"We will fight, we will achieve it because it is beneficial to the society, to the country," former Rajya Sabha member Ejaz Ali, who is fighting for the Scheduled Caste status for Dalit Muslims for the last 25 years, told The Quint.
Ali founded Backward Muslim Morcha, later renamed as United Muslim Morcha and now called All-India Backward Muslim Morcha, in 1994 to bring various marginalised caste groups on a single platform.
Ali is a doctor by training and has been practising medicine in Patna since the 1980s. He charges minimal fees so that even the poorest of the poor can afford to visit his clinic.
"I am a doctor by profession, I work with the poor. I saw their condition first-hand. I realised that Article 341 was one way to help them," he said.
Constitution Order 1950 – Bone of Contention
Article 341 empowers Parliament (through president) to specify which communities will be a part of the Scheduled Castes list. However, the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, currently allows only individuals who profess to be Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist to be categorised as SC.
The Union government recently defended this provision in the Supreme Court in an affidavit, claiming that since Christianity and Islam are egalitarian religions in their outlook, there is no caste discrimination among Christians and Muslims.
The Supreme Court has been hearing a batch of petitions filed by individuals and organisations demanding SC status for Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims. Ali's petition is one of them, which he had filed in 2020.
"There is a large population – Nat, Bakkho, Halalkhor, Mehtar, Bhangi, Bhant, Bhatiyara, Mochi, Pasi, Khatik, Julaha, Malabari Muslims in Kerala, Labbai, Rowthers, Marakkars in Tamil Nadu, Dudekula in Andhra Pradesh – all of these were thrown out of the SC list after the 1950 presidential order, because of which these communities are away from the mainstream," Ali told The Quint.
Ali further stressed that there needs to be a shift from communal politics to "common politics."
"My demand is that these [Dalit Muslim] communities should get SC status so that they become a part of the mainstream. And the communal politics should end, common politics should begin. Common politics is what? Inflation should be ended, unemployment should be ended, corruption should be ended. Droughts, floods… People should fight on these issues."– Ejaz Ali
People Would Sneer at the Term Dalit Muslims: Ali
The Bharatiya Janata Party government at the centre has also formed a three-member commission, under the chairpersonship of former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan, to look into the demand of the Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims for the SC status. The commission is supposed to submit its report within two years.
Ali appreciated the government's decision saying, "It is something to be happy about that after 70-75 years, in the name of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims, at least a commission has been set up."
"Until recently, people would sneer at the words Dalit Muslims, Dalit Christians saying what is this new thing? Everyone would say there is no caste (in Islam and Christianity), no untouchability, stop all this talk," he further stated.
Ali also tried to quell the anxieties around conversion. "If the government feels that after giving SC status, Dalits will be attracted to conversion, then they can ban conversion completely," he said.
"Our fight has nothing to do with conversion. We are indigenous Muslims. We are Dalits for sure but we are not [recently] converted. You can walk around in our localities and see our condition. You yourself will feel these communities should get their right [of SC status]. And if you feel this will encourage conversion, then ban conversion completely in the whole country. We don’t need it."– Ejaz Ali
A Movement Now
Ali said that his organisation has a single-issue focus – gaining SC status for Dalit Muslims. Even though he began his activism in Bihar, his organisation has spread its network across the country, holding big rallies in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and elsewhere.
Ali informed that various Dalit castes among Muslims, such as Nat, Halalkhor, Bhangi, Mehtar, have established their own organisations now and are fighting for this issue.
"Ejaz Ali introduced the term Dalit Muslim in the political dictionary, which has now become a movement," he averred.