Reservation always on religious grounds

Published in the 1-15 Oct 2004 print edition of MG;

By Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas

Lucknow: Reservation for Muslims has now started echoing in UP’s political circles too, the state, wherein reside the largest number of Muslims in India. The queer pitch for reservation of seats for Muslims in government jobs comes in the wake of the recent Andhra Pradesh government announcement of July 26, to confirm a five- per cent quota for needy Muslims in government jobs and educational institutions. The move was later challenged by the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and subsequently stayed by Andhra Pradesh High Court.

Movement for Reservation of Muslims (MRM), therefore, has come to the fore with an agenda to get Muslims reservation in accordance with their population in UP of which about 20% i.e., 16 millions are Muslims. MRM is a group of almost all Muslim lawyers taking up cudgels.

"Muslims want their rights and justice- reservation in proportion to their population. We all have been systematically thrown to the very bottom in both the social and educational spheres, and yet are deprived of reservation. Unless this huge population of Muslims is brought into the mainstream the development of UP is inconceivable," said Abdul Mannan, senior constitutional lawyer.

How will reservation help? "It has become a synonym for social justice and reservation having been made the order of the day even in matters like admission in schools, loans and grants etc. It is high time that reservation is allowed for Muslims as per ratio of their population. The condition of Muslims has gone from bad to worse since 54 years and now there seems no other way to bring them at par with others. Reservation has now become an imperative responsibility of the state, " he further said. "Reservation for Muslims is not only permitted in the constitution but a fact denied to Muslims all these five-decades," he added.

This issue of reservation, therefore, needs to be scrutinised and seen in the historic perspective by the guidelines enshrined by the founding fathers of our constitution. In Article (15) Clause I it confirms that State is never to enter into discrimination and Clause II says that there should be no discrimination amongst the citizens on the basis of birth, place of birth, religion, caste and creed. In clause IV it says that special laws can be enacted for the advancement of social and backward classes or Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST).

What is more interesting is that the entire reservation programme is based on this Clause IV of Article 15! And, in the subsequent Article 16 (4) the constitution says that nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizen which, in the opinion of the State is not adequately represented in the services under the State.

Now it boils down to as to who belongs to the category of SC and ST. Constitution in the Article 341(1) says that President may with respect to any State or Union Territory notify the caste, races or tribes or parts of groups to be deemed as Scheduled Caste. But, who will qualify as Schedule Caste? The-Constitution-of-Scheduled-Caste-Order 1950, say in its section III that no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu [the Sikh or the Buddhist] religion shall be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Caste!.

How come Sikhs who don’t have a caste system get into it? It is because the untouchable Hindus who converted to Sikhism felt they were discriminated against and demanded SC status while being Sikh. Hence, in 1956 through Article No. 63 Sikhs were included along with Hindus and Buddhist too were added in 1976!

The government took certain steps to ascertain the condition of citizens suitable for recommendations for reservations by initiating Kalekar Commission in 1953 but Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru rejected it as it was caste based and Nehru wanted it to be economic based. In 1978 Mandal Commission came and its finding came in 1980 but this too was caste based. PM Indra Gandhi found it convenient to let it remain buried in cold-storage until in 1990 PM VP Singh made it public and issued a notification for 27 % reservation to Other Backward Castes (OBC) — this single move changed the entire politics of the nation. It is now understandable that Mandal Commission was countered by the temple agitation by BJP. Obviously, because the recommendations would break the Brahaminic monopoly in the country.

Reservation as it stands today is 21% to SC, 2% to ST and 27% to OBC. The Supreme Court, it may be mentioned had ordered earlier that reservation is not to exceed 50% but, in the Indira Sahani case, reported in 1992, Supplementary (Vol.3) SCC page 210 has ordered that more than 50% reservation can be granted in extra ordinary circumstances. This was a nine-judge constitution bench and the order was passed in the ratio of 6:3. The judgement came in the wake of Mandal Commission notification after it was challenged in the Apex Court.

What basically is the Muslim’s demand? "We demand that out of 27% reservation granted to OBC, there should be a 9% quota for backward Muslims within this quota," answered Mushtaq A Siddiqui. He practices law in Lucknow High Court and is one of the organisers of the conference held under MRM on Sep 5,2004. "Mandal has demarcated Upper Castes to be around 17.68% and this is after including Jats and Marathas along with Brahmin, Ksthriya, Bania and Kayastha.. It has included Muslims too which make up 8.4% These Muslims are most backward or backward amongst the backward. We have demanded 9% allocation of reservation in the stipulated 27%," he added.

What is the issue of Dalit Muslims? "Dalit is a term for untouchables and there is no untouchability amongst Muslims nothing is done to address the grievances of Dalit Muslims in India," said Siddiqui. You need to elaborate on this? "Our Constitution says that if you are not a Hindu, Sikh or a Buddhist you can not be categrorised as SC, however bad, your educational or social condition in the country might be. The paragraph three of Scheduled Caste Order 1950 should be amended and the parameter for reservation should be educational and social backwardness and not religion," he clarified.

You mean reservation discriminates on religious grounds? "Yes, reservation has always been given on the basis of religion and BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) oppose religion based reservation. This is the most blatant lie perpetuated by the anti-Muslim forces in the country," he explained more. "Moreover, judiciary, which is the sentinel of our constitution is witness to this perpetual discrimination beneath it’s very nose," he exclaimed.

What made Muslims feel so hurt? What made their members in government jobs dwindle to almost negligible? Perhaps, the reason lies in Partition as Muslims were blamed for getting India divided. Then came Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act 1952 and 33% of Muslim Zamindars of in UP became helpless overnight. Muslims went into a shock from this bolt from the blue. From land owners they became landless and then the tirade of branding every Muslims in UP as a Muslim League proponent began until 1970s when AJ Faridi began to work for Muslim empowerment by forming Muslim Majlis. The era started a new beginning for Muslim thought as those in the fray stressed the fact of being born in independent India unlike those who left for Pakistan. Words like Jaisa Tu Waisa Main (You are what I am) entered Muslim political vocabulary. Why then did not the Muslims object to those discriminatory clauses in reservation policy? "The reason is there was no such social disparity as per Muslim Shariah amongst Muslims. Even a Muslim sweeper carrying human excreta may enter a mosque after a proper bath and stand by the Nawab or a king," replied Siddiqui. If Islam does not sanction inequality why this demand now? "Reservation has now become the yardstick for social mobility. Even if a small shop is to be allotted, a loan to be sought, a canteen to be opened on government land gets decided on the basis of reservation. Certainly the sociology of 1950 and 2004 has changed drastically," he countered.

The pangs of reservation policy vis-a-vis Hindus and Muslims have now become too visible as paradoxically though, it has come out-that khanabadosh (Nomads) community celebrates Holi and Fateha of Abdul Qadeer Jilani and Moharram alike. The Hindu nomads amongst them get reservation while Muslim nomads do not. Hindu Nuts (Charmer) community get reservation but Muslim charmers do not. Things have come to such a pass that Shabbir Balmiki, a member of legislative assembly (MLA) from Bahraich (UP) got elected from SC reserved seat in 2002..His opposition party went to High Court, Lucknow saying that since he is a Muslim he cannot be an SC. The MLA has gone on record to say before the court that he is not a Muslim and per chance his name is Shabbir and this mistake is his of parents. His oath before High Court has saved him his winning Candidature! And a similar MLA in Madhya Pradesh in 1985 has lost his assembly seat! Shabbir does not go to offer namaz (Muslim Prayers) and has given his children Hindu names!
"In other words it is the ploy of our secular government of India to convert Muslims to Hinduism in order to get any benefit. If one is socially and educationally backward and is a Muslim/Hindu/ Sikh/ Christian — he/she ought to get reservation," said Siddiqui.
What is the social and backward criteria? "Supreme Court in Indira Sahani V’S Union of India, 1992 has observed that despite the prohibitory provisos of Article 15- reservation can be given to the residents of a popular area, be it large or small, to a particular religious group or caste. But, the determination of it would be on social and educational backwardness. Therefore the provisions of Article (5) (1) does not comes in to play when reservation is granted on the bases of social and educational backwardness," he explained further.

What is your demand for Dalit Muslims? "We demand that a quota for Dalit Muslims be decided upon and Muslims belonging to all those castes which are already notified as Scheduled Castes should get the benefit of reservation in the category of SC and BJP and Congress should not support the extension of period of reservation, on religious grounds, which both have been doing all these years," said Malik Azeem Khan, from Agra white addressing the conference.

So are there only two demands? "No, there are basically three demands. The other Muslims (who are not categorised as Backwards and SCs) and who form 20% in the whole of UP, have now as a whole become more backward in social and educational spheres than the declared backwards. A Commission should be set up to look into their social specifics and submit a report within six-months. The creamy layer amongst them should be excluded. We demand 10% reservation for them as a whole," quipped Siddiqui.

In pursuance of the resolution adopted at the conference for Muslims reservation the organisers have sent letters of demand to Chief Minister of UP and PM as well. " Why cannot there be reservation for Muslims when 4% in Karnalaka, 4% in Tamil Nadu, 10% in Kerala is already being given," pointed Zafaryab Jilani, the convenor of the movement. Jilani is legal advisor to All India Muslim Personal law Board ( AIMPLB)-the supreme Muslim body in the country " We will try to use our Muslim parliamentarians to move an amendment in the Presidential order of 1950 and let also Muslims be included in it, " said Jilani.

The conference was also addressed by Shafiqur Rahman Barq, Member of Parliament (MP) Moradabad, Ilyas Azmi, (MP), Udit Raj (Justice Party), Sikandar Islahi (Jama’at-e-Islami), Baseer Ahmad Khan (Indian National League), Khalid Sabir (Muslim Majlis), Mateen Khan ( Muslim League), Saif Abbas, as representative of Kalbe Jawad, Khadim Husain ( Majlis-e- Mushawarat) and Jehangir Alam Qasmi and a steering committee has been formed to make the movement go ahead. Malik Azeem Khan (Agra) Saleem Peerzada (Aligarh) Mohd. Yaseen Ali Usmani (Badaun), Yusuf Quraishi (Meerut), Ch. Zia-ul-Islam (Kanpur), Mohd. Suleman (Kanpur) Millat Bedari Committee (AMU, Aligarh) have taken up their responsibilities. Public gathering have been organised to be addressed on Oct 2nd in Kanpur, Oct 3rd in New Delhi and Oct 9th in Meerut

MRM is raring to go but certainly the turf is hard as not even professing secular parties will be willing to agree to a Muslim quota in government jobs. Privatisation has also made many public sectors to be disinvested rendering millions jobless. In these hard times what will be the fate of Muslims when there is a steady squeeze in the opportunities available.

Lets see the political response MRM gets from all those secular parties, barring of course BJP, which dosn’t get tired of lamenting the downfall of Muslims in the country.


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