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Published in the 16-30 Nov 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Rejoinder to Syed Shahabuddin

Reservation for Muslim Backwards

"Reservation for Muslim Backwards is Constitutional and Socially necessary in National Context" is the caption of the "frank rejoinder" by my learned colleague, Syed Shahabuddin [MG, 1-15 October 2004] from which I came to know that my article really hurt him, otherwise he would not have charged me for launching "such a pernicious and divisive campaign against the Muslim community". 

I have never rejected the idea of Muslim unity, but certainly I am not for any unity at the cost of present benefits provided to the backward Muslims through OBC reservation. He rightly observed, "He seems to think that reservation in public employment for the Muslim community as a whole will be harmful to the interests of the backward sub-communities because they will lose what they are getting under the Mandal regime and they will be marginalised by the so-called 'Ashraf’. So they would be losers in balance." He further states that "This is practical wisdom, no doubt, because a bird in hand is always better than two in the bush. If this was at the back of his mind his diffidence in joining the common cause of the community would be well understood." He claims to have understood my mind but I fail to understand his mindset when he reads "something more to it than what appears at the surface".

My article in question consists of three parts. Syed Shahabuddin has reacted only to part one while part two deals with the Dalit Muslims, i.e., about those Muslims whose Hindu counterparts are included in Scheduled castes but Muslims and Christians are debarred not by the regular Articles of the Constitution of India but by the "Presidential (Scheduled Caste) order of 1950.” The third part is the opinion of NCRWC headed by Justice Venkatachaliah. My learned friend altogether ignored the other two parts.

Regarding his "Religious Minorities as Backward Classes" sub-section, I have to say only this much: he discusses the well-authenticated records of the Constituent Assembly debates and the first draft of the Constitution. Prof. Iqbal A Ansari also quoted the verbatim report of the debate in his article on Andhra Muslim Reservation in the Milli Gazette [MG, 16-31 August 2004 & MG 1-15 September 2004]. In this regard I would like to repeat what I have said earlier that the debates of the Constituent Assembly, Parliament, or state legislatures are, after all, just debates, but what matters Constitutionally is the outcome of the debate, the Constitution or the Acts of Parliament and state legislatures. My learned friend very well understands this practical proposition.: Aasman doobe huway taaron ka maatam kab talak.

Later on, Syed Shahabuddin claims that "The Supreme Court in the Indra Sawhny Judgement clearly states that a religious community may also be categorized as a Backward Class.” He further states that Venkatachaliah Commission which has stated that the grant of reservation to Muslims, if they constitute a backward class, does not require any amendment to the Constitution. There are no two opinions on this count. Nine Judges Constitution Bench Judgment is also of the same opinion. The real point of difference is whether they constitute a “backward class.” 

Muslims like Sikhs, Christians and Hindus are broadly divided into Backward and non-Backward classes. The elite and Ashraf section of Muslim Ulama claim that there is no categorisation between Ashraf and non-Ashrafs i.e. Ajlaf and Arzal, among Muslims. They should know that the word Ashraf, Ajlaf and Arzal are not derived from Sanskrit or Hindi. These are Arabic words and are in usage from earliest periods. lt indicates that the division between Ashraf, Ajlaf and Arzal was, and is in practice in Arab Society*. Shaikh Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab in his book Deen Ke Teen Aham Usool confirms this. Indian Muslim Ulama, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi, Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ and Maulana Ahmad Raza Khan Barelwi not only confirm this division but they used pernicious and derogative words for all Ajlaf and Arzal (see Nehayatul Erab fi Ghayatin-nasab, extracts of which published in Zindagi-e Nau, August, 2000). Now, Syed Shahabuddin himself should decide who has divided the Muslim community: Muslim ulama or an ordinary person like me.

By Syed Shahabuddin's admission, Backward Muslims of U.P. constitute at least 75% of 16%, i.e., 12% of the state population. While recognising that 75% of Muslims as backwards, he wants to know from me as to what percentage of them are getting benefits in U.P. services. It is nobody's claim that Backward Muslim's are getting 50% of the seats, i.e., 6% in U.P. civil or police services. He knows the position better than anyone else because he was founder-editor of Muslim India, a monthly journal of “research, documentation and reference.” I would like to know from him the position of the Muslim representation on the whole in both houses of Parliament and state legislatures and out of the total representation of Muslims in these bodies what is the percentage of representation of Backward Muslims whose percentage of population, according to him is, 75% of the total Muslim population. He should tell the world frankly that more than 75% of the seats in these decision-making bodies are captured by the Ashraf Muslims and only the remaining, less than 25%, seats are filled by the category of Muslims who are Ajlaf and Arzal. He should also state the position of the representation of Ansaris out of this less than 25% representation of Backward Muslims. No Ansari could be elected in the 11th, 12th and 13th Lok Sabha. Only one Ansari could enter the present Lok Sabha out of 36 Muslims. Representation of Ansaris in state legislatuers was also less than 5% of the total Muslim population. Non-Ansari Muslim Backwards representation was always comparatively better than Ansaris in these bodies. But I have never raised the issue of Ansari representation. I always raise the issue of Backward Muslim under-representation, but Syed Shahabuddin and persons of his mindset always paint this picture that Ansaris are grabbing all the facilities of OBCs while other backward Muslims are deprived. While giving a certificate to Ansaris that "they were pampered for their nationalist record while the so-called Ashraf largely associated themselves with the Muslim League politics and later with the Pakistan Movement were left high and dry". No doubt the historical facts came from his pen but to express his heart-felt yet biased feeling about the Ansaris and with the ulterior motive of dividing the Muslim OBCs. He accused me of "drumming up support for the Muslim OBCs because he wants the relatively forward Ansaris to lord it over the other Muslim OBCs". In the end his real motive comes out: drumming separate quota for other Muslim OBCs excluding the Ansaris. Although earlier he posed a question, "If Mr. Ansari wants a separate quota for Muslim OBCs, say of 6% in U.P., I would support him.” Every OBC Muslim will oppose tooth and nail the motive of Syed Shahabuddin to divide the OBC Muslims. After all he belongs to the rulling class whichbelieves and practices the policy of divide-and-rule. 

In fact, Backward Muslims are not opposed to reservation to the Ashraf Muslims but they are certainly opposed to "bundling of the unequals" together. If the Constitution approves provision of reservation under separate category other than OBC for forward Muslims, their backward brothers will support it. He himself opposes the "bundling of unequals" theory and he will agree that Shaikhs, Syeds, Mughals and Pathans are socially, educationally and also economically superior to the Ajlaf and Arzal Muslims. 

Coming to the Muslim reservation in Kerala, Karnataka, Manipur and Tamil Nadu, there is no reservation for all Muslims in Karnataka and Kerala. In Tamil Nadu only Tamil-speaking Muslims are included in the backward list excluding the Urdu-speaking. In Munipur, all Muslims are not included in backward list. In Kerala the word used is "All Muslims excluding" and those excluded in Karnataka are "Kachi Memon, Navayat, Bohra, Bhunaya, Borha, Saiyad, Sheikh, Pathan, Mughal, Mahad Yoma, Mohdadi, Kokani or Gomti Muslim.” In Kerala, those excluded are "Bohra, Kachchi Memon, Nayayats, Turkan and Dakhni Muslims" (source National Commission of Backward Classes).

Syed Shahabuddin will not be able to achieve his goal of creating division and misunderstandings among the backward Muslims. No doubt Ansari Muslims are the target of all his attack in his "frank rejoinder" but his main object is to create division among the OBC Muslims who are included in the list of OBC category. 

I do not know what made him understand that Ansaris are the main beneficiaries of the OBC Muslim quota. The fact is just the reverse. I am placing positive facts for his perusals: Let us first examine the position of representation of Ansaris in the lower house of Indian Parliament. The authentic data is as under: from 1st to 14th Lok Sabhas 396 Muslims of both the Ashraf and non-Ashraf categories were elected, out of which only 14 were Ansaris. 1st and 2nd Lok Sabha had no Ansari representation and in each of the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Lok Sabhas only one Ansari could be elected while 7th Lok Sabha had five, the highest ever Ansari representation, and the 8th had only three Ansaris. In the 9th Lok Sabha, Ansari representation came down to zero while the 10th Lok Sabha had only one Ansari. In the 12th and 13th Lok Sabha, Ansari representation again came down to zero. The present Lok Sabha (14th) has only one Ansari representation. According to Syed Shahabuddin's own assessment 75% of the Muslim population belongs to the OBC category and the remaining 25% are Ashraf, i.e., Shaikh, Syed, Mughal and Pathan. Out of this 75% OBC Muslim population, around half of them, or say more than 35% of the Muslims, consist of Ansaris who according to him are the main beneficiaries of the OBC quota. But on the other hand the facts of the Lok Sabha OBC Muslim representation and among them Ansari representation are just the opposite. No doubt, Muslim representation in Lok Sabha is below the percentage of the Muslim population. Out of around seven thousand five hundred members from 1st to I4th Lok Sabhas, only about 400 Muslims could get elected. If for calculation sake, Muslim population is counted as 12%, then only 6.25% of Muslims got elected in the Lok Sabha. Out of this, only 14 Ansaris and around 46 OBC Muslims could get representation in the 1st to 14th Lok Sabhas. Roughly the figure comes to 60 OBC Muslims out of 400 Muslims elected to Lok Sabha. That is to say that out of 75% OBC Muslim population only 15% could get representation in Lok Sabha and 60% representation was cornered by the 25% Ashraf or non-OBC section of Muslims.

I leave it to the readers to decide which section of the Muslims are grossly under-represented and which section of the Muslims is over-represented. Almost same is the position of representation of Muslims in general, in state legislatuers, public services, admissions, educational institutions, and in decision-making bodies of Government and political parties. 

I conclude with a quotation from NCRWC headed by justice Venkatachaliah: "At present the political representation of minorities especially Muslims in legislature has fallen much below the proportion of their population. The proportion of BCs among them is next to nil. Backward classes belonging to religious minorities, who have been identified and included in the list of backward classes and who in fact constitute the bulk of the population of religious minorities should be taken up with special care along with their Hindu counterparts in the developmental efforts for the backward classes". 

Ashfaq Husain Ansari, ex-MP

* This is not correct. No such social categorisation exists in the Arab society where some tribes may consider themselves superior on account of their numbers or old history but this does not stop people from any tribe or section to rise if they acquire knowledge, wealth and political power as is the case in our own Indian Muslim society (editor).

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