By Masood Alam Falahi
[Excerpts from the paper presented by Masood Alam Falahi in Columbia University, New York for “Caste and Contemporary India” conference on 17th Oct. 2009]
Published on the Pasmanda Muslim Forum here
Prior to independence of India, it was common that low caste Muslims were not allowed to cook good foods and even not allowed to choose good names for their children.
Presently there are three major categories among Indian Muslims, (1) Asharaf (2) Ajlaf (3) Arzal. Among these categories there are many sub-castes and in every category there are low castes and upper castes like Hindu caste system.
* Some 25 years ago there was a sufi “Shah Masood” (pupil of famous sufi Shaikh Abdul Qadir Raipuria) in a village Behat of district Saharanpur. He never allowed low caste Muslims to make Pakka (with cement and brick) house in his village.
* In “ Atki” , “ Hind Paddi” villages of district Ranchi in Jharkhand, the Arzal Muslims used to eat in a separate line in marriage ceremony. The same condition is in Barabanki of U.P state . One of my casteist teacher narrated the same story of his village of Azamgarh district, UP.
* Dr. Azmat Siddiqi from Centre for Women Studies of Jmaia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, told in her speech that in her village “phoolpur” of Allahabd, U.P, ashraf don’t eat food from sweeper / halalkhor community. She was against casteism and once she ate with them. Her cousins boycotted her as she ate with Halalkhor community.
* Professor Imtiaz Ahmad told me the following incident in a meeting, even he writes it in one of his articles:
“We had a Lalbegi woman come to clean the toilets in our house. She was on the best of terms with my mother and would sit for hours together gossiping with my mother. Whenever my mother would offer her pan, she would wrap her hand with her dupatta to receive it. My mother used to drop the pan in her hand, making sure that her hand did not touch the Lalbegi woman’s hand. On occasions of marriage the family would come and sit in a corner and wait until all guests had eaten and left. It would then be given food in vessels they brought with them. They did not eat the food there, but instead took it with them to be eaten at home. On sacrificial eid the family was not given any portion of the meat. It was given the intestines which were kept aside for them. It is possible that some of these forms of discrimination have changed, but there is no evidence to show that they have disappeared.
Some evidence exists to show that there is discrimination against these Muslim castes in the religious spheres. I found during fieldwork in eastern Uttar Pradesh that members of these castes did not go to the mosque for prayers and if they went they had to stand in the back rows. It has been mentioned by many observers that such groups often have their own mosques. N. Jamal Ansari notes that ‘in certain areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar there are separate mosques and burial grounds’ for these castes (Paper presented at the seminar on Dalit Muslims organized by Deshkal Society, New Delhi, 2004). Establishment of own mosque would call for a level of prosperity for the groups as a whole. Whether they have attained such levels of prosperity is something on which very little information exists.”
* Once I visted Nakhas Mohallah (street) of Lucknow on 30th of September 2009. This is a Muslim area. I saw a small mosque with a small madrasa, written on the mosque “Masjid-e-Rayeen” ( Mosque of vegetable sellers). In front of this mosque there is an Imam barah of Imam Baqir, belongs to Shait sect of Muslim. This small masques shows that there is discrimination against the vegetable seller caste, so they made the separate mosque.
* Dr. Ghauth Ansari writes same cases of caste based discrimination in U.P. He also adds that even ‘low’ caste Muslims are not allowed to pray in the mosque some time. They pray out side the mosque.
* The former editor of “Qawmi Morcha” Daily (National Front, Urdu News Paper) (Banaras) Mr. Tajuddin Ash’ar Ram Nagri wrote a letter to me after reading my book. He wrote that before independence of India, Muslim sweepers were not allowed to enter into the mosque in Banaras, U.P.
* In “ Desna” village of Nalanda, low castes are not allowed to sit in the first row of the mosque. Even low caste like Ansari and kalal castes do not allow Pamariya caste to sit in the first row while offering Namaz in the “Pandara” village of Lohar Dagga district.
* In “Ouchwa” the village of Gorakhpur, Upper castes wash the mosque in case somebody from low caste Muslim enters into the mosque.
* The famous news paper “Tehelka” New Delhi reports in its issue dated 18 Nov.2006 AD:
“In Bihar, the Bakkho sub-caste- formally a nomadic tribe- is held by other Muslims to be untouchables despite Islam categorically forbidding any such division… when someone in an upper caste family dies; we go to his house to condole, like we would go to any other Muslim home. But when someone from our caste dies, the upper castes people never come for the same.”
* In Rampur Bariya village of Champaran District of Bihar, a low caste groom was insulted and beaten up by upper caste Muslims because he was sitting on horse. In the same village upper caste Muslims broke the mosque built by low caste Muslims. They also burnt their houses.
* In my village there is only one graveyard and every caste has specific place for burial purpose. I don’t know the exact reason. But there are various reports that upper castes Muslims don’t allow low caste Muslims to bury dead bodies in the common graveyard for community. This is the reason low caste Muslims have separate graveyards.
* In “ Mohabbat Pur” village of Vaishali District in Bihar, Jugal Khalifa died. His dead body was not allowed by Shaikh caste to be buried in the common graveyard as he was a Nat, a low caste Muslim. Police took action and arrested many of upper caste members then only his dead body got buried.
* This is not enough, even in some places the low caste Muslims are not considered as Muslims by upper caste people. I have seen in my district Sitamarhi, Bihar, Shaikh castes consider them only as Muslim and others as non muslims. They use the term “we Muslims” for themselves and for others ‘low castes’ and used to call them with bad names like Julaha, Dhuniya, Kujda, Kasai, Nai etc.
* In some places Upper caste Muslims are taking “badhuwa Mazdoori” (work without pay) by low caste Muslims. Sometimes they have abused their women. They are destroying their houses etc.
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