The oldest Muslim organization in the country, the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, has become the first Muslim body to accept caste-based Pasmanda Muslim identity of community members. In a significant move, the Jamiat has moved the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the Centre to grant the Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Muslims so that they can benefit from reservation in government jobs and admission to educational institutions.
The petition, filed earlier, is listed for hearing this Thursday. “I have written that the essence of Islam does not recognise caste system but there are cultural practices which creep into a faith. Certain socio-economic benefits are granted to people through a special status conferred on them. If certain people are excluded merely because they have accepted Islam or Christianity, it amounts to being arbitrary and discrminatory,” Mr. M.R. Shamshad, the Jamiat’s advocate, told The Hindu.
The Jamiat moved an application seeking to be a party in a petition seeking a similar Scheduled Caste status for Christians. According to the application, Dalit Muslims were not included in the Scheduled Caste category under the 1950 Presidential Order on the assumption that Islam stood for a casteless society. However, caste-based benefits were extended to Dalit Sikhs though Sikhism does not have a caste hierarchy.
“It is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution to regard Dalits from the Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh communities as Scheduled Caste but deny them the same privileges when they accept Islam or Christianity as their religion. This denies Dalit Muslims the benefits extended to other communities similarly placed historically,” Mr. Shamshad said. The Jamiat contends that nearly half of Dalit Muslims in urban India are below the poverty line and deserve the benefit of reservation to improve their economic and educational condition.
The Jamiat’s petition however clarifies that Islam stands for equality and has no caste-based social hierarchy. “In Islam, there is nothing called caste. All are equal. Nobody is regarded as high-born or low-born in religion. However, social realities can be different,” a Jamiat representative said, explaining the reason behind approaching the court for reservation for Dalit Muslims. “There has been a lot of thought on those lines since the Sachar Committee report revealed deep economic deprivation among Muslims,” he added.
The Jamiat’s move follows Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s suggestion made to the BJP cadre to embrace Pasmanda Muslims and the subsequent Sneh Yatras launched by the BJP. Most Muslim bodies have since been apprehensive of the move, arguing that Islam stands for a casteless, egalitarian society and any specific steps for Pasmanda Muslims amounted to introducing caste in the religion. The Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and Tablighi Jamaat have maintained silence on the issue and the Jamiat has become the first Muslim organization to openly seek reservation for Dalit Muslims though the Majlis-e-Mushawarat did reserve a seat on its panel for Dalit Muslims recently.