Dismantling Religious Barriers: The quest for scheduled caste status for Muslims in India

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By Khan Mohammad Obaida

Allama Iqbal in his famous Nazm “Shikwa” wrote ‘Ek hi saf mein khade ho gaye Mahmood-o-Ayaz, Na koi banda raha aur na koi banda-nawaz’

We are sure the Sultan prayed standing in the same row as his slave, but one wonders if Mahmud and his slave ever sat to have a meal on the same table.

Islam does not advocate caste or any other form of stratification, said Prophet Mohammad (Peace on him) in his last khutba, where he said “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a White has no superiority over a Black nor a Black has any superiority over a White except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslims is a brother to every Muslims and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood”.

The Prophet Mohammad (peace on him) also declared; “There are the two things which can lead people to infidelity, one is weeping loudly on the dead body and another one is to consider others as low on the basis of their birth (caste)”.

Qur’an chapter 49 sura Al-hujurat verse 13, plaints a picture that Caste is one of the most hateful things in the sight of God.

However, Islam does not make any stratification but the followers of Islam i.e .Muslims follow such practices. Indian Muslims are stratified into three main castes. At the top of the pyramid are the Ashrafs (literally, the ‘nobles’, who trace their ancestry to inhabitants of the Arab peninsula or Central Asia or are converts from Hindu upper castes), Ajlafs (literally, the ‘commoners’, who are said to be converted from Hindu low castes) and Arzals (literally, the ‘despicable’, who are said to be Dalit converts).

In short, Ashrafs are the Brahmin equivalent, Ajlafs are the Vaisya equivalent and Shudras, and Arzals are the Atishudras or Dalit equivalents of Islam. Between these, I do not solely blame Hinduism for stratification among Muslims; several other factors also have an influence on it.

One manifestation of casteism among contemporary Muslims is evident in marriage practices. Many Muslims family are adhere to strict endogamy, where they prefer to marry within their own caste or sub-caste. This practice perpetuates the social division within Muslims communities and reinforces the notion of caste – based hierarchy.

India Today published a report about Muzaffarpur, Bihar, where the road to the village was divided into two parts by building a wall. One side is dominated by upper-caste Shiekhs and the other by lower-caste Ansaris. Similarly, we can also see that the graveyards of Muslims are separate according to their caste. It is a matter of concern for us as Muslims that we kept Islam up to Masjid only.

Who are Pasmanda Muslim’s?

The term Pasmanda Muslim came into limelight when the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi used while addressing a rally in Hyderabad.
‘Pasmanda’, a Persian term meaning “those who have fallen behind” refers to Muslims belonging to the Shudra (backward) and anti-Shudra (Dalit) castes. It was adopted as an oppositional identity to that of the dominant Ashraf Muslims (forward castes) in 1998 by the Pasmanda Muslims Mahaz, a group which mainly worked in Bihar.

Pasmandas encompass those who are socially, educationally and economically backward comprising of 85% of the total Indian Muslims population. Within the Muslim population in India, the Pasmandas are the group with the least political representation. The reports of the Sachar Committee and the Ranganath Mishra Committee have shown a number of injustices and forms of discrimination that the typical Muslim Ajlaf or Arzal must deal with on a daily basis. These include social segregation, untouchability, restricted or nonexistent access to education, and under representation. These communities include: Kunjre (Raeen), Julahe (Ansari), Dhunia (Mansuri), Kasai, (Qureishi), Fakir (Alvi), Hajjam (Salmani), Mehtar (Halalkhor), Gwala (Ghosi), Dhobi, (Hawari), Lohar-Badhai (Saifi), Manihar (Siddiqui), Darzi (Idrisi), Vangujjar, etc .


The 1950 Order, in its Paragraph 3, expressly sets out, “Notwithstanding anything contained in paragraph 2, no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu [the Sikh or the Buddhist] religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.”

This essentially means that barring Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, no person practicing any other religion can claim to be a ‘scheduled caste’ and consequently, the benefits thereof.

Impoverished people are deprived of Scheduled Caste privileges because of this religious ban on Christians, and Muslims of Scheduled Caste origin and converts. The ban concerning Christians and Muslims is unconstitutional and violative of the rights to equality, discrimination and religious freedom.

If all religions have equality in the Indian Constitution, why do some not qualify protection which has empowered the most marginalized persons in our country?
Several, petition has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking a declaration that ‘religion’ should not be used as a criterion to grant Scheduled Caste status. The matter is still pending before supreme court.

Article 341 of Indian constitution “The President may, with respect to any State [or Union territory], and where it is a State after consultation with the Governor thereof, by public notification, specify the castes, races or tribes or parts of or groups within castes, races or tribes which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled Castes in relation to that State [or Union territory, as the case may be]”
Dalit Muslims, used to get status of Schedule caste from 1936 to 1950, it was a Congress government which withdraw the status from them in 1950 without any rational justification.

There must be move from state as well as center government, to include some Muslim caste in a schedule caste as it had done previously in the case of Buddhist and Sikhs. As Muslims are socially, politically and economically backward, which is mentioned by Mandal commission, Ranganath Mishra commission, and Sachar committee.

Politically Backwardness of Pasmanda Muslims

Several Commission recommend that Pasmanda Muslims are political backward. As per one analysis, 7,500 elected representatives from the first to the fourteenth Lok Sabha, 400 were Muslims — of which 340 were from Ashraf (upper caste) community. Only 60 Muslims from the Pasmanda background have been elected in fourteen Lok Sabhas. As per 2011 Census, Muslims constitute about 14.2 per cent of India’s population. This means that Ashrafs would have a 2.1 per cent share in the country’s population. But their representation in the Lok Sabha was around 4.5 per cent. On the other hand, Pasmandas’ share in the population was around 11.4 per cent and still they had a mere 0.8 per cent representation in Parliament.

As per 17th Lok Sabha, out of 545 members only 27 are Muslims. The representation of Muslims comprises in India are only 4.7% while there, population is 14.2% according to 2011 census.

The attacks on Muslims by Hindu mobs, on the pretext of cow protection, have served to highlight the plight of the Pasmanda Muslims and distinguish them from the upper-caste Muslims. Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri; the meat trader Quasim Qureshi in Hapur, Uttar Pradesh; and Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand most of the victims of the attacks have been Pasmanda Muslims. Similarly, the victims of the pogroms against the Muslim community have also been Pasmanda Muslims. The communal violence of Muzaffarnagar in 2013: Though Muslims of all classes were attacked, it was the Pasmanda Muslims that became the prime victims as they were more vulnerable than the middle castes or the Ashraf Muslims.”

Educationally Backwardness of Pasmanda Muslims

The 2011 Census mentioned that the literacy rate among Muslims stood at 68.54 per cent — lower than that of other minority groups such as Christians, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists. Despite comprising 14 per cent of India’s population, only 4.6 per cent of Muslim students are enrolled in higher education institute.

According to the Mandal Commission report, a policy of 27% reservation was started for the OBCs, but this hardly makes any substantial, qualitative difference in the lives of the Pasmamdas. Presently, there are over 40 Pasmanda communities in Bihar, Bengal, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, for generation their condition has not improved.

The Ranganath Misra Commission (NCRLM) made the following important recommendations:

1. At least 15 percent of seats in all nonminority educational institutions should be earmarked by law for the minorities, as with 10 percent for the Muslims and the remaining 5 percent for the other minorities.

2. 15 percent of the share will be earmarked for minorities, with a break-up of 10 percent for Muslims in all government schemes like the Rural Employment Generation Program, the Prime Ministers Rozgar Yojna, Grameen Rozgar Yojna, etc.

3. 15 percent of posts in all cadres and grades under the Central and State Governments should be earmarked for minorities, with a break-up of 10 percent for Muslims.

The Commission through an amendment, was entrusted with an additional term of reference with regards to the Scheduled Caste status, and the Commission made the following recommendation: “we recommend that Para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 – which originally restricted the Scheduled Caste net to the Hindus and later opened it to Sikhs and Buddhists, thus still excluding from its purview the Muslims, Christians, and Parsis, etc., be wholly deleted by appropriate action so as to completely de-link the Scheduled Caste status from religion and make the Scheduled Castes net fully religion-neutral like that of the Scheduled Tribes.

The Sachar committee also held in his report that Indian Muslims are socially, economically and political backward.

The presence of Muslims found to be only 3% in the IAS, in the IFS 1.8% and in IPS 4%. Not only in legislative, executive but Judiciary has been also the point of concern for Muslims .

The dropout rates among Muslims are highest in India which comprises 23.1 percent while the national average is 18.96 percent. There is a nexus between economic and education, the study found that an average amount required to be spent on elementary education on per student is 2600, while Muslim spend less than 500 rupees.

The condition of Muslims in the government offices is poorer than that of SCs/ST. Most of the Muslims are leading small business without any support. Ranganath Mishra report said only 12 % of Muslims are account holders in the Scheduled commercial Banks (SCBs) while, there population is 14.2%. while in comparison of other communities they are 8% ahead of their population.

The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 is discriminatory and violative of Articles 14 (equality before law) and Article 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, etc) Article 16 (Discrimination in employment), Article 25 (violation of freedom of religion) of the Indian Constitution as it discriminates against Scheduled Caste converts to religions other than Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism.

However, in the politics the debate over Pasmanda Muslims is now became center core where Prime Minister mentioned the problem of education and backwardness of Muslims in every rally just for vote in upcoming election but take no action to give them their rights. Hence, lower caste Muslims condition deteriorated since independence as a result of which they are deprived of their fundamental rights. The government must amend the order 1950 of the constitution (scheduled caste) and restore their fundamental rights which existed till 1950.

The government has appointed a Justice Balakrishna Committee for reconsideration of whether any new caste can be added to SC other than Hindus (including Buddhists and Sikhs). If the committee recommends the inclusion of any community in SC status, the first one to be Muslim, as there are the most deprived classes today in India.
Christianity and Islam are only 2,000 years and 600 years old respectively in India. …But caste is in practice for more than 3,000 years and no ethnic community is freed from this obnoxious reality. Religions – whether it is Christianity, or Islam, or Sikhism or Buddhism – don’t have the essence to eliminate caste or untouchability which is the base for gaining this SC status.


The Abrahamic religion (Islam) does not advocate casteism or any other form of stratification; the best example can be seen when Allah ordered the angles and jinns to bow down in front of Adam; all the angles obeyed him; it was the Iblis who said that I am created by fire and he is created from clay (I am superior to him). The nature of fire is to go up, and the nature of clay is to go down. This was the argument of Satan. Allah didn’t like his caste-based argument and banished him from paradise. The general practices are far from reality in the context of India.

Moving towards legal argument, there are arguments in favor of extending SC status to Muslims and other deprived communities. considering the socio-economic conditions of many Muslims in India, particularly in certain regions. Muslims like any other community, can face social and economic disadvantages, and providing them with affirmative action measures can help address these inequalities.
The Ranganatha Mishra Committee and Sachar Committee found in their report that Muslims are socially, educationally, and politically backward. The exploitation and denial of their rights started since independence, which exists to date.

The Order 1950 of the Indian Constitution is unconstitutional, and it must be amended in light of the fact that it includes Muslims, Christians, Parsis, etc. in a scheduled caste.

While the Indian Constitution upholds equality for all religions, the application of this principle can be complex. Some marginalized communities, like the Pasmanda Muslims, face historical and social disadvantages that hinder their access to the benefits of protection. Caste-based discrimination within the Muslim community exacerbates their vulnerability. To ensure true empowerment, it is imperative to address these internal disparities and ensure that constitutional protections extend to all, irrespective of their religious or caste identity.

The caste system should be recognised as a general social characteristic of the Indian society as a whole, without questioning the philosophy and teachings of any particular religion recognise it or not.


Khan Mohammad Obaida is perusing law from Aligarh Muslim University.

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