An old article published in June 2006 but worth reading even today.
-Mohammad Shahanshah Ansari
“Aagaya ain ladai mein waqte-namaz,
Qiblaru hoke zamin-bos hui qtaum-e-hejaz,
Ek hi saf mein khade ho gaye Mahmood-o-Ayaz,
Na koi banda raha, aur na koi banda-nawaz.”
The famous couplet by Mohammad Iqbal highlights the virtue of an egalitarian society that Islam professes. The religion propounded by Prophet Mohammad does not sanction inequality on the basis of caste and birth. That is why a king and his slaves stand shoulder to shoulder in prayer as Iqbal mentions in his verse.
But the Sachar Committee Report that was tabled in the Lok Sabha recently brings to the fore the “discrimination, deprivation and oppression on caste lines within the community”, of which idealist poet-cum-philosopher Iqbal never imagined. In fact, even a casual walk through the localities inhabited particularly by “low-caste” Muslims in Bihar and Jharkhand proves Justice Rajender Sachar and his observations right. I believe that Allama Iqbal, who had a strong faith in the egalitarianism that Prophet propounded, would have been disheartened had he been alive today and had he witnessed the oppression in a community that was built on brotherhood and equality.
“I am a post-graduate washerman engaged in washing clothes of MLAs and ministers staying at the MLA flat,” says Manzoor Alam, adding: “Had I been in the category of Hindu dhobis (washermen), I would have surely got the benefit of reservation and might have even got a decent job on the basis of my degree.” And Manzoor is not the lone educated Muslim washerman pursuing a profession that does not do justice to his education. The campus in which MLA flats are located has many such outhouses inhabited by many such Manzoors.
Justice Sacher has recommended that Muslim students from Madarsas, too, should be allowed to appear for the entrance exams for professional courses. His report also states that Muslims should be categorised into three different social groups for the actions to ameliorate their conditions. In fact, categorizing them in groups appears to be necessary for a community that, too, has its share of “creamy layer” pocketing the political and administrative positions across the country.
“Caste oppression is common in Muslim society, as it is in Hindu society. The only difference is that the Hindu Dalits have the benefit of job reservations in the Assembly and the Parliament, whereas Muslim Dalits don’t,” says Ali Anwar, president of All India Pasmada Muslim Mahaz. “After all, why should Muslim washermen, barbers and scavengers be deprived of reservation and political seats when their Hindu brethren are enjoying it,” he asks. I have visited countless dalit Muslim localities across Bihar and Jharkhand. The dirty drains, dingy houses, emaciated men and women are scenes I got to see. Dalit Muslims living between Bariatu Road and Bariatu hills in Ranchi or those at Adalatganj inhabited in Patna live in hellish conditions, not very far from the glamour on Frazer and Bailey Roads in Patna.
At the same time, I have seen many Hindu Dalits becoming MPs, MLAs or even IAS and IPS officers, while taking the benefit of reservation. “But you will not find a single Muslim Dalit working as an IAS or IPS in the whole of Jharkhand or Bihar,” Anwar claims. I have no reasons to dispute Anwar for I have not come across them either.
On a personal note, reservation alone in government or political sector is not a very sure way for the establishment of an egalitarian society. Whatever be the Constitution provision, the policy of job reservation somehow discourages merit and fuels social unrest of the worst order.
But when India has adopted reservation policies for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other backward sections, as an instrument to ensure the participation of the socially and educationally deprived section why should Muslim dalits be kept away from the benefit? There must be a uniformity in the treatment of the Dalits — either from the Hindu or the Muslim community. Or for that matter, any religious group.
(The Author is the Ranchi based special correspondent of the Telegraph)