Bihar: Protests and politics over OBC status to “Ashraf Muslims”

By Md. Ali,

Patna: A controversy is in offing on the issue of inclusion of Shaikh into OBC category in Bihar. Many backward caste groups, including those among Muslims in the state, have registered their protest with the State Commission for Backward Castes (SCBC) against attempts by Shaikh, an upper caste Muslim group, to get OBC status.

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Dalit Muslim Muhim, Triveni Sangh and All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz (presided by Saleem Perwez), are the prominent organizations protesting against the proposal. Shaikh comes just after Syed in the hierarchy of castes in the Muslim community, which is at the top of the list.

According to Nihora Prasad Yadav, member of State Backward Commission, around 8 representations by various organizations including Triveni Sangh, have been made to the Commission against the application by the Shaikh community.

Mockery of social justice

The argument of the groups against this move is that Syed, Pathan, Shaikh and Malliks are in the Muslim community, what Brahman, Rajput, Bhumihar and Kayasth, are among the Hindus. They have traditionally been privileged groups and any attempt to include any of them in OBC will be gross injustice with the backward castes, which have been at the receiving end by these groups themselves for centuries.

Ashok Yadav, another social activist associated with the backward movement pointed out that if Shaikhs will become OBC then, a day will come when Pathans, a community below them, and also Syeds, will pressurize the state government to get OBC status.

How to get OBC status?

Talking to, Mr. Nihora Prasad of the State Backward Commission explained that the process of getting OBC status is very rigorous. Before granting any caste the OBC status, that particular caste must establish and prove its educational and social backwardness before the Commission.

The process starts with public hearing after which the delegation of the Commission, goes to investigate into the claims by the concerned group about its social and educational backwardness. It also entertains public objection by any individual and organization against granting that particular caste, the OBC status. Its only the whole process gets done that the Commission recommends to the state government to grant OBC status to that particular caste.

This process prone to political misuse

Talking to this correspondent, Mr. Yadav said the process which Mr. Nihora talked about in very serious terms, often gets misused by the state government to suit its vote bank politics.

How Mallicks got OBC status
The classic instance of political misuse of this process is the way Mallick, which is an upper caste among Muslims, was granted OBC status in 2008.

“It was just the narrow-minded vote bank politics of Nitish Kumar and fraudulent practice by the Mallick caste, which ensured it the OBC status,” said Mr. Ashok.

He said that Mallicks, had shown themselves as Teli, a caste among Hindus, in the representation before the Backward Commission.

“Both the government and the backward Commission have already done a grave injustice to the social justice by including Mallicks into OBC; including Shaikhs into OBC will be disastrous for the welfare and development of the backward castes in the state,” said Noor Hassan Pamadiya, another Muslim backward leader from Bihar.

Fact file
The group Other Backward Caste/Class (OBC) has been divided into two groups, Most Backward Caste (MBC) and Other Backward Caste (OBC). MBC (Annexure I) gets 14% and OBC (Annexure II) gets 13 % reservation respectively.

Interestingly there are around 38-40 caste among Muslims in Bihar, most of which come in MBC, otherwise there are very few Muslim castes, including Mallicks which come under OBC.

‘Letter asking for OBC favors’

Amid this entire hullabaloo, a letter by AR Qasmi, general secretary of Imarate Shariah, a reputed Muslim organization of Bihar, to the chief minister, Nitish Kumar has become center of attention.

In that letter Mr. Qasmi has thanked him for the inclusion of Mallicks into OBC and has requested him to include the rest 3 castes of the Muslim community, Sayed, Pathan and Shaikh into OBC.

Letter of Maulana Qasmi of Imarat-e-Shariah

Mr. Qasmi confirmed to that indeed he had written that letter. But he defended his stand by saying that, “I don’t want to get into the complicated issue of OBC. What I had said was that Syed, Pathan, and Shaikh should get reservation because of the overall social educational backwardness of the Muslim community itself, a fact which has been proved by Sachar report and again by Ranganath Mishra Commission report.”

All Muslims of the state will become OBC
The above mentioned castes are the only ones left out of the OBC category. The irony lies in the fact that once these 3 get OBC status, the entire Muslim community in the state will become Other Backward Caste, which will be a wrong social and historical representation of the Muslim society in the state, as argued by Mohammad Saleem, a leader of the Hawwarin community which is equivalent to Dhobis of the Hindus.

Khalid Anis Ansari is a social activist and also a researcher who has followed the backward caste movement in the country very closely. He considered this recent move by the government of Bihar to include Mallicks in the OBC list, to be a complete mockery of social justice system.

Hypocrisy of religious leadership?
Khalid had a different take on the letter to the CM by Mr. Qasmi. He argued that, the religious leadership of Indian Muslims has always been very quick to deny presence of the caste system in the community, referring it as exclusive to Hindus.

If that be so, he asked, how can Mr. Qasmi ask for reservation by invoking caste as the basis of Muslim identity? Khalid also remarked sarcastically that how can they deny and also employ the category of caste simultaneously.

So the problem doesn’t lie in asking for reservations? The problem lies in the hypocrisy and the double standard practiced by the religious leadership of the community, added Khalid.

The point raised by Khalid becomes very important because, the consistent refusal of the Muslim religious leadership to acknowledge caste as a basis of Muslim identity has been an obstacle for the Pasmanda Muslims to get justice.