An Open Letter to the President Ms. Pratibha Patil
The legitimacy of the category of caste in non-Hindu (minority) communities is now officially established. The inclusion of 82 Muslim caste groups in the OBC list of the Mandal Commission Report in 1990 was a watershed event in this context. The presence of caste in Muslim community is also reaffirmed by the recent Sachhar Committee Report and the report of the Ranganath Mishra Commission on Linguistic Minorities.
Moreover, apart from the official recognition there is a strong movement among the dalit/backward caste Muslims that is gaining ground in North India (especially UP and Bihar). The movement is called the ‘Pasmanda Movement’ and it is articulating the anxiety and anger of the Pasmanda Muslim sections over their blatant social exclusion. It must be borne in mind that the Pasmanda Muslims (dalit/backward caste Muslims; also called ajlaf and arzal) constitute about 75% of the Indian Muslim population (the remaining 25% is formed by the upper caste ashraf Muslims). The politics of numeric should itself suffice to suggest that their claims can not be taken lightly. The marginalisation of Pasmanda Muslims from state and community-controlle d institutions is an issue that perhaps needs to be urgently addressed.
In this context, the recent reports about the selection process of the Vice-Chancellor (VC) of the Jamia Milia Islamiya University (JMI), New Delhi have once again disappointed the Pasmanda Muslim sections. In historical terms, ‘Muslim’ institutions like AMU and JMI have exhibited strong rigidity in accommodating persons from non-ashraf social locations as VC’s. If the claims of the Pasmanda Movement are true then not even a single VC in these institutions has been appointed from the Pasmanda Muslim communities since Independence (Mr. Hamid Ansari, the former VC of AMU who is usually taken to be a Pasmanda Muslim arguably comes from an ashraf family). Quite clearly the empanelment process of the Vice Chancellor in these two institutions is a strong testimony to such prejudices.
Recently, a ‘Search Committee’ (comprising Justice Saghir Ahmed, Syed Hamid and Prof. Yashpal) constituted a panel of five persons for the Vice Chancellorship of JMI (see: The Indian Express, New Delhi edition, 12 June 2009) and submitted it to the President (visitor to the University). The panel includes Mr. Afzal Amanullah, Prof. Mushirul Hasan, Prof. Faizan Ahmad, Mr. Najeeb Jung and Mr. Mohd Shakeel Ahmad. While two members in the panel are academics, the rest are bureaucrats. Remarkably, neither the search committee nor the panel includes even a single name from non-ashraf Muslim communities!
There are credible reports that an IAS officer from the UP cadre Mr. Anis Ansari, who also comes from a Pasmanda biradari, did offer his CV for the purpose. Moreover, having served as Secretary Agriculture and as Agricultural Production Controller (APC) of UP twice he did have the experience of managing and dealing with the affairs of higher education (including the prestigious Pantnagar Agriculture University). Besides, he has also served at the level of Additional Chief Secretary of UP and has held key positions in the departments of Rural Development, Industry and Urban Development etc. Yet his name was not deemed fit to be even mentioned in the panel of five. What is more remarkable is the fact that all the other bureaucrats favoured over him are either junior to him or had dissociated themselves from public service by taking voluntary retirement from the IAS way back (Mr. Najeeb Jung and Mr. Mohd Shakeel Ahmad). The selection process of the panel clearly underlines the strong and deeply entrenched prejudice against the Pasmanda Muslim communities. Afterall, what explains this anomaly and elision if not caste discrimination of the worst order?
What is even more intriguing is that India, a nation of one billion people, is so deficient in human resources that a man in his 80’s, and with all the problems that old age brings, is allowed to play arbitrary and decisive roles in the affairs of ‘Muslim’ institutions in particular and the affairs of the Muslim community in general. Moreover, this particular person is highly distrusted by the Pasmanda sections of Muslims and his prejudices against a particular region are more than evident. He, in the capacity of AMU-VC, outrageously denied admissions to many students of Bihar. The aggregate of marks awarded by Bihar School Exam Board were supposed by him to be unduly inflated and hence he initiated the practice of deducting 5% marks from the aggregate while preparing the merit list for admissions to 11th standard in AMU.
Let us reiterate that all these events are being monitored with anxious curiosity by the Pasmanda Muslim sections and all democratic citizens of this country. This is high time that the process of democratisation is initiated in ‘Muslim’ institutions and other structures of power. The Search Committee, the Executive Council and other such bodies of JMI, AMU et cetera must be made socially representative.
In this respect, the appointment of the VC for JMI forms the acid test for Indian democracy and the commitment of the government of the day to the issues of social justice and social exclusion. The anger and frustration is brewing in Pasmanda Muslim communities over these repeated acts and instances of their structural marginalisation.
We, therefore, request the President Ms. Pratibha Patil to look into this matter and do the need-some. Moreover, we urge her to reinitiate the process of empanelment for the VC of JMI so as to ensure greater transparency and address the anomalies in the present panel convincingly. We sincerely hope that she will consider the sentiments of the huge Pasmanda Muslim masses before arriving at a suitable decision.
‘Pasmanda Intellectuals’ Forum, New Delhi