Less fortunate Muslims engaged in ‘unclean’ jobs fare low culturally and constitutionally
They are slighted and have been kept at arm’s length for centuries, with their community’s name used as an invective in offensive contexts. Islam with its egalitarian principles has not helped them, as they are still seen as pariahs engaged in a menial job.
Known variously as Dudekula, Noorbash, Laddaf and Pinjari across the State, these less fortunate Muslims face the ‘worst of both the worlds’ - culturally as well as constitutionally. They are one among those engaged in ‘unclean’ occupations among Muslims of Andhra Pradesh, as listed in the Rajinder Sachar Committee Report on Social, Economic, and Educational status of Muslim community in India.
Elders would remember the Dudekula members as those engaged in the occupation of ‘cotton cleaning’, which is the thrashing out of the crude cotton to separate the seeds and impurities, so that it can be stuffed into mattresses. Mohd. Haneef from old city is a quintessential example from the era.
Working on a 300-year-old ‘Mutiya’ inherited from forefathers, this 78-year-old ekes out a living by making new pillows out of the old. With a hand-to-mouth existence, and unable to afford education, he brought both his sons into the profession which is fast losing its relevance.
Nowadays, those from the ‘Dudekula’ community can be found in various other jobs too, ranging from driving auto-rickshaws, tailoring, industrial production, to even working as waged labourers. However, the stigma associated with the caste still remains. “Our notional equality with the elite Muslims ends once we are out of mosque. We are slighted by them and there is no question of inter-marrying,” says Shaikh Tasleem, who runs a mattress-making workshop at Habsiguda.
His is one among the 100 to 150 Dudekula families that is still engaged in traditional ‘bed works’ in the city. With coir and foam mattresses claiming the sheen away from cotton beds, what sustains them is merely the demand from hospitals and hostels. “Very few people from our community have been educated beyond primary school, which is why we can’t aim for better jobs. However, nowadays, many parents are keen on educating their children,” says Mr. Tasleem.
This means that many first generation graduates from the community will soon be out. It lends urgency to the long-pending demand for Scheduled Caste status for the community, and the ensuing quotas in education and jobs.
“As of now, Dudekula is one among the 40 to 45 Dalit castes among Muslims, which have been categorised under Other Backward Classes. All these castes are unable to compete with dominant OBCs either in education or employment. We have been demanding SC status for over 20 years, but to no avail,” Shaikh Sattar Saheb, president of the State Noorbash/Dudekula Muslim Minority Welfare Association says.
Fakir, Garadi, Hajjam, Mehtar, Pamula, and Athar are some of the other deprived castes among Muslims that he names. He claims that together they constitute over 70 per cent of the total Mulsim population in the State. Despite forming a sizeable portion, political representation from these sections has remained wanting.
“Our Dalit counterparts from SC and ST sections have achieved sizeable political representation due to reservations. Despite Justice Ranganath Mishra’s recommendations for quotas to Dalit Christians and Muslims, the government has not acted upon it,” says Mr. Sattar.