Malick Asghar Hashmi
Ashraaf comprise 10 percent of the total population of Indian Muslims. These 10 percent are deciding who should the rest of the 90 percent vote for and it's unfair. We don't have a voice. Ashraaf avail of all the government schemes for religious minorities and Pasmanda are left to get an advantage from the welfare schemes for the general public.
This is the opinion of Dr. Fayaz Ahmed Faizi, writer and leader of the Pasmanda Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. Malick Asghar Hashmi, Editor, Awaz-the Voice, Hindi, spoke to Dr. Fayaz Ahmad Fyzie to understand what has prompted the Pasmanda Muslims to launch a movement across India for their rights. Excerpts from the Conversation:
A lot of our readers would like to know who are Pasmanda Muslims.
The Muslims are mainly Shia and Sunni and this division is based on ideology and religion. The Pasmnanda-Ashraaf division is based on caste and ethnicity. The word Pasmanda means one who is left behind. Today, in India there is a need for a discussion on this equation. Our movement is aimed at uplifting those Muslims who lagged because of discrimination based on the caste structure of society.
For some reason, there are different castes. Those who have embraced Islam after converting from the OBC (other backward castes) are called Pasmanda. In Islamic terminology when we speak about Arjal or Ajlaf, it is a reference to Pasmanda. In Islamic thought, they are called Pasmanda.
These three are very heavy words and not many would instantly know their meaning. Please explain these to people in common terms. How can one tell Pasmanda from an Ashraaf Muslim?
Ashraaf is the one who originally came from outside and ruled this country; today also they are the ruling class. People with surnames like Syed, Mughal, and Pathan are outsiders. Rest like potters, weavers, washermen, mirasis, Nat, Bhagat, are locals and have common surnames and caste with Hindus. They are included in Pasmanda category.
Looking at history, Pasmanda has never been ruler. Ashraaf castes claim their outside-Indian origins. Surnames like Sherwani, Kirmani, etc. are some of the names which are associated with cities in different parts of the world. For example, people with the title of Syed are from Arab and Iran. They associate themselves with Khulafa-e-Rashidin or the Arab race. The Pasmanda have been fighting for a place of honour for long. In fact, at times some surnames can be confusing for example Qureshi is used by Pasmanda as well as Ashraaf.
A surname like say Ansari or Qureshi is always from a Pasmanda community. An organization Jamiat Ulema Qasim ul Alameen launched a campaign in memory of Bhai Rafiuddin and formed another outfit called Jamiatul Quraish. In a way, the idea was to take a title that otherwise makes them look as if they are Ashraaf. If you look at the name Mukhtar Ansari, (BJP leader) and Hamid Ansari,(former Vice president of India) one would think of them as Pasmanda.
However, if you go to Ballia, (A town in UP) there are some Ashraaf-Ansaris, that do not use the title Ansari. For example, the Ulema of Firangi Mahali is Ashraaf. Ansari surname is considered to represent the weaver caste. In some cases, Pasmanda also uses the titles of Arabs. Broadly speaking the rulers came from central Asiam Central Asia. Those who have come from Iran, Afghanistan, or Arabia, are Ashraaf. Ashraaf is the plural of Sharif meaning high and prosperous in the Arabic language. In Arabic, Ajlaf or Jalf means lowly, and its plural is Ajlaf. Then comes Arjal which is the plural of Razeel, which is an Arabic term for the people who are at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Ajlaf and Arjal are used for Indian Muslims.
Muslims who have come from abroad, like Sheikh, Syed, Mughal, and Pathan were the rulers. The second category of Muslims is of natives and they are called Pasmanda. There is a difference between natives and foreigners. Pasmanda are locals; they follow local culture; their culture is close to that of Hindus. They are tortured and looked down upon for this. They are told you give up this Hindu-like culture. They point out that natives have a wedding at their homes, and they follow many rituals and customs of Hindus. The Muslim Personal Law Board has clearly said that it has the responsibility of eradicating all non-Islamic rituals. When he says non-Islamic, he talks about removing the Indian culture from our lives. Pasmanda people proudly follow their customs and rituals like their women applying vermilion in the parting of their hair, and using toerings, saris; they exchange lehenga suits during weddings. They speak Maithili, Bhojpuri, Awadhi, and Bajra. They speak Telugu, Bengali, Gujarati, etc.
Has the condition of Pasmanda Muslims improved after independence?
I will begin with the educational sector. Chapter 10 of the Sachar Committee report has discussed this in detail. See, the education Pasmanda who is a Muslim of Indian origin has improved only after independence. Still, we cannot say that the conditions are very good, but overall the conditions have improved. It happened after the formation of the constitution, after becoming an independent country. It will be clearly understood if we compare the conditions of the Pasmanda community living in Pakistan with those living in India. See I am a doctor. Education has elevated us; our educational levels have improved drastically.
A study has been done by former Member of Parliament Ashfaq Hussain Ansari. He says that out of the 400 MPs till the 14th Lok Sabha, 340 or 360 are from the upper class, the Sheikhs, Syeds, Mughals, Pathans, and the so-called Ashraaf. There are only around 60 or 40 Pasmanda Muslim MPs.
During the Muslim rule called the rule of the Ashraaf, the condition of Pasmanda was pretty bad. Even an emperor like Akbar had brought diktats that helped Ashraf to suppress the Indian Muslims. Our condition has certainly improved after independence.
See, in the minority discourse in this country, I always say that minority means Muslims. The meaning of Muslim is Ashraaf. Just a few days back, I was watching a debate on a Hindi television channel. The topic was who the Muslims will vote for. All the panelists were Ashraaf, who constitute 10 percent of the total Muslim population. Here is a situation: 10 percent of people are sitting and deciding whom 90 percent of Muslims will vote for. We don't have any voice. Ashraaf take advantage of all schemes for the Minorities. We can avail of minority components of the general schemes launched by the central or the state government for public welfare. It is easy for 90 percent of Indian Muslims (Pasmanda) to get admission to BHU. It is difficult for us to get admission to Aligarh Muslim University. That's why I am against debates and consultations on Muslim or minority issues. This harms us.
Recently I visited my home and saw the vegetable seller Nakku Chacha, whose shop is adjacent to the mosque. I came to know that his three sons have houses. I asked him how they managed it. Sorefered to a scheme that helped his sons construct their house. He was referring to the pradhan mantra Awaz yojana scheme aimed at helping people build their houses. He told me she could never imagine that his three sons could own their houses for my children by driving a handcart in my life. Believe me, I am saying with great responsibility that if the houses were to be built in the name of a minority, then only the Sheikhs would have benefitted from it. Ashraaf's and not Pasmanda's house would have been built. It’s proven by history.
Many points emerge from your response. What issues are you fighting for right now?
Muslims who came from outside still call themselves foreigners. When Brahmins are called outsiders by Dalit organizations, they retaliate with an argument that they are born of this land not foreigners. But see how an Ashraaf speaks: every eleventh sentence in his remarks will be that he is from such and such race and such and such city. Both his race and city of origin are non-Indians. They want to cast aspersions on us. Ashraaf exploits us on three grounds. First based on race and caste; second, based on culture – they say our Iranian-Arabic culture is niche and big. Your culture is kind of Hindu. They taunt us for speaking in Bhojpuri and pressurize us to speak in Urdu. They laugh at Pasmanda for not being able to get the right diction in Urdu. At times, Pasmanda starts wearing Sherwani to get respect. He tries to speak good Urdu. They make fun of us based on language and culture. We have been facing this since our childhood.
The third discrimination is: they call themselves Arabs and Iranians and they call us Ajmi. The people of India are called Ajmi meaning goon. Today you have given us a chance, the world is seeing that I am saying that Indian Muslims can speak. Our struggle is against these three basic discriminations. Social justice subverts caste-racial discrimination.
See, when you ask Pasmanda about their mother tongue a Bhojpuri-speaking, Maithili-speaking, Telugu-speaking Pasmanda will say their language is Urdu, but at home, he speaks in Telugu, Bhojpuri, Maithili, and other Indian languages. We are working against this culture. If our mother wears a saree then we should be proud of it. There should be no force on that jubba which is an Iranian dress. Do not suppress us in any way. These are the three main points. There should be social justice in the Muslim society as well. Muslim Personal Law Board and all the organizations which are running in the name of Muslims are of and for foreign Muslims. Let me give the example of the Muslim Personal Law Board which has 150 to 200 members. It’s a big surprise and a sad thing also. It also makes me laugh. The government of India, state government, media, liberals, intellectuals, Hindus, communists, all these people considers Muslim Personal Law Board to be the assembly of Indian Muslims. Sadly, not a single Indian Muslim is a member of this board. All foreign Muslims will meet for the day, and keep repeating that they are from such and such foreign country that their forefathers had won this land with the might of the sword. That's why this land is ours. We are the rulers. They always say things like this.
You have raised very serious issues. Why don't Pasmanda Muslims mobilize on such a serious issue?
We become quiet in front of the power of the Ashraafs. Generally, it’s believed that Jews are the most powerful group in the world, but I don't think so. The most powerful group is of the Ashraaf, especially the people of the Old Boys Association of Aligarh Muslim University. They are all over the world; There is casteism in Islam, and among Muslims. An attempt was made on the life of Baba Kabir as these people complained against him to Sikandar Lodhi. He was thrown out of Banaras. Then he took the punishment as an opportunity. He traveled the country and the world and spread his thoughts. Haji Shariat Ullah organized a movement in Bengal. Asim Bihari started an International Organization and the strongest voice against it was that of Jamiat-ul-Momineen under the leadership of Asim Bihari. The organizations of the Pasmanda caste like Jamiatul Hawarin Dhobi, Jamiatul Rain, Sabji Farosh, and Butcher community continued to defeat the Muslim League in the elections in 1946.
Sardar Patel understood their power. After him, nobody used the power of Pasmanda. During the Mandal Commission debate and implementation of its recommendations, rose one Shabbir Ansari from Maharashtra. He was given due coverage by the media. Ejaz Ali came from Bihar and is one of the best surgeons in the country. I consider him the cheapest surgeon in the world as his consultation fee is Rs 10. I remember Ali Anwar, Haji Nisar. People like us then joined in. The Pasmanda have always resisted the Ashraaf but the media ignored us; the media does ’t give the same coverage to Pasmanda issues as they give to Ashraaf.
The media doesn’t allow the debate to conclude. Even today you see Owaisi is often on the Television; his statements are discussed. TVs often debate who should the Muslims votes for but this discussion will never consider the opinion of 90 percent of Muslims. For it, the meaning of Muslim is Ashraf only. For the TVs only a Sherwani-wearing person is a Muslim; a person with a name like Syed Sahab who wears Islam on his sleeves is a Muslim to speak to the media. Media considers coat-tie-wearing people like Salman Khurshid and an admitted atheist like Javed Akhtar as Muslims It’s because the Ashraaf are everywhere; they have a hold to make Mahatma Gandhi give a call for Khilafat Movement. It’s Ashraaf who gets Jawaharlal Nehru to launch an appeasement policy. Maulana Azad had no schooling. Whatever study he had was personal. At that time Congress had barristers as its leaders. There were many leaders well-educated from abroad who could be made the education minister. But a Maulvi-like man who had studied in some madrasa was handpicked for the job. Maulana Azad had never gone to a school; he had read two or four books from his father and grandfather. Ok, he must have been a very knowledgeable person at the personal level, but no schooling and no training in Madrasa. Nehru makes him the education minister.
Mulayam Singh and Kanshi Ram also had some sense of the usefulness of the Pasmanda Muslims. Mulayam gave weight to the Pasmanda movement and took these sons of the soil along. Kanshiram also did a good job. He gave ministerial berth to Mukhtar Ansari from the Pasmanda community. If seen from the social point of view, not only in the Hindu society but also in the Muslim society, there were Dalits, backward people, who were left behind, and deprived. Kanshi Ram could not make much headway in his plans and that is a different matter. Whenever there is talk of Muslims, it is done by calling a few people and the matter ends. The Muslim who goes to Tablighi Jamaat, earns his livelihood from doing petty jobs like seeling stuff through hawking. NSA Ajit Doval also goes to persuade Maulana Saad and the likes of him. This is a kind of hypocrisy going on in the name of Muslims. That's why I stay away from Muslim discussions.
Noor Mohammad Saheb was a resident of Purnia district. He had said in 1948 that we do not want any political parties with any Muslim name. We are against Muslim discourse. We know that he became MLA in the 1937 Bihar elections from a very poor background and he kept many relations there. He has a long story. We are against Muslim discourse since the beginning. Muslims are against communalism. Our voice is weak, and our steps are small, but our determination, intentions, and courage are huge.
(To Be Continued)