Caste Census and Indian Muslims

A Quick Note on Caste Census and Indian Muslims

By Khalid Anis Ansari

Abusaleh Shariff and Navaid Hamid have today circulated a piecearticulating their problems with the caste census, especially with respect to Muslims. Since I have earlier critiqued Mr. Shariff’s position on caste census elsewhere I won’t do another detailed response in this note. Here I will merely attempt to address their positions through extracts from some of my previous writings. Apart from so many other problems in their articulation there are three broad positions that I find relevant to the debate on caste census:

Problematic Position One: Lessons can be drawn from the OBC reporting status during the NSS surveys collected annually. The NSSO 61st round data for the reference year 2004-5 suggests that only about 26% of all Hindus are considered as the High Castes or socio-economically better offs; whereas, about 60% of Muslims fall into the non-OBC and thus socio-economically better off category. This is because none from the Muslims are classified under the SCs/STs category and all such Muslims with the SC / ST identity could actually be listed as the high castes / class. This is a serious problem and an anomaly which must be addressed before any major effort to collect castes data in India.”
In the earlier piece I mentioned I have responded to this position as follows:

However, he (Abusaleh Shariff) certainly has a point when he puts his finger on the contested computation of both the Hindu and non-Hindu OBCs by the Mandal Commission and in suggesting that there are wide variations between the Central and State OBC lists. But then if such is the case then the remedy to the malady should be common for both the Hindu and Muslim OBCs. It is here that he decides to leave the economist behind and begins to privilege the communitarian element in his articulation when he attempts a separate solution to the problem for Muslim OBCs. He accurately maintains that these discrepancies in the lists will lead to an inflated figure for Muslim ‘high caste-class’ and therefore a majority of Muslims will be excluded from the ambit of affirmative action. He takes issues with Mandal Commission for maintaining that in Hindus upper-castes constitute only 25% of the population whereas for Muslims they constitute as much as 50%. According to him this ‘is because none from among the Muslims are classified under the SC/ST category and all such Muslims with the SC/ ST identity are actually listed as high caste/class’. Now this is confusing to say the least because, apart from the obvious slip in the case of ST Muslims who are actually recognised, the Sachar Committee Report, in which he was interestingly a co-member, offers an argument in a diametrically opposite direction. According to the Sachar Report ‘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’ (p.195). So while Mr. Shariff maintains that the higher percentage of upper castes within Muslims is because the dalit Muslims (which are not recognised as SCs) are clubbed with the upper caste Muslims, the Sachar Report on the contrary critiques the Mandal list for clubbing the dalit Muslims with the OBC Muslims. I am not sure if this is a factual error or whether the author has something else in his mind that eludes me. Obviously, such a high proportion of Muslim upper castes defies all sociological and historical wisdom (Mr. Shariff himself speculates that the proportion of upper castes would be only 20% of the Muslim population), but then the rationale for such figures cannot be the one that the author has advanced.” [my emphasis]

In another article I briefly dealt with the politics of numerical weight of Muslim OBCs:

...the Sachar Committee has derived the population data for Muslim OBC’s (dalit Muslims included) from the 55th (1999-2000) and 61st (2004-05) round of NSSO returns wherein for the first time since Independence the data pertaining to OBC category was obtained. Moreover, most of this data is based on ‘self-reporting’. From the 55th round returns, the population of Muslim OBC’s was estimated at 31.7% of the Muslim population (for General Muslims it was 68.3%) and from the 61st round returns the estimate of Muslim OBC’s was 40.7% of the Muslim population (for General Muslims it was 59.3%). This shows a growth of about 9% in just five years. In the case of Uttar Pradesh the growth in Muslim OBC population was from 44.4% (55th round) to 62% (61st round)—a jump of 17.6% in five years. In the case of Bihar the growth in Muslim OBC population was from 40.6% (55th round) to 63.4% (61st round)—a jump of 22.8% in five years! While the official estimates of Muslim OBC’s show an ascending trend, the Pasmanda Movement in Bihar and elsewhere had always estimated the population of lower caste Muslims to be about 85% of the Muslim population.Interestingly, this figure is also accepted by the National Movement for Muslim Reservation, which is presently campaigning for Muslim reservations in the country. One of their working papers categorically notes, ‘Only 10 to 15% of the Muslim community belongs to the so called Ashraf while 85% to 90% are non-Ashraf’ [Working Paper No. 1].

Problematic Position Two: Now that the ICC-2011 is announced and a certainty beginning June-2011, the Muslims who intend to report their castes as dalits / SCs / STs, should do as they wish. The ICC-2011 enumerators should be instructed to collect this information as reported and not to filter out caste reporting linked to religion. Note that, practically all Muslims in India are converts and are hardly any original Muslims who migrated from out of erstwhile Indian territory now reside in India. Further, it is historically documented that most of those converted to Islam belong to low castes such as the dalits and the tribes. The ‘Sachar Committee’ (2006) on status of Muslims in India has also clearly revealed the distressing socio-economic and educational conditions of Muslims which are closer to the levels recorded for the SCs and STs belonging to the Hindu Community.”
While in the subconscious resort to genetics in the first part of this extract the authors betray their fine sense of humor (What about original Brahmins dear authors?), I only intend to point out here the confusions that the authors are circulating regarding the Sachar Report in the latter part. In fact, the Sachar Committee Report when outlining the social stratification within Muslims states that:

Thus, one can discern three groups among Muslims: (1) those without any social disabilities, the ashrafs; (2) those equivalent to Hindu OBCs, the ajlafs, and (3) those equivalent to Hindu SCs, the arzals. Those who are referred to as Muslim OBCs combine (2) and (3). [Sachar Committee Report, p. 193 (emphasis added)]
Thus, the extract clearly suggests that at least one block within Muslims (the ashrafs) is without any social disabilities and so cannot be considered for the purposes of reservation. Moreover, it is slightly problematic for the authors to have compared Muslims (religion) with SCs/STs (caste/tribe): it is just like comparing apples with oranges. The only valid comparison would be to compare ashraf Muslims with savarna Hindus, OBC Muslims with OBC Hindus and dalit/tribal Muslims with ‘Hindu’ SCs/STs. This discussion of 'total Muslim backwardness' only goes on to invisibilizethe privileged nature of the ashraf sections of the Muslim community.For instance, if we take the case of political representation then out of 7500 members from the first to fourteenth Lok Sabha only about 400 members belonged to the Muslim community. Out of these 400 members, only 60 have been OBC Muslims. Hence, the representation of ashraf Muslims in Lok Sabha works out to 4.5% that is way beyond their actual population (2.1%).
Problematic Position Three: It will be almost impossible to prepare a list of Muslim caste/class for classifying them as Muslim-OBCs. Therefore, a ‘list of exclusion’ can be prepared so as to determine the social forwardness or backwardness of a large section of Muslims who are not reported themselves as the SC or ST. Such list of exclusion can be prepared for each state separately after consultations with the state level Muslim intellectuals and religious bodies. Thus, once a list of exclusion is prepared, all other Muslims who do not belong to this list can be identified as the “Muslim OBCs”.
Now this part has been almost verbatim reproduced from Abusaleh Shariff’s earlier article and I had responded to this at that point of time as follows:
But where is he actually taking us? ‘It will be almost impossible to prepare a list of Muslim caste/class for classifying them as Muslim OBC’s’, he argues and then readily advocates the preparation of a ‘list of exclusion’ whereby those ‘who do not match the list of exclusion can be identified as ‘Muslim OBCs’’. Here we arrive at the full expression of OBC Muslim as a negative identity. Only those who fall outside the list of exclusion, an innovative device I would say, will be deemed as OBC Muslims and that OBC Muslims do not have any substantive reality of their own. How different is the tone and tenor in Ali Anwar’s articulation, MP (Rajya Sabha) and one of the leaders of the pasmanda movement, when he states: ‘Hum shuddar hain shuddar; Bharat ke moolnivasi hain. Baad mein musalman hain’ (We are Shudras first; we are the indigenous peoples of India. We are Muslims later). And, how is this list of exclusion to be prepared? The list is not to be prepared by the National Backward Classes Commission or by ‘using the information collected by Anthropological Survey of India under its People of India Project’ as the Sachar Committee advocates (p. 201). Rather, it is to be prepared for each state ‘after consultations with state-level Muslim intellectuals and religious bodies’ which are, one could point out, thoroughly undemocratic and unrepresentative in character from the vantage point of lower caste Muslim articulation. Here the politics of location fully manifests itself. Mr. Shariff makes two interesting moves in this piece. One, he delinks the question of Hindu OBCs with that of Muslim OBCs, and, two, he catapults the latter question into the orbit of Muslim communitarian politics and cumulative representation. If Muslim communitarian politics has so far worked for the interests of ashraf sections within Muslims then the majority of dalit-pasmanda Muslims will find his argument to be somewhat problematic.


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