Today, Pasmanda Muslims are finally getting their due

Updated on Jan 24, 2023 07:33 PM IST

The idea of social and political justice has finally reached the nearly 85% of Muslims who constitute the Pasmanda communities, which means those who have fallen behind or are oppressed — Julahas, Kunjras, Ghosis, Muslim Telis, Ghanchis, Halalkhors, Muslim Dhobis, Nats, and many more.

This shift from appeasement and a focus on emotive issues to targeted delivery of social welfare for all backward classes, including Pasmanda Muslims, will usher in a new era of social justice that would make BR Ambedkar proud. (Vipin Kumar/HT Photo/Representative Image)
This shift from appeasement and a focus on emotive issues to targeted delivery of social welfare for all backward classes, including Pasmanda Muslims, will usher in a new era of social justice that would make BR Ambedkar proud. (Vipin Kumar/HT Photo/Representative Image)
ByShehzad Poonawalla

In the recently concluded Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national executive committee meeting in Delhi, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi once again called upon party workers to reach out to marginalised sections of society, including Pasmanda Muslims, irrespective of whether they vote for the BJP. As somebody who comes from that section of society — the author’s family surname isn’t Poonawalla, which was taken by my late father Sarfaraz, but Jamadar, which refers to people whose traditional occupation was sweeping or cleaning toilets; in states such as West Bengal, the Muslim Jamadar is categorised among the other backward classes — I couldn’t help but look at this as a historic moment.

The idea of social and political justice has finally reached the nearly 85% of Muslims who constitute the Pasmanda communities, which means those who have fallen behind or are oppressed — Julahas, Kunjras, Ghosis, Muslim Telis, Ghanchis, Halalkhors, Muslim Dhobis, Nats, and many more.

Ironically, practitioners of the politics of pseudo-secularism teamed up with a handful of elites, such as Ashrafs in the Muslim community, and cornered all political, educational and economic resources until now, due to their proximity to power corridors and ruling dynasties. They made the Pasmanda Muslims politically invisible and socially-economically marginalised, and found it convenient to peddle a narrative of a monolithic Muslim identity because it suited them to reduce the discourse into a majority versus minority debate. They also ignored the basic needs for education and empowerment.

They have been the biggest enemies of the social justice movement among Muslims. The real priority of the Pasmanda Muslim, who is culturally rooted to Bharatiyta (Indianness) and has no illusions of descending from some foreign class, is access to quality, modern education, banking and finance in their ghettos of poverty, access to meaningful employment, access to pucca housing and affordable health care, and not issues such as the uniform civil code or the instant triple talaq law.

Data on lynchings and the lack of representation of Muslims in positions of power today are often cited nowadays to cast aspersions on the intent of the BJP. But Opposition parties should also look at how some of the biggest incidents of violence against Muslims happened under the watch of previous governments — from Moradabad to Bhagalpur, Mumbai to Jalgaon.

They remain unapologetic about allying with the same party (Shiv Sena) that they once accused of being behind the Mumbai riots in 1993.

The Congress has not had a Muslim president since Independence; the Aam Aadmi Party, the Samajwadi Party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Nationalist Congress Party, or Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam also don’t have a Muslim person heading the party. According to author Khalid Anis Ansari, Muslim representation from the first (1952) to the 14th (2004) Lok Sabha was, on an average, 5.3%, which is nowhere close to the share of Muslims in the population. But if one considers that Pasmanda communities comprise 85% of the Muslim population, then it suggests that Ashrafs were overrepresented, while Pasmanda Muslims (who form the bulk of the Muslim population) merely had a 0.8% representation, he argues.

Through his suggestion of outreach, PM Modi is not only invoking Pasmanda Muslims in his message but also opening the door of political empowerment and socio-economic upliftment for them. This is not pivoted on the narrow prism of religion but on the larger spectrum of poverty and backwardness — whether it is the choice of Ghulam Ali Khatana as a nominated member to the Rajya Sabha, the inclusion of Danish Azad Ansari as a minister in the Uttar Pradesh government, the appointment of this author as one of the youngest national spokespersons of the BJP, or the outreach programmes by various BJP state units.

Even in social welfare measures and schemes — from Jan Dhan Yojana’s financial inclusion to Ayushman Bharat’s universal health cover, from PM-Kisan to PM-Gareeb Awas Yojana, from MUDRA loans to toilets under Swachh Bharat, from tapped water connections to Ujjwala gas cylinders — the aim is to provide the bulk of the benefits to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and poor marginalised sections, without any distinction between a Mohit and a Mohammad, or a Shilpa and a Sultana.

This shift from appeasement and a focus on emotive issues to targeted delivery of social welfare for all backward classes, including Pasmanda Muslims, will usher in a new era of social justice that would make BR Ambedkar proud.

Shehzad Poonawalla is national spokesperson, BJP

The views expressed are personal

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