Politics Of Change?

Wooing Pasmanda Muslims

Ram Puniyani

The electoral strength of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been rising through various mechanisms. On one hand, the voting percentage in favour of this party is on the upswing; on the other, it has been luring elected representatives from other parties. The process of luring has diverse ways and underlying causes. At the same time, there is some impression in the society that Muslims do not vote for the BJP by and large. This may not be fully true.

At the recently concluded National Executive meeting of BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called upon his party to reach out to those sections of the society which have not been voting for BJP due to the 'BJP phobia' created by the Opposition. The BJP blamed the opposition parties even for its own actions due to which there is a fear of the BJP. Hate speech and dog whistles from the top leadership are aplenty due to which many are scared of this party.

The Muslim community has also faced the might of bulldozers. Political observer Zainab Sikander has neatly summarised it: “A man with amputated hands is accused of stone-throwing in Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone. His only source of income, his shop, is bulldozed. But Muslims? This is their daily reality. What is the future of Muslims in India when they are being psychologically broken by being brandished as conspirators, terrorists, illegal migrants, rioters and stone-throwers?”

One can safely add that among the victims of communal violence, the majority are Muslims; those in jail are also mostly Muslims. Lately, human rights activists calling for peaceful protests are also being incarcerated. Most of them do not have the luck of Muhammad Zubair, the co-founder of Alt news, to secure bail.

In this light, one recalls the conclusions of the Gopal Singh Commission, the Rangnath Mishra Commission and Sachar committee reports which show the economic and social status of Muslims sliding down in the social pyramid. Minority appeasement as a phrase runs parallel to worsening socio-economic conditions of Muslim minorities. And now people are made to believe that the phobia against BJP has been created by opposition parties.

This is the backdrop in which the Prime Minister Modi advised his partymen to start “sneh yatras” (outreach campaigns) to woo Pasmanda Muslims. He may have multiple goals in mind. To begin with, it may aim to win over a section of Muslims to the BJP fold to divide the Muslim community along caste/economic lines. Already, the RSS has floated a Muslim Rashtriya Manch to win over a section of Muslims by propagating common ancestry, and stating that’ change in your (Muslim) methods of worship has not changed your nationality’.

Pasmanda is a Persian word, which stands for ‘left behind’. It is religion and caste neutral. As such, the ST, ST and OBC can broadly be included in this. Among Muslims there is another social gradation: Ashrafs, who claim their ancestry from the Prophet, Ajlaf (the equivalent of OBC) and Arzal, which are the lowest of the lowest castes among Muslims. It is a paradox that the many from low caste in India embraced Islam to escape the tyranny of the traditional caste system. But caste is such a deep phenomenon that it has affected Muslims and Christians and other religions in India.

Overall, Pasmanda is predominantly used for low-caste Muslims who have been left out from the process of affirmative action, especially brought in by the Mandal Commission. The community includes Dalit (Arzals) and backward Muslim (Ajlafs). Based on the Mandal commission report, 27 percent reservation was started for the OBCs. Of this, 79 castes were from Muslim community—nearly all belonging to the Pasmanda community. The rest of 15 percent Muslims are considered upper class or Ashrafs.

The castes within Pasmanda Muslims are generally decided by their profession. Among the Pasmandas are Malik (Teli), Momin Ansar (weavers), Qureshi (butchers), Salmani (barbers) and Hawari (washer men).

While the Mandal Commission did give the status of OBC to many Muslim communities, some have not been included in the category to which they belong and so remain deprived from the much-needed affirmative action. It is true that in the Muslim community, most organisations are dominated by Ashrafs.

Pasmanda groups have been trying to organise themselves to press for betterment of their economic-social conditions. Ali Anwar, the founder of one Pasmanda group, says that in 1998 a Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz was formed. “We do not appreciate the patronising statement from the PM… The Pasmanda Muslims need ‘sneh’ denotes that they are an inferior lot requiring patronage from the ones who are superior… Our fight is not against any caste, creed or community; we are demanding from the government and the political elite our due that is commensurate with our population so that we can stand on an equal footing with non-Pasmanda people.”

"Sneh Yatra" is fine. But what is needed more is an end to the hate campaigns against the community and the start of affirmative action for the weaker sections of the Muslim population.

Back to Home Page

Vol 55, No. 9, Aug 28 - Sep 3, 2022