People from the Ahmadiyya community will now be listed as Muslims in the census. They have been recognised as a sect of Islam, a religion whose orthodoxy has gone to great lengths to keep the community out of its fold. The small community, scattered in Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, UP, Bihar, Odisha, Telangana and Kerala, had found legal recognition as an Islamic sect in 1970. But with Islamic clerics deeming the Ahmadis heretics and successive governments found it prudent to not list people from the community as Muslims.
The Ahmadis have faced persecution from votaries of hardline Islam since the sect’s inception. It originated in the late 19th century in Qadian in what is today Gurdaspur district in Punjab. Its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, claimed to be a messiah who would bring salvation to Muslims, Christians and Hindus. His claims to spiritual authority brought him into conflict with Islamic clerics and his followers were denounced as apostates. They have faced persecution in the Islamic world. Pakistan deemed people from the community to be outside the pale of Islam in 1974, following which there were riots for nearly six months in the country. In recent years, the community has faced violence in Bangladesh. The Ahmadis are deemed a “deviant sect” in Indonesia and persecuted in Saudi Arabia.
India’s tiny Ahmadiyya community has fared better in comparison. In December last year, PM Narendra Modi lauded the Ahmadis for “tolerance and brotherhood”. He greeted the community on the occasion of their founder’s centenary, a celebration where representatives of the tiny community affirmed themselves as “law abiding citizens” who are “loyal to the nation that shelters them”. The PM’s gesture was not lost on a section of the clerics, who accused the PM of hurting the sentiments of a “large majority” of Muslims and now many might allege that there is politics behind the census recognition. Be that as it may, the official acknowledgement of the besieged community is long overdue.