Indian Dalit Muslims are a part of society, which is completely absent from the Constitution, parliamentary democracy and the debates of mainstream politics. The census report usually records the number count of the different castes included as Dalit and a brief outline on their present status. But in these reports, we find not even a trace of the population of Dalit Muslims. The deeply disturbing fact however is that the public sphere of our society doesn’t even deem it necessary to hold discussions on this group. It is very surprising that neither the media nor the academia or even street discussions have ever included this group within the ambit of their discussion.
In this context, Deshkal Society started this process with the active participation of the vocal representatives of the Dalit Muslim organizations and the suffering people.In this respect, the role of Deshkal is of a facilitator.
With the purpose to thrash out ways to do all this, get feed-back from those who have done similar work, get insights from social-political activists, journalists and social scientists who have taken the problems of field-work and participatory observation the Deshkal Society organised a seminar in association with Heinrich Boll Foundation, titled ‘Marginalisation of Dalit Muslims with Special Reference to Democracy, Identity and Livelihood’, with the intention of weaving these stray thoughts into an ideological framework. Organised on 14 July, 2002 in Patna, the entire seminar strove to reflect the fact that the Dalit Muslims were a separate class within the Muslim society, and attempted to foreground various aspects of Muslim society vis-à-vis the Dalit class as no less significant. In this seminar Community leaders, Muslim leaders sensitive to such issues, Media persons particularly of ‘Urdu Media’ and Academicians and Senior citizens participated in large numbers.
This seminar was extremely useful from the point of view of understanding the social conflicts within the Muslim community. The issue of the Dalit Muslims is now acquiring the form of social and political questions in the public sphere especially in Bihar. Even in the other parts of the country, issues pertaining to Dalit Muslims, both within and outside the Muslim society have led to serious discussions. That is why to begin a process of dialogue between the sensitive sections of the Muslim society and the people who have been closely associated with them Deshkal Society planned to bring the papers presented in this seminar in the form of a booklet as a means of building a bridge between Dalit Muslims and other sections of Muslim society.
Through this booklet we have successfully created a congenial condition for serious discussion on multi-faceted problems of Dalit Muslims. We are advancing this process by taking some constructive political initiatives.
We are working at various levels to initiate such a political process. First, we have prepared a viable network which help us in disseminating these issues particularly among socially sensitive individuals of the Muslim society. The booklet helps not only in creating a network in the Muslim society, but it also generated space for inviting discussion on the issue . It also led us to plan a two day national consultation on ‘Marginalisation of Dalit Muslims in Indian Democracy’ (Date: 11th / 12th October, 2003, Time: 10 AM to 5 PM, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, Lodi Estate, New Delhi.). The proposed consultation is an effort towards building a country level programme.
It is evident that the dialogue born out of this process will serve as a solid base to create a forum in the future. All those committed journalists, political activists, intellectuals and organisations who have devoted themselves to the question of Dalit Muslims will be welcomed on that forum. From this point of view, we hope that the discussions that were provoked by this seminar and the papers presented through the booklet and the proposed national consultation will prove to be an influential medium in giving an ideological ground, initiating dialogue and creating a network among the related groups.
These exercises would, finally, lead us a step further towards our long- term goal of facilitating the recognition of Muslims as a distinct social category in our constitution, policy and public discourse.