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Why PM Modi’s call for justice to Pasmanda Muslims will be taken seriously: Dr Faiyaz Ahmad Fayzie

Dr Faiyaz Ahmad Fayzie delivering a lecture at Dr Ambedkar International Centre, New Delhi, on the topic 'Uniform Civil Code from Pasmanda Perspective'.

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted the cause of Pasmanda Muslims, the issue has shot to limelight anew. Pasmanda, or backward, Muslims have been fighting for their rights ever since they organised to raise their voice. They believe that they form 90% of Indian Muslims, but Ashrafs (forward or elite) sections of the community dominate in every position of power in the country. Dr. Faiyaz Ahmad Fyzie, a strong proponent of Pasmanda cause, is assiduously articulating all the contours revolving around the debate on the topic. He recently delivered a lecture on ‘Uniform Civil Code from Pasmanda Perspective’ at Dr Ambedkar International Centre in New Delhi and favours the implementation of the UCC in India so that “social injustice” emanating from unjust Muslim personal laws may be done away with. He speaks to Mohammed Anas of India Narrative on Pasmanda problems and their solutions.


Q: What is the current state of Muslims of India in general as far as our national scene is concerned?

A: In general, the current state of Muslims right now is satisfactory. They are availing all those avenues that are available to them being in a democracy and they are moving ahead. Recently, in the success of Chandrayaan-3 landing on the moon, many Muslim scientists contributed as part of the ISRO team. Similarly, they are becoming engineers, doctors and civil servants. In comparison to countries where Muslims are in majority, Indian Muslims are better off and have registered their presence in every walk of life.


Q: How do you see Pasmanda Muslims in the larger picture of the community on one hand, and in the scheme of things happening on the national level on the other hand?

A: See, the state of Pasmanda Muslims improved only after the Indian Constitution came into being after independence and provided them rights. If you want to gauge the real state of Pasmanadas, please read the findings of the Sachar Committee report. You’ll come to know that they even lag behind backward sections of Hindu society. Pasmandas, as I said, saw shiny days only after gaining constitutional rights. However, even this is not a very commendable improvement, but it is definitely better than what prevailed during the reigns of medieval Muslim rulers. I call it the period of Ashraf rule and Pasmandas were in extremely poor condition then. Emperor Akbar, who is otherwise hailed as epitome of secularism, is said to have ordered, or someone in his court did so, that razeel (extremely backward) should not be allowed to study in educational institutions. Dr Masood Ahmad Falahi has written about this in his book Hindustan Mein Zaat Paat Aur Musalman. The firmaan (decree) was also issued to the effect that fishermen and butchers should be settled on the periphery of cities. Even during the Sultanat period, Pasmanadas were in a sorry state. Only Ghayasuddin Tughlaq and Muhammad Tughlaq accommodated them in the administration to some extent. But overall, they remained subjugated all through the Ashraf rule.

Now address the second part of the question” what is the scene on a national level? When a PM talks about social change in the Muslim society, it must be seen as a positive step. You know that social justice for Pasmanada Muslims, which means the equivalent of Hindu OBC, SC, ST, is at the lowest level. On the other hand, Hindus are moving fast towards attaining social justice in their community. In such a scenario, nothing can be more encouraging for Pasmandas that the PM of the country is talking about justice for them.


Q: The Pasmanada movements have their history in India. Very recently, there also have been many new fronts and activists demanding Pasmanda rights. But, it seems all of these movements stagnated at some point. If you agree, please elaborate why it has been so?

A: I don’t agree that the Pasmanda movement ever reached a stage of stagnation. This movement traces its history back to Baba Kabir (legendary folk poet Kabirdas). People have been fighting for the Pasmanda cause since his days. This movement doesn’t get much attention in our society as it is for the oppressed people who get people swayed towards them easily. Besides old organisations working for this cause, new ones have also sprouted recently. Shabbir Ansari has been working since 1979 and Dr Ejaz Ali began his efforts in 1990. Ali Anvar Saheb’s Pasmanda Muslim Mahaj that was formed in 1996 is well known now. Iqbal Painter Saheb has been working for denotified tribes in Maharashtra for the last 60 years. And now when the PM has injected a new life into it, it will naturally reverberate with additional force.

Q: On September 1, you delivered a lecture on “Uniform Civil Code from Pasmanada Perspective”. What is the Pasmanda perspective on UCC?

A: In the lecture that I delivered at Dr Ambedkar International Centre, I made it clear that Pasmanda Muslims are in favour of the Uniform Civil Code. If we have to define UCC simplistically, it will be “to implement the Constitution in family matters is UCC”. In absence of UCC, archaic Shariat laws are in practice and they are utterly discriminatory towards women, and even men. There are several things in the Shariat laws that contradict the original desi culture of Pasmanda people. For example, the provision to allow a man to have four wives at a time is contradictory to Pasmanda customs. No one will like that his sister should live with a husband with more than one wife. Similarly, as per Shariat law, only 1/4th of a father’s property can be inherited by daughters and the rest goes to his sons. According to our original culture, people don’t discriminate with daughters and leave full heritage to them. There are some things in Shariat that don’t even match with fundamental teachings of Islam that emphasise on masavaat (equality) like the principle of kufu (status) which means that marital bonds will be encouraged only among similar social, educational and economic status. This principle also gives priority to nasl (lineage). Another discriminatory Shariat law states that if the father of a son dies while his grandfather is alive, he will not inherit his father’s wealth. This directly contradicts Islamic assertion that an orphan has to be cared for as a special. All these ills of the Shariat laws will be remedied with introduction of the Uniform Civil Code.

Q: How do you think that Ashraf Muslims or organisations play their partisan part in speaking or deciding on behalf of all Muslims when there is no Constitutional role envisaged for them for such a privilege?

A: No doubt, there is no constitutional privilege for Ashraf Muslims to speak or act on behalf of the whole community. It’s an irony that in our country, such people by dint some nexus or nepotism have managed to carve places for themselves in powerful pressure groups like All India Muslim Personal Law Board or Muslim-oriented organisations like Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind. Such organizations have no representative of 90% Indian Muslims. The cure for this partisanship will be ensuring social justice, and that is that Pasmanda Muslims should be appointed to key organisational positions in the country. Even the government will have to stop entering into any dialogue with organisations of Ashraf Muslims. Ashraf Muslims have no official or moral authority to represent all Muslims.

Q: Why has there been no legal challenge from Pasmanada activists seeking ban on self-serving organisations like All India Muslim Personal Law Board? Or can there be any government remedy to render such outfits powerless or least active?

A: It’s a valid question that why the Pasmanda Muslims have taken Ashraf-led organizations to task? There are more than a dozen Pasmanada organisations in the country right now, but they are not united as a force. They are not effective enough to mould the national discourse. Now as the PM has stirred this discourse, it has gained new rigour. Pasmanada organisations on their own are not powerful enough to take legal recourse to address their problems. However, we individual activists are regularly asserting that Ashraf organisations have nothing to do with problems of Pasmanda Muslims and that we have our own voice. In this direction, we are educating people that Pasmanda Muslims have their viewpoint on UCC and that they are actually in favour of it.

Q: Are there only Muslims responsible for the plight of poor Muslims or Pasmanda Muslims, or other social sections equally responsible?

A: The backwardness of Pasmanda Muslims is entirely because of partially shown to them by Ashraf Muslims. We can’t say that any other social group played any part in it. As I said earlier, the state of Pasmanda only improved after formulation of the Constitution. Before that, they were in pitiable condition. The last Mughal ruler Bahadur Shah Zafar, though very weak, had ordered not to include razeel Muslims in the leading position of his army. Had Muslim ruling class been justice-inclined, we would be hearing a lot of conversations about social justice and removal of atrocities against Pasmanadas. Sadly, it’s not been so, while we see vibrant social justice movements among Hindus. Today, you see Ashraf institutions like Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University hardly have Pasmanda presence. This is crystal clear discrimination by Ashrafs against Pasmandas. If any Pasmanda reached any position of power like Maulana Mufti Abul Qasim Nomani became vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband, it’s entirely because of his individual abilities, not due to any backing. If you observe Pasmandas living in areas adjacent to Hindu community, they will appear better off and more educated as compared to those living in the vicinity of Ashraf Muslims. So, you can imagine that only the Ashrafs are responsible for the plight of the Pasmandas.

Q: In recent times, there seems to be some effort to push Pasmanda Muslims to take leadership roles. Also a party like BJP has openly announced to work for Pasmanda emancipation. Do you think it is promising and a step in the right direction?

A: While some BJP leaders have also from time to time spoken about this issue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has raised it continuously. It is no doubt a step in the right direction. When a person of the PM’s constitutional position will raise it, the community will obviously follow him. Now the mainstream media is debating it seriously and when an issue is talked about so rigorously, it is bound to see favourable results. The PM has raised the issue of Pasmanada through the prism of social justice. This is unlike other so-called secular parties that communalise social justice for their electoral benefit. The call of the PM will certainly have the following.