Pasmanda Muslims: The voice unheard!

By Sharique N Siddiquie | Last Updated: Feb 21, 2008, 00:00 AM IST

Yusuf Ansari

The mirage of reservation is still eluding the most backward caste of Muslim community, Pasmanda Muslims. Whenever the issue is raised, a new controversy crops up, and this time the difference of opinion was witnessed even among the Congress ministers of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

The fracas over reservation came to the fore when Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil in the annual meeting of state Minority Commissions, said the government is seriously considering to give reservation to minorities and the process is under discussion.

However, immediately after the meeting, Union Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh stated that the government is not considering any reservation based on religion. The difference of opinion on such a sensitive matter between two Central ministers was a major setback for Muslims who were putting their hopes on this ‘secular’ government.

The internal tussle in the UPA was exposed further, when Minority Affairs Minister AR Antule favoured the reservation for minorities, while Social Welfare Minister Mira Kumar strictly opposed it.

On December 25, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi in a press conference had stated that government was not considering any matter related to granting SC status to minorities. The government will not act until there is a consensus on this issue, he said, and remained silent when asked whether Congress will approach various political parties to try to evolve a consensus.

Prior to it, the Centre had asked for eight weeks time to reply to the Supreme Court notice over this issue. When asked, Singhvi coldly stated the issue has not been solved for last sixty years, so how can it be solved in eight weeks.

It seems the Congress lacks political will, therefore, it is trying to evade this matter citing lack of consensus. While almost all the UPA constituents, including RJD, LJP, DMK and NCP, are in favour for it. CPM general secretary Prakash Karat and BSP chief Mayawati had already written to the government in this regard.

Samajwadi Party, TDP, AIADMK, Akali Dal and JD(U) have also favoured reservation for minorities, except BJP and Shiv Sena. It shows the Congress is not serious about the issue, while majority of others appears to have consensus over it.

Stating that it is unethical to discriminate reservations on religion lines, Justice Sachchar Committee went a step ahead and said that discriminating Christian and Muslim backwards in reservation is an open disregard to Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution. It recommended that if necessary the government should amend the Constitution to facilitate this provision.

In March 2007, Dalit Christians filed a petition in Supreme Court asking for Scheduled Caste status for them and also for Pasmanda Muslims. When SC questioned the government stand, Justice Ranganath Commission was constituted. The commission in its report recommended SC status for Dalit Muslims and Christians. The government also sought the opinion of the Scheduled Caste Commission, which also recommended the same.

In 1996, just before the Lok Sabha elections the then Prime Minister PV Narsimha Rao had tried to put forth a bill to giving SC status to Dalit Christians but then Lok Sabha Speaker Shivraj Patil reportedly scuttled it. When the government tried to push it through an ordinance, BJP strongly opposed it and even wrote a letter to the then President SD Sharma urging him not to sign on it.

The Congress government then declared in its manifesto that it would grant SC status to Dalit Christians. But when it came to power, it simply forgot its promise. It appears that the Congress is scared of the fallout as the general elections are fast approaching.

Since Dalit Muslims and Christians are not entitled to SC reservation, they are deprived of the opportunity to contest elections in over 1000 assembly and 79 Lok Sabha constituencies. When Dalit Sikhs have been given reservation by amending the Constitution in 1956 and Buddhists in 1990, why is the government delaying the matter when it comes to Muslim and Christians?

Adapted by: Sharique N Siddiquie