Recently, Charanjit Singh Channi became the first Dalit Sikh chief minister of Punjab in place of Captain Amarinder Singh, who belongs to the upper caste of the Jat Sikh community. The news not only enlivened the Dalit community from all over India, but also sparked a heated intellectual debate over the low number of Dalit chief ministers in the country.
Even middle-class OBC caste politicians like Yadavs in the north, Lingayats and Vokkaligas in Karnataka, Jats in west Uttar Pradesh, Ezhavas in Kerala, Kapu and Kammas in Telugu-speaking states, and Tamil OBC communities like Thevars, Gounder and Vanniyars have them Occupied as prime minister, the Dalit community has unfortunately appointed very few leaders as prime minister of an Indian state. Before the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi, a Dalit was appointed or elected Prime Minister of an Indian state only seven times.
Damodaram Sanjivayya became the first Dalit chief minister of a state when the Congress Party appointed him to the top in 1960. Bihar saw three Dalit chief ministers including Bhola Paswan Shastri from Congress, Ram Sundar Das from the Janata Party and Jitan Ram Manjhi, who was with Janata Dal (United) at the time. The Congress Party also named Sushil Kumar Shinde and Jagannath Pahadia as prime ministers of Maharashtra and Rajasthan, respectively. But it was the powerful and hugely popular Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) who served the longest joint term of seven years as Prime Minister of Uttar Pradesh, including one in 2007 when she was elected by a full majority and a full five-year Term of office.
Jammu and Kashmir is the predominantly Muslim administrative unit of India. While Muslims make up over 95 percent of the population of the Kashmir Valley, they constitute a sizable minority in the Jammu region, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the total population of the Jammu region, including an overwhelming majority in Pir Panchal and almost the majority in the Chenab Valley the Jammu region. And yet the so-called âMuslimâ leadership over the Jammu and Kashmir valleys remains suffocating in the hands of the upper caste of Kashmiri, Dogras and Pahari Muslims. The only exception is the nomadic tribal community of the Gujjars and Bakarwals – a community of the Scheduled Tribe and the only Muslim pasmanda community in Jammu and Kashmir – who can claim some degree of political power, although this is not exactly proportional to their population in the UT from . is Jammu and Kashmir.
The reason I want to raise this point in connection with Jammu and Kashmir is not only the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi as the first Dalit Sikh Prime Minister of the Punjab, but also the growing social assertiveness of the Pasmanda Muslims in northern India, which is now to question the dominance of upper-caste Muslims in the political fabric and demand a fair political representation commensurate with their strong numerical majority of almost 85 percent of the total Muslim population in India.
First, let’s understand the concept of âcasteâ as opposed to âclassâ in the context of Muslim society in Kashmir Valley as well as the rest of India. However, while Islam is theologically an egalitarian belief that teaches equality and there is no concept of “caste” in Islam, the social evil of casteism found its way among Muslim converts in both the Kashmir Valley and the rest of India, in spite of that Early Muslim Sufi missionaries promise Islam as a casteless social way of life.
The caste system of the Muslims of South Asia does not strictly adhere to the Hindu-Brahmin “Varna system”, but there are hundreds of “Biradaris”, which correspond to the Hindu “Jatis”. The Muslim “Biradaris” in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are loosely organized under a triple classification. At the top are “Ashrafs” or upper-caste Muslims who claim to be descended from Arab and Central Asian Muslim immigrants. This category also includes Muslim converts from upper-caste Hindus, such as Rajputs and Kshatriyas. The second category includes “Ajlaf” Muslims who have converted from professional Shudra Hindu castes such as weavers, tailors, washers, etc. They are classified as OBCs under the Indian Constitution. The last category at the bottom of the pyramid consists of Muslim converts from the Dalit-Hindu community. They are known as “Arzal” Muslims and are placed in the Planned Castes. Then there are also Muslim tribal and nomadic communities who are also at the lower end of this unofficial caste system that prevails among the Muslims of South Asia.
The caste system of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir roughly follows this pattern, with Syeds and Pirs at the top, followed by professional castes such as Wani, Khandey, Lone, etc., and then Shudra casts such as Chopan, Hajjam, Hani, etc. At the bottom are Kashmiri Muslim Dalits called Wattals, a community that has historically engaged in manual cleanup.
Pasmanda Muslim activists in northern India point to the near absence of Pasmanda caste Muslims, not only in Muslim social and cultural organizations such as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, but also in government-funded minority institutions such as Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia. These institutions, they argue, are exclusively staffed by upper-caste Ashrafi Muslims from Syed, Pathan and Mughal Biradaris. Incidentally, the situation is no different in J&K, where almost all Muslim-religious charitable, social organizations are under the hegemonic control of the upper Kashmiri and Dogri / Pahari Muslims. No one in the Kashmir Valley can even imagine in the wildest imagination that a Wattal Muslim could ever be the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Can upper-caste Muslims in Kashmir ever accept a Wattal as prime minister of the Kashmir Valley, just as the residents of Uttar Pradesh accepted Mayawati, a Dalit, as prime minister of the UP? In the Kashmir Valley, the CM post was mostly occupied by upper-caste Muslim Kashmiri converts from the Kashmiri Brahmin community or belonged to the Syed Malla community. Kashmir had no CM, not even middle cast like Wani or Lone, so to think that Kashmiri Muslim society will ever elect and accept Wattal, a Kashmiri Dalit Muslim, as prime minister seems an impossible dream.
Pasmanda Muslim activists also point to the poor representation of the Pasmanda Muslims in the political fabric, who have remained a stranglehold for the upper caste Ashrafi Muslims, who make up only about 15 percent of the Indian Muslim population. In Jammu & Kashmir there has never been a member of the Muslim community of Pasmanda in the Lok Sabha; The Gujjar and Bakarwal parishes had few representatives in the congregation.
Pasmanda Muslim activism has grown up in North and West India in parallel with the growing social, cultural and political assertion of the Dalit and Hindu OBC. Accordingly, many Pasmanda-oriented social organizations have sprung up in various parts of India, including the All India Backward Muslim Morcha by Dr. Ejaz Ali, All India Pasmanda Mahaz from Ali Anwar in Bihar and the All India Muslim OBC Organization of Shabbir Ansari in Maharashtra. The Pasmanda movement in the rest of India was inspired by the reform movement and the political implementation of Dalit and OBC icons such as Jyotiba Phule, Periyar, Babasaheb Ambedkar, BP Mandal, Kanshi Ram, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav.
There is not yet a political organization in any Indian state run exclusively by the pasmanda-Muslim leadership, and most demands for political enforcement currently focus on giving the pasmanda-Muslim caste more representation within the existing political party structure.
In states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where pasmanda-Muslim activism is very high, a pasmanda-Muslim political party could emerge in the future. This is sure to create a ripple effect in Jammu and Kashmir, as the younger generation of Pasmanda caste Muslims in Kashmir are watching the growing pasmanda Muslim movement in the rest of India and are actively involved in issues of emancipation in their community. I am sure that the time is not far now when both the Kashmir Valley and the Jammu regions will see a parallel rise of a political class from the region’s vast Muslim Pasmanda community, especially from the severely marginalized and discriminated against Wattal community in Kashmir.
The author is Secretary General of the Popular Democratic Front. He fought against the DDC elections in the Beerwah constituency in the Budgam district of central Kashmir. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the point of view of this publication.
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