This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Vaagisha Das. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Stuck Between Cruel Oppression And ‘Ghar Waapsi’, India’s Dalit Muslims Continue To Suffer

More from Vaagisha Das

By Vaagisha Das

“We have been facing untouchability, atrocity, boycott and gang-rape – at the root of all these problems is the Hinduwadi system. While living in this system, no friend from outside helps us saying it is our internal issue. We have thought that if we have to save our future, if not present, then we will have to go out of this system,” said Satish Kajla wearing a white Muslim skullcap. He is just one of the victims of the rigid Hindu caste system which, to this day, seeks to vehemently oppress those belonging to the lowest of castes – the Dalits. Satish hails from Haryana, where a majority of the Dalits, tired of being forced to live in seclusion by the upper caste Hindus, have chosen to embrace Islam instead. These Muslim Dalits are part of a growing number of the lower caste Hindus who have converted to other religions such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Sikhism in order to escape the shackles of the caste system that was an integral part of the Hindu social order. Although given legal sanction by the Indian Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste and directs equal treatment, in most communities of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, caste system- and the ensuing discrimination for the Dalits – is commonplace, and little can be done to regulate it.

For representation only

The Dalit-Muslim Identity

The term in itself seems to be a contradiction, as there is no concept of a caste system in Islam. Yet the group is slowly seeking to form an identity of its very own, with some Dalits – seen as the lowest of the low in the Hindu caste system, and traditionally performing tasks that rendered them ‘impure’ – converting to other faiths either as a mark of protest against the oppression and acts of violence faced by them due to members of the upper castes, and many more to secure hope for the future, where they will no longer be treated as inferior. With some considering Islam as “a great example of equality in the world”, they became Muslims, hence crafting the term ‘Dalit Muslims’.

However, conversion comes with its own set of difficulties – it is by no means an escape. A majority Muslims in the aforementioned states are low caste converts, and these prejudices of class apparently transcend religions. Muslims are divided into ashrafs – the ‘nobles’ and the ajlafs– the ‘low born’, to say nothing of the ‘jatis’ or sub-communities present within these.

Yoginder Sikand, an Indian writer and academic, says, “As among the Hindus, the various jatis among the ajlaf Muslims maintain a strong sense of jati identity. The emergence of democratic politics is, however, bringing about a radical change in the manner in which this sense of identity is articulated. Aware of the importance of numbers in order to acquire political power and the economic benefits that accrue from it, the Dalit movement has sought to establish a wider sense of Dalit identity that transcends inter-caste and inter-religious divisions and differences among the ‘lower’ caste majority. This wider Dalit identity does not seek to deny individual jati identities. Rather, it takes them into account but seeks to subsume them within the wider collective Dalit identity, based on a common history of suffering as well as common racial origins as indigenous people.” Hence, there is the emergence of a new ‘Dalit Muslim’ identity, seeking to bring all the ‘lower’ caste Muslims under one umbrella, defined by their common identity as Muslim as well as Dalit.

The conditions of Dalit Muslims are worrisome – with respect to poverty, they are unquestionably amongst the worst off Dalits, not even featuring in the affluent group for urban India. In terms of occupation in the urban sector, they are in the bottom slot, with the highest proportion in the ‘casual labour’ and the lowest proportion in the ‘regular wage’ category, and educationally too, they remain lacking- worst off in rural India in terms of illiteracy, but ironically, this is matched by the levels of illiteracy among Dalit Hindus. In short, even when they convert to a different religion, in terms of educational benefits and other forms of help, they remain Dalits first, and Muslims second – a combination ill-suited for survival in India’s hierarchy where wealthy, upper caste Hindus take precedence.

The Ghar Waapsi Philosophy And The Anti-Conversion Laws: The Difficulties Faced In Conversion

Often, converts have to face violent protests from people who do not want them to leave the religion. This now has legal validation – hence the anti-conversion laws in various states that have already been enacted, and the zealous Hindus who have now propounded the concept of ‘ghar waapsi‘, where, as a Vishv Hindu Parishad party member puts it, “We are bringing people back into the Hindu fold, as it is their original religion.”

This is being done under the guise of the Anti-Conversion Law, which forbids conversion to any other religion unless the head of the district administration is duly notified. Supposedly to protect people from forced conversion- conversion under fraud and inducement, the law imposes a double penalty on people from lower castes wishing to convert, if found guilty of the above. Dalit Christian and Dalit Muslim converts, when arrested under Anti-Conversion laws, are subject to a ‘purification’ or a cleansing and made to ‘reconvert’ to their original religion. The ideas imposed by this programme – that of being of an ‘original’ or ‘authentic’ lineage to belong to the land go directly against the secular policies of our Constitution.

Unsurprisingly, these laws seem to be evoked only when the people involved seek to move out of Hinduism. Even more unsurprisingly, while the administration stringently enforces laws in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, it does not raise the issue of ‘reconversion’ even once. Added to this the violent reactions of the community in which converts are born into (in the community’s pursuit of detainment of those who want to convert, some are even killed), and the difficulties seem to be never-ending.

The Disadvantages Of Conversion: Reservation Act And Positive Discrimination

Even if they do manage to avoid getting arrested on the basis of such anti-conversion laws, the Dalit Muslim converts enter into identity doldrums, where even though they form a minority, and that too a highly disadvantaged one, they are no longer eligible for the positive discrimination extended to Scheduled Castes by way of the Reservation Act.

As a result of wealthy upper-caste Hindus converting to Islam, the concept of class entered the previously class free concept of Islam – thus the Dalit Muslim converts enter a social order that is little different from the one they left behind. Although different in nomenclature, it seeks to do the same thing in principle, which is the continued oppression of the lower class. The Government seems to be of little help, as it fails to recognize Dalit Muslims under Scheduled Caste; effectively cutting off any positive discrimination that might have helped them secure jobs and other opportunities had they not been converts.

Under the Reservation Act, the socially and economically backward classes of society are given advantages in lieu of recognizing years of cruelty, yet “the protection includes Sikhs and Jains, and Buddhists, but it doesn’t include Christians and Muslims, so what happens is that they get excluded from those – the quotas for SCs [Scheduled Castes],” says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch. Since the Dalit Muslims seem to be on the same economic and social level, there is little reason for them to not get the same benefits. When these are denied, they are forced to choose between being socially oppressed or having the opportunity to be an a level equal to the rest of the society, and that is a choice no one should ever have to make in a fair legal system.

You must be to comment.

More from Vaagisha Das

Similar Posts

By varun pratap

By Adivasi Lives Matter

By Kunal Jha

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below