Islam does not recognise castes and stands for an egalitarian society. But, owing to the influence of Hindu society, certain castes-like formations have emerged in some States. SOROOR AHMED describes how playing of Backward-Forward caste politics in Bihar is harming the cause of entire Muslim community. He pleads for a fair policy based on justice and real concern for uplifting the downtrodden sections.
Playing caste politics by non-Upper Caste Hindus often invites condemnation. The media goes wild the moment this five-letter word is uttered by anyone from the downtrodden section of society. They start invoking the ghost of Mandal as in their opinion this is the greatest crime ever committed. In their eyes the other two Cs – communalism and corruption – are just minor misdemeanours which can be pardoned.
In contrast it is now becoming much safer to play caste politics in the Muslim society. Get assured any one playing caste politics among the Muslim community would not be dubbed as communal. He or she would be termed as the hero of the community, who, wants to work for the uplift of the downtrodden. But the moment you expand your base and start talking about promoting the Muslim community as such – even if you are an arch secularist – there is inherent danger that you may be dubbed as communal by the media. There will be no dearth of people who would advise you to come to the mainstream and shun such type of communal politics.
Facing this awkward predicament several Muslims – in North India of course – have now resorted to the caste politics of their own brand. They have already seen how quickly the two Muslim leaders doing the caste politics were rewarded with berths in the Rajya Sabha by none else but the Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, who in the last three years has mastered the art of dividing the Muslim society on the caste lines. Had these two gentlemen MPs – Ali Anwar and Dr Ejaz Ali – been raising the voice for the Muslims as a community they would have been dumped into the dustbin of history. But today they are honourable members of Parliament.
There is absolutely nothing wrong in uplifting the economically, socially and politically downtrodden sections of the Muslim society. It is commendable, because in North India at least, the so-called Muslim Upper Castes have denied their so-called Backward brethren their due. The younger generation should be educated about this bare fact. The absence of this awareness is creating social discord in the society.
One example suffices to understand this serious situation. It is sometimes observed that the Upper Caste Muslim students of medical, engineering or any other professional course do not feel very easy with the Backward Caste Muslim friends in their institution just because they think that the latter do not deserve this place. And if any Backward Caste Muslim friend gets selected in the MS, MD or M Tech course or gets a job before the Upper Caste student then the latter’s reaction would be: “Look this boy (or girl) was much less talented yet he/she got selected before me.” And the relation would get strained further. What they fail to understand is that 27 per cent reservation – whether it is good or bad is not the debate here––for the Backward Castes is here to stay (not to speak quota for SCs, STs). And if the Muslim Backward Caste friend is not selected then that seat would not be filled by the Upper Caste Muslim but by a Backward Caste Hindu. Yet they have no sense to understand this small reality and would instead go on to strain their relationship. Thus, in a way they just do not want to see the Backward Castes of their own community to come up. The Muslim Upper Castes are no doubt culprits in not driving home this point in the minds of their younger generation.
This is the bitter fact of society. But instead of putting these facts straight, both the so-called Upper and the so-called Backward Castes, started indulging in pure caste politics. Since the short-cut road to success lies in playing this card with perfection, many Upper Caste Muslims have adopted a unique strategy. As both Ali Anwar and Dr Ejaz Ali are from the Backward Castes there is now a race going on among Upper Caste Muslims to declare themselves as Backward.
Mallicks, arguably the most developed of all the Muslim castes of Bihar, surprisingly got themselves declared as the Backwards last summer. The Chairman of the Bihar State Religious and Linguistic Minority Commission, Naushad Ahmad, who comes from this caste, succeeded in his efforts. Mallicks are a very small, but influential caste of Muslims, spread in Nalanda, Gaya, Banka, Jehanabad, Patna, Nawada, Munger, Sheikhpura and Jamui districts of Bihar; Mirzapur district of Uttar Pradesh; Kolkata in West Bengal and have sprinkling of their population in some places in Jharkhand.
Yet against the view of the State Backward Caste Commission Mallicks were declared as Backward. This simply because they have good population in Nalanda district, the home turf of Nitish Kumar, who wants to expand his base among the Muslims. The moment Mallicks got themselves declared as the Backward the other Upper Castes too started raising similar demands thus vitiating the entire atmosphere. Since Mallicks, as mentioned, are a very small caste, they are very conscious of their identity. You can find Mallick Welfare Society in Kolkata, Mallick Bayah Society in Bihar and many such outfits at various places even in the United States, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, etc. The irony is that Mallicks always called themselves Syeds as they are the progeny of Arab general Syed Ibrahim Mallick Bayah, who conquered Nalanda district several centuries back. Many Mallicks would not accept Zakat on the plea that they are Syeds, yet for political convenience they have been made Backward. Perhaps about no other caste of Bihar so many books have been written as about Mallicks, their history and their roots.
The truth is that declaring Mallicks as Backward is injustice to the real Backward Caste Muslims, as all the present and past records prove that among Muslims they are the most developed caste. A few examples would be enough to understand it. Of the last four chairmen of the Minority Commission two were Mallicks; of the four Muslim IAS officers in Bihar, one is Mallick; the only Muslim chairman of the Bihar State Electricity Board was a Mallick, the first chief minister of Bihar before independence (Barrister Yunus) was a Mallick, the President of the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee (just before independence) was a Mallick (Abdul Bari), the pro-Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University before the partition, A B A Haleem, was a Mallick (he later became the vice chancellor of Karachi University). In Pakistan, where a few thousands of Mallicks migrated from Bihar (do not confuse it with the Maliks of Punjab), one ended up becoming the top bureaucrat of that country as he was an ICS, and another a renowned scholar and author of international repute. In Uttar Pradesh, where their population is just a few hundreds in Mirzapur district, Aziz Imam, became the Congress MP twice in 1970s. One Mallick Muslim family from Patna produced 22 barristers in the pre-independence era.
There is no doubt that some Mallicks are poor yet nobody can deny the fact that, notwithstanding a very small population, this caste has the largest percentage of Zamindars – of course in proportion to their population. Just make a random survey of the caste and you would find that percentage-wise among the Muslims they form the largest chunk in the Middle Eastern and other countries.
So far the Backward Caste resurgence among Muslims in Bihar is concerned, it started in 1993 just a few months after the demolition of Babri Masjid with Dr Ejaz Ali coming up with the Backward Muslim Morcha. The timing is extremely significant. He got full backing from the media. A couple of years later he organized a seminar in Patna “Babri or Barabri”. He is of the view that Muslims should trade off Babri Masjid with the Article 341, that is, give up the struggle for the demolished mosque in Ayodhya and demand Dalit status for the Backward Muslims.
Since he was from Raiyan caste and challenged the decades old leadership of Ansaris among the Backward Caste Muslims, Ali Anwar, a Left-leaning Hindi journalist, floated his organization, ‘Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz’. These two gentlemen did not get rewarded during the time of Lalu-Rabri regime as the RJD was not in favour of dividing its Muslim vote-bank. The moment Nitish came to power he started playing the Muslim caste politics in Bihar.
As the caste atmosphere vitiated in Bihar a couple of youths from Uttar Pradesh travelled down to Bihar to play their own cards. A gentleman belonging to Mallick caste living in Aligarh for many years got reminded of his caste identity. He took the road back to Bihar with the sole purpose of organizing the Mallicks in the name of development. The irony is that this gentleman is a Falahi and gives a typical Islamic interpretation to what he is doing.
Another gentleman, originally from Lucknow in UP, and hailing from the Ansari caste, made Patna his home for the sake of playing his politics. Like Ali Anwar he has Left-leanings. Another young Hindi journalist coming from Ansari caste, floated his own outfit. This notwithstanding the fact that he did his journalism course from England and still writes for Hindi dailies and websites as a free lancer.
Playing caste politics among Muslims has become a career of a sort for many in Bihar. Yet those who matter in the society have adopted the ostrich-like approach and doing absolutely nothing to neutralise this dangerous trend. The tragedy is that everyone is clamouring to become Backward in Bihar when the truth is that in the last three years of the Nitish Kumar rule the number of Muslim students selected in the government medical, engineering, veterinary, and other professional colleges has come down by half, and in some cases even more. For example in 2005, that is, a few months before the coming to power of the NDA government, 16 out of 30 students selected in M Sc Bio-Chemistry in Patna University were Muslims. The following year the figure came down to seven and in 2007 just two Muslims got selected.