With 15 per cent (over 100 million) of India’s population, the Muslim in Hindu-majoritarian is the largest minority. India boasts of being the third-largest Muslim populated country in the world.
India showcases the Muslim population to befriend affluent Muslim countries like the United Arab Emirate and Saudi Arabia. Yet the Indian Muslim is in a miserable condition. It has no say in Indian society and polity.
Hindutva wave reduced Muslim members of Indian parliament to an all-time low of 24 that is a mere 4.4 per cent. The Bharatiya Janata Party does not even have a single Muslim member!
Sachar Commission report 2006 highlighted that Muslims lagged in terms of such parameters like income, employment and literacy as compared to other minorities.
The report pointed out that some 31 per cent (about one third) of Muslims fell below the poverty line. Twenty-five per cent of Muslim children did not go to school. Their representation in Indian Administrative Service and Police Service was a mere 1.8 per cent and 4 per cent in police service.
The [Justice Srikrishna] Commission is of the view that there is evidence of police bias against Muslims. He stated,” The bias of policemen was seen in the active connivance of police constables with the rioting Hindu mobs on occasions with their adopting role of passive onlookers.”
According to Steven Wilkinson, Muslims are less than one per cent of higher-ranking officers in the armed forces (colonels and above). This figure was confirmed by Mulayam Singh Yadav, a former defence minister. Yadav’s successor Pramod Mahajan bluntly explained, `The Muslim is not wanted in the armed forces because he is always suspect whether we want to admit it or, most Indians consider Muslims a fifth column for Pakistan.
A 2018 United Nations Development Programme report stated ‘every third Muslim is multi-dimensionally poor’. A 2018 NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India Policy Commission) report found that more than half the 20 most backward districts in the country were ‘Muslim dominated’.
India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2019 reported that “the number of Muslim inmates in Indian prisons remains disproportionately high (around 18 per cent) while the figure for detenues has risen significantly, with Muslims accounting for some 35.8 per cent of all detenues”.
Their condition worsened under BJP’s rule since 2014. India Today reported, “However, the ascendance of majoritarian Hindutva since Narendra Modi first came to power in 2014 is arguably a new turning point in the downward fortunes of India’s Muslims, compounding the socio-economic misfortune, arguably born of chronic neglect by the state, with a new sense of deliberate political marginalisation and active persecution”.
The bane of the Muslim caste system
Islam did away with castes equalizing all the Muslims into Muslim brotherhood. Yet it is a brutal fact that the Muslims in India have fragmented identities, akin to Hindu Varna jati (caste system).
Contrary to the common perception, the Muslims in India are not a monolithic homogeneous community irrespective of their theological sect, caste, class, ethnicity, economic well being and geographic or locational differences.
The sunni constitute the dominant majority with 25 per cent shia. The Bohra and Ahmadiyya are less than one million each. The sectarian diversity testifies that the pristine standard of equality could not remain intact when Islam expanded in Hindu India.
As Islamic rule got established in India, the Muslim society was stratified into ashraf (foreign immigrant Muslim) and ajlaf (local Muslims who were converted to Islam from the lower Hindu castes). The lowest socioeconomic stratum of the ajlaf happened to be designated arzal.
The ashraf are subdivided into four major sub-castes, viz. saiyed, shaik, moghul and pathan. Similarly, the arzal are subdivided into (bhangi, doom, choora or sweeper).according to the lowly work that they do.
The gulf of social distance between the ashraf and ajlaf reflects how deeply the ideal egalitarian society has been transformed on the lines of the Hindu caste system. The Muslim caste system epitomizes major Hindu-caste attributes, such as hierarchical gradation of status groups, ritual considerations, and occupational specialization, and above all, endogamy.
The caste-based stratification of the ajlaf/arzal blocked their socio-economic mobility. Most ajlaf/arzal converts were sudra (Hindu untouchables) performing traditional jobs of scavenging and menial jobs.
Backwards in education, they lacked vertical social mobility. As such, they were classified as “Other Backward Class” along with other weaker sections from other religions. This classification was meant to make them, questionably eligible for reservation in education and government.
The emergence of All-India pasmanda Muslim mahaz (Backward-Muslim Front)
The ashraf (elite Muslim) deny the existence of any caste system in India. The Indian government favours them with politico-economic benefits to keep them within its fold. This elite, including both Shia and Sunni, never highlights the plight of the arzal on any forum. As quid pro quo for their silence, the government connives at misuse of donations and waqf property by them.
Despite acute repression, the Muslim Front came into being. They were stimulated to create the Front as dalit (downtrodden) castes began a rights movement in the 1990s. The arzal realised that they had much in common with the Hindu dalit.
This Front does have the capability to overthrow the shackle of the ashraf, provided it aligns with other low-caste and rights movements. Dalit leader Chandra Sheikhar Azad did participate in the farmers’ movement. But, no Muslim leader has expressed solidarity with protesting farmers.
Learning from the dynamic Christian
Today, Christians live all across particularly in South India and the South shore, the Konkan Coast, and Northeast India. Through sheer hard work, Indian Christians developed niches in all walks of Indian national life. They include former and current chief ministers, governors and chief election commissioners.
To ruling the Bharatiya Janata party’s chagrin, Christians are the second most educated religious group in India after Jains. Christian women outnumber men among the various religious communities in India.
Christianity is India’s third most followed religion after Hinduism and Islam. According to religious tables in India’s 2011 census of population, excepting counting errors and omissions, about 28 million Christians live in India.
They constitute 2.3 per cent of India’s population. Thomas the Apostle introduced Christianity to India. He reached the Malabar Coast (Kerala) in 52 AD and, he carried on preaching in every nook and corner of India until martyred.
The Muslims in India are too fragmented to put up a united front against the Hindutva onslaught. They should learn from the Christian how to become a force to be reckoned with.
Read more: Op-ed: Future of Muslims in India
Mr Amjed Jaaved has been writing freelance for over five decades. He has served the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan for 39 years. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies and magazines at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is the author of eight e-books including The Myth of Accession. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.