Inaugural Meeting, June 30 (Sunday), 2013
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
Caste is the key determinant of social status and exclusion in India and operates in all religious communities. In this context, pasmanda discourse emerged in the 1990s to address caste-based disenfranchisement of pasmanda (dalit and backward caste) muslims from community organizations (madrasas, All India Personal Law Board, etc), state organizations that claim to work from Muslims (Urdu Academies, AMU, Jamia Millia Islamia, Ministry of Minority Affairs, Waqf Boards, etc.) and power structures generally. The forward Muslims are well represented in power structures (legislative bodies, bureaucracy, judiciary, media, NGOs, academia) due to their cultural capital, networking capabilities and institutional density. They have also been able to bargain successfully with the State on behalf of all Muslims and have not really shared the benefits thus accrued with the pasmanda muslims. Apart from the marginalization of pasmanda muslims from power structures, they are also witness to a culture of humiliation where their caste titles, occupational skills and cultural sensibilities have become terms of regular abuse and mockery. Moreover, all the efforts of the pasmanda muslims to secure an adequate share in the democratic game are offset by the emotive ‘politics of fear’ regularly generated by the religious elite in India through a discourse around communal violence and terrorism. It is to counter this unending spiral of disenfranchisement and humiliation that the transformative pasmanda project was launched.
Key Issues & Demands Raised by the Pasmanda Movement
The key issues/demands raised by the pasmanda movement are:
a. Scrapping of Para (3) of Constitution (SCs) Order, 1950 so that dalit Muslims and dalit Christians are duly included in the SC list and they are not discriminated against on the basis of religion under Article 341 of the Indian Constitution;
b. Adequate representation of pasmanda muslims in ticket distribution in political parties proportionate to their share of population (around 85% of Muslim population).
c. Chalking out of a quota for Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) within OBC quota at the Central and State levels (the Bihar formula) where the backward caste muslims could be clubbed together with similarly placed Hindu caste groups. This is a more judicious and non-communal demand than the 4.5% sub-quota for OBC-Minorities moved by the Congress Party before last Lok Sabha elections. Though we have no official data to show how many pasmanda muslims have benefitted from this separate quota for EBC in Bihar, we know from our experiences and the narratives of pasmanda government servants that we have gained substantially (without any charge of communalism) in terms of our representations in government jobs in all grades and education (particularly in terms of admission in state-run engineering, medical and other technical institutions);
d. State support to the artisans, crafts-persons, agricultural laborers and other cottage and small-scale industries through effective subsidies, credit and loan facilities, marketing support, skill upgradation, etc.;
e. Contestation of the ‘Total Muslim Reservations’ (TMR) campaigns launched by the ashraf classes among Muslims. The pasmanda muslims are already covered within the existing reservations policy. Hence, TMR is nothing but a ploy to bring the ashraf castes within the ambit of reservations. The exclusion of forward Muslims from the Central OBC list is the main driving force for TMR campaigns. The point is not about chalking a separate quota for all Muslims but rather the deepening of existing reservation policy so that an adequate share for dalit and backward caste Muslims is secured. The ashraf Muslims are not ‘socially and educationally’ backward and hence cannot be considered for reservations;
f. Framing of progressive policies regarding the specific issues of pasmanda women (re-codification of Muslim personal laws, employment, education, health, political empowerment, adequate representation in religious institutions, etc.).
Why have these demands not been taken seriously by political parties?
However, these demands have not been taken seriously by any political party because of the complete domination of ashraf classes there who claim to represent all Muslims. Also, in the last few months many key Muslim leaders and organizations have militantly campaigned in support of TMR. In spite of this growing assertion around TMR there has been no befitting response from any of the established pasmanda leaders or organizations thus far. This may be either due to their cooption by political parties, burning out or lack of imagination. We think that it is high-time that a befitting political response must be chalked out by the pasmanda muslims otherwise they will lose out politically and be deprived of their social rights, status and adequate share in power.
Where do we go from here?
In this context we need to chalk out a clear political agenda and organizational structure. We feel that rather than creating another organization we should form an umbrella organization provisionally captioned National Alliance of Pasmanda Organizations (NAPO). The purpose of NAPO could be to identify organizations and individuals in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra that are already working on pasmanda issues or are sensitive to the pasmanda agenda. The individuals/organizations thus identified could be roped in by NAPO and be made responsible for the propagation of its political agenda in their respective areas. As far as the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections are concerned it is important that a befitting reply is given to the anti-pasmanda politicians (largely forward Muslims). In this context, NAPO may consider the following agenda:
- Boycott of all anti-pasmanda candidates from any political party (all those who are supporting TMR campaigns and are against or silent on pasmanda demands).
- Support to the better pasmanda candidates. In case of the unavailability of pasmanda candidates in any constituency, support should be extended to the desirable candidates from other groups that are supportive of our demands.
- In any case, no support should be extended to any candidate with a criminal reputation.
[You are welcome to post your response in the comments section. Thanks.]