Muslim Caste Groups, too, Need Enumeration

Muslim Caste Groups, too, Need Enumeration

August 25, 2021

Muslims and hundreds of members of India’s low-caste Dalit community gather for a rally in Una, Gujarat on Aug. 15, 2016. — AP file photo

States getting power to identify OBC is beneficial to the largest minority community

Syed Ali Mujtaba Clarion India

THE 127th Amendment Bill recently passed by the Parliament gives the states the power to identify and specify socially and economically backward classes (SEBCs). This piece of legislation has come as a boon in disguise to the Muslim community.

There is a chance now that the Muslim community can redeem itself putting pressure on their state governments to headcount the community that otherwise remains under the bracket of different categories but has never been broken into its last decimal.

Sociologists have done elaborate research on the prevalence of the caste system among Muslims. They have come to the conclusion that there exist three broad classifications of caste among Muslims. They are Ashrafs (upper caste) Ajlafs (equivalent to Hindu OBC) and Arzals (equivalent to Hindu Dalit). Within these three classifications, there are several sub-categories that remain uncounted their population size is unknown.

In North India, ‘Ashraf’ comprises Syed, Sheikh, Mughal, Pathan and Hindu upper-caste converts like Rangad or Muslim Rajput, Taga or Tyagi Muslims, Garhe or Gaur Muslims, etc. Among the Ajlafs and Arzals categories, there are caste-like; Kunjre (Raeen), Julahe (Ansari), Dhunia (Mansuri), Kasai (Qureishi), Fakir (Alvi), Hajjam (Salmani), Mehtar (Halalkhor), Gwala (Ghosi), Dhobi (Hawari), Lohar-Badhai (Saifi), Manihar (Siddiqui), Darzi (Idrisi), Vangujjar, etc.

The South Indian classification of the Muslim caste category is different from the North. For instance, in Tamil Nadu, Muslim community castes are like Marakkayars, Labbais, Rowthers and Sonaka Mapillas. Marakkayars claim a higher social and economic status in Tamil Nadu but they are not Ashraf of North India. Then there are categories like Tamil-speaking Muslims of Arab-Tamil ancestry and Muslims who speak Tamil/Hindi/Urdu and come from North India and there are several other such categories. Then there are Tamil Muslims who are converts of Hindu OBC and Dalit communities.

The point here is to make in each state there are different sub-caste categories among the Muslims but there is no headcount of them. Even the Muslim sub-caste categories are not identified in India. The 127th Amendment Bill gives a perfect opportunity to pressurize the government to make public the subcategories of caste among Muslims and the size of their population.

It was for the first time in the 1901 Census that caste stratification amongst Muslims was officially recognized. The census listed 133 social groups among the Muslims and bracketed them under the three broad social categories.

The 1911 Census listed some 102 caste groups among Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. Among them at least 97 groups were under the Ajlafs/Arzals category.

The British government in 1936 issued Government Order (GO) that coined the term ‘Scheduled Caste’ that referred to those groups that were “depressed classes” and that included both Hindus and Muslims.

After independence, the Indian legislators changed the British definition of ‘scheduled caste’ promulgating that caste was unique to the Hindus alone and excluded persons of any other religion to claim ‘scheduled caste’ status.

This was a deliberate attempt by the government to keep Muslims backward. It goes without saying that Arzals share the same status as the Hindu Dalits but were denied the status of ‘scheduled caste’ on the ground of religion. This is in direct clash with the constitutional provisions of Article 14 that talk about equality among all citizens and no discrimination on the ground of religion.

Later a few Muslim caste categories were recognized as ‘Other Backward Classes’ (OBC) and came under the 27% quota of reservation. However, this no way redeems them from the scheduled caste definition of the government. The OBC status may have given some Muslims reservations in education and employment but do not give them the right to contest election from reserved constituencies meant for Scheduled Castes Hindus. As a result, the Schedule Caste Hindus enjoy the electoral benefits their counterpart Muslims are left out due to religious reasons.

The Sachar Committee and the Ranganath Mishra Committee Reports have brought to light the status of several Arzal caste Muslims and recommended them to be given the ‘scheduled castes’ status but the government so far has been non-committal.

As far as Supreme Court is concerned its perception has undergone a course correction on the exclusion of Muslims from the scheduled caste list. First, the Apex Court viewed that an individual’s caste would cease to exist upon religious conversion. Then in the 1970s, this view changed when it ruled that caste does not cease to exist upon conversion of religion but simply gets “eclipsed.”

In the Soosai vs. Union of India case (1985), the Supreme Court accepted that the caste continues to exist even after conversion. However, the court maintained the status quo due to a lack of material evidence, obliquely pointing that Muslim caste groups need enumeration.

The core issue before the Supreme Court is to decide whether the 1950 Government Order stands to the test of Article 14 of the constitution. It’s crystal clear that the 1950 order denies affirmative benefit to those who have converted to other religions and fails the test of the ideals of equality. The latest on this, from the Supreme Court, is that social exclusion of Christians and Muslims from the list of Scheduled Caste requires consideration.

Notwithstanding, the fact remains that there is hardly any attempt being made either by the government or by the Muslim community to scientifically study the caste classification among Muslims in different states of India. Even though each may know their caste category but are ignorant about their actual population size or their level of development.

In the absence of such a study, the Dalit and the OBC Muslims like their Hindu counterpart blame the upper caste Muslims for all their ills. No one clamor and plead to the government to do the caste census and ascertain the real size of the different caste and their social and economic levels.

It is high time that the Muslim community rises up and puts up two basic demands before the government. The first is to do the caste census and identify the various categories among them and also ascertain their population size and also their socio-economic situation.

The second demand should be to get the Scheduled Caste status for the Arzal Muslims who fall under such category but are denied the same due to religious reasons.

The government should also be benign enough not lump them as a monolithic community and enumerate the Muslim population not on their percentage size but on the breakup of their sub-caste in the social stratification and classification.

This kind of effort made by the government can alone help in understanding the Muslim community better and will go a long way in formulating schemes for uplifting the community. If that happens, only then the wounds that otherwise have been left bleeding for long could be healed.

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