Indian Muslims Demand Justice

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent


A Muslim man says his evening prayers after a protest in New Delhi January 29, 2009. At least two thousand people rallied in New Delhi on Thursday to protest the killing of imprisonment of Muslims, saying innocent members of the community became targets after bomb attacks in India in recent years.

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI: With parliamentary elections likely to be held in two-three months, the Indian Muslims have started raising their voice with a new aggressiveness and force. The past week was witness to their protesting against being targeted in fake encounters as “terrorists” and also holding a daylong convention demanding reservation in jobs and education. The message is simple and the timing appropriate. With Indian politics no longer dominated by a single party or only two/three major parties, the Muslims are strongly aware of the significance that their vote holds for numerous parties in the fray. They do not want to be sidelined or ignored any more. This has prompted them to raise their voice as and when needed with a new force rather than remain only mute spectators to ongoing political developments.

Displaying their anger and protest against innocent Muslims being falsely labeled as terrorists, at least 3,000 Muslims gathered in the capital city last week (January 29). They arrived on a train called the “Ulema Express,” which started from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday (January 28), with number of demonstrators increasing during the 700-kilometer journey to New Delhi. They marched from the railway station to Jantar Mantar area, near Indian Parliament, the main spot where demonstrators gather. The protestors carried banners which said: “Let the truth prevail, bring the innocents out of jail,” and “Give us security, not tears and blood.”

They demanded a judicial inquiry into the Batla House encounter in the capital city in September, in which two Muslims were killed, following which two were arrested. Azamgarh hit the headlines then, with it being claimed as hideout of the suspect terrorists. Several men from Azamgarh were arrested as suspects. Questioning these moves targeting Muslims, Maulana Amir Rashadi, a leader of Ulema council, which organized the rally, said: “We want fake encounters like Batla House to end, We want innocent Muslim youth who have been arrested by the police to be let off in two weeks.”

“We will intensify our agitation if false arrests and harassment continues,” Rashadi said.

The protestors shouted slogans: “We will not let another Batla House happen.” They are also angry at the Inspector M.C. Sharma, who died during the Batla House encounter, being honored. The government has rubbed salt into their wounds, by doing so, but there is nothing surprising about it, according to Rashadi. “It is normal in Indian politics. The government has many faces,” he said. “After killing so many of our promising youths and dumping many more in jail, what kind of security can they provide us and what kind of trust do they expect from us,” he asked.

“We want a judicial enquiry on the Batla House encounter. Innocent Muslims are being harassed by the authorities and are seen with suspicion by everyone. Muslims are the most patriotic of all, and we have proved our loyalty time and again. We are tired of being used as a votebank, and then backstabbed by the political parties,” Rashadi said.

“The government has failed to give us relief. The police of every state are hanging around in Azamgarh. The Congress- led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has engineered a plot against us. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government in Uttar Pradesh is competing with the UPA in killing Muslim youths,” Maulana Tahir Madani, also a leader of Ulema council, said.

Though initially several legislators, including Akbar Ahmed (BSP) from Azamgarh, Ilyas Azmi (BSP) and Abu Azmi (Samajwadi party) “promised to protect our boys and force the UPA to order a judicial probe in the encounter. But they did nothing,” Rashadi said. “All parties have played with our problems, but they have never tried to resolve them. We now intend to emerge as a political force to have our say in governance, and will put up candidates from Azamgarh and Lalganj in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections,” Madani said.

The council had chartered the train. On this, Rashadi said: “We paid Rs 1.4 million to the railway and chartered the train. We paid Rs 300,000 as security money at Azamgarh railway station. The entire money came through donations.”

At the “National Convention on Muslim Reservation,” organized by Joint Committee of Muslim Organizations for Empowerment (JCMOE), the participants raised demand for at least 10 percent reservation for their community in jobs and education (February 1). Describing Indian Muslims almost as backward as Scheduled Caste (SC)/Scheduled Tribe (ST) and more backward than non-Muslim Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the Muslim leaders expressed hope that their demand would be met. It is hoped that the “convention will serve to accelerate achievement of our cherished goals in order to make the Muslim community a real partner in the development process, particularly to the benefit of its backward sections so that the economic, educational and social disparities that exist are reduced and national unity transformed into national fraternity, through justice and equality,” Syed Shahabuddin, former legislator and convener of JCMOE said.

With it being a hard reality that “Muslims have been consistently and universally underrepresented in all legislatures since 1950, on an average to extent of 50 percent measured by population,” Shahabuddin said: “Both systematic and electoral reforms are needed not only to give the minorities their due but also to make our democracy more representative.”

“Muslims’ unilateral demand is reservation, reservation, reservation,” which they have been making for very long, Saiyid Hamid, Chancellor Jamia Hamdard said. “The demand cannot be ignored for too long” nor “remain confined to paper,” he said. Countering critics describing reservation as “crutches,” Hamid said: “They forget that without reservation, the gap of inequality would only increase.”

Drawing attention to repeated “assurances” being given by politicians having been forgotten, Justice (retired) A.M. Ahmadi said: “This has led to confidence minority held in the majority being shaken.” He expressed the hope that those in power will not turn a “Nelson’s eye” to Muslims demand for reservation.

Voicing strong support and commitment to Muslims’ demand for reservation, Minister of Chemicals & Fertilizers and Steel, Ram Vilas Paswan said: “There should also be reservation for Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims.” Paswan, who is also Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJSP) chief, drew attention to reservation accorded to Dalit Hindus being withdrawn following their conversion to either Christianity or Islam. Conversion does not spell any increase in their economic stature so there should be reservation for Dalit Muslims also, he said.

The left bloc leaders voiced support for Muslims’ demand for reservation, stating that India’s development was not possible by ignoring the Muslims. It was “unjust” to ignore Muslims’ demand for reservation, Debarata Biswas, general secretary, All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) said. The country will not progress without meeting their demand for reservation, Biswas said.  In a similar tone, A.B. Bardhan, general secretary, Communist Party of India (CPI) said that “development of the country” can never be complete by ignoring the concerns voiced by Muslims.

Several speakers pointed out that “creamy layers” within the Muslim community should not be granted reservation.

During its draft resolution, the JCMOE declared launching of the “National Movement for Muslim Reservation.” The resolution expressed “regret” at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s 15-point program for welfare of minorities having “not been implemented in letter and spirit.” The resolution appealed to the Muslim community and all Muslim organizations for their “wholehearted participation in the movement, unitedly” for “realization of their common long-cherished goals of progress and development of justice and equality for all.” The resolution also requested politically active Muslim organizations to “advise and guide the Muslim electorate” in coming elections to extend their support “unitedly and massively” only to secular parties committed to reservation for Muslims and “field adequate number of Muslim candidates, acceptable to the community in all Muslim-winnable constituencies.”

Though there is no denying that Muslims are playing their role by drawing attention of national forces to issues concerning them, only speculations can be voiced on the actual impact this will have. It can only be hoped that importance given to them now is not forgotten soon after the political frenzy linked with parliamentary elections is over!


1 reply
  1. inamdar shanmohamed
    inamdar shanmohamed says:

    The right to reservation in education and government services enshrined as a fundamental right in the constitution of India (Articles 15 (4) and 16(4)) is under threat not only from the upper caste dominated political system, but even from the judiciary. As an outcome of the political empowerment to backward classes in the post-Mandal period, all political parties including the so called ‘national parties’ under compulsion have made certain changes in their policies in favour of quota reservation as seen in the implementation of OBC reservation in central government services and the central government’s attempt to introduce OBC reservation in institutions of higher learning. But it is our experience that when the ground is set ready for a legislation favourable to dalits, backward classes, Muslims and other minorities the courts come forward with a reactionary verdict sabotaging the political will and people’s aspiration for social justice. The denial of Mandal rights to a vast majority among OBCs in the name of eliminating creamy layer and the recent stay order of the Supreme Court in the case of OBC reservation in higher education are examples enough.

    The Sachar Committee Report has again brought to the forefront, the discussions on the Muslim backwardness and the possible ways and means to redress the same. While appreciating the efforts put by the Committee in collecting and organizing the various data which categorically proves the depth of Muslim backwardness in every aspect of socio-political life, it is sad to note that the committee has failed to recommend the most required steps for the removal of the same. The recommendations, rather observations made by the Committee are really disappointing in the sense that it has not honestly addressed the issue of reservation which is the constitutional remedy to fulfill representative democracy. The Committee rightly proves that compared to any other socio-religious category; Muslims are in the lowest ladder in education as well as employment, and in many aspects their plight is more pitiable than that of dalits who the scheduled casts are.

    We cannot denounce the Sachar Committee because they have categorized the Muslim community in to three, the Ashraf and Ajlaf on the primary level and the Arzal within the Ajlaf. Though this compartmentalization is not evident or is even imaginary in certain states especially in the south, it is a live fact that Muslims are discriminating among themselves on hereditary occupation basis in many parts of India. The Sachar committee has not done justice even to the most backwards among the Muslims, the Arzal whose situation is some times more pitiable than their occupational counterparts among Hindus.

    The Report classifies and then compares the Muslim case with the Hindu categories as follows:

    Ashraf – Who are forward among Muslims, who are now in the non-OBC group denied of reservation. But their present representation is not on equal footing with the non-OBC Hindu casts. Not surprising. But the surprising fact is that Hindu OBC casts who enjoys reservation now is far better placed in all facets of social life and political system. As estimated in the Sachar Report, these ‘privileged’ non-OBC Muslims constitute 59.3% of total Muslim population across the country. The Sachar Committee got the ‘sach’ or truth buried without recommending any measures to remove this anomaly. Their right to be treated on par with Hindu OBCs who are more advanced than non OBC Muslims is ignored in the Report. Indeed a great betrayal.

    Ajlaf – They are the Mulsim OBC groups now included in the central and state lists of communities eligible for quota reservation. Arzal also come under the category of OBC as per present statutes and notifications. With the exception of Kerala and Karnataka where all Muslims find a place in the state list of OBCs, only certain occupational groups are treated as OBCs. Sad to say, here again the Sachar Reports ignores the long pending demand by the Mulsim OBCs to allot special quota for them within OBC quota.
    A reason for the relative backwardness of Muslim OBCs in comparison with the Hindu OBCs is that the reserved posts in services and the seats in educational institutions are now being monopolized by the forwards among the backwards. Ultimately Muslims candidates are thrown out. The committee is right in praising Kerala-Karnataka model which is characterized by separate Muslim quota within OBC quota (12% in Kerala and 4% in Karnataka). Still they keep mum on recommending the same pattern in the central services and state services.

    Arzal – Rightly they are in the lowest rug of Muslim social order and discriminated even within the community at least in certain parts of the country. The Sachar report observes that socially they are on the level of Hindu dalits. If this inference of the Committee is honest, they could have recommended the same Scheduled Caste rights now being enjoyed by Hindu dalits to the Arsals also. Unfortunately they do not support the long pending demand for their inclusion under the purview of Article 341 of Indian constitution by means of a presidential decree. This is nothing less than another betrayal of the Sachar Committee.

    Muslims across the country are celebrating the Sachar Report. And the Central and State governments may have to come forward with certain steps in tune with the recommendations. The Central Government has already initiated some steps. Everybody must welcome and support the same. But so far there is no chance of addressing the Muslim Reservation issue in the context of Sachar Report. The reactionary attitude of Sachar Committee has also to be held responsible for this lapse. The possible logic to deny reservation to Muslims in future may be like this: Even the Sachar Report which has gone deep into the Muslim plight has not recommended Muslim Reservation. Then why should you shout for the same?

    It is in this context that the Report of the Justice Rangnath Misra Commission deserves the appreciation of all citizens who are concerned with social justice in India. From what got revealed to us through the media about the contents of the Misra Report, we learn that they have recommended 15% quota reservation to minorities and 10% quota within this for Muslims. Also the report has very strongly voiced for the inclusion of those Muslim categories belonging to the same occupational groups as that of Hindu dalits, under the purview of Article 341 of the constitution. Unfortunately, we the Muslims who are holding celebrations all over India on Sachar Report has yet to give attention to the Misra Commission Report. If solving the problem, and not continuing as a part of it by holding the discussions after discussions on the problem is more important, we may emphasize more on the Misra Commission Report.

    In this scenario, there must evolve a consensus among Muslims, irrespective of the categories they belong on the issue of reservation. We must have a comprehensive view taking in to account the relative backwardness of Muslims as a whole with the other socio-religious categories and also addressing relative backwardness of certain Muslim groups with the other groups within the Muslim community. Conflicting demands only helps those communal and casteist forces and anti-Muslim elements within the political system and administration.

    The Muslim community must not continue to remain divided in opposite camps: the camp for total Muslim Reservation and the camp for OBC Muslim Reservation. In fact, protests within the Muslim community against giving any sort of reservation to all Muslims or giving special rights to more backward in the community will serve only the agenda of those forces who are dead against giving any right to any Muslim. Hence, it is high time that all the Muslims social movements, intellectuals and activists should open their hearts and come to a consensus. The following formula can be accepted as a foundation for further discussions towards reaching a united approach within the Mulsim community regarding reservation, which is to key to social justice and equity in the Indian socio-political context.

    a) Arzal (the most backward or ‘dalit’ Muslims) must be included under the purview of Article 341 to entitle them to the reservation provisions applicable to Hindu SCs.
    b) Ajlaf other than Arzal (the OBC Muslim groups presently eligible for reservation) must be provided special quota % within the OBC quota.
    c) Ashraf (the majority of Muslims who are wrongly pictures as ‘forward’) also must get reservation so long as their representation continues to below the level of Hindu OBCs who are eligible for the same.

    Certainly it needs more homework to derive a fool proof pattern which accommodates all the above genuine aspirations of the Muslim community. The details of the formula have to be worked out in the light of the existing central and state government statutes and notifications governing quota reservation.

    The casteist and communal forces are making hue and cry that Muslim reservation is religion-based and it will again divide the country. But it is crystal clear that the Muslim reservation of any sort is demanded not because they bear a particular religious faith. Muslim right to reservation is valid because as a socio-religious category they remain backward and under-represented than any other community in this country. Hence people must not get misled by the propaganda being manufactured in the lie-factories of casteists, communalists and fraud politicians.

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