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Muslim backwardness- some constitutional restrictions
By Irshadul Haq

Who can deny the fact that Indian Muslims have gone far behind in almost all walks of life as compared to their compatriots. Their social and economic condition is even worse than ‘Dalits’. A number of intellectuals from our own community do not tire of uttering the same old words 'Muslims are themselves to be blamed for their backwardness.’

Muslims have not been given the concessions and privileges enjoyed by Hindus, Buddhists, Sikha and Dalits. Under certain provisions Dalits have been given 14 percent reservation in all state and central government jobs. This has been laid down in section 341of the Constitution. According to this Section, Harijans were identified on a countrywide scale and seats were reserved for them in all government departments save the judiciary. They were called scheduled castes and schedule tribes. They were also given the privilege of reservation in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies in the same proportion. Dalits are also given the facility of building their houses under the Indira Awas Scheme. But Dalit Muslims have been deprived of all these constitutional privileges and concession, whereas the fact is that the financial, social and political condition of these Dalit Muslims is worse than the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits in all respects. In certain places it is almost impossible to differentiate whether they are Dalit Muslims or non-Muslims. The financial and social condition of Halalkhors, Nats, Bhatyaras, Dhunias and Bhants etc is so bad that they are leading a life worse than that of Dalits.

In this connection it is worth noting that under religious restrictions of section 341 of the Constitution Dalit Muslims are deprived of the benefits available to scheduled caste people whereas section 14 of the constitution specifies that government will not discriminate on religious grounds. Though there are strict instructions in the Constitution not to discriminate on the basis of race and religion, the followers of a particular religion have been deprived of their basic rights. What kind of Constitution is this? Now, when the central government has formed a Constitution Review Committee half a century after independence, different Muslim organization should pressurize the government to bring this fact under discussion. Another noteworthy aspect in connection with scheduled caste reservation is that those Muslims who got fed up with the tyranny of Hindu and embraced Islam(which preached religious equality) centuries ago, were Hindu sweepers, shoe makers, washer-men etc at that time. But when they became Muslims, the Constitution of free India turned them out of the scheduled castes category as a punishment. They were given such a harsh social and political punishment for embracing Islam and our Muslim thinkers and leaders are still silent. In this connection the well known journalist, Kuldeep Nayar clearly said that Muslims should not demand the inclusion of Dalit Muslims in the category of notified castes. He was of the opinion that reservation for schedule castes is due to their exploitation for thousands of years in the past. Since these people have deserted Hinduism and embraced Islam, these Dalit Muslims have become free from the tyranny of Brahmins. All are equal in Islam; so why should they be included in the category of scheduled castes? But Nayar probably forgets that on the recommendations of the Mandal Commission, backward Muslims have also been included in the category of 27 percent reservation together with the backward people of other religions and these Muslims are enjoying the benefits from the times of the former Prime Minister VP Singh.

People who say that the privilege of reservation available to scheduled castes and other backward classes are against religious principles are trying to spread serious misunderstanding because the motive behind such reservation is to provide opportunities to those people in the society who are left behind in the social ladder. As a matter of fact, this idea is exactly akin to the principles of equality in Islam.

Now let us think about the dangerous consequences that will emerge on account of non-inclusion of Dalit Muslims in the category of scheduled castes. Just think: Hindu sweeper is SC, whereas a Muslim sweeper is OBC.; Hindu juggler is SC (in Bihar), Muslim washer-man is OBC; Hindu ‘Paasi’ is SC, Muslim ‘Paasi’ is placed in the OBC category. There are dozens of such examples where despite similarity of social standing and profession, Muslims have not been included in this list only to deprive them of the privileges and facilities. Harmful consequences of all such policies are now cropping up. There are dozens of families of Nuts, Bhatyaras and Bhant etc in the suburban areas of East Champaran, Siwan and Vaishali districts in Bihar whose forefathers converted to Islam, but there was no perceptible difference in their way of life. But when their later generations became somewhat literate, they realized that the constitutional privileges and facilities were not available to them because of being Muslims and these could be readily available to them if they revert to their old religion. The number of such people in Bihar is increasing who are going for government jobs from the category of scheduled castes. How serious this problem is from the Muslims' point of view, can very well be imagined. The problem is how to prevent this trend of conversion? Under these circumstances there appears to be only one way – that all Muslim organizations should join together on one common platform and start a movement for bringing about an amendment to section 341 of the constitution that lays down the religions restriction.

It is a matter of satisfaction that in Bihar some organizations are carrying on a movement for amendment in section 341 and certain perceptible results of this movement are being observed. It is because of the pressure of these organizations that on 21 July last the Bihar Assembly unanimously forwarded a recommendation to the central government for inclusion of Dalit Muslims in the category of scheduled castes, because their economic, social and political condition is unimaginably worse.

Unfortunately, the problem of these organizations in Bihar is that their leaders are becoming more and more selfish which has made them quite ineffective. Leaders of these organizations have started using their public image for their own political gains. Some leaders are using their influence and approach for distribution of tickets for Assembly elections while others are using these for getting their seats reserved in the Legislative Council. The overall result of all such activities will be that the movement will be weakened and will become a victim of horse trading and ‘give’ and ‘take’ policy of political parties.

Hence the need of the hour is to publicize such movements on a country-wide scale so that ‘Dalit’ Muslims could not be exploited anymore.

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