On June 30, nine apolitical organisations will come together on one platform to discuss “communalism and confused Opposition” in Bihar. These organisations are involved in projects related to the “rights of backward and deprived classes”. The meeting will be held in Patna, Bihar.
The forum is planning to ask the Bihar government to conduct a caste-based census in a way to ensure zero errors. Ali Anwar Ansari, head of AIPMM, one of participating organisations, said they came together in the backdrop of the ‘bulldozer model of communalism’. He claimed people are being targeted for questioning the government.
The organisations that are taking part in the meeting include All India Pasmanda Muslim Mehaz (AIPMM), Rashtriya Ati Pichhda Sangharsh Morcha, Samajik Nyay Andolan, Bihar, Bahujan Bhagidari Andolan, Bihar, Bahujan Choupal, Jankranti Morcha, Safaikarmi Jankranti Parishad, Ek Koum Foundation and Picchda-Pasmanda Manch, Bihar. The speakers that will address the forum include Kanch Ilaiah Shepherd, former Rajya Sabha MP Ali Anwar Ansari, Professor Tanvir Aeijaz of Delhi University, Dalit thinker Harikeshwar Ram, retired IAS officer Tapendra Kushwaha, and Dr Helal Ahmed from CSDS.
Speaking to Indian Express, Ansari said, “We have come together amidst the backdrop of bulldozer model of communalism in which people are targeted for questioning the government. We also have to ask some questions to Socialist parties, which look confused and are losing sight of their ideology. Our core agenda from here would be to move around districts of Bihar to create awareness on caste survey being done”.
Speaking about the caste census in the state, he said, “We want an error-free census in which enumerators are also held accountable for wrong entry. Even though state caste survey is not acknowledged by Centre, it would create an atmosphere in which people could focus on ways to improve their economic and educational condition rather than fall into the trap of any divisive agenda”. According to Ansari, they chose Bihar for the series for the meeting as the state is planning to conduct a caste census.
Delhi University’s professor Tanvir Aeijaz, who is also director of the Forum for Pasmanda Studies, claimed the ‘Pasmanda’ community is not limited to Muslims. He said, “If one wants to understand Muslim society, one has to start from below, particularly the Pasmanda community. Pasmanda means ‘those who are left out, and such people could be both Hindus and Muslims. The Pasmanda community is gripped with fear and low confidence that they would not be able to empower themselves. If they are marginalised, nation-building could come to a halt”.
Who are Pasmanda Muslims and the problems they face
Pasmanda refers to the class of Indian Muslims who deflected to Islam due to historical reasons. The Pasmanda community is considered a ‘lower jamaat’ among Indian Muslims by the higher-caste Ashrafs, who claim their direct origins from the Arab region. The Pasmandas have also been sidelined in the Islamic realm, for they often indulge in practices related to their earlier indigenous faiths.
It is noteworthy that the Hindu right has been talking about the rights of the Pasmanda Muslims and exposed the Ashraf casteism in Islam. In recent times, Pasmanda activist Faiyaz Ahmad Fyzie has become one of the most talked-about people in the community. Faiyaz is an ex-Tablighi Jamaat member, and he works for the rights of Pasmanda Muslims. During multiple interviews, he exposed how the ‘elites, scholars, and the prosperous section’ of the Muslim world often deprive the Pasmanda community of acquiring leadership posts.
In March 2022, the division between the Ashrafs and Pasmanda Muslims became clearer when Pasmanda Muslim MLA Danish Azad Ansari was mocked and trolled after being appointed as Minister of Minority Affairs in Uttar Pradesh. He faced abusive attacks for making it big in the ‘Hindutva-centric’ BJP while belonging to the Pasmanda caste among Indian Muslims. Some comments targeted Pasmandas as ‘low-born’, while others shamed women from the community with abuses. Faiyaz had shared a series of screenshots of the abuses hurled at the minister.
These incidents clearly point out the problems of the caste system in Muslims, but the forum that is planning to meet on June 30 seems to have built up an impression in their minds that only Hindus are the communal section in the society.