‘Muslim Quota’: Keep it Simple, Silly! – Khalid Anis Ansari


In an interview last month, Mr. Salman Khursheed was posed the query: ‘There are reports that you are considering Muslim reservations within the OBC quota?’ He responded affirmatively: ‘Absolutely. Sachar described them as SEBC, socially and educationally backward classes. This is a special segment within OBC.’

Nowhere in the Sachar report are Muslims categorized as SEBC (Socially and Educational Backward Classes). They are categorised merely as one of many SRCs (Socio-Religious Communities). Moreover, the Sachar Report has acknowledged caste-based stratification within Muslims and has suggested quite unequivocally: ‘Thus, one can discern three groups among Muslims: (1) those without any social disabilities, the ashrafs; (2) those equivalent to Hindu OBCs, the ajlafs, and (3) those equivalent to Hindu SCs, the arzals. Those who are referred to as Muslim OBCs combine (2) and (3) [p. 193 (emphasis added)]’.

So, according to the Sachar Report all Muslims cannot be conceived as a socially and educationally backward class (OBC) because the forward Muslims (ashrafs) are ‘without any social disabilities’. Well, one may ask if the minister who exhorted everyone to read the Sachar Report critically and not as gospel truth, has failed to practice what he himself preached. The honorable minister seems to have read the report incorrectly.

Strange are the ways politics affects one’s judgment!

Let us stay with this thread and explore further. Can Muslims as a whole be included in the category ‘Other Socially and Educationally Backward Classes’ (OBC) as the minister suggests? In Constitutional terms there are only two relevant factors for including a group in the OBC category. Firstly, it should be underrepresented in the services under the State [Article 16 (4)]. Secondly, it must meet the criterion of being ‘socially’ and therefore an ‘educationally’ backward community [Article 15 (4)]. [The ‘economic’ criterion notoriously inserted by the Ranganath Mishra Commission Report for determining backwardness is simply a non-starter and was convincingly rebutted by the Indra Sawhney judgment of the Supreme Court (1992).] So, let us apply these tests to the ashraf sections within Muslims because the case for the inclusion of pasmanda (backward and dalit) Muslims is broadly a settled one and most of the lower caste Muslims are already included in the Central OBC list. So is the ashraf section underrepresented? Can it be said to be socially backward? These questions must merit our attention now.

In this context, Table 10.10 of the Sachar Committee Report (p. 210) deals with the representation of Hindu OBCs (H-OBCs), General Muslims (M-Gen) and Muslim OBCs (M-OBCs) in public employment. The relevant figures are reproduced in the table below:

Department/Undertaking/Institution H-OBCs (%) M-Gen (%) M-OBCs (%)
Central Security Agencies 11.4 1.0 3.6
Railway 9.3 4.5 0.4
Central PSU 8.3 2.7 0.6
SPSC-Recommended for Selection 27.0 0.9 0.9
University Faculty 17.6 3.9 1.4
University-Non Teaching 24.9 3.0 1.7

According to NSSO 61st round (2004-05) the population of OBC Muslims (Dalit Muslims included) was 40.7% of the total Muslim population (the population percentage for General Muslims in that case turns out to be 59.3%). If the total Indian Muslim population is 13.4% of the national population (2001 Census) then the General Muslim population would be 6.76% of the national population. If one keeps this figure (6.76%) in mind and compares it with the figures in the shaded column (M-Gen) then it can be clearly inferred that the ashraf Muslims are underrepresented in public employment in most of the sectors.

However, if we probe further we find the case is not as simple and clear-cut as that. Let me make some opening remarks. One, the ashraf sections, practically speaking, can only be accommodated in the OBC list as of now. Though the population of the OBCs was estimated by the Mandal Commission to be around 52% it is availing a quota of only 27%, which is almost half of its supposed population due to the Supreme Court cap of 50% for reservation policy. That means if any caste cluster or group within the OBC is represented even half of its total population percentage it would be deemed as adequately represented. Two, the Sachar Committee has derived the population data for Muslim OBCs (dalit Muslims included) from the 55th (1999-2000) and 61st (2004-05) round of NSSO returns wherein for the first time since Independence the data pertaining to OBC category was obtained. Moreover, most of this data is based on ‘self-reporting’. From the 55th round returns, the population of Muslim OBCs was estimated at 31.7% of the Muslim population (for General Muslims it was 68.3%) and from the 61st round returns the estimate of Muslim OBCs was 40.7% of the Muslim population (for General Muslims it was 59.3%). This shows a growth of about 9% in Muslim OBC population in just five years. In the case of Uttar Pradesh the growth in Muslim OBC population was from 44.4% (55th round) to 62% (61st round)—a jump of 17.6% in five years. In the case of Bihar the growth in Muslim OBC population was from 40.6% (55th round) to 63.4% (61st round)—a jump of 22.8% in five years! While the official estimates of Muslim OBCs show an ascending trend, the Pasmanda Movement in Bihar and elsewhere had always estimated the population of lower caste Muslims to be about 85% of the Muslim population. Interestingly, this figure is also accepted by the National Movement for Muslim Reservation and other key ashraf ideologues that are presently campaigning for Muslim reservations in the country. One of their working papers categorically notes, ‘Only 10 to 15% of the Muslim community belongs to the so called Ashraf while 85% to 90% are non-Ashraf’ [Working Paper No. 1]. So there is a consensus on the break-up of the Muslim population in caste terms by both the ashraf and pasmanda groups.

Now reworking the Indian Muslim population according to these estimates (15% ashraf Muslims and 85% pasmanda Muslims) the Muslim population of 13.4% (2001 Census) can be broken into 2.01% General Muslims (instead of the earlier 6.76%) and 11.39% OBC Muslims. If we revisit the shaded part of the table then we can gauge that given the reworked population of General Muslims as 2.01% they now turn out to be over-represented in at least four sectors and almost represented half of their population in the remaining two sectors. Following from the discussion above, they can be considered to be adequately represented. Similarly, if we take the case of political representation then out of seven thousand five hundred members from the first to fourteenth Lok Sabha only about 400 members belonged to the Muslim community. Out of these 400 Muslim members, about 340 have been ashraf Muslims and only 60 have been OBC Muslims .Hence, the representation of ashraf Muslims in Lok Sabha works out to 4.5% that is way beyond their population percentage of 2.01%. Even here, they are not only adequately represented but rather are doubly represented.

Let us consider if the upper caste Muslims do actually constitute a socially backward group. However, what does social backwardness mean in the Indian context? What are the criteria for declaring a group as a socially and educationally backward class? It is interesting to note that while the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) were coherently defined in the Constitution, the Other Backward Classes (OBC) remained a vague category and was relegated to the backburner for decades (except in certain states). When, in the early 1950s, the Constitution of India prescribed affirmative action benefiting OBCs, however, it was unclear who these classes were. Though Ambedkar was of the opinion that, ‘[what] are called the backward classes are…nothing else but a collection of certain castes’ [Zwart, Frank De, ‘The Logic of Affirmative Action: Caste, Class and Quotas in India’, Acta Sociologica; 43; 235], Nehru’s position was on the other hand rather ambiguous. However, subsequently the two Backward Classes Commissions (Kaka Kalelkar and Mandal Commission) and the various court judgments have accepted ‘caste’ as a criterion of classification. In the context of Muslims even the Ranganath Mishra Commission Report, quite in contradistinction to its final recommendations, has suggested: ‘[…] we recommend that all those classes, sections and groups among the minorities should be treated as backward whose counterparts in the majority community are regarded as backward under the present scheme of things (p. 149)’.

Quite clearly, if ‘caste’ is the key category for defining socially and historically accumulated backwardness then the case for ashraf Muslims becomes extremely fragile. Even a cursory survey of sociological and historical literature would allude to the fact that the ashraf sections have never seen themselves as socially backward in caste or cultural terms. Rather, they have often seen themselves as bringing civilization and art to this country and have held lower caste Muslims as inferior to them.

But, what about ‘educational’ backwardness of Muslims? It is true that the Sachar Committee has produced data that indicates that Muslims are lagging behind in education. It has suggested that even the General Muslims are doing badly vis-à-vis Hindu OBCs. Now even when educational backwardness cannot be read separately from social backwardness and must be derived from social backwardness of a group for purposes of reservations, I want to follow Salman Khursheed’s advice seriously here and would like to read the Sachar Report critically. Now in contrast to the data on public employment of Muslims which is comparatively more reliable, the caste-based data on Muslim educational levels is culled largely from the NSSO reports. Now there are serious limitations with NSSO data based on ‘self-reporting’ as mentioned earlier. So, there are reasons to believe that the educational data for General Muslims may be a skewed one with a substantial proportion of educational backwardness of lower caste Muslims being transferred to General Muslims because a large number of lower caste Muslims have not returned themselves as OBCs due to lack of political consciousness. In the light of the above discussion I think the case for inclusion of upper caste ashraf Muslims—whether in terms of representation in services, social or educational backwardness—in the OBC category is an extremely weak one.

Now let me shift to the concerns of OBC and Dalit Muslims, who as we know are already covered in the existing reservation policy. So, as far as the pasmanda muslims are concerned the only issues that matter in this respect are—(a) that they are not receiving a fair share inside the existing OBC quota; (b) that some of the lower caste Muslim groups have been left out of the OBC lists and now require to be recognized; (c) that arzal or dalit Muslims should be shifted to the SC quota from the OBC quota by scrapping the 1950 Presidential Order (Para 3) which is overwhelmingly seen as violating the principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution.

 The first issue is that of the marginalization of OBC Muslims within the OBC quota. The argument that the dominant Hindu OBC groups corner most of these benefits thereby leaving Muslim OBCs with an inappropriate share is often circulated in this context. In my understanding, this applies to non-dominant Hindu OBCs as well and so carving out a separate ‘communal’ quota for Muslim OBCs within the OBC quota is not a very sound demand. The best strategy would be to reflect on the Bihar (Karpoori Thakur) formula wherein the OBC quota has been split into the Backward Classes and Most Backward Classes (MBC) sub-categories and most Muslim backward sections have been clubbed with other Hindu MBCs accordingly. If required the Central OBC quota could also be similarly split into two subcategories and similar placed castes in all religious communities could be lumped together.  This saves us from any communal polarization on religious lines and is more judicious. Hence, the recommendation by Ranganath Mishra Commission Report of chalking out a separate Muslim OBC quota within the OBC quota is not a very tenable and effective one. The second issue of incorporating the Muslim OBC castes that may not have been recognized and mentioned in the Central OBC list is a procedural one. It needs to be taken up with the National Backward Classes Commission and appropriate strategies must be designed to ensure that. The third issue is that of delisting the dalit Muslims from the OBC list and incorporating them in the SC list. In the pre-independence period, the Muslim dalits benefitted from the reservation policy in the SC list. After Independence, by the Presidential Order of 1950, most non-Hindu dalits were ejected out from the SC list. However, in 1956 the Sikh dalits and in 1990 the neo-Buddhists were integrated thereby debarring only Muslim and Christian dalits from the SC list. This violates the principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution and the Ranganath Mishra Commission Report has properly advocated the scrapping of the 1950 Presidential Order (Para 3).

Quite clearly, the entire Muslim community cannot be conceived as a backward class in India. Rather, as is the case with any other religious community obtained in India the Muslims too are a differentiated community and informed by variegated levels of marginalization. In the context of social policy caste has emerged as a major factor for determining the social backwardness of a group (including religious minorities) for purposes of affirmative action under the rubric Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (OBCs). In this context, Sachar Committee’s observations that the ashraf sections within the Muslim community, as opposed to the pasmanda muslims (OBC and Dalit Muslims), are ‘without any social disabilities’ is instructive. Despite this many spokespersons of Muslim politics (and a few bahujan scholars like Kancha Ilaiah as well), often due to intellectual confusion or informed by the interests of the upper caste Muslims, have demanded that all the Muslims be brought within the ambit of reservations in India. Quite clearly such a move is an unjustified one and will be benefitting the ashraf Muslims broadly as they will corner a large proportion of employment and educational opportunities thus opened owing to their cultural capital. In my view this will be a travesty of social justice politics and must be contested by all democratic citizens and movements in this country.

[The author is a research scholar and the National Spokesperson of Shoshit Samaj Dal. He can be reached at khalidanisansari at gmail dot com.]

Previously by Khalid Anis Ansari on Kafila: 

15 thoughts on “‘Muslim Quota’: Keep it Simple, Silly! – Khalid Anis Ansari”

  1. I agree with the main thrust of your article. I just wanted to point out that just in the same way as Muslim OBCs are reporting themselves as Ashrafs in NSSO surveys, Muslims OBCs in government jobs may have also reported themselves as Ashrafs for Sachar committee data. Many of the Muslim OBCs in government offices are working among upper caste hindus and muslims and might have reported themselves as Ashraf for social mobility.
    My argument is that lack of (or relative lack of) OBC consciousness should be accounted for both in NSSO and Sachar committee data.


  2. As an aside, where have you put Ziaur rahman Ansari, former union cabinet minister. Having an Ansari surname makes him an interesting case. Thanks.


  3. I can’t see how a Muslim can describe himself as either socially or educationally backward, if he is a real follower of the tenets of his religion. Economically backward of course many Muslims are just as many among the upper caste Hindus too. Only if Muslims accept caste phenomenon in their own society and describe themselves as so many Muslim castes, they may be deserving any reservation like the OBCs at present. They can’t ask for both identities, and facilities and concessions on the basis of both – as minorities protected by Constitution and as OBCs like those in the major Hindu community. Justice Sachar’s Report is basically flawed since it is like saying – as the SCs and OBCs in Hindu community which together form 60-70% of the Hindu Community in many States and certainly more than 50% in entire India (at a very low estimate at that) are socially and educationally backward, the entire Hindu community is backward – so reservations have to be given all Hindus! In any case, the communal reservations starting with the 1919 Act or [the scheme] even from 1909, deliberately brought by the British imperialists, had gradually led to the partition of India and untold horrors, and let not the mistakes be repeated again and no reservations should under any circumstances be made on religious basis. And the entire reservation system as it exists today has to be reviewed radically with the goal of ‘end of reservations’ and not ‘proliferation of reservations’. There are many communities who have come up and are now above national/state averages due to the implementation of reservations and those have to be at once eliminated (i.e. de-reserved) and such elimination process will work for the benefit of the really deserving and gradually it can be led towards the ‘end of reservations’. Those fundamentalist Muslims crying hoarse about so-called injustices and discrimination may compare their status here with the status of the minorities in Pakistan and Bangaldesh who are subject to a cleansing process and are even in physical numbers in a vanishing mode! I suggest that caste based reservations be limited to 25-30% (including for SCs/STs suitably reducing the present quotas), and 20% reserved for EBCs cutting across all communities and castes, and under no circumstances more than 50% reservations be made. Even this 45% or so reservations may be gradually reduced every 10 years by a progressive elimination process and at least in 30-40 years no reservations (in total) exceeding 20% (for very needy, disabled, etc. classes, castes or persons, etc.) should be there.


  4. @ Azurda: I am relying on the confidence of Sachar Committee itself on the question of data related to public employment in the context of Indian Muslims. The tone of the report suggests that the data on employment is not merely based on ‘self-reporting’ even when the population distribution (Geeneral and OBC Muslims) obviously is. For instance the report suggests:

    “While secondary data from the Census and NSSO analyzed in Chapter 5 provided a macro picture of Muslim participation in government jobs, primary data collected from the Central and State governments helps us generate some micro insights. It is noteworthy that the Committee had access to data for more than 10.1 million employees. Even after excluding the data collected from private sector banks and the universities, the Committee had access to data from a large segment of the government sector. In all, data pertaining to 88 lakhs employees was received by the Committee from different government departments, agencies and institutions; of which only 4.4 lakhs or 5% are reported to be Muslims.” (p. 164-165)

    “Data collected by the Committee from various Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs),
    Railways and the central security agencies have been used to analyze
    representation of SRCs in public sector employment. Besides, data on the existing
    employees of various central and state universities have also been analyzed.” (p. 209)

    I also suppose that caste of an employee is mentioned in the government records.That is why I have mentioned above: “Now in contrast to the data on public employment of Muslims which is comparatively more reliable, the caste-based data on Muslim educational levels is culled largely from the NSSO reports.” The phrase ‘comparatively more reliable’ should be seized on here. Overall, I am extremely skeptical of the Sachar Committee Report as there are serious problems with the overall data available and the treatment of the same thereof. I think a proper CASTE CENSUS is imperative for arriving at more meaningful data.

    And, I don’t comprehend the reference to Zia-ur-Rehman Ansari and why an Ansari surname makes him an interesting case. Please elaborate further on this.


    1. The caste data of muslim employees, I assume is self reported. Sachar committee collected this data by asking the government to count its muslim employees. This is the data that they call as the primary data. They are calling it more reliable compared to NSSO because NSSO is just a survey compared to the actual count of the government employees.
      The pressure to record yourself as upper caste is more, in a setting where (still) the majority is upper caste. People misreport their caste because caste of a person can still make or mar a career and social life.
      Without a caste census, which is being opposed by the government for obvious reasons, getting reliable caste data is very difficult. Did the 1931 census record muslim castes? The population of muslim castes can be extrapolated from the 1931 data, if such a data is available.
      I asked you about Ansari because in Delhi and UP, ‘some’ Ansaris are ashraf. I have met such families and came to know that they marry among the Ashraf and former zamindar families.


  5. Yes, Khalid Ansari ji. Thats true and the stratification of reservation policy should be such that more and more representation of varied identities can take place not that all the benefits are cornered by one particular section. Thanks for this piece.


  6. In the South Indian states all Muslims are backward except the Ashraf who are about 5%. The Backward Communities Commission has a website with such details. This should apply to North Indian Muslims as well, where the Ashraf percentage would be considerably higher.


  7. @Azurda: I am completely with you as far as the skepticism with regards to Sachar Committee data or methodology is concerned. Your discussion only indicates further at the severe limitations of Sachar data in crafting meaningful policy, especially with respect to reservations for Muslims. Overall, the Sachar intervention could be located within the broader genealogy of the construction of Muslim ‘backwardness’ through various commissions starting from the famous Hunter Commission in the 1880s. This also feeds into the notion of an all-India Muslim community that represses caste and gender contradictions within and also lays down the rationality for the competitive construction of an all India Hindu community. But without extending this thread further I support your view that things would be better if a comprehensive caste census in undertaken. But that seems highly unlikely now and it seems we will have to wait till 2020 when the next Census will be undertaken. Yes, in 1931 Muslim castes were recorded and we could extrapolate from there. But the courts have regularly mocked at 1931 data as being dated and though the courts have been extremely interventionist in other areas there has been no similar judicial activism in the context of caste census. So we have to bear with that. This is a political question. It will be solved politically.

    Now let me come to your second concern. The title ‘Ansari’ was adopted by some Muslim weavers (julahas) in the second half of the 19th century and a narrative was developed wherein they traced their descent from Ayub Ansari of Medina. Similar moves were made by other Muslim castes as well. For instance, the cotton-carders (dhuniyas) named themselves mansuris. This process could be termed as ashrafization where the lower caste Muslims, especially upwardly mobile sections, have tried to imitate ashrafiya values and hierarchical framework in order to get some self-respect within the Muslim body politic. Similar developments occurred in many Hindu lower castes where they sanskritised themselves by developing narratives connecting them to the mythological figures in high Hinduism. The yadavas, kahars or vishwakarmas, etc., concocted these kinds of narratives and laid the claim of being kshatriyas. As far as I am aware the ‘Ansari’ surname is used by some upper caste Sheikhs (the present Vice President Mr. Hamid Ansari being one of them), oil-pressers (telis) of Saharanpur and of course mainly by weavers who call themselves momin ansars. But on Zia-ur-Rehman Ansari I am not sure. I know he was a champion of weaving castes and lead the Momin Conference for many years. So there is a greater probability that he was not an ashraf ansari but one could cross-check.


    1. Caste census is necessary to bring out facts. I still believe that 1931 census can at the very minimum be a good starting point. We will have a good estimate of the caste composition of Indian society in general and Indian Muslims in particular. People can’t wait till 2020 for the next census.
      Why is the Pasmanda movement not very enthusiastic about studying the caste census of 1931? As you said, reservation and representation is a political fight and skepticism of some (we know where they are coming from) should not become a factor in not studying the census of 1931.


  8. Reservations in this case risk– 1) inefficacy. 2) right-wing wrath 3) unimplementability

    Inclusive growth is equitable and reliable. Is it achievable?
    Inclusive growth is not a contradiction in terms, that’s for sure.
    Inclusive growth is mutually reinforcing.

    Sell this to every Indian: With two dice, your most probably outcome is 7. With one die, you never exceed 6.

    Equitable economic growth needs to be a joint project for Sachar to have a happier report to file in about 20 years.


  9. Sachar report has remarked that owing to caste less census there is a great shortage of data regarding socio-economic-educational backwardness of different castes/communities. It has also recommended to the central government for setting up of National Data Bank. Due to non-availability of reliable data any finding of Sachar Committee is problematic to say the least. Day to day experience and narratives of individuals and literary pieces are the best source to know the social divisions among the muslim. In the absence of any caste data the only thing that will further the pasmanda discourse is their political participation. Only then people will recognise that muslim society too suffers from caste stratification.

    Many well-meaning intellectuals are unable to comprehend the fact that the Indian ruling elites have been very consistent in not allowing caste question to occupy the centre stage of social-political discourse. With this policy they have not allowed caste census to take place since independence. Despite all their grand designs to suppress caste question they have not been able to prevent it from coming onto the surface. Now, their next attempt is to not allow the caste question to emerge in non-Hindu communities so that lower caste solidarity across religious divide may not become a reality.


  10. I agree with the viws of Azurda Sb .No doubt Khalid Anis Ansari sb has presented the case of Pasmanda very well.He seems to be too much biased against the interest of Ashrafs. But I would kike to mention from my own expeince that after being appointed and confirmed when ever any query was recieved from UGC/ MHRD regarding the number of University teachers from variou casts , not more than 10% of the teachers belonging to Muslim OBC mentioned the same, they simply mentioned them under Gen. Muslim catagory.This seems to be a delibrate move. If it benefits( as a matter of fact it is benifiting.) the Pasmanda no body, even Ashraf should have any objection. But it is aimed to harm the interest of so called upper class.


  11. Bihari seikh, s basic economical condition is very very poor & maximum bihari seikh, s below poorty line


  12. hum muslim atishbaz hain koyi labh nahi milta aisa kyo.?
    jab ki central obc suchi me hai per up me nahin ? isliye main ladraha hun up government se un panch cast atishbaz, madari, nalband, bhand, mochi,jaise jatiyon ke liye mera sath de aap k man ko shanti milegi shukriya


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