Muslims come under either the general or the OBC category in a majority of states in India. The percentage distribution, however, is not known in either of these categories. Irrespective of the fact that they may belong to a tribal community or an economically or socially backward community, the fact that they are Muslim often leads society to differentiate them from people belonging to other communities.
As per the latest All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) report, out of a total of 35.7 million students enrolled in higher education, only 4.9% are Muslims (General+OBC). The pathetic nature of the situation can be understood by the fact that till date, the representation of Muslims under the General or the OBC category is not clearly known. Though the discourse on Muslim ajlaf (local converts) in academia has came into prominence now, there isn’t much talk about why these Muslims belonging to tribal, economically and socially backward communities were kept in the OBC category and not under other categories. There’s no discussion either about how so many economically-poor Muslims were kept in the General category, irrespective of their nominal representation in higher education and employment.
For example, in Delhi, Muslim dhobis and mochis are kept under the OBC category while people with the same profession from a different religious community have been given the Scheduled Caste status by the central government. Similarly in Punjab, Muslim mochis have been given the OBC status while people in the same profession from a different religion have been given the Scheduled Caste status. This trend can be seen across the states. Also, there is huge disparity among different states regarding the status of OBC Muslims in the Central and State lists.
Another issue that comes up in front of young OBC Muslims while travelling for education from one state to another is that they often need to have a residential certificate of that state to avail the OBC quota benefit. Not only does it limit their career prospects, it also decreases their chances of getting decent opportunities for higher education.
A similar case was that of Rubina’s, who is from the Muslim Kalal category which comes under the OBC community in Bihar. While applying for the Ambedkar University in New Delhi, she cleared the entrance test. Yet she was not admitted into the course just because she wasn’t a resident of Delhi. It is really shocking how a girl from a socially and economically weaker section of society is denied access to higher education on the pretext that though she does not belong to the state where she wants to study.
Historically, this issue came into existence in the Kalelkar Commission report of 1955 which discussed in detail the issues of people belonging to tribal communities, people belonging to the Scheduled Caste community who converted into Christianity, and those of the untouchable Hindus who converted into Sikhism. Yet, the discussion on the condition of the Muslims was extremely myopic which can be understood by the fact that a part of the report reads, “ It would not be correct or just to list all Muslims as socially and educationally backward. But there are a number of communities amongst them that are suffering from social inferiority in their own society and consequent educational backwardness. Such backward communities are included in the list of other backward classes.”
The phrase ‘suffering from social inferiority’ is worth noting here, because it shows that according to the commission’s findings, economically and socially weaker Muslims were ‘suffering from social inferiority’ – as if their condition was a self-afflicting disease they had taken upon themselves.
There was no further discussion on the social condition of these communities. People belonging to the tribal and poor communities, and the untouchables who converted to Islam continued to face prejudice within and outside their community equally. A similar myopic approach was used by the Mandal Commission report while dealing with Muslims originally belonging to tribal communities and the socially and economically backward groups. This was pointed out clearly in the Sachar Committee report which stated that, “By clubbing the arzals and the ajlafs among Muslims in an all encompassing OBC category, the Mandal Commission overlooked the disparity in the nature of deprivations that they faced. Being at the bottom of the social hierarchy, the arzals are the worst off and need to be handled separately. It would be most appropriate if they were absorbed in the SC list, or at least in a separate category, Most Backward Classes (MBCs) carved out of the OBCs. ”
It is worth discussing that when there is so much discourse around OBC politics, then why is there so less talk on the condition of OBC Muslims as well as those under General category? Outside their communities, the flag-bearers of OBC politics do not talk much about these issues. This is probably because both the commission reports mentioned above helped the other socio-religious groups who were deprived in India, back then. As a result, the deprived Muslim community still ends up becoming a foot-soldier to their political narratives. Additionally, the political and social backlash that anything remotely Islamic brings along (in many places) has helped subdue the discourse around the OBC Muslims in the mainstream.
Within the Muslim community itself, the major chunk of political issues are handled by powerful community leaders who mostly depend on religious discourse for vote-bank politics. Thus, to maintain their supremacy and power, they rarely raise the concerns of the socially and economically weaker sections of the Muslim community.
No matter what the reason be, one thing should be clear. The OBC Muslims, or for that matter, Muslims from other weaker sections, never ‘suffered from social inferiority’ as mentioned by Kalelkar Commission. It is high time that we frame a proper discourse to help them have access to reservation and other such facilities for improving their social and economic conditions.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.