Pasmanda Muslims: Question of Religion and Social Justice 


Caste is not something that is only related to stratification of a society. It’s related with everything. That we have studied in the history book how the Hindu caste system creates a domination of the Brahman and put the Dalit and backwards on the back foot of the society. This whole phenomenon is related to the Socio-economic aspect. That one is putting themselves in an advantaged positions and another in disadvantaged positions.

Likewise, same happened with the pasmanda community. As we can see that large chunk of the Muslim population was already those of a Hindu lower caste who converted to Islam because of the egalitarian principle of the Islam. They might be treated equally in the religious realm, as no one can or have denied the right to offer Namaz or fasting or going for the hajj. And I think that was  what they needed at that time. Because in Hindu religion these people were those who were not allowed to go to temples and follow the religion.

As Marx said, “Religion is an opium for masses”, people need a religion to bow down themselves in front of the god. They got this space in Islam. But once, democracy was established and everyone is treated equally based on one identity that is the ‘citizen’, created the further demand (citizens are called those who have some civil, political and other equal rights based on equal rights concept). Representing and leading the society, the elite(social as well as political) capture that space and started exploiting the rest on the name of liberal democracy, individual rights, fare justice, equality before the law and all that(these are the principle of modern democracy). But in the era of the ideal type of government (democracy), there raised a demand from every corner of the society, and hence, they needed to accommodate in that space according to the demand of the society.

But what about those who never spoke to the state because of lack of awareness or false consciousness of the society. For example, the backward Muslims (pasmanda), their identity for a long time have been interpreted as a homogenous and monolithic identity, where all the Muslims, whether he belonged to any region, languages etc. are equal, because every Muslim pray in the same mosque, go to same place for hajj, and follow the same prophet, irrespective of the reality that there is a large gap among these homogenous Muslim society. And this is the biggest lie of the Muslim society of India.

Let me give an example of that, in India there are several sects and sub-sects among the Muslims. Firstly, the Muslims are divided on the base of Shia or Sunni. These are the larger level which everyone knows. Come to Sunni, because in India Sunnis are in the majority. Further, Sunni’s are divided on the various subsects like Deobandi, Barelvi, Ahl e hadith, and so on. Further, for example, in Deobandi, there is division that who is following what, I mean one can be related to jam’ait e Islaami and another may be Tablighi Jam‘mat. I am not saying that these are the pattern where the Muslim society are discriminated. It is just that the homogeneity of the Muslim society is a myth. If somebody is Deobandi, he will not marry a Barelvi girl irrespective of the caste (if caste is same of the both). There are various example of violence and discrimination on the basis of above divisions.

Now let’s raise a question of caste. It is found that all the elite of the Muslim society is silent over the caste issue, but whenever, somebody else raise a caste question, they come forward and reject the idea pf caste among the Muslims. Is it so that they think that, caste is only a Hindu phenomenon? Rather the fact that most of the Muslims (for example, Bihari Muslims) is culturally very close to the Hindu religion( for example, they (Bihari Muslim women) wear saree, put teeka on the forehead, and also the baraat system which is strongly prohibited in the Islam but Muslims do practice). These are just some example of the society. There is a lot to find out.

It can be said that the question of caste is a matter of power politics. In the Indian political space, the Muslims mostly, those who are historically advantaged from the British and now benefitting from the liberal democratic institutions, always represent the Muslim. But now, the backward Muslims are demanding political representation of their own. For the four decades, the traditional leaders failed to address the demand of the Muslims, because they were busy in protecting their religious symbolism, and they only want from the government is to protect the religious institutions. Where the other society, like Dalit who got recognised as the starting point of the democracy but OBC (whether it Hindu or Muslims) was not. And they demanded for the more representation and as well distribution of the resources, and hence, they got benefit under the OBC quota in 1990. Thanks to the mandal commission, who at least recognised 84 castes among the Muslims from all over the country and hence put under the OBC quota. Hitherto, there were no major demand from the Muslim community itself for the inclusion in the OBC list beside some movements in Maharashtra under the leadership of shabbier Anwar Ansari and Sonaware. After that the movement In Bihar started which eventually called the pasmanda movements (there were two movements, one is under the leadership of Dr Ejaz Ali who coined the term “Dalit Muslims” and demanded for the amendment of article 341. Second one is Ali Anwar Ansari, who separated  from the Ejaz Ali and established their own organisation called Pasmanda Muslim Mahaj in 1998, and raise a voice in the name “pasmanda Muslims”), (Persian term which means ‘who left behind’). But the agitation from the Ashraf Muslims started, as they were started demanding the reservation of the whole Muslims.

The government supported the Ashraf’s demand. For example, government constitute a committee called ‘the Sachar committee’ to know the real condition of the Muslims, where committee first stratified the three distinct caste groups among the Muslims namely ‘Ashraf’ (Nobles), ‘Ajlaf’ (lowly) and ‘Arzal’ (of no use), the latter two are the backward castes among the Muslims and it is said that their condition is most worse than of the Dalit of the society(who is considered the most marginalised section of the society). But after the committee’s recommendation, the government did not go further, for what reason, nobody knows. Another committee was established in the name of Muslims,‘the Ranganath Mishra commission’ who eventually supported the argument of the Ashraf Muslims and hence,  recommended that the whole Muslims is backward and Muslims can give a quota of the 10% out the minority quota of the 15%. But still it didn’t happen.

One thing that need to be noted is that the ‘Sachar committee’ as well as ‘the Ranganath Mishra commission’ find that the conditions of the Muslims in India has worsened. But that is not all true. Because in the population of the Muslims of India, more than 80% of the population is belonged to the lower caste, and hardly the 15% of ashrafs (it is fact that no caste data is available on the Muslims, this arguments is establish by the researcher as well as who are working on it).

If Muslims considered as backward is truly a pasmanda Muslims, who are at a marginalised (In pasmanda Muslims category both the OBC and the Dalit Muslims considered). It is true that the pasmanda movement is a weak movements. Because the movement could not go longer, and the leader of pasmanda movement could not do the political bargaining rather for themselves (Dr Ejaz Ali and Ali Anwar Ansari co-opted with JD (U) and became Rajya Sabha member). Ashrafs Muslims are also responsible for this because they are leading in the political space. They are not even giving space to this in the political debate, neither support themselves. For that matter government is also not listening to this movements. Unless and until, the demand not raised from the every section of the society, the success of the movements is a far reaching story.

Tausif Ahmad PhD ( political science) from IGNOU department of political science

Email. [email protected]


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