OBC Muslims’ body launches campaign for caste census in Maharashtra
As the demand for a caste-based census intensifies, an organisation of backward Muslims has launched a state-wide campaign to press for it. The All India Muslim OBC Organisation (AIMOBC) is looking at expanding this campaign across the country and wants a scientific headcount of all castes, including those among Muslims, for enhanced affirmative action benefits.
The body has sought that in case the percentage of other backward classes (OBCs) in the country exceeds the estimate of 52%, then the quota for the section be increased from the present 27%.
Around 90% Muslims fall in OBC, Scheduled Tribe (ST) or Scheduled Caste (SC) categories, with upper-caste Ashraf Muslims such as Syeds forming a small number. Muslim OBC activists note that like Hindus, caste runs co-terminus among Muslims with a bulk of them engaged in traditional, caste-based occupations like Bagwans and Rayeens (gardeners), Ansaris and Momins (weavers), Hajams (barbers) and Darjis (tailors).
“We launched our campaign after the Supreme Court (SC) struck down Maharashtra’s quota for OBCs in local self-government body elections due to lack of empirical data about their backwardness,” said Shabbir Ahmed Ansari, president of AIMOBC.
He added, “Since August, we are submitting memorandums to district collectors and tehsildars and have launched an outreach and awareness programme, especially targetted at the youth to convince them about how established OBC leaders are selfish and have done little for the community.” Ansari noted that it is the youth who stand to benefit the most due to affirmative action measures like reservation in jobs and education.
Ansari, who has been associated with veteran OBC leaders like Karpoori Thakur and Chaudhary Brahm Prakash, said no mainstream Muslim politician was speaking up for backward Muslims but is instead seeking separate religion-based quotas for the community, which is unconstitutional and impractical. A religion-based quota would also work in the favour of upper-caste Muslims who were well-heeled.
He said they would organise a meeting of OBC leaders from across the country in New Delhi next month to intensify the demand for a nationwide caste-based census.
Ansari explained that a scientific headcount of OBC Muslims would help roll out targeted welfare measures for them. “In the absence of rational estimations about their numbers, OBC Muslims have suffered neglect… Around 90% of Muslims in Maharashtra, and almost all Muslims in rural areas are backwards, with upper-castes forming a miniscule section. Upper-caste Muslims have better access to education and resources and have hijacked the share of benefits meant for their backward brethren. Like upper-caste Hindus, these upper-caste Muslims have restricted upward mobility for others,” he said.
“Today, there is no separate budgetary provision for OBCs like that of SCs and STs, who get the benefit of outlays based on their population… We are demanding that a nationwide census be conducted now. Since the Centre has refused to enumerate castes (except SCs and STs) in the 2021 nationwide census, it also means that the next such headcount can happen only in 2031,” he added.
Muslims form an estimated 12% of Maharashtra’s population and a majority of them belong to categories like OBC.
The actual number of OBCs is unclear, with varying estimates.
While OBCs are estimated to be the largest social bloc at around 52% of the population, both Hindus and non-Hindus, according to the BP Mandal commission, which extrapolated data from the 1931 caste census — the last such caste-based headcount conducted in colonial India.
However, the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) has estimated this at a lower 41% in 2004-2005. The Periodic Labour Force Survey 2019-20 puts it at 43.8%.