The caste survey in Bihar has emphatically dispelled the myth of a casteless society among Muslims of the State. Almost all respondents from the community shared their caste identity during the survey, thus underlining the presence of social demarcation based on birth among Muslims, much like the majority community.
While the Sheikhs are the highest in percentage among general category Muslims, the Ansaris occupy the top slot in the Pasmanda category. Over all, Muslims make up 17% of the population of Bihar. Within the community, 73% are Pasmanda Muslims.
Of the total Muslim population, 3.82% are Sheikhs who fall in the privileged Ashraf category while Ansaris who are part of the Pasmanda community, make up 3.54%. The Surjapuri Muslims, who are concentrated in and around Kishanganj, and are economically and educationally weak, bring up 1.87%. The Dhuniyas or Mansooris, who fall in the OBC category, are a little behind at 1.42%.
“It factually proves what I have been claiming for the past 25 years,” says noted Pasmanda leader and former MP Ali Anwar, adding, “Back in December 2009, I had demanded a caste census as part of the general Census in 2011 during my speech in the Rajya Sabha. My demand was immediately rejected by the government. I did not get support even of the so-called backward leaders of the Hindu community from any party. Later, some people met the Yadav leaders of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, namely Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh and Sharad Yadav, who raised the issue in Parliament in March 2010. Today, after clear figures have emerged from the caste survey, no party can deny the existence of Pasmanda Muslims. They will have to have representation of the community at various levels in committees, and keep the caste identity in mind while giving tickets for elections.”
Mr. Anwar points out that the reality of Bihar, and indeed of India, is different from the casteless society envisaged in Islam and preached by the Prophet. “In India, we have always had caste among Muslims. It is a reality we can no longer shy away from. Like the weaker sections of Hindus, they too deserve the benefit of affirmative action like reservation. That is why we want the inclusion of Muslims like Halalkhor, nai, dhobi, etc. among the Scheduled Castes. Likewise, there should be inclusion of Muslims among the OBCs. This survey proves that a vast majority of Muslims are Pasmanda. For centuries, they have not got their due share.”
‘Weak must not be left behind’
It is a point made by fellow Pasmanda leader Sabir Ali too. Drawing an analogy of a weak sibling, Mr. Ali points out, “If there are four brothers and two are highly educated and well off, it does not mean they will inherit the house, the shop and everything from the parents. The weaker, less educated brothers have to be given their due too. The weak cannot be left behind.”
Strong in the belief that what the survey has revealed is a reality of at least the last 500 years, Mr. Ali says, “Everywhere in the world, there is distinction on the basis of birth, tribe, etc. Among Indian Muslims, this comes to the fore at the time of marriage. When people want to marry off their daughter, they would not ask a prospective groom if he knew how to say his namaz or if he had performed Haj, etc. Instead, they ask his caste, if not directly, then indirectly.” Often, it leads to people asking fellow Muslims for their surname to place them in the social hierarchy.
“A caste census should be done at an all-India level,” sums up Mr. Anwar.
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