Written in Telugu by SK. Yousuf Baba and Translated into English by Zeenathfar Azmi Syed
In India, there are around 20 crore Muslims, with Telangana constituting approximately 12.8 percent of the total population. Today, a sizable minority continues to suffer horrifying societal discrimination, extreme poverty, neglect, and illiteracy. Hovering at the bottom in all areas. According to several sources of statistics, 70% of Muslims are currently impoverished, with just 18% “educated,” 4% of women, and 2% to 3% or less in other sectors, putting them behind SCs, STs, and other minorities.
Presently, Indian Muslims lack education, jobs, positions of importance, industry openings, land, etc. Unfortunately, 90% of the Muslim population doesn’t possess any kind of a particular occupation or any kind of employment in organized sector. For years, the right-wing parties have been propagating that Muslims are not Indians, and when BC “E” reservations were made, they have objected that how Muslims can be considered as BCs, and now questions are surfacing about who are these Muslims? Without mincing words, a straight answer is Muslims are the natives of this country, and they are Dravidians!
Identity of being Dravidians
Prior to the advent of the Aryans in India, Adivasis, Dalits, and BC castes did not practice any religion. Everyone proclaimed and worshipped ‘Nature as a Mother Goddess.’ During Medieval times, some converted to Christianity, whereas a few turned to Islam. People who have not converted to Islam or Christianity and other religions are now collectively referred to as “Hindus.” Prof. Kancha Ilaiah in his book “Why I’m Not A Hindu,” stated that BCs are not Hindus. Several Dalit artists, social activists, and intellectuals attempt constantly to make sense of the fascists’ ideology, and they are determined that they will overcome their philosophy and rule tomorrow.
Khaja, a renowned Telugu poet says:
“Earlier I was slave,
Yesterday I was untouchable, and
Today I’m Muslim,
In fact, I am a Dalit!”
Only about 2% to 3% of Muslims in India are foreign-born. The remaining 97% are natives of this country. The converts to Islam are mostly from the “untouchable” and “backward” classes. The BJP and other fringe groups (Hindutva supporters) collaborated to suppress this information. Muslims are erroneously seen as outsiders. There are attempts to label them as traitors and ISI operatives. However, Muslims are indigenous to this nation. They are Dravidians!
Iranians, Egyptians, Afghans, Negroes, Whites, and Nepalese are easy to recognise because they have identifiable visual characteristics. In the same manner, they also identify Muslims here as Indians due to their race. This is because, in accordance with anthropology, individuals of various races may be found in various regions of the world based on the temperature there. Because of this, Native Indians (Dravidians) share a similar appearance. Due to their similar facial features and similar-looking skull, nose, and vertebral structures, Dalits, BCs, Muslims, BC-Muslims, and Adivasi-Muslims appear to be brothers and sisters in India. It’s possible that all of the Muslims in this nation are Dravidians.
Plight of Untouchables
The native Dravidians of this nation had been oppressed for generations by the Aryans (Brahmins and other savarna castes), who had rendered the whole Dravidian race untouchable. Untouchables in India are relegated to the lowest levels of work and were constantly under the peril of being publicly humiliated, paraded naked, beaten, and raped with impunity by Hindu higher castes. Merely walking into an upper-caste community lane was a life-threatening violation. Untouchables were made to wear tree leaves tied to their waists; they didn’t even like their footsteps; they weren’t allowed to spit on the ground; they couldn’t drink from wells; and they had to leave their shoes by their side. The Untouchables were in such a dismal state that they were not allowed in schools or temples, and they were forced to remove turban if it was worn. The Untouchables had endured several agonies like this.
Being subjected to innumerable insults and persecutions from the higher caste for centuries, Sufi preachers and saints supported the untouchables while advancing tolerance and compassion. The Sufis wholeheartedly welcomed and gave them an affectionate hug (alai balai –genial hug) even after knowing that these people were from untouchables. They ate from the same plates and drank from the same cups of the untouchables. Despite the ban being imposed on untouchables’ dead bodies were carried from the streets of Agraharas (land grants given, often in perpetuity, to Brahmins by the King or local potentate), the Sufi saints carried their bodies on their shoulders there by putting an end to the vile custom. When they got to the masjid, they prayed side by side. They were joyful because they were embraced by the saints with open heart. They assimilated with them. When they were struggling or lost, the Sufis developed into visionaries who showed them the right path to salvation and when they fell sick they became healers, healing not only their bodies but their souls too. They became heroes if they got sick. The Dravidians, Madigas, Malas, Aboriginal tribes, and BCs, who are native to this country, paid their respect to the Sufi saints by converting to Islam. There by rejecting the oppressive and suppressive Vedic culture.
Caste stratification among Telangana Muslims
In Hyderabad, there are a few Muslim communities who practice different occupations such as dhobis (washing community), hajjam (barber), khasab (butcher), sunar (goldsmith), badhai (carpenter), etc. In Nalgonda town, localities like Hyderkhan Guda, Manyanchelka, Jama Masjid, and Akkachelma are populated by Malas, Madigas, and Muslims in equal proportions. All these houses here are united, and it is easy to trace who converted to Islam. There is a community called ‘ganta fakirolla goodem’ (a community that rings the bell while begging) near Koppal in Nalgonda district. They ring the bells as they arrive at the villages in the dark. They may have been ‘beggars’ before converting to Islam.
In Telangana, there are Itinerant or Vagrant communities who come to villages with animals such as monkeys, bears, donkeys, and so on to beg in all the districts. There were blacksmiths wandering the streets; there were Muslims who cast idols; and next to Khammam district, there is a deer herding community. In Kadapa district, one can also find a juggling community (garadi). There are around 300 houses in Vempalli (Kadapa district) called “Boriya wale” (basket and mat making community) and Telugu people call them Bontalollu. Presently, the demand for their handmade mats made out of tree leaves has been replaced with plastic mats, and no one is buying from the community. The mats they sewed are simply used to cover the dead bodies of any of their community members who die. Such is their living condition and this community can be found across the region. In Vempalli, there are Ghodewale (a horse-rearing community), and Lakdi Wale (those who go to the forest and sell firewood).
There are certain region specific castes among Telangana Muslims like in Nalgonda district, there are villages of patharphod (the stone-crushing community), and other towns such as Kashivarigudem and Kasaram are also home to members of this society. These community youngsters are denied access to basic education and taught caste-based jobs due to poverty. The majority of people are familiar with the Dudekulas, who converted to Islam from the Malas and Padmashalis (weaving class groups) and were known by a variety of titles within the state. There are women who wrap beedi leaves and sal leaves, women who stitch, and women who do several other menial and arduous occupations. Even today, in the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, there are several examples of Muslim communities comprising individuals from various castes.
On the roadways of Rajasthan and Bengal, Muslims can be seen sewing footwear and leather goods. In Lucknow and Banaras, there are Muslim handlooms weaving groups. In Bihar, there are Muslim snake charmers. Muslims in diverse professions are regarded as beacons in all states. According to some sources, Muslims continue to work in more than 60 tribal-Dalit Bahujan jobs. This signifies that the above mentioned castes have converted to Islam without any coercion but out of their choice.
Status of Muslims during and after Nizam
Before the advent of Nizam’s rule in Deccan these Muslims worked in caste-related jobs. However, when the Nizams ruled, they began to take pride in the fact that the ruler was a member of their community and began claiming to be nawabs or jagirdars and that their religion is the religion of the Nawabs. They gave up their caste based professions for menial administrative jobs. After giving up their professions the other Muslims started cultivating agricultural lands. And in the course of time illiteracy and poverty levels increased among them leading them to finally sell away their priced possessions to the erstwhile landlords like Reddys, Velmas, Kammas, and Brahmins in the villages. Therefore, the plight of Muslims started to worsen because, on one hand, they have lost their caste occupation and, on the other hand, they have lost their lands. Literally, this community entered into the vicious cycle of poverty.
Due to the lack of support and reservations from the government, Muslims’ lives are in abject poverty. Today, the majority of the fruit carts along the roads are Muslim. All the roadside mechanics are Muslims. All those who repair bicycles, run puncture repairing shops, tailors, watchmakers, mall wagons, pepper carts, chai stalls, small sandal shops, tent houses, retail bargainers, auto and car jeep-lorry drivers are all of Muslims. Is it a coincidence or is it their destiny? Without the opportunity to study and lack of jobs their situation worsened.
Castes among Telangana Muslims
- Achchukattalavandlu, Singali, Singamvallu, Achupanivallu, Achukattuvaru,
- Attar Saibulu, Attarollu
- Dobi Muslim, Muslim Dobi, Dhobi Musliman, Turka Chakali, Turka Chakala, Turka Sakali, Turkala Vannan, Chakala, Sakala, Chakala, Muslim Rajakulu
- Fakir, Fakir Budbudki, Ganti Fakir, Ganta Fakir, Turaka Budbudki, Darvesh Fakir
- Juggling Muslim, juggling Saibs, snake charmers, jugglers
- Gosangi Muslim, Pakirusaibs
- Guddi Eluguvallu, Elugu Bantuvallu, Musalman Keelu Gurralavallu
- Hajam, Nai, Nai Muslim, Naveed
- Labby, Labbai, Labban, Labba
- Pakiria, Borewale, Dera fakirs, bontollu
- Qureshi, Khasab, Marathi Khasab, Katika Muslim, Muslim Katika.
- Shaikh, Sheikh
- Siddhi, Yaba, Habshi, Jasi
- Turaka kasha, Kukkukotte deer saibulu, Chukki takanevale, Thirugudu guntalavaru, Thirugatiganta, Rolla kakku kottevaru, Butter podulu, Chakkatakare.
These communities are currently included in Telangana State’s BC “e” category.
The communities which do not fall under BC B and BC E castes/reservations and fall under OC are as following:
- Syed / Sayyed
- Ishmaili Shia
- Kutchi Memon
Given the seeming diversity of Muslims, in-depth research is required to reap long-term benefits. Only by delving deeply into Muslim origins they will get rational justice. That is why people from other religion or caste who have converted to Islam must be scrutinized.
Currently, a few Muslim subgroups, such as the Dudekula, Laddaf, and Pinjari, are entitled to the reservation because they are included in the B.C. “B” group. However, these Muslims fall short in comparison to the other B.C. ‘B’ castes from other religions. As a result of the group reservation, these Muslims are not significantly impacted. Some communities, including Pathan, Syed, and others, were excluded when the 4 percent allocation was made, and they did not obtain the BC “E” reservation. Syed, Pathan, and other groups are lamenting the fact that nothing has changed for them. In reality, unless they are chosen by their choice, these surnames are irrelevant to their social and economic position.
Challenges in identifying Muslim converts
In Andhra Pradesh, Dalit Christians can be distinguished from other Christians by their culture. The reason is that surnames continue to be referenced in their names and traditions. Because all of their homes in the villages are in one location, they are easy to identify. With Muslims, such is not the case. Within a single generation, the practices, language, and even their complete names change when someone converts to Islam from another faith. There has been no sign of the caste/religion from which they converted to Islam, and their financial status also didn’t change; it was as low as before the conversion. Irrespective of their socio-economic status, both the state and the central government list them all under the “OC”.
Injustice against Muslim converts and way forward
If SC Reserved Dalits become Christians, they are upgraded to BC “C”. In fact, when the Constitution has given the fundamental right, i.e., the right to freedom of religion, it is unjust that reservation granted to Dalits in Hindu religion is different to that of Dalits in Christianity. But what if those Dalits convert to Islam? They are denied of reservation, and they are put into “OC category.”
To identify people who have converted from Dalits to Muslims, one might consider their place of residence, their respective occupations, and particular cultural practices. Dudekulas, Laddafs, and Pinjaris are classified as one group in the BC B category. They are possibly converts to Islam from the Mala and Padmashali (handloom) groups. Other than the BC B Muslims, the vast majority of Muslims are converts from lower castes and tribes. For instance, boreywalas is a community of basket-makers; this is the occupation of the Yerukala Tribe. That means people from the Yerukala tribe may have converted to Islam and became Muslims. Shouldn’t these people still be given the benefits of ST reservation?
This kind of study is crucial. The best approach to assist these sorts of Muslim converts for the government to place them under “service” communities and tribe communities in the Muslim ‘A’ category and SCs who converted to Islam in the Muslim ‘B’ category. Dudekulas and others with comparable occupations should be classified as Muslim ‘C’ category. This is expected to provide some relief to oppressed Muslim subgroups. In general, such a process must begin somehow. Otherwise, discontent among the many subgroups of Muslims will tend to escalate.
Impact of occupational caste system among Muslims
Islam advocates global equality and condemns caste, class, race, and several other distinctions. It is a religion of humanity and love. Consequently, there should be no caste differences. Unfortunately, there are around 700 categories (biraadari) among the followers of Islam due to the impact of castes system of India. However, the Indian caste system and the endurance of these castes divisions led to the emergence of similar distinctions among the Muslim community also.
Muslims believe Syeds to be direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and rumours have spread that it is a sin for Syed girls to marry non-Syed boys or men. In addition, it is widely believed that if a Syed woman marries a non-Syed man, she should not clean the home or veranda. If this is the case, it is a sin and a curse on their in-laws. Syed’s daughters found it challenging to find husbands as a result of this spurious proof and malicious publicity. The Dudekulas, who are BC-B Muslims, are similarly despised by the rest of the Muslim world. When it comes to marrying their girls, this prejudice is also prevalent on a significant scale. With regard to Shiites, the same is true for Sunnis. Muslims have an imperative obligation to end all forms of discrimination and to advance the notion that all Muslims are equal.
SK. Yousuf Baba (Sky Baba), is a poet, storyteller, Telangana-Muslim activist and editor of Chaman magazine. He wrote this research paper originally in Telugu.
Translated into English and edited by Zeenathfar Azmi Syed, Senior Research Fellow at Osmania University.