A series of Dalit-Muslim conferences over the past couple of months in states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Telangana has rekindled hopes among their leaders of forging a joint “social justice” movement in the run-up to the 2019 general election.
The Mahmood Madani-led faction of the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, a prominent Muslim organisation, which led these conferences, said the purpose was to forge “long-term social alliances”. The All India Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), whose members include those from the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), have also attended these conferences.
Four major Dalit-Muslim conferences have been held so far on the theme “Mulk Do Rahe Par” (the country is on divergent paths): in Delhi on February 22, in Lucknow on March 10, in Bengaluru on March 8 and in Hyderabad on March 21.
Smaller, local-level, Dalit-Muslim associations by participation in each other’s rallies and events are taking place throughout Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. “Both are suppressed and deprived communities. We have long felt that the two must stand together for each other’s rights,” Madani said.
In Saharanpur, home to the influential Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband, young Muslims are joining the Bhim Sena, a Dalit group, Madani said.
The Delhi meeting was attended by 170 Muslim and Dalit representatives. They include Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar; Kancha Ilaiah of the Maulana Azad Urdu University, Ashok Bharti of the National Confederation of Dalit Organisations; BN Tejavath of the All India Scheduled Tribe Federation; and Shivarudra Mahaswamigalu of the Shree Belimatha Mahasamsthana. “There has to be a basis for people to come together. The basis is the social oppression being faced by Dalits and Muslims at the hands of communal forces,” said Ambedkar, adding that the larger struggle should also be about the economic situation. “Muslims have traditionally voted for the Congress, which also believes in Vedic persecution of Dalits. They should make it very clear they will vote for any new alternative that can take on communal forces,” Ambedkar said.
Organisations representing scheduled castes, who make up 16.6% of the population, have been restive in recent months.
Incidents such as the Bhima Koregaon clashes near Pune on January 1 involving Dalits and upper caste groups and the March 20 Supreme Court judgement banning automatic arrests and registration of cases under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989, have exacerbated social tensions. “This is not a political alliance yet, but a social alliance. If needed we could also help each other politically,” said Bharti of the National Confederation of Dalit Organisations.
“How to stand against communal forces together…how to ensure Dalits are not utilised against Muslims in riots…that is our main agenda,” said Maulana Nadeem Siddiqui, a Jamiat leader from Maharashtra, who says he has been holding discussions with Prakash Ambedkar every week.