AARTHI RAMACHANDRAN, TIMES NEWS NETWORK FEBRUARY 11, 2007
NEW DELHI: The Muslim reservation debate is picking up with just days to go for the Budget session of Parliament to begin. Justice Rajinder Sachar’s report on the socio-economic conditions of Muslims is setting the tone for most discussions, with the spotlight inevitably on his suggestions for a separate ‘most backward classes’ (MBC) quota within OBCs and on ‘Dalit’ Muslims as a SC quota category.
It, however, is not a part of the Committee’s recommendations which deal with other affirmative action measures. On Saturday alone the Capital saw two different groups discussing the findings of the Sachar committee report.
The first was a rain-drenched but spirited gathering of over 30 backward or ‘Pasmanda’ Muslim groups demonstrating to claim a share in the reservation pie and the other a seminar on the social, economic and educational implications of the Sachar report on Muslim women.
The voices from both platforms pressed for the early implementation of Sachar committee’s suggestions and recommendations. The All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz and over 30 other OBC organizations demanded the implementation of the Sachar committee’s report in full.
The gathering of about 500 people had a significant representation from backward Muslims engaged in occupations equivalent to that of Hindu SCs. Many of these communities or ‘biradaris’ such as Halal Khor, Bhangi, Mehtar (sweeper) and others form the lowest rung of the Muslim class structure — known as Arzal — and those in this category are converts to Islam from among Hindu untouchables. With the constitution making no provision for religion-based reservations, these Muslims have been kept out of SC quota net along with Christian converts from Hindu Dalits.
Two major demands emanated from the ‘Mahapanchayat’ convened by the ‘Pasmanda’ Muslims — the government should undertake a categorisation of OBC for reservation and other developmental purposes after which the most marginalised Muslims should be separated as sub-category and given the same benefits as SCs.
The sub-category formula was suggested as a stop-gap measure until the constitution is amended to provide for a Dalit Muslim category. The second demand was that the entire Muslim community should not be classified as ‘backward’, as some quarters have demanded, to prevent the affluent from cornering all the benefits of reservation. The group, led by Rajya Sabha MP Anwar Ali, have submitted a memorandum listing their demands to Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
The other discussion at the seminar on the Sachar committee’s findings saw plea for Muslim women’s interests to be given its due place while implementing the recommendations of the report. However, it is not just community groups and civil society activist who are pressuring the Congress-led UPA to implement Muslim reservations.
UPA allies such as the LJP have backed the Sachar implementation demand and NCP leader Tariq Anwar recently that the Sachar committee’s findings were “all facts”. However, with the polemics of the reservation debate centered around the OBC versus Dalit reservation question, most leaders have taken to supporting the ‘Muslim’ quota cause in abstract.