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Liberal outrage over no Muslims in Bihar’s ruling alliance hides caste realities in Indian Muslim society

The Pasmandas, who make up 85% of Indian Muslim society, are systematically denied a voice within their community.

Apparently, for the first time since independence, the ruling alliance in Bihar will have no elected MLAs from the Muslim community. After this observation was first made in a newspaper article yesterday, it caused much flutter among liberal commenters online. Along with the usual chest beating over “secularism.”

There are multiple hypocrisies one may quickly highlight here. First, how “liberal” is it to judge elected representatives of the people by their religious identity? The Supreme Court has ruled that a political party or political leader cannot ask for votes on the basis of their religion. In that case, how can you critique a ruling alliance on the basis of the religion of their MLAs?

Then, of course, there is the matter that the JDU did in fact give tickets to 11 Muslim candidates. They just happened to lose. In other words, there is nothing to see here. And finally, how can somebody demand representation in a political party they don’t vote for? That literally makes no sense.

But all these arguments stop short of touching upon the best kept secret of Indian secularism and political representation of Indian Muslims. Who is really feeling dispossessed now that the BJP dominates the Lok Sabha, as well as the Assemblies of states like UP and Bihar which have large Muslim populations?

It is the Ashrafs, or “upper” caste Muslims, who perhaps feel dispossessed. They make up a small fraction of Indian Muslims, only about 15%. The remaining 85% of Indian Muslims, the “lower” caste or Pasmanda Muslims, never had any share in political power. Indian secularism never gave them anything.

Here are the statistics when it comes to political representation of Muslims:

” …. between the First and the Thirteenth Lok Sabha, around 7,500 MPs were elected. Of them, 400 were Muslim. Of all Muslim MPs, only 60 were Pasmanda. The Ashrafs are just 2.01 percent of India’s population, but their representation between the First and the Thirteenth Lok Sabha was 4.5 percent, or double of their population.

That’s the real deal. The Ashrafs were over represented in power circles. They commanded twice as much political power as their share in the population.

You must have heard all the myths about Muslims being a marginalized minority, under-represented in politics, media and popular culture. In reality, almost every Muslim face you might know from politics, media or popular culture is from an Ashraf background. All the prominent Muslim educational institutions in India are actually bastions of Ashraf privilege. The Ashraf community actually over-represented compared to their share in population. But, by denying the existence of caste in Indian Muslim society, liberal intellectuals have used the general backwardness of Indian Muslims to give a privileged over-represented group the aura of an oppressed minority.

Here are some more statistics regarding the 2019 Lok Sabha election and Muslim candidates in UP and Bihar.

Pasmanda Muslim stats

Do you see? Nearly 100% of Muslim candidates in these states were Ashrafs.

It is a neat little trick, is it not? And exceptionally cruel, if you think about it. The Pasmandas, who make up 85% of Indian Muslim society, are systematically denied a voice within their community. Due to their large numbers, the general backwardness of Pasmanda Muslims pulls down the average for the Indian Muslim community on all socio-economic indicators. In turn, this leads the government to allocate more resources for “minorities,” and it is the Ashrafs who benefit from them!

As Khalid Ansari explains, it is really the privileged Ashrafs who are “beneficiaries of the Muslim victimhood” :

The Muslims who are attacked are mostly the poor who migrated from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai, Gandhinagar, Bhiwandi, etc — places which witnessed horrific riots in the past.  While those who are attacked are mostly the Pasmandas, the beneficiaries of the Muslim victimhood have been the Ashrafs.”

In recent years, incidents of cow related violence in India have come into international focus. As Khalid Ansari points out:

We have a new type of violence – lynching. Almost all victims of lynching have been Pasmanda Muslims, particularly those castes which handle cattle.

We know there is a motivated campaign to malign India on the global stage over some isolated incidents of cow-related violence. Each of them shocking and condemnable, but isolated incidents nevertheless. But now you see how morally bankrupt this campaign really is. The communities that actually suffered never had their voices heard. Others spoke on their behalf and made careers on the celebrity liberal circuit doing so.

So, who are the Ashrafs? They are the ones who claim descent from outside India: from Turkey, Arabia and Persia. Like the Mughals and the Pathans. In other words, the remaining 85% of Muslims in India are essentially facing racism.

This remains today the best kept secret of Indian secularism. Most scholars, controlled as they are by the liberal complex, have a single minded focus on deriding Hinduism. As such, they will never even acknowledge the existence of caste in Indian Muslim society. But far away from the ivory towers, far away from the wailings of an elite crying over the loss of privilege, there is the lived reality of Indian Muslim society.

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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