DALIT, OBC (Untouchables) & MUSLIM RELATIONS IN INDIA
by Prof. Kancha Ilaiah, Asst. Prof. Political Studies, Osmania University, Hyderabad, India.
The participation of Dalits, tribals and OBCs in Gujarat carnage has raised several questions with regard to the unity of SC, ST, OBCs and Muslims. The Hindutva forces succeeded in making such unity very difficult. With the Gujarat carnage and with the formation of Mayavathi Government in UP, with the support of BJP, such unity seems to be impossible. The Muslims unlike the Christians do not know how to understand the caste question and handle the rioting situations. The persisting unfriendly relations between Muslims, Dalits and OBCs, mainly in urban areas, is a real cause for worry.
After the BJP came to power when there were Hindutva attacks on Christians the Dalit and tribal participation in those attacks was all most nil. The Dalits and tribals have very netted relations with Christians but such relations do not exist with Muslims. The OBCs have very ambiguous relations with Christians but they too have inimical relations with Muslims. This we can see in their day to day life as well.
The causes for this situation need to be probed by the Muslim intellectuals seriously. Otherwise the Hundutva forces use the muscle power of the SC, ST and OBCs against Muslims more and more by creating rioting situations. Since every riot ends up in more killings of Muslims, Dalits and OBCs the inimical relations increase. This mode of constructing enemy image within oppressed communities is a desired of agenda of Hindutva forces. This agenda diverts the attention of all of them from the basic economic, social and political issues that haunt them. Ever since the oppressed sections started asking for socioeconomic and political rights the Sangh Parivar has set agendas of communal riots as that would divert their attention.
By attacking the Christians the Sangh Parivar lost credibility in the Western world as the Christian intelligentsia of India has taken up a global campaign against the fascist nature of the Parivar. Because of that campaign the attempts of the VHP to get a NGO status in the UN were thwarted. All global NGOs and Government bodies have got full information of the attacks on Christians and the American Congress and the EU parliament had noted such attacks. Because of the loss of face the Sangh Parivar is now planning to install Mr. Alexander as the President of India.
The Muslim intelligentsia failed in establishing a rapport with SC, ST and OBCS at the ground level. They never carried a secular international campaign about the attacks on Muslims. Though there are considerable number of Muslim intellectuals who can form a victims forum and document the atrocities against Muslims and place such facts before the UN and other global human rights bodies they never did that. They suffer from an inward looking self- image. The Muslim intelligentsia left the whole communal issues to mass defense and politics of retaliation. This is quite unfortunate situation because the UN as a global body is giving more credibility to the voice of victims. Instead of allowing the Muslim community to indulge in retaliatory politics the UN involvement may reduce the scale of violence in India. The responsibility for not taking the Gujarat carnage to the UN human rights wing entirely lies on the English speaking Muslim intelligentsia of India.
About the SC, OBC and Muslim relationship the Muslim intelligentsia must be held responsible for its indifference to the caste and untouchability questions. Historically before the British came, the Muslims rulers and scholars did not bother to understand the caste question. Not a single Muslim thinker made any effort to study the problem of caste and untouchability. A visiting Muslim scholar like Al-Beruni threw a cursory glance at the caste question but no Indian scholar or poet wrote at length about the agony of untouchability. Quite surprisingly they took no social or educational work among Dalit-Bahujans. Because of the influence of the Brahminic ideology the Muslim scholars thought that the caste system and untouchability were spiritual and they should not interfere with that system.
A small number of Sufi propagators even before the Bhakti movement, mingled with the Sudras/ Chandalas of that period. But in the modern period particularly in the post- Independence period not a single Muslim intellectual worth the name worked among the SC, ST, and OBCs. Ever since Ambedkar started the liberation struggle of Dalits no Muslim intellectual stood by him. Even after the Mandal movement not a single Muslim scholar wrote at least one serious book formulating an Islamic understanding of caste and untouchability. How do bridges get built among communities? They get built only when an oppressed community gets the support of the other community and each community understands the other on day to day basis. For that a theoretical formulation is very essential.
The Muslim scholarship mainly operated within the ruling class feudal ideology. The Muslim intellectuals even now did not come out of that feudal thinking. Except a few scholars like Irfan Habib who came under the influence of communist ideology and studied Indian society from class point of view not single Muslim scholar had done devoted work on caste question. Given the literary and educational culture of Islamic religion they should have been the first to fight against the caste and untouchabiltiy. They should have been the first to write about inhuman conditions in which Dalits were living. They remained totally silent on such brutal system. Though the Sufi tradition moved into Dalit and OBC communities for Islamic spiritual campaign they too did not build literary genre of anti-caste and anti-untouchabiltiy.
Though the British rulers were exploiters they took a keen interest in understanding the system of caste. The Christian missionaries from the days of William Cary began to study the problems of caste and untouchability. William Carey in his first report-An Enquiry Into The Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen--made a serious analysis of caste and untouchabiltiy in the late eighteenth century itself. Many issues that became the concerns of Raja Ram Mohan Roy later were raised in his report. Because of such enquiries and opening up of debate on caste and social immorality in Hindu society many Hindutva scholars at the time of Mandal debate went to the extent of saying that the British invented caste.
The Muslim intellectuals know very well that the SC, ST and OBCs were forcefully stopped from getting educated by the Hindu system. The Christian missionaries broke that tradition and introduced education to them irrespective of the fact whether they embraced Christianity or not. Several Dalits were given education in missionary schools without thinking about conversion into Christianity. They did not bother about conversions. They gave education as a social service. That became a boon for Dalits who were consciously denied education. Mahatma Phule and Ambedkar acknowledged the service of missionaries in many of their writings. Such a positive work did not forth come from Muslim intellectuals.
The educational and health services that the missionary activists rendered to the Indian poor masses made the Christian missionary activity a socially integrative one. Even at the time of attacks on Christians in Gujarat and other places the social morale of the Christians was so high that they could easily defend their activity in India in all world forums. Even such thoroughly communalized state machinery of Gujarat had to balance its governance between the Hindutva forces and Christian missionaries. The Muslim intellectuals did not become a social force by taking up the social causes of oppressed communities like tribals, Dalits and OBCs. Hence there are no deep sympathies for them.
In the case of Islam there is not only investigative tradition but there is no social service tradition with a sense of social interaction before somebody embraces Islam. The only difference between the Brahminic tradition and the Indian Muslim tradition is that a Dalit/OBC cannot become a Brahmin whereas one can become a Muslim. For Dalit/OBC a spiritual integration with a Brahmin is not at all possible whereas with the Muslim it is possible only after one becomes a Muslim. No Muslim intellectual or leader goes to the moral help of the Dalits/OBCs in day to day life and that keeps the social gap between Dalits/OBCs and Indian Muslims without having any social bridges between them. That is one reason why the Hindutva forces can still use the Dalit/OBC youth against Muslims with ease.
One hopes that Gujarat awakens the Muslim intellectuals. They should not think that the mountain should go to Mohammed. Mohammed himself believed in going to every suffering human being. It is time that the Indian Muslim intellectuals learn from the Christian minorities and work among Dalits, tribals and OBCs so that trusted relations get established among them. All oppressors must learn to work for each other's liberation and build social bondages among them. That is the best way to stop Gujarats happening in future.
SC - Scheduled Caste
ST - Scheduled Tribe
OBC - Other Backward Classes
Dalits - Untouchable Class
Brahmin - Upper Caste Class
Hindutva - Fascist Hindu Ideology
BJP - Bharatiya Janata Party
UP - Uttar Pradesh, one of the largest States in India