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
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
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