New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called upon BJP workers to reach out to marginalised communities, regardless of whether they vote for the party or not.
Among the communities he specifically named, while addressing the BJP’s national executive meeting in New Delhi earlier this week, were Pasmanda Muslims and Bohra Muslims.
Pasmandas, or backward Muslims, have been the focus of BJP’s outreach for some time now, with the party organising community-specific events in Uttar Pradesh with an eye on the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
According to some estimates, Pasmanda Muslims make up about 80-85 per cent of the 17 crore Muslim population in India and have always been viewed as a powerful political group wooed by many parties. They are spread across the country.
Bohra Muslims, on the other hand, are a more affluent group hailing mostly from the PM’s home state of Gujarat, as well as Maharashtra, and are traditionally known to be BJP supporters.
ThePrint brings you a lowdown of these two Muslim groups — in some respects the polar opposites of one another.
While the term ‘Pasmanda Muslim’ refers broadly to backward Muslims, in India there are caste connotations too, meaning caste of the person before they converted to Islam.
According to a 2009 article in the Economic and Political Weekly: “Pasmanda, a word of Persian origin, literally means ‘those who have fallen behind’, ‘broken’ or ‘oppressed’. For our purposes here it refers to the Dalit and backward caste Indian Muslims who constitute, according to most estimates, 85 per cent of the Muslim population and about 10 per cent of India’s population.”
Among the communities designated as Pasmanda are the Ansaris, Kunjras, Ghosis, Muslim Telis, Ghanchis, Halalkhors, Muslim Dhobis, Nats and Bhatias.
BJP’s outreach to Pasmanda Muslims has been going on for some time now, dating back to its national executive meeting in Hyderabad last July. Then too, Modi had asked his partymen to reach out to marginalised sections such as Pasmanda Muslims.
In the recent elections to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the party even gave tickets to four Pasmanda Muslim candidates. But, said former Rajya Sabha MP Ali Anwar Ansari, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Ansari, who set up the All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz, told ThePrint: “Last year, too, they talked about outreach to Pasmanda Muslims. It was a pleasant surprise. I wrote to the prime minister saying you have to put an end to mob lynchings, bulldozers and oppression in the name of love jihad to make people believe you.”
“And then, right ahead of the Gujarat elections, they released Bilkis Bano’s rapists. Bano is a Pasmanda Muslim, in fact, she is from the same community — Ghanchi — as the prime minister. How can people trust them then?” he asked.
In his July 2022 letter to the PM, Ansari had said that Pasmanda Muslims have been largely left out of political representation in Parliament and state assemblies and now the process of their “economic boycott” too has begun.
Also read: India’s Muslim community under a churn: 85% backward Pasmandas up against 15% Ashrafs
The Bohras derive their name from the Gujarati word “vahaurau”, meaning “to trade”. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica: “The Bohras include, in addition to (the) Shia majority, often of the merchant class, a Sunni minority who are usually peasant farmers. The Mustali sect which originated in Egypt and later moved its religious centre to Yemen, gained a foothold in India through missionaries of the 11th century. After 1539, by which time the Indian community had grown quite large, the seat of the sect was moved from Yemen to Sidhpur (Patan district of Gujarat), India.”
The total Indian Bohra population is estimated to be in the range of about 10-12 lakh with many settled abroad. The community wields influence disproportionate to its numbers.
The most powerful group, politically and economically, among the Bohras is the Dawoodi Bohras which are spread in 40 countries across the world and most easily identified by their characteristic white-and-gold caps.
Modi is known to have close ties with the community, painfully cultivated over years after the 2002 riots that had left Muslims disillusioned with the then Gujarat dispensation.
In fact, when Modi launched his prime ministerial campaign in 2013, one of the best known and most vocal Muslim faces of that campaign was Zafar Sareshwala — a Bohra Muslim businessman.
According to reports, it was Modi’s commitment to ease of business in Gujarat that was the turning point in BJP’s relations with the community.
In 2018, Modi attended the Ashara Mubaraka event — commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Husain (SA) — organised by the Dawoodi Bohra community in Indore. It was one of only a handful of Muslim events that Modi has attended in his capacity as prime minister.
The current religious head of the Bohra community, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, was born in Surat and is based out of Mumbai. When his father and the former Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin died in 2014, Modi met him to offer his condolences.
The community has also seen a legal battle over the post, with Saifuddin’s leadership being challenged by Syedna Taher Fakhruddin who claims to be the 54th Dai or religious head.
A day after the PM’s appeal to his partymen to reach out to Muslims, Fakhruddin Wednesday issued a statement welcoming it.
“The Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has called upon his party members to reach out to minorities within the country, including Dawoodi Bohra community members. His Holiness Syedna Taher Fakhruddin Saheb welcomes the Prime Minister’s comments and stands ready to engage in genuine and meaningful conversations about the concerns of Indian Muslims for the progress and development of our country,” it read.
“Syedna Fakhruddin Saheb and the Dawoodi Bohra community are willing to do all we can for our country to make it better for all its citizens. We are proud that India is home to the Dawoodi Bohra community since (1,000) years. One must always feel safe at home. As a community, security in our home country is paramount,” it added.
While the Bohras are known for their progressive outlook, one of the worst kept secrets of the community is its practice of female genital mutilation — an act that has been declared by the UN as a human rights violation but which still continues in India.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)
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