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Ali Anwar writes to opposition parties: ‘Pasmandas are not just a vote bank’

‘The motive in explaining the present situation is to help the opposition understand its responsibility. It’s not only a matter of upliftment of the Pasmanda community but also of saving our Constitution and democracy,’ writes Ali Anwar in this lightly edited version of his open letter

In a democracy, both ruling and the opposition parties play significant roles. A strong opposition is fundamental to a healthy democracy. Therefore, I wish to share my concerns about the Pasmanda Muslims, whose issues in the present scenario of invading communalism, have been left out to rot in the cold. 

It is unfortunate that there is no voice for the weaker sections in the so-called largest democracy. Had it not been so, the peaceful movement against NRC and CAA could not have been crushed by the ruling party through stage-managed communal riots in the country’s capital. It is an open secret that the despotic crushing of the popular and prolonged movement could have been prevented by timely intervention of the Delhi government or opposition parties. Everyone noticed the conspicuous absence of opposition parties on the ground.

Needless to say, it is the Pasmanda section that faces the brunt of a communal riot. The heaviest damage is done to their life, property, respect and honour. During these man-made ordeals, the Pasmanda Muslims face not only the toughest challenges but also discrimination at its worst. As the Pasmandas don’t have a strong voice, the injustice done to them never enters public debate and is soon forgotten.

Since 2014, mob-lynching and other social crimes have become part of the political strategem in many BJP-ruled states. It goes on in the name of cow protection, ‘ghar wapsi’, love jihad, temple-mosque issues and such other unending plots to divide and rule the people. My question is, “Is a tweet or a question in Parliament sufficient to counter the multi-faceted monstrous strategem of creating communal divisions?”

Until 2017, I served the country as a Rajya Sabha member from JD(U) and whenever an atrocity took place in Haryana, Rajasthan, Jharkhand or Bihar, I used to reach out to the victims and meet them in person and raise such issues in Parliament and in the media. But now let alone the top opposition leaders, even the Muslim MPs remain quiet, waiting for instructions from their high-ups. Has our democracy and humanity become so weak? Sometimes, on the basis of media reports, a few MPs raise questions in Parliament. It is good to see some party chiefs reaching out to victims of atrocities against Dalits, but if the victims happen to be Muslims, no one shows up to mourn for them.

There is still hope. But before it is too late, the opposition parties must forge a united stand against all forms of communalism and come together to show a proactive concern for the lack of social justice. Love and brotherhood are natural sentiments of every human being; hate is artificial and temporary.

The way we see it, some people fear angering the Hindus. However, the collective psyche of Hindu society in general is neither fundamentalist nor extremist. Had it been so, the intensity of hate-propaganda by the ruling party would certainly have burnt down the fabric of social and communal unity in this land.

It is indeed distressing to see the leaders of the ruling party standing with the rioters, culprits of mob-lynching, rapists and others. Many times such people are not only honoured and garlanded, but also promoted in the party and the government, despite the criminal record. It is alarming. These are symptoms of a society moving fast towards decadence. Didn’t our people vote for our secular ideals to fight against communalism? Why don’t then we, the leaders of the secular parties, stand firmly against communalism? Ironically, the leaders of opposition parties, except the Left parties, have started avoiding the term “secular”, which is fundamental to our Constitution. Shying away from the word “secular” is the first step towards a religion-based state, society or nation, the stage for which is being prepared by the spokesmen of the present rulers. They unabashedly announce that our country should become a religion-based state. Aren’t all the pillars of democracy and secularism being broken one by one? Isn’t it the fact that the opposition has failed to unite and create a joint movement to save Indian society? Have you ever stopped to think about why we are failing in our duty to stop aggressive communalism and corporate loot?

We believe that instead of creating an egalitarian society and fighting for social justice, we are increasingly falling for unworthy people. It seems our faith in the power of the Bahujan has weakened owing to the lack of ideological commitment. We have been compromising in the face of political exigencies and manipulations.

Opposition governments are being brought down. Parties are being broken up. Veteran leaders of opposition are being harassed using the ED, CBI and Income Tax departments.

I wonder what stops us from forging a united resistance and coming out with a strong agenda against the anti-poor and pro-capitalist policies of the NDA government. Criticism of their policies is not enough. If the present onslaught against values enshrined in our Constitution goes on without proper rebuttal, the day is not far when the people will drive out politicians like they did in Sri Lanka.

After demonetisation and the Corona pandemic, unemployment has broken all records. Undeterred price rise and inflation has made life difficult for the masses. Farmers, labourers, students, youths, artisans, small-factory owners are committing suicide. On the other hand natural resources like water, land, forest, sand, minerals, etc are being looted openly by a handful of crony capitalists. At the cost of the misery of the common people of the country, two or three people have become the richest capitalists in the world. Unfortunately, there is no leader to challenge the government’s misdeeds while 85 crore people have been pushed into the category of beggars as “beneficiaries”.

Three big movements

Thankfully, the year-long historic agitation by farmers forced the government to withdraw the three draconian agricultural laws through which it intended to hand over the country’s farmlands to capitalist monopolies. A similar peaceful agitation inspired the historic participation of Muslim women in the protests against NRC and CAA. But here too the opposition parties remained aloof and unconcerned. Are the opposition parties prepared and do they have a strategy to have these draconian laws shelved permanently?

Ali Anwar, former Rajya Sabha MP

Before these mass movements, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes staged a peaceful Bharat Bandh on 2 April 2018 to protest against an amendment in the Scheduled Castes-Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and forced the government to reverse the amendment. This bandh, not organized or led by any political party, was an explosion of anger among the masses. Similarly the agitation of students and youth to protest the “Agnipath Scheme” was also not initiated by any opposition party. These developments evince a serious disconnect between people and the political parties.

The youth of weaker sections and poor families of rural India aspire to join the army to get permanent government jobs. But hasn’t the aspiration been quelled? Isn’t the process of rapid privatization closing the doors on Dalits, Backwards, and Tribals to study and get government jobs? In such a situation, reservation in private sectors must be the central issue of the opposition parties.

We have seen that after 2014, even in the elections to Legislative Assemblies and Parliament, the opposition parties failed to raise the basic issues. They start preparing for elections only six to eight months before the polling day. The outcome of such haphazard preparedness is being seen by the country. Afraid of the BJP and its agencies, some leaders don’t leave their homes during the entire election period. Owing to such a cowering stance of their leaders, their parties have suffered and the morale of their voters have sunk. The situation in 1946-48 was more dangerous in comparison to what it is today. But was Mahatma Gandhi afraid of going out and doing his work among the people? He kept fighting for the “last man/woman” and even gave his life for the cause.

Dalit muslims and Dalit Christians

All the great leaders like Gandhi, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, Rahul Sankrityayan, have said that changing religion doesn’t change the social status of a person. There are Untouchables among Muslims and Christians too. Whenever a legal question arises, the matter is consigned to intellectual discussions. Only when the Pasmanda Tehreek raised the issue in 1998, the UPA government constituted the Sachchar Committee and the Ranganath Mishra Commission. However, their recommendations were not implemented due to a lack of political will. The “terms of reference” of the Ranganath Mishra Commission were that it would identify the Dalits in other religions and suggest measures for their upliftment. The commission said in its findings that “Dalit Muslims” and “Dalit Christians” are being discriminated against on the basis of religion and that the the government should find ways to put an end to the discrimination. The central government can do so by “executive order”. There is no requirement for a constitutional amendment. The commission also recommended opening schools for this section of society along the lines of the Navodaya Vidyalayas. The Sachchar Committee recommended granting SC status to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians. It recommended the creation of an equal opportunity commission. It suggested several measures to improve the condition of artisan communities. Unfortunately the UPA government did not take any concrete step in this direction.

Since its inception our organization has been demanding SC status for Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians and ST status for the left-out tribes and an expansion of the SC and ST quotas to accommodate them.

May you kindly recall that during the Narasimha Rao government, Mother Teresa requested SC status for Dalit Christians and also sat on a for a daylong fast at Rajghat with this demand. At that time, the BJP vehemently attacked and criticised the saint.

It is significant to note that from time to time all political parties including Congress, the Left, Janta Dal (U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) have supported our demands. Nitish Kumar ji raised this issue in Parliament despite being in the NDA at the time. BJP leader B.K. Malhotra had strongly opposed this move. Anguished by Nitish ji’s demand, the RSS-BJP mouthpiece “Panchjanya” published a cover story criticizing him. During the chief ministerships of Lalu ji, Mulayam Singh ji and YSR Sahib, the Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assemblies gave SC status to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians. After passage in the respective assemblies the proposals were sent to the central government. But these parties did nothing beyond that.

As far as the political empowerment of the Pasmandas is concerned, these parties neither give political representation to these people who make up 80 per cent of the Muslims, nor do they make issues pertaining to the Pasmandas central to their politics. On the contrary, they avoid even uttering the word “Pasmanda”.

This section which was already facing a political boycott is now under the BJP government also facing an economic boycott. They are being beaten not only for selling chicken, fruits and vegetables but also for begging. Most of the people killed and looted for being Muslim, are Pasmanda Muslims. These people are not demanding anything on the basis of religion. Rather, they are demanding an end to the discrimination in every field in the name of religion.

The question here is, what after all is the reason that Modi ji has suddenly started showing sympathy for this section? We demand equality and honour, not sympathy. The secular parties and those that talk about social justice have ignored the Pasmanda people. As the AIMIM supremo Asaduddin Owaisi tries to spread his wings from Hyderabad to Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal, he has started uttering the word “Pasmanda”. Earlier, he used to get furious at the mention of this word. Now both Mr Owaisi and Mr Modi are trying to woo the Pasmanda section of Muslims saying, “Look, the party you voted for does not even utter your name”. It is possible that some are misled by them, and their campaigns turn the Pasmandas away from the opposition parties.

The motive in explaining the present situation is to help the opposition understand its responsibility. It’s a matter of not only upliftment of the Pasmanda community but also of saving our Constitution and democracy. I hope you will understand the point I am trying to make and work vigorously to fulfil the demands of the Pasmanda Bahujan. I want to reiterate:

  1. Pasmanda are not just a vote-bank; they are part of the fight for social justice and equality. It is our constitutional and democratic obligation to bring them into the mainstream of politics and ensure social and economic justice for everyone.
  2. Like Dalits and the extremely backward, Pasmandas are also poor, neglected, and backward. The condition of a section of the Pasmandas is worse than that of Hindu Dalits.
  3. The opposition parties should not be afraid of the word Pasmanda. It is definitely of Urdu-Persian origin but it has nothing to do with religion or caste. It indicates jamaat (class), not jaat. The word falls within the ambit of the Constitution.
  4. If Pasmandas are empowered, then the narrow-mindedness and conservatism among Muslims will be challenged. If Pasmandas feel that they are also getting opportunities to move forward with others, then their isolation will be mitigated. Increasingly, the perception abroad is that Muslims in India are being discriminated against. Such perceptions will be shattered. India will become a model in the world for including minorities and weaker sections in the mainstream.
  5. The present government is handing over national assets and natural resources to a few corporate houses. If the opposition parties come forward with a plan to bring back this looted wealth, there will be bigger public support than what was seen during the nationalization of private banks and coal mines.
  6. The present central government has refused to conduct caste census at the national level. It has told the Supreme Court that it won’t be granting SC status to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians. The opposition parties should announce that if voted to power at the Centre, they will conduct a socio-economic census and expand the SC quota to include in it Dalit Muslims and Christians. This will be a historic step.
  7. If the opposition parties desist from BJP-type tokenism and the Pasmandas and the extremely backward among Muslims and Hindus get proportional representation, then the BJP’s policy of “divide and rule” will fail.
  8. The purpose of the “Agnipath Yojana” in the army is to deprive the sons of farmers and labourers from permanent jobs. The purpose of the CAA and NRC is to snatch the voting rights from Pasmanda Muslims and other poor people. The efforts to capture all constitutional institutions are meant to throttle democracy. Changes to all labour-friendly laws are intended to favour the capitalists. The attempt to snatch farmlands from farmers through legislation is to convert farmers into labourers. Only a dictatorship stops its people from speaking and writing against the government. It remains to be seen how the opposition unites and fights against this dictatorship.

Forward Press also publishes books on Bahujan issues. Forward Press Books sheds light on the widespread problems as well as the finer aspects of Bahujan (Dalit, OBC, Adivasi, Nomadic, Pasmanda) society, culture, literature and politics. Contact us for a list of FP Books’ titles and to order. Mobile: +917827427311, Email: info@forwardmagazine.in)

The titles from Forward Press Books are also available on Kindle and these e-books cost less than their print versions. Browse and buy:

The Case for Bahujan Literature

Mahishasur: A people’s hero

Dalit Panthers: An Authoritative History

Mahishasur: Mithak wa Paramparayen

The Common Man Speaks Out

Jati ke Prashn Par Kabir

Forward Thinking: Editorials, Essays, Etc (2009-16)

About The Author

Ali Anwar

Ali Anwar is a former Rajya Sabha MP and founding president of the All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaj.

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