Dr Azra Khanam -Muslim Backward Classes

Dr. Azra Khanam - Muslim Backward  Classes - Live Encounters  Magazine July 2014

Article in PDF (Download)

Muslim Backward Classes – A Sociological Perspective – by Dr. Azra Khanam, Teacher & Researcher, Dr K. R. Narayanan Centre for Dalit and Minorities Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi. Published by Sage Publications

My book is a humble attempt to understand the sociological perspectives on Muslim OBCs as every complex society has individuals who are backward and have low position in the status of hierarchy, the backwardness, as understood in the Indian context, has a number of distinctive features. Here, backwardness is viewed as an attribute not of individual but of certain clearly-defined social segments the membership is generally acquired by birth and which entitles to that social segments certain advantages and concessions specially conferred by the government.

The other backward classes constitute a category of people who are for the most part officially listed in a variety of context. The distinctive problems of the backward classes derive from their status ascribed to them by traditional Indian society and by the subsequent forces of history which are in any ways unique to Indian society. Muslim constitutes the second largest religious minority community in India. Census million.

After sixty years of independence and positive economic growth, it has been proved by various reports that Muslim community is lagging behind in a number of development indicators as compared to other religious communities including Hindus Christians and Sikhs. Muslims are the followers of Islam and the Islamic ideology espoused the principle of egalitarianism and suggests the equality of all believers. But despite a mark egalitarian pronouncement of Islam some sort of hierarchical norms emerged among the Muslims due to group distinction as adapted to regional situations.

Indian society is divided on the basis of caste which has been an organizing principle of Hindu social order. Though its rigidity and contours changed greatly through the different historical periods and empirical studies which initially took the form of decennial census adduced considerable evidences that castes (or caste like groupings, which is a much later categorization) existed among Muslims and could be identified through a hierarchy of status orders that has several significant attributes: source of descent so that those claiming to be the descendants of the Prophet or one of his Companions enjoyed precedence over local converts and association with an occupation leading to each caste confining marriages to its members.

Using evidences form decennial censuses, Gaus Ansari has argued that Muslims in India are divided in to three broad categories and further these categories are divided in to number of groups for which he chose to designate as castes.

Justice Sawant clearly expressed his point of view in the famous nine judges Constitution Bench Indira Sahni versus Union of India landmark, judgment, 474. As far as Islam is concerned, Islam also does not recognize caste or stratification; however, among the Muslims in fact there are Ashraf and Ajlaf i.e. high born or low born.

The census report 1901 also shows that The Mohammedan themselves recognize two main social stratas- Ashraf and Ajlaf. Ashraf means noble and includes all undoubted descendants of foreigners and converts from high group and all convert from lower rank are known by the contemptuous term Ajlaf, wretches or mean people, they are also called Itar, base as Rasil’, a corruption of Rizals, ‘worthless’. The encyclopedia Americana and (International Edition) and encyclopedia Britanica also describe this division among the Muslims community: Ignoring the caste based categories means one is not recognizing already established and acknowledged empirical ground reality. The situation is here baffling.

The very existence of caste based division questions that where did these words Ashraf, ajlaf, and arzal come from? Terms like kamtar (inferior), kameen or razeel are socially constructed. Therefore the division on the basis of caste and stratification in Muslim community is a result of their pre-conversion customs and a tradition, which is, socially constructed reality with long historical orientations.

The OBCs are legal constitutional category that has been striving to obtain acceptance of the identity of an independent social category in the post-independence period. The term itself was not used in the Indian constitution until the amendment of Article 338 where it comes to be used for the first time. Until then, even legal-constitutional designation-wise, the OBCs had only a status either as a part of “Weaker Section” (Article 46) or socially, and educationally backward classes [SEBCs: Article 15 (4)] or backward Classes of citizens [BCCs: Article16 (4)]. Also the inferior status accorded to them is visible in the nature of provisions made for the other two clearly defined BC categories of SC/STs. All the provisions in the later case are mandatory. In case of OBCs, all the provisions have been left to the discretion and convenience of the government of the day at central and state levels.

In India, Backward Classes is closed status groups and is a more nebulous category. They are mentioned in the constitution only in most general terms. Muslim groups currently bracketed under the category of OBC come essentially from the non-ashraf section of the Muslim population they are the converts from the middle or the lower castes Hindus and are identified with their traditional occupation. India has a constitutional commitment under Article 249, that is, to adopt a special treatment policy for the Backward Classes in order to bring them on par with the rest of the population. Such reverse discrimination is, of course important for social, economic, and political mobility for the backward classes.

Since independence India has achieved significant growth and development. But all religious communities and social groups (henceforth socio-religious communities-SRCs) have not shared equally the benefits of growth process. Among these, the Muslim community is the largest minority community which is seriously lagging behind in terms of the most of the human development indicators. When we discuss the overall condition of minorities in India we find that a problem of group representation is particularly miserable. The book ‘Muslim Backward Classes: A Sociological Perspective’ is a humble attempt to explore and analyze the social profile of Muslim backward classed and it tries to understand sociological dimensions among Muslim Backward Classes in Pihani Block District Hardoi.

This book not only depicts the socio-cultural economic and educational status of Muslim backward classes but also analyze the status of Muslim Backward classes in national and international contexts. The present book tries to define a community not only in term of their religion but also in terms of their social status though identified on the basis of religion but analysed in terms of their social status. Therefore, it encapsulates the overall representation of Muslims in general and Muslim Backward Classes in particular.

This piece of research reflects on certain important point some points are as follows:

1- It is quit misleading to place the theoretical formulations in understanding the community only on the basis of religious precepts and not the social practices, and therefore, placing community as homogenous on the basis of Islamic egalitarianism, ignoring the very fact of empirically acknowledged reality which shows that Muslim community is as much divided and stratified as Hindu society is. Therefore, it is pertinent to understand the structure of the community from sociological point of view in order to locate the community in broader social structure.

2- Muslim OBCs is constitutionally recognized category which is very significant from policy perspective.

3- Muslim OBCs constitute more than 80% of the total Muslim population, therefore, the issue of their marginalization and rate of participation in various development indicators become more vibrant when we have such enthusiastic targets of MDGs to be achieved by 2015.

The whole book is spread over nine chapters :

First chapter is about the ‘Introduction’ which includes explanation of the problem of Muslim OBCs chosen for the study.

Second chapter contains review of literature, literature related to caste and social stratification among Muslims in India that reflects the caste and class debate. OBCs category constitutes converted Muslims; they brought pre conversion customs and rituals with them. Here the great tradition of Islam has been parochializd. Our country is highly stratified on the basis of caste and some elements of it also prevalent among Muslims and Christian communities. These communities are divided in various groups having their own occupational affiliation and endogamy. This occupational identity also provides caste and class identity.

Since occupations are hierarchically arranged so the occupational groups. People belonging to the OBCs category constitute peculiar groups based on occupation. Same is true in terms of Muslim OBCs, they are divided in occupation based groups having their peculiar socio-cultural, and economic trends. These trends provide them separate identity and specific location in social system. Further it includes, the literature regarding economic and educational backwardness of the community. Therefore efforts have been made to review the available literature on the topic. Introduction of the field of the study, and the part of methodology has also been incorporated in it.

Third chapter ‘Backward Classes: An Explanation’ deals with the comprehensive explanation about the meaning and origin of the term Backward Classes, it also provide thorough account about the history and origin of the term and how this term has been discussed and explained in Constitution of India.

Fourth chapter ‘Historical Perspectives of the Muslim Community in India’ depicts about various historical factors responsible for the Muslim backwardness in India. It also gives the viewpoints of the eminent scholars on the relative backwardness of the Muslim community.

In fifth chapter ‘Stratification among Muslims in India: A Caste, Class Debate’ author has tried to analyze the caste, class debate among the Muslim community in India. In addition to this second part of this chapter deals with the Category of OBCs among Muslims, their present status and the state intervention for their overall upliftment.

Sixth chapter is about ‘Sociological Dimension among Muslim OBCs’ is the most significant one which presents field based data and formulate empirical base to the study. It is consisting quantitative data. It explores the socio-cultural, economic, educational status of Muslim OBCs, level of general awareness, political participation, and exposure to mass media and status of female among the Muslim OBCs. Sample of 500 respondents have been selected from eleven different locations of the area Therefore, present section of the book is solely based on primary data.

Chapter seven consists “Qualitative interpretation of Internal Dynamics among Muslim OBCs” which endow with qualitative information, the author has applied Sociometric test to analyse the level of affinity and distance among various occupational groups which has been shown in the form of diagram. On the basis of this test it is pertinent to say here that although the notion of purity and pollution among Muslims is absent but certain degree of distance and affinity is found among them on the basis of the cleanliness of occupation, because occupations are hierarchically arranged, so are the people who are following these occupations. Therefore, the level of social intercourse is also guided by their occupational requirement, which also reflect their interaction which is hierarchically constructed. Second part of the present chapter contains case studies (respondent’s life situation) for in-depth inquiry in to the problem.

Chapter eight captioned ‘Millennium Development Goals and Muslim OBCs’ evaluates the status of Muslim OBCs in term of the attainment of the Millennium Development goals in India. After analyzing the condition of Muslim OBCs in India The author reaches to the conclusion that the socio-economic and educational condition of Muslim OBCs poses a question that whether India will be able to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals or not. Last chapter is about the Conclusion which includes the compilation of all arguments regarding concept of term of backward classes, backwardness of Muslim community in India, caste and stratification among Muslims and the category of Muslim OBCs.

Muslim community in India is backward. The representation of Muslim OBCs in PSUs (Public Sector Undertakings) is abysmally low. Majority of the Muslim OBCs are living in Kucha house. Land holding among Muslim OBCs is very low even if they having land they are having very small pieces of land. This may also be a reason of high number of Nuclear families. Because agriculture is not the main economic activity but petty traditional occupations are the major sources of income. Therefore the low level of land holdings is resulting in the form of high level of nuclear families. This chapter further includes the findings which reflect the overall status of female in education and economy that is quite discouraging.
Pandey Rajendra .1997. Minorities in India Protection and Welfare, New Delhi: A.P. H. Publications
Mondal S. R. 1998. “Dynamics of Social Stratification among Muslims in Rural west Bengal” in M. K. A. Siddiqui (ed.) Muslims in Free India, New Delhi: Institute of Objective Studies
Ansari Ashfaq Husain, 2007, Basic Problems of OBC and Dalit Muslims, New Delhi: Serial Publications
Verma H. S. 2005. “The OBCs and the Dynamics of Social Exclusion in India” in H. S. Verma (ed.) The OBCs and the Dynamics of Social Exclusion in India, New Delhi: Serial Publications
Social Economic and Educational Status of Muslim Community of India: AReport November 2006 Prime Minister’s High Level Committee (Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India), New Delhi,p. 193


Dr. Azra Khanam has been teaching and doing research in Dr K. R. Narayanan Centre for Dalit and Minorities Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi since 2008. Dr Khanam did her PhD from Aligarh Muslim University. She taught as a guest lecturer at Women’s College, Aligarh Muslim University during 2003–04 and 2007–08. She has published several articles in reputed Indian journals


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.