Muslim Dalits a downtrodden lot

Nalin Verma

Ali Anwar's book, 'Masawat ki Jung' has sent a sever down the spines of Muslim elites as it dwells at length on the plight of dalit Muslims derided and treated as pariahs by the upper caste brethren and ulemas. This goes against tenets of Islam which don't sanction inequality on the basis of caste and birth.

Author: Ali Anwar
Year: 2001
No. of Pages: 263

Publisher: Vani Prakashan , New Delhi, India
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"Aagaya ain ladai mein waqte-namaz Qiblaru hoke zamin-bos hui qaum-e-hejaz Ek hi saf mein khade ho gaye Mahmood-o-Ayaz Na koi banda raha aur na koi banda-nawaz

(In the midst of raging battle if the time came to pray, Hejazis turned to Mecca, kissed the earth and ceased from the fray. Sultan and slave in single file stood side by side. Then no servant was nor master, nothing did them divide)"

This famous couplet of Alamma Iqbal highlights the virtue of an egalitarian society that Islam professes. The religion propounded by Prophet Mohammad does not sanction inequality on the basis of caste and birth. That's why the king and the slave stand shoulder to shoulder in prayer as Iqbal mentions in his verse.

But the book, "Masawat ki Jung (crusade for equality)" authored by Ali Anwar, journalist and activist, and published by the Vani Prakashan , New Delhi, vividly depicts the caste inequality and hatred in the Muslim society and the plight of the dalit Muslims. Former Prime Minister V. P. Singh recently released the book at the book fair in Patna.

The book has sent shiver down the spine of the Muslim elite. In Anwar's work focusses the movement that the dalit Muslims of Bihar have launched against the "exploitative" upper castes and ulemmas in their own community, under the banner of the Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz.

The book written in the Hindustani language illustrates in detail how the small number of upper caste Muslims who constitute only 15 per cent of the total Muslim population in India have been enjoying control over the religious, political and social institutions of the country for centuries.

The author has identified the dalit castes in his community and has described their pitiable condition on the basis of his field survey and spending time with time. The Muslim dalits include Jolaha, Nutt, Bakkho, Bhatiyara, Kunjra, Dhunia, Kalal, Dafali, Halakhor, Dhobi, Lalbegi, Gorkan, Meershikar, Cheek, Rangrez and Darji.

The book emphasizes how these castes have been socially and economically "abused" by the upper caste Muslims for centuries. "Not to speak of others, even the great social reformer like Sayed Ahmad Khan abused Jolahas describing them as badjat (bad caste)", the book says.

The jolahas are hard working people who earn their livelihood by weaving cloths. "But it is an irony that the people who are relatively more hard working are frowned upon in the Muslim society. The way Ahirs are ridiculed in the Hindu society, the Jolahas are abused and described as fools in the Muslim society."

The book quotes numerous popular idioms which the "high born" Muslims use to despise the dalits in their community. Among them is "Khet khaye gadaha, maar khaye jolaha (Jolaha should be beaten up if the donkey grazes the harvest)." Another is: "Dom ghar khaibo, dhob ghar khaibo na (Eat at Dom's house but never eat at a Dhobi's house). Dhob is a washer man community.

The book says that the condition of dalit Muslims is "worse than dalit Hindus". "It's a big farce that there is no untouchability in Muslim society. The disease of untouchability is very much prevalent in Muslim society. In fact, neither the Muslims' ruling elite nor the religious leaders have so far made any meaningful efforts to remove the disease of inequality that has made the dalit Muslims to suffer for centuries." The author says that the Muslim political and religious leaders have rather tried to conceal the casteism, untouchability and inequality in the community to serve their vested interests.

Interestingly, the book disputes the general opinion of historians and social scientists that the Muslim society adopted the vices of social inequality and casteism from the Hindu society. "The general belief that Muslim society has absorbed the caste based disparities from the Hindu society is not wholly true."

The book says that the disease of social inequality was prevalent even in the Arab society during the pre-Islam and post-Islam days. To drive his point home the author asks: "If there was no inequality in Arab(ia)-where Islam was born-how does the Arabic literatures contain the words, ashraf, azlaf and arzal? These three Arabic words are derived from their Arabic roots, sharf, zalf and razl which mean gentle, lowly and pariah respectively."

The book does not wholly deny the theory that the Hindus who were converted to Islam carried the vestiges of their caste-based culture with them in the Muslim society. "Who denies the impact of Hinduism over Islam or vice versa…..Synthesis and compromises happen when the two cultures and civilizations meet and decide to co-exist." But if the Muslim society, the book argues, imposes the onus of the vice inequality and casteism wholly on Hindu society it is absolutely wrong. "It's a design to hide one's own vice."

The author strongly advocates reservation in jobs for the dalit Muslims on the pattern of the one provided to the Hindu dalits who include Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. He describes the failure of the Muslim leaders to ask for reservation in Government jobs for the dalits in their community at the time of the formation of the constitution as a "design" to conceal the social inequality. More than 50 years down the line, the "unholy design to conceal the weakness of the society and maintain the hegemony of a selected class of the community over the rest has festered into deep wounds causing untold sufferings to the dalit Muslims".

The benefit of reservation in the jobs has enabled a fair number of SCs and STs become IAS and IPS officers and get services at various levels in the central and state governments. "But one can not find a single Jolaha, Dafali, Bhatiyara, Cheek or any dalit Muslim getting the job of even a clerk in the Government's office or teacher in the schools", the book claims.

The book says that the dalit and backward Muslims who constitute more than 75 per cent of the total Muslim population in the country are now awakened to the "reality" that the Muslim political and religious leadership "dominated by the upper castes" will not raise their (dalit Muslim's) cause. But in a bid to guard their "vested interests, the likes of Sayed Shahabuddin and several ulemmas are now clamouring for the reservation for all the poor Muslims in the Government job". "It's yet another design to perpetuate the hegemony of Sheikhs, Pathans and Malliks-the high caste Muslims-who have been ruling the mosques, Muslims' religious and charity related bodies and the politics."

The book also holds the Muslm ulemmas responsible for the plight of the dalit Muslims. "Why these ulemmas don't wage a crusade against the casteism and inequality which are against the basic tenets of Islam", the author asks, adding: " these ulemmas mainly belonging to upper castes dominate the rich religious and charity related bodies." "And they are as much attracted towards power and pelf as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad sponsored sadhus are."

Religious and charitable organisations of the Muslims, according to the book, used to be supported by the subscriptions from the people in the past. "But now these organisatinos are run on petro-dollars and the ulemmas exercising control over them have their eyes on money coming from the Arab and other Muslim countries." "So", according to the book, "these ulemmas are more interested in maintaining their credibility with the Arab countries rather than dealing with the day to day life, struggle and problems of the Muslim masses at large in their own country."

The book warns: "The foreign money can add colours and decorations in our mosques but it has all the potential to deviate our neo-rich ulemmas from the path of truth and religiosity." "Besides, the foreign money can add to several other vices."

To prove that how the religious and charitable organisations of the Muslims ignore the cause of their poor and socially backward brethren, the book cites the example of the headquarters of the Imarat-e-Shariah (Bihar and Orissa) located in the Phulwari Sharief area of Patna. Close to the Imarat-e-Shariah office there is a huge settlement of halalkhors (Muslim dalits). "Cholera broke out in the halakhors locality a few years ago killing six poor people. Not to speak of providing any material assistance, the Imarat-e-Shariah's office bearers did not even prefer to meet the affected families and inquire about their welfare", the book says.

The book intersperse with numerous popular anecdotes, idioms and tales, dwells at length on the travails and exploitation of the dalit Muslims and how they are treated as "pariah" by the upper caste Muslims and ulemmas calling the shots.

To prove that how the vested interests have caused immense harm to the Muslim society, which has now deviated from the path of masawat (equality), the author once again quotes Alamma Iqbal:

"Waize-qaum ki woh pukhta-khayali na rahi

Bark tabai na rahi, shola-maqali na rahi

Rah gai rashme-azan, ruhe-Belali na rahi

Falsafa rah gaya, talqeene gazali na rahi. (There is no substance in what the mentors preach. No lightning flashes enlighten their minds. There's no fire in their speech. Only the ritual the call to prayer; the spirit of Bilal has fled. There is only a philosophy left. Ghazali's discourse is no longer present)."