Hypocrisy of upper caste Muslims lending support to Dalits in Gujarat

Nadim Asrar
Nadim AsrarAug 16, 2016 | 15:30

Hypocrisy of upper caste Muslims lending support to Dalits in Gujarat

A long time ago, when I was may be seven or eight, I left home to go join the baraat of my Hindu tutor who was marrying in another district, which was about four hours away.

As I walked to his house in the next village, a group of my friends asked me where I was headed.

When they came to know about the wedding of my "tuition sir", one of them dissuaded me by saying that baraat will be held back for at least three days, and I will not be home before the end of the week.


Unsure if I wanted to be away that long - I was not carrying enough clothes either - I was suddenly excited by an offer they made now: "join us for another baraat leaving shortly".

Turned out, this baraat in my village was of the people from the "kunjda" (vegetable sellers) community, who lived in a large cluster on one side of our small village.

Thousands march to Una on 70th Independence Day for the cause of Dalit sangharsh. (PTI)

As I reached a long line of Commander Jeeps ready to ferry the decked-up baraatis, I was greeted by welcoming and curious glances.

An elderly man from among the revellers came forward to greet me and offered me a seat in the front row of one of the jeeps, a rare honour for a seven-year-old. I made my way in and was relieved that this baraat will return to the village the next afternoon.

As I made myself comfortable in that front seat of the jeep, which was still being filled with other baraatis, I saw my father scanning every jeep from the front.

Somebody saw him doing so and informed him of my presence in the fourth jeep from the front.

He came to me and asked, in a terse tone, what I was doing there. "Joining this baraat," I said.


"But weren't you going to Madan sir's wedding?" he asked.

"But I was told that the baraat will take three days to return," I murmured.

"Get down at once," he commanded. "Do you even realise what you are doing?"

Terrified, I made my way towards our house, my father walking a few brisk paces behind, his cold stare following me.

He came home, and in front of my mother and everybody else, reprimanded me for missing Madan sir's wedding, and instead, joining a "baraat" of the lower-caste kunjdas: an unforgivable violation of caste behaviour among ashraf Muslims.

When this incident took my place, my father, still known as "netaji" in the area, was a powerful labour union leader, and a member of the Communist Party of India.

This was in the 1980s when my district Begusarai was known as the "Leningrad of Bihar".

Forget the others, Manu has not left even the Indian Marxism yet.

I am reminded of this little anecdote from my life because I am still gushing over the images from the massive Dalit protest rally held in Gujarat's Una on India's 70th Independence Day.


It was at Una a month ago that a group of Dalits was brutally assaulted by self-styled gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes) for skinning a dead cow.

Una, therefore, in the realigned politics of post-Modi India, has turned into an epicentre of anti-Brahmanical assertion, which, ahead of the Gujarat Assembly elections in 2017, threatens to unseat the BJP's two-decade old run in the state which was and remains Project Hindutva's first ever laboratory (Haryana is working on beating Maharashtra to the second spot).

Attended by Rohith Vemula's mother - who hoisted the national flag shortly after Modi did at Red Fort - among others, the rally saw a significant presence of Gujarat's Muslims and Muslim organisations, who have not found a political voice since the 2002 pogrom "presided over" by our current prime minister.

"Dalit-Muslim Ekta Zindabad," shouted Una Dalit Atachiyar Ladat Samiti (ULS) convenor Jignesh Mevani, joined by Radhika Vemula, JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar (also from Begusarai), Anand Patwardhan, and others who joined in solidarity.

While solidarity with Dalits may be the most profound political statement Indian Muslims can make as they encounter Hindutva, the question that upper-caste Muslims must answer is: do they really have the legitimacy to join a progressive Dalit movement which has, on a revolutionary note, pledged never to skin a dead cow or clear human filth?

In other words, in taking a massive political leap towards a larger Hindu-Dalit formation, are Muslims also willing to take a leap of faith and work towards abolishing casteism among them?

Muslim politics, like most mainstream politics in India, is dominated by upper-caste ashrafs. It has also been argued, with considerable success, that dominant political groups - BJP, RSS, Congress, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat - exploit religion to sustain their class interests.

In other words, by polarising the political discourse, as a clash between secularism and communalism, these groups are only trying to evade the question of caste and the system of exploitation and discrimination it creates.

The elephant in the Indian political war room remains invisible. Whether or not Una marks a radical beginning as far as casteism among Muslims is concerned, it remains to be seen. It will, however, be naïve to expect a major shift.

For an ashraf Muslim to be a baraati in a "kunjda" wedding will remain an anathema.

Unless that long-due marriage happens, strategic political alignments will only be hypocritical.

Last updated: August 17, 2016 | 12:12
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