Khalid Anis Ansari
Continued from here.
The Muslim Quota Debate
The recent lower caste movements within the non-Hindu religions like Islam, Christianity and Sikhism have foregrounded the presence of caste-based differentiation and discrimination within these communities in the public sphere. As far as the Muslims are concerned the caste cleavages within them were duly recognized by the Sachar Committee Report when it remarked quite unambiguously: ‘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, 2006, p. 193; emphasis added). Apart from these three groups there is a small section of Muslim adivasis (STs) as well.
As earlier mentioned the backward (ajlaf/shudra) and dalit (arzal) caste groups among Muslims have been organising themselves under the rubric of the Pasmanda Movement since 1990s and have challenged the ashraf hegemony in Muslim politics. One of the most contentious issues on which the pasmanda and ashraf Muslims have struggled against each other in this period has been the issue of reservations for Muslims (K. A. Ansari 2011). In this context the ideologues of the pasmanda movement have consistently argued that the ashraf (upper caste) Muslims cannot be included within the reservation policy for OBCs as they do not qualify as a ‘socially and educationally backward community’ (SEBC) required for the purposes of granting reservations under Articles 16 (4) and 15 (4) of the Indian Constitution. In contrast, the ashraf sections have either raised the demand of a separate quota for all Muslims or have tried to sneak into the existing OBC lists through various means (Yadav and Ansari 2011). Both these moves have been strongly contested by the pasmanda organizations. But before taking this discussion further it would be pertinent to point out at the guidelines and positions of the Supreme Court on this contentious issue as expressed in the Mandal (Indra Sawney) Judgment (1992).
The Mandal judgment expresses quite clearly that: “The expression ‘backward class’ in Article 16(4) takes in ‘Other Backward Classes’, S.Cs., S.Ts. and may be some other backward classes as well. The accent in Article 16(4) is upon social backwardness. Social backwardness leads to educational backwardness and economic backwardness. They are mutually contributory to each other and are inter-twined with low occupations in the Indian society. A caste can be and quite often is a social class in India. Economic criterion cannot be the sole basis for determining the backward class of citizens contemplated by Article 16(4)” (Reddy, 1992; emphasis added). Further, the judges have opined: “A caste can be and quite often is a social class in India. If it is backward socially, it would be a backward class for the purposes of Article 16(4). Among non-Hindus, there are several occupational groups, sects and denominations, which for historical reasons are socially backward. They too represent backward social collectives for the purposes of Article 16(4)” (ibid; emphasis added). Besides, the following extract would lay to rest any ambiguity with regard to the meaning of the term ‘backward’ used in the Constitution: “Further, if one keeps in mind the context in which Article 16(4) was enacted it would be clear that the accent was upon social backwardness. It goes without saying that in Indian context, social backwardness leads to educational backwardness and both of them together lead to poverty which in turn breeds and perpetuates the social and educational backwardness. They feed upon each other constituting a vicious circle. It is a well known fact that till independence the administrative apparatus was manned almost exclusively by members of the ‘upper’ castes. The Shudras, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and other similar backward social groups among Muslims and Christians had practically no entry into the administrative apparatus. It was this imbalance which was sought to be redressed by providing for reservations in favour of such backward classes […] We are, accordingly, of the opinion that the backwardness contemplated by Article 16(4) is mainly social backwardness. It would not be correct to say that the backwardness under Article 16(4) should be both social and educational” (ibid; emphasis added).
If we follow the logic of the Mandal judgment then it is clear that only the occupational groups within the Muslims, in other words the pasmanda muslims which encompass the dalit and backward caste Muslims, can be defined as socially backward and hence brought within the ambit of reservations under the OBC category. Consequently, the case for ashraf Muslims which according to the Sachar report are ‘without any social disabilities’ cannot even be considered from the vantage point of the broad guidelines of the judgment. And, this line of reasoning is exactly the basic impediment that those favoring ashraf interests, overtly or covertly, have sought to overcome in recent times. So, the first point in the terms of reference of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, also called the Ranganath Misra Commission, is: “To suggest criteria for identification of socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities” (Justice Ranganath Mishra 2007, 1). Indeed, the insertion of the term ‘economically’ here is notorious to say the least as the phrase used in Article 15 (4) is ‘socially and educationally’ and there is no employment of the term ‘economically’ there. Further, the first recommendation of the Ranganath Mishra Commission report curiously demands a blanket reservation of 15% for religious minorities including a 10% separate quota for all Muslims. The report suggests: “Since the minorities – especially the Muslims – are very much under-represented, and sometimes wholly unrepresented, in government employment, we recommend that they should be regarded as backward in this respect within the meaning of that term as used in Article 16 (4) of the Constitution – notably without qualifying the word ‘backward’ with the words ‘socially and educationally’ – and that 15 percent of posts in all cadres and grades under the Central and State Governments should be earmarked for them as follows: (a) The break up within the recommended 15 percent shall be 10 percent for the Muslims (commensurate with their 73 percent share of the former in the total minority population at the national level) and the remaining 5 percent for the other minorities” (ibid; p. 152-153: emphasis added). While the members of the Commission appear to have laboured hard to arrive at this recommendation yet they themselves seem to be sceptical of their discoveries when they write further: “We are convinced that the action recommended by us above will have full sanction of Article 16 (4) of the Constitution. Yet, should there be some insurmountable difficulty in implementing this recommendation, as an alternative we recommend that […]” before going to the next recommendation. What exactly is the ‘insurmountable difficulty’ if not the fact that the recommendation is completely unconstitutional and against the spirit of the Mandal judgment as is evident by the extracts from the judgment mentioned above? While I have argued elsewhere that even the claim of ‘inadequate representation’ of the ashraf castes in services of the state is a very weak one from the data generated by the Sachar Report itself (K. A. Ansari 2011), I am not really surprised when Dr. Tahir Mahmood, an esteemed member of the Commission, in a case of a Freudian slip claims the authorship of the report himself in one of his articles when he writes: “The recent report of Ranganath Mishra Commission, prepared by me […]” (Mahmood 2010). Also, Prof. Zoya Hasan’s dropping of the word ‘socially’ entirely and her continuous usage of the phrase ‘educationally backward’ for the minorities in one of the recent interventions on NDTV is another interesting move indeed (NDTV 2011).
So, this has broadly been the nature of contestation between the ashraf and pasmanda sections over the reservation debate. While the pasmanda groups have challenged any separate quota for all Muslims or the inclusion of upper caste Muslims in the OBC category they have also consistently raised a few other demands. As we know, most dalit and backward caste Muslims were included in the Central OBC list in 1993 and a few Muslim adivasi groups are already included in the ST list. In a way most pasmanda muslims are already availing benefits in the prevailing reservation policy. So their quest has not been for inclusion since they are already included but rather deepening of reservation policy informed primarily by the differentiated nature of backwardness within the existing categories for reservation. Hence, the issues that the pasmanda muslims have foregrounded are—(a) that they are not receiving a fair share inside the existing OBC quota; (b) that arzal or dalit Muslims should be shifted to the SC quota from the OBC quota by scrapping the 1950 Presidential Order (Clause 3) which is overwhelmingly seen as violating the principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution; (c) that some of the lower caste or adivasis Muslim groups have been left out of the OBC or ST lists and now require to be recognized. It is on these three issues that they have based their demands.
The first issue is that of the marginalization of OBC Muslims within the OBC quota. The argument that the dominant Hindu OBC groups corner most of these benefits thereby leaving Muslim OBCs with an inappropriate share is often circulated in this context [For instance, Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi commented recently: ‘Around 64 per cent Muslims are already eligible to get reservation in the 27 per cent quota for OBCs but merely 3 per cent are able to avail of it. Because of illiteracy and extreme backwardness, Muslims cannot compete with Yadavs and Kurmis who corner the maximum gains. It is important Muslims get a sub-quota, which we are committed to give’ (Jha 2011).] In the understanding of the pasmanda movement this logic applies to non-dominant Hindu OBCs as well and so carving out a separate ‘communal’ quota for Muslim OBCs within the OBC quota is not a very sound demand. The best strategy according to them would be to reflect on the Bihar formula wherein the OBC quota has been split into the Backward Classes and Most Backward Classes (MBC) sub-categories and most Muslim backward sections have been clubbed with other Hindu MBCs accordingly. Hence, they have demanded that if required the Central OBC quota could also be similarly split into two subcategories and similar placed castes in all religious communities could be lumped together. This saves us from any communal polarization on religious lines and is more judicious. The second issue is that of delisting the dalit Muslims from the OBC list and incorporating them in the SC list. In the pre-independence period, the Muslim dalits benefitted from the reservation policy in the SC list. After Independence, by the Presidential Order of 1950 (Clause 3), most non-Hindu dalits were ejected out from the SC list. However, in 1956 the Sikh dalits and in 1990 the neo-Buddhists were integrated thereby debarring only Muslim and Christian dalits from the SC list. This violates the principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution and the pasmanda groups have demanded the scrapping of the 1950 Presidential Order (Para 3). The third issue is that of incorporating the Muslim OBC castes or adivasis groups (like the Muslim van gujjars of Himachal Pradesh) that may not have been recognized thus far. This is largely a procedural issue and could be taken up by the National Commission of Backward Classes and SC/ST Commission accordingly.
So, these have been the key demands of the pasmanda movement so far in the context of reservation policy. Quite clearly the Congress Party has rejected the demand raised by the forward caste Muslims of carving out a separate quota for all Muslims (which interestingly the BSP, SP and CPI-M have supported recently) by announcing a 4.5% sub-quota for OBCs within minorities. But on the other hand it has also rejected the pasmanda demand of implementing the Bihar formula—splitting the Central OBC category into BC and MBC—and has been extremely lackadaisical on the issue of inclusion of dalit Muslims/Christians in the SC list (Japhet and Moses 2011). While these are clearly political moves and I will discuss them later it is important to evaluate the merits and demerits of the 4.5% sub-quota for OBC-Minorities from a procedural and technical point of view.
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