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Ali Anwar’s struggle for Pasmanda Muslims

By Kashif-ul-Huda, TwoCircles.net

Ali Anwar Ansari, son of a labourer, has come a long way since his bidi-rolling days. He has been a Member of Parliament of Rajya Sabha since 2006. In between, he has been a Grade IV government employee, activist, journalist, author and fathered a movement for Dalit or Pasmanda Muslims.

In 1996, he received KK Birla Foundation fellowship to study condition of Dalit Muslims of Bihar. Anwar toured Bihar and what he found was documented in his book ‘Masavat ki Jang’ (Struggle for Equality). The book created shock-waves among Muslims and confronted them about the practice of caste among Muslims of India. This is the topic that was not discussed prior to this though always present in the society. A look at the matrimonial pages of any Muslim magazine will attest to this fact.

Muslim leaders always maintained the Islam is all about equality and that Muslims are brothers to each other. Ali Anwar found many social practices that proved that caste practices are prevalent in Muslims as well. He claims to have found examples of even separate graveyards for different castes.

In 1998, All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz (Downtrodden Muslim Front) was formed by Ali Anwar and others. But Mahaz was not the first organization to champion Dalit Muslim causes, All India Momin Conference and All India Backward Muslim Morcha (now United instead of Backward) were already there.

Mahaz and other organizations have worked over the years to create awareness about issues of Dalit Muslims. The 1950 Presidential Order has in effect kept Christians and Muslims of Dalit background away from the benefits provided to other Dalits. So, all the organizations have focused in getting this order repealed.

The work done by these leaders and organization has yielded result. Assemblies of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh have passed resolution supporting the demand for inclusion of Christian and Muslim Dalits among Scheduled Castes.

Ali Anwar was sent to Rajya Sabha by Janata Dal (United) in 2006. Ansari, who started his political career in a Communist organization, entered Parliament with the help of a political party that is in partnership with the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Ansari says that he has become an MP to help the movement and taking support from JDU is nothing but a tactical alliance.

Ali Anwar Ansari is Rajya Sabha MP since 2006 [TCN photo]

But has he been successful in pushing the Dalit Muslim agenda by being in the Parliament? Of the 102 questions asked by Ali Anwar in the last three years, only 18 questioned were directly related to minorities’ issues. He did speak on reservation issue a few times but he has been unable to form a united front of either Muslim MPs or Dalit MPs to talk on this topic. It is also a failure that Ranganath Misra Commission and Sachar Committee reports are yet to be discussed in the Parliament.

Support by a political party also means that he cannot go against the party line. In 2008, Bihar government of JDU recognized Maliks as one of the backward caste in Bihar. Though, until recently Maliks have always considered themselves higher caste and have generated body of works to prove that they are Syeds. Champions of Dalit Muslim cause and Rajya Sabha MPs, both Ali Anwar Ansari and Dr. Ejaz Ali did not say anything publicly against this move.

Talking to TwoCirlces.net, Mr. Ansari acknowledged that calling Malik as a backward community is incorrect and it should not have been done but absolved Bihar government of all responsibility by saying that it was work of Bihar Backward Commission.

When asked, how he will respond to the charges that his movement is an attempt to divide the Muslims in terms of caste. He says that we can not deny that caste exists among the Muslims of India. What his movement is asking for is to get constitutional benefit as it is given to a Dalits of Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. The benefit will help a large number of Muslims to get educated and access to employment. Their progress will help lift Muslim out of the economic and educational backwardness they find themselves in. I agree.