IN THE NAME OF ALLAH, THE BENEFICENT, THE MERCIFUL
[Shamim A Siddiqi, New York]
India is a vast country with more than a billion population and the largest democracy of the world. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and many other microscopic minorities inhabit it. Late Pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru in his famous book, “Discovery of India” has drawn a rainbow of growing nationalism through the heterogeneous complexion of Indian population. He discovered a unity in this diversity. But the facts on the ground deny this assertion. There are hundred of millions who are living a life of deprived and oppressed and are being totally exploited by the superior caste Hindus for centuries together. A small minority of about 35 million Brahmins is dominating and ruling over the vast majority of the oppressed Dalits, the scheduled caste people, the Muslims, the Sikhs and the Christians.
The Dalits though are considered as a part of Hindu community but for all functional and practical purposes are different and the most exploited people on earth. They are the proven stigma on the forehead of Indian democracy, a symbol of negation of equality before law guaranteed under its secular constitution, presenting the most horrible picture of hated people in the social structure of the country. This precarious condition of Dalits originates within the womb of Hinduism and the cunning hands of the upper caste Hindus are perpetuating it in spite of numerous reformatory movements within its parameters, assassination of Mahatma Gandhi for its sake and ennobling efforts of Late Dr. Ambedkar to get their lot improved.
Dalits are the product of the caste system of India, existing for the last 3000 years and developed by Brahmins [priests] to maintain their superiority. Hindus are divided into four distinct classes [Vernas]. They are: Brahmins, the priests, born from Brahma’s mouth; Kshatriyas, the soldiers and administrators, born out of Brahma’s arms; the Vaisyas, the artisan and commercial class born of Brahma’s thighs; and the Sudras, the formers and peasants, born of Brahma’s feet. “Beneath these four main castes there is a fifth group. It is called the Scheduled Caste. Literally speaking it is no caste. They are the untouchables, the Dalits, standing for the oppressed, the down trodden and the most exploited social group.”[Ref: Dalit’s website]
There are about 260 millions Dalits in India, constituting one in every four person of the population. They are poor, deprived, socially backward and live in segregation mostly in slump areas under subhuman conditions. They do not have access to higher education and better employment position except doing some menial works at the lowest strata of the society. They have practically lost the sense of respectability. “Social backwardness, lack of access to food, education and health care keeps them in bondage of the upper class.” These conditions persist even after 55 years of independence, tall promises by the dominant caste Hindu politicians, constitutional protections and public commitments. This state of affairs demands a Divine guidance to set the situation correct as the Brahmins, the upper class of India, who holds power are prejudiced, class oriented and desperate to maintain their game of supremacy over the untouchables one way or the other.
It is only Islam that can salvage this situation at ease. The moment any individual, or a Dalit enters into the fold of his or her Creator and Sustainer by reciting and confirming that: “There is no deity except Allah and Muhammad is His messenger [LA Ilaha Illallah Muhammadun Rasulullah], he or she demolishes the centuries old bondage of caste system and immediately comes at par with the highest place in the society. There is no caste system in Islam, All men and women are born equal. In Islam, excellence depends on the attainment of piety or Allah-consciousness. There is no limit to it. The more a person can acquire it, the higher position he will get in the society. Respectability in Islam depends on Allah-Consciousness [Taqwah] and not on caste, race, wealth, power or position. This is the only way to abolish the political and social hegemony of Brahmanism in India. This road is wide open. Dalits and its leadership should come forward and grab it to finish their state of ignominy and centuries old deprivation. Now only Islam can elevate their status to the point of honor and dignity by granting them equal status at par with the highest placed in the society.
In fact, it is Allah who has given this guaranteed status to all who enter into His fold. No one can even think of taking it back or usurp in any from or shape even by the mightiest monarch, a Congress or a Parliament howsoever powerful it may be. The Qur’an ordains it and Allah’s Prophet confirms it categorically in his eloquent addresses.
“O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Verily, the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is one who is deeply conscious of Him [or the best in conduct] Behold, Allah is all-knowing and all-aware.” [Ref: Al-Qur’an. 49: 13]
Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him – (S)] in his last sermon from the Mount of Arafat [Makkah] declared: “An Arab is no better than a non-Arab and a non-Arab is no better than an Arab; A red raced man is no better than a black, except in piety. Mankind are Adam’s children and Adam was created from dust”
Islam prohibits all kinds of distinctions on account of race, color, birth or language. The society established by Prophet Muhammad (S) was unique in this respect. It had Salman from Persia [Iran], Bilal from Ethiopia, Suhaib from Rome, all living together with honor and respect. Prophet Muhammad (S) married his cousin, Zainab of the noblest tribe of Quraish to Zaid bin Harith who was purchased by his wife Khadija as slave.
Caliph Omar used to call Bilal who was originally a slave as Sayyedna Bilal [Bilal My Lord] and used to accommodate him to sit by his side whenever he visited him during his Caliphate.
Besides bringing the depressed at par in the society, Islam has its own welfare system that guarantees food, dress, shelter, education, medical aid, and justice to all the people within its fold who are poor, needy, deprived, unemployed or underemployed and incapacitated from its funds of Zakah and Sadaqah - a paramount source of transfer of resources from the haves to have-nots. It will go a long way in rehabilitating the position of the Dalits of India to a self-sustained community enabling it to contribute its share to the welfare of the society within a couple of years. The Muslim community of India must undertake it as an obligation to transfer its Zakah and Sadaqah funds to finance this program to uplift the fate of the Dalits effectively.
Unfortunately, India is a closed society. It does not accept any reform from inside, lest the hegemony of the Brahmins and the caste system is broken. The Muslims of India especially and that of the world at large have to do the job of introducing Islam to these people on a massive scale through well organized and continuous Dawah efforts. Once the Dalits of India are convinced that their salvation lies only in Islam, I am more than sure, they will enter into it in multitude. It is an open challenge to the ingenuity of the Muslims at home and abroad to come to the help of these centuries old exploited and deprived people. It would be a great service to humanity. Equally, the leadership of the Dalits should themselves strive hard to come out of the bondage of Hinduism by consolidating politically with the Muslims of India and bringing their hard-pressed community nearer to Islam as its savior. It would protect both Dalits and the Muslims of India from the backlash of political hegemony of Hindu fundamentalists who will definitely create a lot of hue and cry over the mass exodus of the scheduled caste [Dalits] form the “eternal bondage” of Hinduism.
The oppressed Muslims and the exploited poor Dalits will have to work simultaneously both at political and religious fronts with extreme care and wisdom. It would be a determined and a very comprehensive effort. Allah’s help will bless these efforts immensely as only with His help this passionate efforts of Muslims and Dalits will, Insha Allah, materialize within a decade or so. Thus future augers well provided both Dalits and Muslims work together, hand in hand, to develop the process of inter-political actions and encourage their respective Muslim brothers and sisters to dine together and marry the girls of Dalits when they become Muslim and vice versa. This process will enhance the status of Dalits and bring them at par with the highest placed Brahmins.
Shamim A Siddiqi
Dated November 22, 2002