Breaking News




The Bakkhos are treated as untouchables by upper caste Muslims
Anand ST Das

Hope springs: Mohammad Suleman’s family

As 75-year-old Mohammad Suleman Bakkho trudges through the garbage-lined lanes to his two-room hut in Patna’s Adalatganj slum, the cane basket balanced on his head is not the only thing weighing his lean frame down. The old man’s one prayer on his way home is for the three other working adults of his family to have earned enough to keep the 14 people of their household well fed, and for Allah to let one more day pass without their surname being made public. In Bihar, the Bakkho sub-caste — formerly a nomadic tribe — is held by other Muslims to be untouchable, despite Islam categorically forbidding any such division.

Ten years ago, Suleman decided to abandon the Bakkhos’ traditional livelihood — singing and making music at births — and “start something better” that would help his grandchildren get an education and perhaps even to a secure living. The family took to collecting old clothes in exchange for new utensils. They would clean and sell them in flea-markets, an enterprise that ensures two full meals for the family.

But not much else. “We tried everything we could to give our children an education, but things just never turned out as we hoped. There’s always a despair in us, a fear that we Bakkhos, we who are untouchable, cannot achieve anything,” said Suleman. His eldest son, 49-year-old Naimuddin, interjects: “We aren’t rich enough to give our children anything near a good education. No matter how hard we try, we can never compete with the upper castes and the rich.”

As with nearly all Bakkhos, such education as the family has seen has involved little more than memorising the Quran and gaining rudimentary Urdu at the local madarsa. “While costs even at government schools were beyond us anyway, our children were also unable to bear the taunts of the children of upper-caste Muslims. The madarsas are best for our children because an education that acquaints them with Allah’s teachings is always better than an education that doesn’t even assure you a job that will fetch you two square meals a day,” said Naimuddin, a father of six daughters and two sons.

The combined earnings of Suleman, his two sons and a daughter-in-law come to about Rs 2,000 a month. The average Bakkho family makes even less. Like most other backward Muslim castes, they live as squatters, perpetually at risk of being evicted. Suleman sees no easing in the social stigma attached to his caste. “When someone in an upper-caste family dies, we go to his house to condole, like we would to any Muslim home. But when someone of our caste dies, the upper castes never come by.”

The Sachar Committee recommendations come to this family as a pleasant surprise. “sc status would be great for us,” Naimuddin said. “If we had job quotas, I would send my youngest son to an English-medium school.” The boy is 14 and is named after the former Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. His mother added: “This child could even get a government job. That would make a world of difference for our family and for the Bakkho caste.”

Nov 18 , 2006