Quota chorus for Dalit Muslims - Demand likely to run into wall, scheduled caste order could come in the way

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  • Published 14.11.06

New Delhi, Nov. 14: With the Uttar Pradesh elections around the corner, Muslim MPs and community leaders are building up a case to include Dalit Muslims in the scheduled caste/scheduled tribe category.

Their argument: if Dalit Sikhs and neo-Buddhist converts can get reservation and other rights given to SC/STs, why should Muslims be kept out of the loop?

The Congress is non-committal, but senior party ministers like A.R. Antulay and Saifuddin Soz support the argument in their “individual” capacities.

Organisations like the Jamait Ulema-e-Hind, Jamait Islamia-e-Hind, Muslim Mushawarat and the Milli Council — which steered clear of taking up the reservation issue so far — have jumped onto the bandwagon.

S.Q.R. Iliyas, a member of the central executive committee of the Jamait-e-Islamia and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said informal discussions were on between community leaders. The talks, he added, are expected to culminate in a formal, structured resolution to be passed by a “pressure group”.

Ali Anwar, a Rajya Sabha MP of the Janata Dal (United) and founder of Bihar’s Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz (Marginalised Muslim Front), said he was networking with Muslim members across the political spectrum to raise the issue in Parliament’s winter session.

The main hurdle to absorbing Muslims and Christians in the SC/ST fold is a presidential order, known as the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) order of 1950.

Article 341 of the Constitution requires the President to specify in each state and Union territory the castes, tribes and sub-castes “affected by the disabilities and traditional problems of untouchability”.

While paragraphs one and two enumerate the castes without any religious basis, paragraph three says “no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu religion shall be deemed to be a member of a scheduled caste”.

The order was amended in 1956 and 1990 to incorporate Sikhs and neo-Buddhists into the Dalit fold.

An amendment to include Muslims and Christians was rejected in 2000 by the erstwhile NDA regime, which argued that it was a ploy to “divide” these religions. A PIL was subsequently filed in the Supreme Court to which the Centre has not replied so far.

Asked if the problem could be circumvented by classifying Dalit Muslims with the other backward classes — the OBC list names several Muslim castes — Imtiaz Ahmad, a former sociology professor at JNU, said there were Muslim castes on society’s margins that married within their group and lived in separate hamlets.