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Published in the 1-15 Sep 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Zaat and Biradari

Apropos of Mr. Kaleem Kawaja’s question on Zaat and Biradari in the Muslim Indian society and your [MG Editor] reply thereto in your issue of August 11-31, 2004, may I add the following:

Most Muslim Indians (perhaps to the extent of 90%) are descendants of converts to Islam from Hinduism, largely drawn from the lower castes – the Shudras, the Achhuts and the Adivasis. They carried the caste system, which has professionally determined with them. Islam gave them religious equality and opened the doors of social mobility for them. Syeds, Shaikhs, Mughals and Pathans have mostly descended from Muslims who came from outside. But even some converts from high castes became designated Shaikhs and Pathans. But largely their economic status remained static. Over a period of time the Muslim society was also stratified because the caste and class become synonymous with each other and the Iranis and Turanis were closer to the establishment than Hindustani Muslims. So it is undeniable that the caste system, call it ‘baradari’, became a feature of Muslim Indian society. But the caste classification was never as absolute or as rigorous as among the Hindus. For one thing, there was no concept of ‘pollution’ and, therefore, to social and religious intercourse: there was no bar, as you have pointed out, on acquisition of knowledge or upgradation of socio-economic status and what is more important there was no absolute prohibition of intercaste-marriage.

In my estimate, roughly 2/3-3/4 of the Muslim Indians have been included in the lists of OBC’s. By definition, SC’s can only be Hindus (now also Sikhs and Neo-Buddhists) but ST’s also include some Muslim tribes e.g. in Lakshadweep and Jammu and Kashmir.

To come to your questions.
1. There was no formal classification but a situation of Biradarivad did develop over a period of time.

2. No one has defined the biradaris, neither the state nor the Ulema. But every Muslim baradari has now been listed as OBC in the list of Backward Classes, which brings them within the purview of reservation in public employment and education and other marginal benefits. That they have not always got their due is another matter. Denial is due either to communal bias or inability to field candidates with minimum qualification or incapacity to compete, within the same classification, with more advanced Hindu groups.

3. Every State has its List. So has the Centre, of Backward Classes, including some which are exclusively Muslims e.g. butchers.

4. Every major baradari has now an association – at local, state and, even national levels. This is the benefit of democracy. There is also a wave of Islamization and each group is adopting an Islamic arpetations. The biradarivad also being encouraged by anti-Muslim forces in order to shatter Muslim solidarity and make them politically ineffective.

Syed Shahabuddin

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