By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
26 November 2016
The recently held Jamiat Ulema e Hind Conference n Ajmer gave a call for Dalit Muslim unity. Laudable in its objectives because of the marginal positions of both these communities, it is but natural that they should come together to fight the perceived oppressions against them from the right wing parties, particularly the BJP which is understood as the party of Brahmanical dominance. Given the fact that in a few months, there will be elections in Uttar Pradesh where both these sections can play a decisive role, the call assumed greater political significance. After all, dalits have been out of power in Uttar Pradesh since two decades and Muslims have never been so marginal in terms of political representation in Uttar Pradesh. Moreover, the Samajwadi Party, the ruling party and the party of choice for Muslims ever since it came to power, has failed to protect the life and liberty of Muslim, especially in the last three years. With incidents like Muzzaffarnagar and the rhetoric of Kairana Hindu exodus, it was a natural thing for the Muslims to look for a party other than the Samajwadi and they perhaps rightly think that it is only the BSP which has the potential to defeat the BJP electorally.
From the Sachar Committee Report onwards, all analyses of the Muslim situation, particularly in the context of Uttar Pradesh is pointing towards the convergence of Muslim situation and the Dalit situation. In terms of representation as well as in terms of threat to identity, Muslims and Dalits today seem to be on the same scale of vulnerability. It would not be out of place to suggest that in terms of representation and other social indicators like education, Dalits seem to be catching up and in cases becoming better than the Muslims.
The Muslims, through years of faulty political choices have lagged behind and are today in a situation where it would not be wrong to group them together with the Dalits. But more importantly, the threat to identity has assumed alarming proportions. Dalits and Muslims have been the victims of targeted attacks on the basis of their identity. While in some cases, it has been an assault from the right wing Hindu forces, in other cases, they have been attacked due to a perceived sense of upward mobility among them which is resented by the dominant middle castes.
It shouldn’t be surprising therefore is both these blocks come together under the umbrella of BSP. The Jamiat Conference is merely articulating which seems to be the felt need within the Muslim community. The alliance will be formidable but will it also be sustaining and stable? Historically Muslims have voted with the SP, the ruling party of Uttar Pradesh. In fact when Mayawati was voted out of power, it was the Muslim vote which shifted from the BSP to the SP. How then are we to believe that the alliance will stand the test of times. And what lies behind the ambivalence of the Muslim community to rally behind Mayawati?
The answer perhaps lies in the self-perception of Muslims of Uttar Pradesh. Although all indicators suggest that Muslims are at the lowest rung of the ladder in Uttar Pradesh, the perceptions amongst Muslims continues to be that they are culturally the dominant community in Uttar Pradesh. There is an abject refusal to come to terms with the present situation and Muslims remain mired in the fantastic past in which they think themselves to large landlords and the ones who brought civilization to this part of India.
An average Muslim here is as caste conscious as an average upper caste Hindu. The problem is that even Muslims who belong to lower castes consider themselves to be firmly entrenched with the Ashraf culture of upper caste Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. The lower caste Muslim artisan or businessman who has seen economic upward mobility desires to be accepted within the upper caste Muslim subculture and for that reason denies his lower caste identity. This denial is very important to understand why any lower caste Muslim mobilization has not been successful within Uttar Pradesh. Because this denial leads them to consciously abrogate any ties which they have to other lower castes. Islam becomes the lone signifier in such a situation and secular identities like caste and region recede in the background. It is because of this that there is hardly any public proclamation of the acceptance of caste within Uttar Pradesh Muslim politics.
Thus in all probability, this alliance is going to be a political alliance of convenience. It would have been much better if this alliance would also become a social alliance between Dalits and Muslims. But for that to happen, Muslims have to engage with the entrenched caste practices and ideas within their own community. It is all very well to say that Islam does not recognise caste, but anyone who is familiar with Muslim society would say that Muslims are as casteist as the Hindu society. Only through a thorough interrogation which is internal to the community, can one visualize a true Dalit-Muslim unity. It is heartening to note that the Jamiat has had the voice to articulate such a unity. A good start to show that they are serious about the issue would be to raise the issue of discrimination faced by the Muslim Dalits themselves at the hand of upper caste Muslims.
Arshad Alam is a NewAgeIslam.com columnist