power’.
Some leaders are seen resorting to the assertive communal politics of pre-partition days. Instead of guiding the community members to become an integral part of the cultural cauldron of the country and join the government sponsored nation building exercise based on secularism, they stressed upon the need of Islamic education by opening a large number of new madrasas in the name of Muslim identity which denied the community children from secular and modern education that debar them from government jobs.
Unfortunately, almost all the political parties have continued to look at the the Indian Muslim population as a vote bank group which encouraged the Islamists to play an assertive communal politics for sustaining their fight for reviving their ‘rights’ !
Historically, a majority of the converts belonged to the lower castes were categorized as Ajlafs(Low category of Muslims) and Arzals (Marginalised or degraded Muslims) who were collectively called Pasmandas. The invaders and their descendants claimed themselves as Ashraf (High-born) Muslims and always maintained social superiority to the Indian converts. They hardly negotiated any matrimonial relation with Pasmandas and the situation has not changed even today.
Pasmandas suffered long years of social humiliation throughout the Muslim rule from the Ashrafs and appear to be still under the siege of the latter. They worked for the latter’s foot soldiers in two parallel movements for Islamic revivalism namely Deoband and Aligarh launched by the Ashrafs after the end of Muslim rule in 1857. Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (JUH), an association of Deobandi Ulema who had opposed partition though hardly had any influence over more than 20% of Indian Muslims acclaimed themselves as ‘nationalist Muslims’. Being in the category of Ashrafs and ideologically close to the theological concept of the ‘Mu’ahadah (Mutual contract) the Prophet had with the Jews of Madina, they got the support of other other Islamist groups.
The JUH gave “ a theological basis and used the concept of Mu’ahadah, mutual contract, derived from the first few years of Islamic history in Madina when the Prophet established a civic contract between his Muslim group and the Jews in that city” ( Islam in Modern History by Wilfred Cantwell Smith, 1957, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, page 285).
Discouraging the Pasmandas who constitute over 90% of Muslim population from sending their children to the government sponsored secular schools has denied them the opportunities for economic advancement. The Ashraf Islamists kept them under siege in the name of Muslim identity and became the suo-motu governor of the reserve vote-bank of the community members with a view to bargain with the political parties for share in political power in lieu of Muslim votes in election. Accordingly, they grabbed the leadership of the Indian Muslims and revived the unfinished agenda of Muslim League to fight for their share in political power in the name of religion which was against the syncretistic concept of Indian constitution.
India got freedom from British rule but the Pasmandas did not get freedom from the centuries-old degraded social position in the community which has been the main reason for their economic backwardness.
No body questions the right of the political leaders to advance the cause of the Pasmandas but what we see is the spasmodic support on election eve for their welfare, advancement and reservation by people who mainly belong to the group of ‘ashrafs’. We would rather like to see the same leaders as also other known Islamists to continue to fight for the cause of Pasmandas even after the elections so that they are exposed to modern education that will eventually provide them with more and better job opportunities.
What we have seen before is that the Pasmanda Muslims will be used to get the leaders elected and then they as well as their cause will be forgotten until the next elections. Will there be a change this time?