India’s Pasmanda Muslims are victims of ‘Muslim appeasement’ by Nehru-Gandhi family

Congress Party's negative attitude towards social reform and social justice in the Muslim society proved to be a major obstacle in the upliftment of the indigenous Pasmanda Muslims. 

By Dr Faiyaz Ahmad Fyzie

The issue of Muslim appeasement was once again in discussion amid the Lok Sabha elections 2024. A series of allegations and counter-allegations is going on by both sides.

In this article, we will try to understand what role the Nehru-Gandhi family played in Muslim appeasement and how the Indian Muslim society, especially the indigenous Pasmanda Muslims, was affected by it.

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Nehru Period

India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru is known for his nation building attitude. But he remained almost inactive on the questions of social reform and social justice in Muslim society. His government did not consider it appropriate to take any steps towards reforming Muslim personal laws. It is not that his attention was not drawn towards this.

Abdul Qaiyum Ansari, a freedom fighter and a strong soldier of the first Pasmanda movement, had also written several letters to Nehru on these issues. J. B. Kripalani had said at the time of Hindu Marriage Act that the Nehru government should make arrangements for monogamous marriage for Muslims also. He also said that Muslim society is ready for this and if there are any shortcomings should be taken into account. Maybe he was referring to Asim Bihari’s social movement.

Remarkably, Asim Bihari had by then raised a significant amount of awareness inside the Pasmanda Muslim community through a specific campaign advocating for social justice, women’s education, and adult education within the Muslim community.

In this connection Dr Rajendra Prasad had said that why is there talk of reform only among Hindus? Are Muslims not citizens of this country? Aren’t there deprived people and women among them? Is there no need for reform in their society?

Additionally, Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee had said that the Nehru government did not have the courage for social reform against the discrimination prevalent in the Muslim society. On the contrary, the Congress’s Ashraaf leaders of that time and the ultra orthodox Ashraaf Maulanas of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind had strongly opposed the reform in the Muslim society and the reservation of social justice, saying that the Muslim society is governed by Sharia law and there is no casteism in Islam.

Prominent among them were Maulana Azad, Zakir Hussain, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Syed Mahmood, Tajamul Hussain, Maulana Hifzur Rahman, and former Muslim Leaguer Begum Qudsia Ejaz Rasool, etc.

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In fact, Begum Ejaz Rasool had said in praise of Sharia law that Muslims are proud of the fact that Sharia law gives great rights to women. However, other leaders like Sardar Patel, Dr. Ambedkar, Kripalani, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Rajendra Prasad, and C. Rajagopalachari were emphasizing the need for social reform in the Muslim society.

Meanwhile, Ashraaf Muslim MPs praised Nehru for reforming the Hindu society and not reforming the Muslim society. It is an irony that while the modern world was appreciating the reforms, the Ashraaf leaders and intellectuals were calling not carrying out reforms as a praiseworthy act and the Nehru government remained a silent spectator on this entire episode.

During the debate on reform of personal law of Hindu society, Congress’s treatment of Muslims as a separate category only strengthened Muslim communalism and hindered the progress of the society. It appears that Nehru could not do justice to his concept of secularism on this issue. Although, his views changed towards the end of his life, in his last interview given in May 1964, while approving of the foreign-identifying Ashraaf and the indigenous Pasmanda, he said that most of the Muslims living in India are natives converted from Hindus. But by then it was too late and Pasmanda society had already suffered the consequences. Nehru died just a few days after the interview.

Nehru will always be remembered as a nation builder, but as a secular Prime Minister of a secular country, his policies towards Muslim society created obstacles in improving the evil practices of Muslim society, social justice in Muslim society and prevention of Muslim communalism. And by these means he laid the foundation of Muslim appeasement. It seems that the Ashraaf leaders and Ashraaf Maulanas of that time, especially the Maulanas of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, were responsible for all this, under whose influence Nehru withdrew his steps from reforms in the Muslim society.

Indira Period

Like her father, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi also kept making the mistake of considering the Muslim community as a homogeneous unit. In the matter of Muslims, like her father, she remained dependent on Ashraaf leaders and Ashraaf Maulvis.

All India Muslim Personal Law Board was also born under these circumstances as a result of Ashraaf Muslim appeasement. At that time, Indira government was bringing amendments in the law for adoption of children but Ashraaf leaders, intellectuals and Maulvis strongly opposed it. They came together and formed an organization known as All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

Under the guise of protecting Islam and the personal law of Muslims, this organisation emerged as a staunchly religious organisation with medieval feudal mentality, anti-women and anti-Pasmanda Muslim and an acceptance of racial and ethnic hierarchy as Islamic. It would be ironical that Indira did not make even the slightest effort to know the stand of the indigenous Pasmanda Muslim community on this issue. Otherwise the situation could have become somewhat positive.

However, prominent and vocal voices of the indigenous Pasmanda community were present at that time in the form of Minister Noor Muhammad and Minister Abdul Qaiyum Ansari of the Congress government in the state of Bihar. She left the vulnerable deprived indigenous Pasmanda Muslims at the mercy of the Muslim Personal Law Board, an Ashraaf led organisation with a medieval feudal and religious fundamentalist mindset.

To appease the Ashraaf Muslims, Indira brought a law in 1981 and reversed the 1967 decision of the Supreme Court and restored the minority status of Aligarh Muslim University. It is well known that due to the minority status of AMU, the entry of Pasmanda Muslims which stand 90% of total Muslim population, as it’s academic, non-academic staff and as students are almost difficult due to not getting the benefits as per the reservation policy provided by the Constitution of India.

If AMU had not been given minority status by the Indira government, then the reservation for social justice provided by the Constitution would have been implemented there and it would have been easier for the deprived Pasmanda Muslims who come under OBC and ST reservation to get admission.

Indira always kept herself away from the important responsibility of social reform among Muslims. This was not appropriate for a secular Prime Minister of a secular country. The main reason for this seems to be Indira’s excessive dependence on Ashraaf leaders. Nazma Heptullah and Abida Ahmed, despite being women, continued to mislead Indira by following Ashraaf patriarchal mindset in this case.

Rajiv Period 

Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister of India with a historic victory in sympathy of his mother’s death. His clean, spotless, honest and secular image was attractive, from which even the indigenous Pasmanda community had expectations. But like his mother and maternal grandfather, he considered the Muslim society as a homogeneous unit and continued to work on the advice of Ashraaf leaders, Maulanas and intellectuals.

Due to this both the country and Pasmanda had to suffer huge losses, and Rajiv’s secular image was also tarnished. The way he appeased the Ashraf Muslims in the Shah Bano case and overturned the decision of the Supreme Court by bringing a law in the Parliament while assimilating the anti-women character of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, it deeply hurt the Pasmanda Muslim women. It is worth noting that divorce and polygamy are not a big issue among Ashraaf Muslims. On the contrary, for the Pasmanda Muslims who are deeply rooted in the Indian civilization, divorce and polygamy are considered indecent and anti-social acts.

Even in the case of Babri Masjid and Ram Janmabhoomi, Rajiv’s complete inclination was towards All India Muslim Personal Law Board and Ashraaf Maulvi Ali Mian Nadvi. This issue was made much more complicated by Rajiv Gandhi’s decision to unlock the lock of Babri masjid and sideline Hashim Ansari, a Pasmanda muslim and the primary litigant this dispute.

Here it would be interesting to remember that the famous Pasmanda activist and renowned surgeon of the country, Dr Ejaz Ali, had said that ‘hamen Babri nahi Barabari chahiye’ (we do not want Babri but equality). The study of the then media reports clearly reveals that the agreement to open the lock of Babri Masjid and lay the foundation stone of Ram Mandir was a result of the consent and connivance of Ali Mian Nadwi, the then president of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), in exchange for changing the Supreme Court verdict in the Shah Bano case.

Another action of Rajiv Gandhi, making Urdu the second state language of Uttar Pradesh, was also the result of Ashraaf Muslim appeasement. It is worth noting here that Urdu is the language of Ashraaf Muslims which they developed as a communal tool. In Uttar Pradesh, the native language of Pasmanda Muslims has been Hindi and the regional dialect of Hindi language such as Awadhi, Brij Bhojpuri, Bundeli, etc., they have been using Hindi extensively in reading and writing.

Rajiv Gandhi is well-known for bringing the computer revolution in the country. But his negative attitude towards social reform and social justice in the Muslim society proved to be a major obstacle in the upliftment of the indigenous Pasmanda Muslims. 

In later years, Congress and Sonia Gandhi’s attitude towards Muslim matters has been similar to that of her husband and mother-in-law. The attitude of future Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi in the matter of social reform and social justice in Muslim society is also not very clear and till now no clear vision is being reflected in their activities regarding the problems of indigenous Pasmanda Muslims.

In my opinion, not giving proper share to Pasmanda Muslims in Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra and Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra indicates that Rahul Gandhi’s approach towards Muslim matters will remain the same as that of his ancestors, which is neither in the interest of the Muslim society nor in the interest of the country.

Contributor: Dr Faiyaz Ahmad Fyzie is a well-known Socio-Pasmanda activist, author, translator, columnist, media panelist, and a medical doctor by profession.

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