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Should the Muslim community or some Muslim sub-Communities be included in the SC lists?
By Syed Shahabuddin
|All India Backward Muslim Morcha, recently renamed as All India United Muslim Morcha, organized a Conference in New Delhi on 3 October, 2002 to demand 'amendment of Article 341 of the Constitution' to remove religious restrictions so that persons and groups professing Islam or Christianity may also be included in the list of Scheduled Castes. In fact Article 341 imposes no religious qualification. It is the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order, 1950, which does. Originally it limited SC's to persons professing Hinduism or Sikhism. It was amended in 1990 to include Buddhists. This means that today if any member of the SC becomes Christian or Muslim, he loses statutory reservation in public employment and legislature and all other facilities under executive orders.
It is not clear whether the Resolution adopted by the Conference demands the inclusion of the entire Muslim community in the list of Scheduled Castes or of specific Muslim sub-communities or merely wants the doors of conversion to Islam being open to the SC's who are either Hindus or Sikhs or Buddhists without losing any existing rights, privileges and facilities.
A rising Dalit leader Udit Raj, President of the A.I. Confederation of Associations of SC/ST and Minority Employees addressed the Conference alongwith one of the most respected and influential Muslim leaders Maulana Asad Madani, the President of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind. Perhaps the Maulana was persuaded by Udit Raj as their organizations recently joined hands to organize a massive Desh Bachao Rally in Delhi. In October, Udit Raj has cooperated with the JUH in its 2-week long agitation to press Muslim demands. They have planned to organize joint yatras in Gujarat to counter the Gaurav Yatras of the Caretaker C.M. Narendra Modi. They both spoke eloquently of the sufferings of the SC's and the Muslims and proposed their political alliance to secure their rights in a political system, dominated by the Hindu high castes.
Be that as it may, the long-contemplated and little realized concept of Dalit-Muslim unity and alliance is not, and has never been, predicated upon the recognition of Muslims, wholly or partly, as S.C.'s, just as it has never been dependent on the SC's conversion to Islam. The rationale of the alliance lies in the fact that both the Muslims as a religious minority and the Scheduled Castes as a social group are among the groups which are oppressed, subjected to discrimination and atrocities, denied social justice, economically marginalised and politically exploited. It is the commonality of the situation that should push them towards each other to further the prospects of a successful struggle against the political dominance of the high castes. It is not necessary for either to merge its identity in the other. Nor should Muslims ask for a share in the benefits and advantages enjoyed by the SC. The essential condition for an alliance is mutual understanding, mutual respect, common strategy and joint campaign.
So the Muslims do not have to wear the SC cap to join the battle for equality, dignity and justice. Historically and socially, the Muslim Indians constitute a community, which forms the biggest religious minority in the country and the second largest national group of Muslims in the world. The rights of a religious minority are well-defined in the Constitution. These rights are universally recognized and spelt out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Social and Economic Rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Minorities, 1991, to all of which India is a party. There is no doubt a gap between precept and practice.
One day, it will be bridged because many States have religious minorities and their conduct vis-a-vis the minorities is always under the scanner in the UN System and by the international NGO's. On the other hand, caste is a uniquely Indian phenomenon, particularly untouchability. This is one reason why the Dalit movement, largely based on SC's and ST's, is forced to project itself sometimes as a racial question, sometimes as an ethnic question and sometimes as the problem of the indigenous people. The Muslim minority will not gain any strategic or tactical advantage by inclusion in the SC list as a community or by dividing itself on caste lines between OBC's, SC's, ST's and high castes. Hindus constitute 82% of the population. They can afford the division. Muslims with only 12.5% and Christians with only 2.5% will lose political weight by such divisions.
If the SC's do not wish to be identified as Hindus and to escape social tyranny exercise Freedom of Religion and of Conscience under the Constitution like other citizens, the Muslims should stand by them. Any member of the SC should be free to renounce Hinduism and embrace any religion of his choice including Islam and Christianity. Today, he stands immediately to lose the privileges he enjoys of reservation in matters of public employment, and representation in the legislatures, although change of religion does not change the social environment overnight. To protect his human rights, reservation and other benefits should continue to be available to him if he changes his religion for his life time and one succeeding generation. By acting as the palace guards of the fortress of Hinduism, the State is behaving as a Hindu and not as a secular State. For the ST's, there is no such disability. Why should these be for the SC's? But let us examine why the SC leaders, particularly Dr. B.R. Ambedkar agreed to an obvious abridgement of the freedom of religion of the SC's. After all there has to be some logic, some rationale, behind the acceptance of the SC' s as Hindu by definition. The answer is simple. The Hindu society consists of Chaturvarnas, the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras.
But at the margin of the society, beyond the pale of the caste system, exist the Achhuts, whom Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar in their own ways and for their own reasons tried to integrate in the Hindu Samaj. Both know that many converts to Islam and Christianity through the centuries belonged to the Achhuts who embraced Islam in quest of social equality and human dignity. During the freedom movement, the Muslim leadership made no secret of its hope of mass conversion of the Achhuts to Islam, thus reducing the numerical disparity between the Hindus and the Muslims who were both playing the democratic game of numbers. Ambedkar called them Depressed Classes, Gandhiji called them Harijans. Later their own radical leadership called them Dalits. Gandhiji wanted to stop this exodus. Ambedkar wanted to secure for equality and dignity as well as ensure their gradual rise to parity with the rest of the Hindu society. In the Communal Award, and later in the Government of India Act, 1935, the untouchable castes, alongwith some lower Shudras, were recognized collectively as a minority and placed in a Schedule. This is how they came to be called the Scheduled Castes. Islam and Christianity did not recognize untouchability. So when the term SC was written into the Constitution, 'untouchability' largely became the bench mark for determination and recognition whether a particular Hindu caste or sub-caste belonged to the SC's. This explains the religious criterion incorporated in the Constitution (SC) Order, 1950.
There were Muslim sub-communities which performed the same menial tasks and engaged in the same vocations but they did not suffer the disabilities of untouchability. For example, Muslim scavengers called Halalkhors had access to the Masjids, to the village wells and tanks. They interacted socially with the rest of the community except inter-marriage.
Their proportion within the Muslim society was very small. No doubt they also constituted a Backward Class, like many other Muslim sub-communities which were vocationally akin to the Shudras.
So, when the Other Backward Classes (OBC's) came to be listed, all the Backward Muslim sub-communities were included as such, including the micro groups akin to the SC's like Halalkhors, Mehtars, Bhangi, Lalbegi or Nat, to take Bihar as an example. What do they lose or gain by being included in the OBC Lists and excluded from the SC Lists?
But the experience of reservation for OBC's has shown that only a few relatively advanced backward castes like Yadavas, Kurmis and Koeris have monopolized the OBC quota to the detriment of other OBC's, Hindus and Muslims. So some OBC's sought sub-division into OBC's and MBC's (Most Backward Classes). In some States like Karnataka they were sub-divided into more than two sub-categories depending on degree of backwardness. The Muslim Backward Classes came naturally to be placed among the MBC's in States like Bihar. But because of lower educational status as well as communal bias, the Muslim OBC's as well as Muslim MBC's have secured a disproportionately low share of the benefits. Hence the demand for a separate Muslim quota.
Those who are opposed to a separate Muslim quota have adopted the strategy of dividing the Muslim community on caste lines and then to weaken their bargaining power. One wonders who is behind the Morcha?
To be honest, one can understand the apprehension among the Muslim OBC's that the Ashraf (Syeds, Sheikhs and Pathans etc), who are relatively more advanced for historical reasons, shall swallow the Muslim quota. The remedy lies in either having a separate sub-quota for the Muslim MBC's or giving them priority in the benefits of the Muslim B.C. quota, and utilizing only the leftover, the unused, quota for the Ashraf, in order of merit. But the Morcha wants to divide Muslim OBC's further. The essential point is that the micro-groups of Muslims who are analogous by vocation to the SC's (let us call them Dalit Muslims) are so small that a separate sub-quota for them alone is not feasible.
The choice for Dalit Muslims lies between being defined Muslims as OBC's, as Muslim OBC's or as SC's? The original demand of the Morcha was that these Muslim micro groups whose total population in the country may not exceed a few lakhs should be included into the SC list and to make this possible, the religious condition should be removed by amending the Constitution Order of 1950, issued under Article 341 as it was in 1956 to include the Sikhs and in 1990 to include the neo-Buddhists.
Now the Morcha has hinted that it would like all Muslims, who indeed collectively constitute a Backward Class, should be included in the SC List. This is absolutely preposterous and goes against the very definition of the Scheduled Class as in the 1935 Act and again in the Constitution. All Muslims cannot be added without the consent of the SC's and also Sikhs and all Buddhists are not declared to be SC's. Will the SC's agree to extend the definition and admit all Muslims and Christians who together constitute 15% of the national population, on par with Sikh and Buddhist SC's? For admitting all Muslims and Christians, the SC quota will have to be doubled from 15% to 30%.
Many SC leaders speak vehemently against the discrimination their people continue to face in the Hindu Samaj and the atrocities they continue to suffer. But no SC leader, neither Ambedkar nor Jagjivan Ram, neither Mayawati nor Paswan, has questioned their enumeration as Hindu in the decennial census. Nor has anyone of the SC leaders today publicly renounced Hinduism or stopped practicing Hindu 'Sanskars' or demanded dropping religious criteria from the Order of 1950. All the living SC leaders, including Udit Raj claim to be Hindus but are unhappy at their treatment by the latter.
And why should they accommodate even small additional groups, Muslim, Christian or otherwise, without their quota long enlarged? Is it politically possible?
However, if it becomes possible, one can see one theoretical advantage. Apart from reservation in public employment and welfare benefits the SC's enjoy reservation in legislatures which the OBC's do not. So the Muslims or at least the Dalit Muslims could then be theoretically elected against a SC seat just as a Christian or Muslim ST is elected against a ST seat. But they all get elected from specific Constituencies where the Christian or Muslim ST's (like Lakshadweep) have a majority or at least a high proportion in the electorate. This will not be the case for Muslims certainly not for the Muslim Dalits in any SC Constituency. They are too widely dispersed and their population in most SC Constituencies is too small to count. His religion as well as his micro-presence in the Constituency will both go against him. So the theoretical advantage cannot be translated into reality.
From the point of view of the Muslim Dalits, assuming they alone are admitted to the SC list, will religious discrimination stop chasing them there? Will they fare any better in competition with the advanced SC groups which have moved ahead, with 50 years of reservation, in public employment as well as in economic and social status. Indeed the SC's are facing pressure from within from their own sub-groups which have been left high and dry and who feel that they have been exploited by the dominant SC groups like the Chamars in UP, the Pasis in Bihar and so on. As in the case of the OBC's, the SC quota may split into two or more sub-quotas.
The Muslim Indians cannot attain due level of representation in the legislatures because the existing electoral system militates against them and even the secular parties are not prepared to field Muslims even in Muslim-concentration Constituencies for fear of losing their Hindu votes because of communal polarization. For the Muslims securing their due share in the existing climate, there are only two alternatives. Either change the First Past the Poll (FPP) electoral system to Proportional System or introduce Reservation for every identifiable social group, above a cut-off limit in population. Due representation in the legislature, the government and the administration will alone establish a regime of social justice through empowerment and open the doors for power-sharing and accelerate economic and educational progress.
Some educational facilities, share in development and welfare benefits are being extended to OBC's under executive instructions and, therefore, apply to all Muslim sub-communities which find their place in the OBC's list including the Dalits Muslims.
Judged by the nationally accepted criteria, the Muslim community, as a whole, constitutes a Backward Class within the meaning of Article 15 and 16 of the Constitution and is entitled to the benefits of reservation in proportion to its population at the appropriate level. It is also a fact that being clubbed with the rest of the Hindu Samaj was not in the interest of the Achhuts so they were given their own quota. Later, the Shudras, on the same ground, wanted and got their own separate quota. If Backward Muslims, included in the OBC quota who constitute about 75% of the Muslim population, are not getting justice, they have an undeniable moral right to a separate quota.
But the other 25% are also educationally, economically and socially backward. So the Muslims, as a community, should be declared a Backward Class for purposes of public employment, higher education and development and welfare benefits. This is the real battle for equality and justice which should be waged by the entire community unitedly.
To relate the destiny of the Muslim community or sub-community to its recognition as SC's is wholly misconceived to the point of absurdity. It may be political and socially counter-productive. Perhaps Muslim leaders who support Morcha's brainwave-declaration of Muslims as SCs -- have neither read Article 341 nor the relevant Constituent Assembly or Parliamentary Debates or considered all its implications.
To sum up:
1. Article 341 does not by itself discriminate against any religion. That is why its constitutionality remain unchallenged. But the Constitution (SC) Order, 1950, as amended uptodate, does discriminate against Islam and Christianity and thus exclude Muslim and Christian Sub-communities vocationally akin to the Hindu SC's and debars Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist SC's from the privileges and benefits, if they embrace Islam and Christianity. This has historical roots. The amendment may not benefit the few Muslim Dalits who may then be included in the revised SC List. But it shall restore Freedom of Religion and of Conscience to the SC's and lift the state of siege in which they are placed.
2. Muslim community, as a community, constitutes, on the whole, a Backward Class. Because it is sizeable, it should have a quota of its own for reservation in public employment, higher education and welfare and development benefits with the Muslim sub-communities, notified as OBC's enjoying the first claim on the Muslim quota.
3. Reservation for the Hindu OBC's and the Minorities should be extended to legislatures as in the case of SC's and ST's. All secular and progressive forces should support these legitimate aspirations of the Muslims, as a community. q
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