Former Rajya Sabha MP and head of All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz (AIPMM), an apolitical body, Ali Anwar Ansari on Thursday wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanking him for using the word ‘Pasmanda (those left behind)’ during the BJP’s national executive in Hyderabad earlier this month. Anwar also questioned why backward Muslims had not been part of discussions earlier and why BJP thought of organising a ‘sneh yatra’ now.
“It was a pleasant surprise to hear you talk about Pasmanda, but the Pasmanda Muslims want ‘sammaan’ (equality and dignity), not ‘sneh’ (affection). The term ‘sneh’ has a specific connotation: That the Pasmanda Muslims need ‘sneh’ denotes that they are an inferior lot requiring patronage from the ones who are superior,” Ansari wrote.
At the same time, Ansari questioned if “the sudden move” to take out a ‘sneh yatra’ for Pasmanda society had “something to do with vote-bank politics”. “Isn’t it aimed at pitting Muslims against one another? Pasmanda Muslims do not support any party blindly. No party should take them for granted,” he said.
Stressing that AIPMM’s fight has been within the constitutional framework, Ansari wrote: “It’s not that we, as Pasmanda Muslims, are asking for something special separately; rather we, as Muslims, are demanding that the discrimination against us by the government be stopped forthwith. The same demand is also for our Christian Dalits. They are also being punished for being Christians. We have been of the firm belief since the very beginning that the Pasmanda Muslims alone cannot win this battle. We can succeed only with the help of Pasmanda Dalits of all religions and other progressive and justice-loving people.”
Anwar, who formed AIPMM in 1998, may not have been the first person to use the term ‘pasmanda’ but he is credited for widely using it. “There is no caste or religion by the name of Pasmanda. All the communities – Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and others – have people from Pasmanda, Dalit and Adivasi sections. Not only do we have a relationship of pain with these sections, but our DNA is also same. We have put the word ‘Pasmanda’ before the word ‘Muslim’ in our organisation’s nomenclature. For, historically we are Pasmanda first, Muslims later. We have converted to Islam for ‘masawat’ (equality). We, Pasmanda Muslims, are the original inhabitants of our country, India. Hardly one or two per cent of Muslims have come to India from Arabia, Iran and Iraq. We are not the people of ‘Aqliyat’ (minority); we are ‘Aksariyat’ (bahujans). ‘Pasmanda’ is an Urdu-Persian word which means people left behind or oppressed. We don’t want to continue as ‘Pasmanda’; we aspire to become ‘Peshmanda’ (the one who leads from the front),” Ansari wrote.
“You have asked your partymen to take out ‘sneh yatra’ for the Pasmanda Muslims. This will prove effective only when communal harmony is maintained in the society. What is the point in taking out a ‘sneh yatra’ if hate statements and bulldozers also go on? Pasmanda Muslims have been the worst hit of all the campaigns of mob lynching in the name of cow protection, ghar-wapsi, love jihad, Tablighi jihad in the time of Corona pandemic or any temple-mosque conflict that have been going on since 2014. Those killed, burnt, maimed, framed in police cases and jailed due to such incidents were mostly Pasmanda Muslims,” Ansari wrote to the PM.
Ansari also referred to some harsh comments made by senior BJP leaders against Muslims in the past and questioned the PM’s silence. “When Muslims did not come under provocation, aren’t their prayers now being disrupted, aren’t their mosques being attacked and isn’t blasphemy against their Prophet being committed? Even as our country’s image continued to be tarnished all over the world because of this, you have not spoken a single word against it till date. On the contrary, the Muslims, intellectuals, journalists and civil society activists, who raise their voice against it, are being put behind bars,” the letter read.
Ansari wrote that AIPMM had always been “raising voice against communalism”. He added that “…even if the BJP is extending a friendly hand towards Pasmandas for their votes, could you at least take these few steps immediately: There are about a dozen castes within the Pasmanda Muslims such as Halalkhor (scavenger, Bhangi), Muslim washerman, Muslim cobbler, Bhatiyara, Gadhedi etc for whom the Sachar Committee and the Ranganath Mishra Commission have recommended Scheduled Caste status. Has your government, in response to a query of the Supreme Court last year, replied that it will not accept this recommendation? Will you end this religion-based discrimination by increasing the quota of Scheduled Caste? Will the nomadic tribes like Mewati, Van Gujjar, Sapera, Madari etc, who were called criminal tribes during the British period, be included in the ‘Scheduled Tribe’? If not, then nothing fruitful is going to come out of the drum-beating by some greedy”.
In the letter, Anwar said that Muslims in general, and Pasmanda Muslims in particular, had been “politically boycotted” as far as their representation in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies was concerned. “The process of their economic boycott has also begun. Will you like to reverse these processes? What is going to change if one or two ‘fards’ (persons) from the BJP background are made ministers or governors? Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, M J Akbar, Najma Heptullah and Arif Mohammad Khan have been seen supporting many controversial policies and decisions of the current government – arguably more than other BJP leaders. However, there is a big difference between being a Muslim and being a leader of Muslims who can empathize with them,” he wrote.