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Muslim Dalits demand parity with other Dalits
By Andalib Akhter

From left: Mufti Mukarram Ahmad, Baba Sant Pritpal Singhji and Dr M Ejaz Ali

Ram Kumar Hindu dhobi hai. Use sarkar ne saari sahulat de rakhi hai. Use naukri se lekar padhai tak har jagah sahualt militi hai. Lekin main ek Musalaman dhobi hoon isliye mai in tamam sahulaton se mahroom hoon". (Ram Kumar is Hindu dhobi. From education to job, the government has given him all facilities. But I am a Muslim dhobi. So I have been debarred from all these facilities.)— Ghulam Rasool from Bihar.

"Mere gaon ka Mohan Prasad ek Hindu mochi hai. Sarkar ne use Indira Awas ke tehat pakka makan banwa diya hai. Mai Muslim mochi hoon. Mai pakka makaan men nahi rah sakta kyon ke main SC men nahin ata hoon." (Mohan Parasd of my village is a Hindu cobbler. The government has made him a concrete house under Indira Vikas Yojna. I am a Muslim cobbler. I have no right to live in concrete house as I have not been included in the list of SC.)— Muhammad Karim from UP 

These are not mere statements of Ghulam Rasool and Muhammad Karim who attended an Insaaf Conference (justice conference) in Delhi recently to highlight their plight. It reflects the aspirations of crores of underprivileged Indian Muslims, who have been prevented from getting the help of government other Dalits get under the Article 341 of the Constitution. 

Article 341 provides the status of Scheduled Castes to Dalits. It also provides special aid and facilities for the advancement of Schedule Castes people in every walk of life. But para 3 of the article imposes religious restrictions making the provision applicable only to those who profess Hindu religion. Members of all religious minorities are debarred. 

There was no religious restriction in the law passed in 1935 for the same purpose. Dalits of all religion were entitled to avail of this facility. In 1950, members of all minority communities were debarred from this facility by a presidential order through which a religious ban was imposed. However, two amendments were made in this order and thereby two minorities, Sikhs (1956) and neo-Buddhists (1990) were re-included in this category. But Muslims and Christians have still been out.

"Is not it an injustice to Muslims and Christians? Are not they Indian? Are not they underprivileged ?", asks M Ejaz Ali, who organised the conference in Delhi under the banner of All India United Muslim Morcha (AIUMM). It demands the removal of the religious ban from article 341. Interestingly, the conference witnessed Muslim leaders of all hues, including Maulana Asad Madani of Jamiatul Ulema-e- Hind, Maulana Asrarurl Haq Qasmi of Milli Council, Shia leader Kalbe Jawwad, and others. Besides them, several Hindu leaders also came up in support of the demand. Former Union minister Chaturanan Mishra and Dalit leaders Udit Raj and JN Nishad made fervent appeals to the Union government to amend the article in favour of Muslims and Christians. 

Supporting the demand of underprivileged Muslims, chairman of All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisation, Udit Raj said, "We have to fight together to remove this religious ban from Article 341, which will bring all Dalits under one category in the Constitution also". Maulana Asad Madani observed, " Though Islam does not believe in caste system, it is not proper for the Government of India to debar a deprived section of Muslims from the official benefit of reservation and other facilities merely because they are followers of Islam". 

According to AIUMM, 85 percent of Indian Muslims live below poverty line, 90 percent are homeless and landless. "The root cause of this drastic downfall in the educational, economic and socio-political parameters of the majority of Indian Muslims in last 50 years is their exclusion from the purview of Article 341", says Ejaz Ali. As a result, the community has to eke out a living through rickshaw-pulling, biri making, work as casual labour, scavenging, toddy-tapping, cobbling, weaving, tailoring, vegetable and fruit selling, fishing, cycle puncture repair and garbage lifting. If nothing is available, begging. 

The AIUMM believes that had Muslims not been in the need of such support, the Constituent Assembly would have excluded minorities from this article from the very beginning. It also says that a religious ban is itself against the fundamental rights provided under Article 14 (equality before law), Article 15 (prohibition of discrimination on the ground of religion ) Article 16 (equal opportunity in public employment ) and Article 25 (right to freedom of religion). The religious bar is against the letter and spirit of secularism. "If two minorities were reincluded in this category, why not the other minorities also?", asks AIUMM. 

Bihar Legislative Council passed a bill in 1999 in favour of Dalit Muslim reservation. In the same year, Ramjethmalani, the then Union law minister, during discussion in parliament on extension of period of SC/ST reservation for another 10 years, told the house that the government was considering inclusion of Dalits converted to Islam and Christianity in SC category. 

The issue was raised in the Lok Sabha on many occasions by RJD’s Raghuansh Prasad Singh. The Government of West Bengal has directed the state Commission for Backward Classes to take necessary action on the issue. In its recommendation No. 240, National Commission for Review of Working of the Constitution has also mentioned this issue.

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