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Rising Caste Based Inequality and Entrepreneurship Among Pasmanda Communities

Rising Caste Based Inequality and Entrepreneurship Among Pasmanda Communities

mohammad Imran 1


Mohammad Imran

mohammad Imran 1In the last two decades, the term Pasmanda has been heavily discussed by Bahujan political scientists, especially when it comes to the democratic politics among Indian Muslims. Mobilisation based on the same term has demanded democratisation of intra-religious politics. Pasmanda mobilisation not only questioned the communal (binary) nature of political gathering but it has also posed a big question over the maintenance of religiously emotive issues by Muslim elites, namely the ‘Ashraf’.

Over the years, this political situatedness developed a notion of political insecurity among the lower caste Muslims along with stagnating them socially and economically. The social and economic stagnation has deepened their vulnerability manifold and little has been done by the religious elites to promote a sense of confidence to develop themselves. Although the ground level mobilisation seems to be limited in its political orientation towards redistributive justice through state machinery and representative demands in the legislature and other state-run offices, there have been a lot of diverse demands coming out within the movement. The emergence of the category of Dalit Muslim has also reiterated a differential treatment than the Muslim OBCs. Till now, the Pasmanda discourse has been heavily concentrated upon the question of representation in the political and government institutional realm and little has been focused upon the economic betterment within the realm of the informal sector through livelihood enterprises.

Rising Economic Inequality and its Caste-Based Relationship Among Indian Muslims

Thomas Piketty, in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has dealt extensively with the rising inequalities among the ‘classes’ of Europe. In a recent study by Nitin Kumar Bharti, statistical analysis of NSSO data from 1951-2012 highlighted that rising economic inequality in India has a strong linkage with caste identity. As a result, economic growth, especially among the lower castes of Indian society, has either become stagnant or the disparity has increased. The thesis has also found that economic liberalisation has not helped the society in an overarching manner. The introduction of heavy machinery and liberal market rules have mostly benefited communities which were closer to knowledge production, bureaucracy and skill-based education, while also possessing traditional assets. While three major reasons viz. globalisation, population increase and enhanced information and technology were considered as the background of developing inequalities in recent times, the study has clearly emphasised that the inequality created by these factors has a strong linkage to caste in the Indian context. The study has been able to clearly establish that it is Non-OBC Muslims (Majorly the Ashrafs) who have been able to maintain themselves in an economic situation which comparable to, even if slightly lower than, the upper caste Hindu counterparts. Correlating the inferences from the Sachar Committee report and the study of Indian inequality by Mr. Bharti, one can easily conclude that it is the ‘Ashraf’ who are least affected by the rising inequality in a changed socio-political and economic context of Muslims.

The Sachar Committee report (2006) has become a major source of analysing the socio-economic realities of Indian Muslims. The report has specifically mentioned the caste-based hierarchy among Indian Muslims and how caste-based livelihood is leading to marginality of a larger section within the marginalised. It has also specified that a majority of the Muslim workforce is still engaged in the informal sector and especially in areas which have the greatest unsustainability. In its recommendations, it has emphasized the need for increasing the productivity of small enterprises as per the changing economic context and market conditions. It has specifically mentioned that the situation is the worst in four states i.e. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam, where credit needs are critical. The report has admitted that the entrepreneurs among the Muslims face inadequate credit facilities from both public and private sector banks.

The recently held Dalit Musalmanon ka Mela (Exhibition of Dalit Muslims) in Darbhanga by Dr. Aiyub Rayeen (also author of the book Bharat ke Dalit Musalmaan) was one of the pathbreaking events for promoting entrepreneurship among the lower caste Muslims. Such events will not only showcase the vulnerabilities of lower caste Muslims but also provide a common platform for exhibiting entrepreneurship skills among the communities and how innovative methods could be applied in order to create revenues through social business.

dalit muslim mela

Courtesy: Dr Aiyub Rayeen. Image taken from Facebook page of the organiser

Conceptualising Pasmanda Entrepreneurship

Dalit Entrepreneurship has been heavily debated among the scholars of development sector, especially among the Bahujan scholars. Organisations like DICCI comes to the centre stage as a ‘Model of Dalit Entrepreneurship’ but its right-leaning libertarian approach becomes a point of criticism where the role of the state becomes minimal. Along with this, improper theorisation on dealing with caste-based discrimination like untouchability through capitalism also produces a hollowness. On top of that, its inability to produce credibility within the upper caste-led lobby of entrepreneurs has mismatched their ideology with their changing political linkages from Congress to BJP. On the other hand, entrepreneurship among Pasmanda communities could be more feasible than Dalit entrepreneurship due to comparative social acceptance. This social acceptance could be demonstrated by visibility of Muslim hotels (especially non-vegetarian), small scale enterprises in the textile industry, and many more. I am showcasing this aspect because there is a marginal difference in bias and market behaviour with the identity of a Pasmanda Muslim and a Dalit. Thus, it is the need of the hour to theorise Pasmanda Entrepreneurship in a sense which would be able to deal with the manifold realities and dynamics within a larger community. The Pasmanda community is comprised of hundreds of caste groups and each caste has its own occupation and sectoral reality. Among them, problematising and developing entrepreneurship models that can deal with a minimum of caste and intra-religious dynamics along with region is required. I am not claiming that each caste has the potential for generating entrepreneurship models since many of the caste groups have been historically deprived due to their ‘impure’ socially imposed professions but on the other hand there are multiple communities which could produce models based on their ‘traditional occupations’.

Concluding Remarks

In the time of informalisation of government institutions and practice of market-oriented economic policymaking by the state, I think the time has come to make some developments within the Pasmanda discourse which can deal with the rising caste-based economic inequality which is ultimately strengthening the social inequality among Indian Muslims. Since such developments are fundamentally based on the reach of knowledge production and advanced skills, an alternative model should be developed which could bridge the economic gap ideologically. The ideological standpoint is framed in a manner that not only deals with social inequality but also produces democratisation within Indian Muslims. This article should not be understood as a permanent solution for Pasmanda emancipation since the ultimate struggle will always be epistemic and structural. I treat Pasmanda entrepreneurship as one means of Pasmanda emancipation rather than an end in itself. For every social movement or mobilisation, there is always a need of funds which were substantially realised by Kanshiram Saheb via multiple means of fundraising. Pasmanda mobilisation, in its current stage, needs a social mobilisation and Pasmanda entrepreneurs could play the role of fundraisers for a structural and epistemic cause.

I would like to congratulate Round Table India team for a successfully completing ten years of epistemological battle against Brahmanism in its multiple versions.

Jai Bheem, Jai Pasmanda.



Mohammad Imran is currently doing MA Social Work in Dalit and Tribal Studies and Action, TISS Mumbai and has previously done BA (Hons) from the Centre for Arabic and African Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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