(As narrated by Mr. Mohammed Ali Shabbir)
Prior to the release of GO. MS. NO. 33, I underwent a silent, but highly intense exercise to get 5% reservation for Muslim community.
While a majority of people were fully convinced on giving reservation to Muslim community, a small section was opposed to the idea on the pretext of religion. The opponents disputed the fact that Muslims were backward. Since, the Chief Minister needs to take everyone’s opinion into account, I was worried that such moves might hurt the process of getting reservation for the Muslim community. I was highly concerned about lakhs of poor Muslims who were not getting their meals even once in a day. They were living in extreme poverty and developed a close association with hunger. I wanted to kill that hunger. Therefore, I came up with an idea of conducting a private survey to highlight the level of backwardness withing the Muslim community. Instead of going for conventional text-based report, I engaged an audio-visual unit. I personally identified some case studies and directed the AV unit to film them. All the case studies were compiled in a Compact Disk and I named it as “Bhook Ko Phansi Do” (Hang the hunger).
The State Cabinet is the highest decision making body in a government and therefore, it strictly follows the norms. Probably for the first time in history, I requested the Chief Minister Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy to deviate from the official agenda in the interest of lakhs of poor Muslims. I offered to play around 22-minute duration film in Telugu language on condition of Muslims in Andhra Pradesh before the cabinet. The Chief Minister agreed and the CD was watched by the entire cabinet. It contained case studies of Muslim groups like Sang Tarash or Turka Kashudu (Stone Cutters), Dhobi (Washermen), Hajjam (Barbers), Tanners, Siddi, Shepherds, Butchers, Rifayi Fakheer (Beggars), etc.,
The entire cabinet, especially Dr. YSR was shock to learn about the level of backwardness and poverty among Muslims. All the case studies, which were featured in the CD, were real. The stories on those poor Muslims, practising different odd professions, brought tears into the eyes of many ministers, including the Chief Minister. There was complete silence for a few moments. “Shabbir we cannot forget what you have shown to us now. We never thought that Muslims were so backward. This is a real eye-opener,” said Dr. YSR while addressing me.
They entire cabinet was totally convinced that such groups need upliftment and reservation was the best way to address their problem on permanent basis. A few ministers confessed that they had a different opinion about the Muslim community. Since they interacted with some Muslims who live in Hyderabad or other urban areas, they were under the impression that most of the Muslims belong to middle-class segment. They never gave a thought on the lives of poor Muslims living in rural and remote areas of the State. The cabinet was unanimous in giving nod to the exercise of providing reservation for the Muslim community.
During the same discussion, Dr. YSR asked as to why one section of Muslim community was opposed to reservation despite the fact that majority of Muslims were living in deplorable condition. I told the Chief Minister that those opposing the reservation never visited rural areas. Their life is confined to cities and big towns. Although many Muslims live in slum areas of Hyderabad, the rich and elite never interact or enquire about such poor Muslims. Since, they get to eat Biryani more often, they assume that the entire Muslim community was well off.
Dr. YSR gave a smile at my answer and said, “Oh! So they are Biryani Nawabs.” He said now he was least bothered about the opinion of ‘Biryani Nawabs’ and asked me to pursue the process of reservation with full vigour. Entire cabinet supported the Chief Minister’s views.
I was extremely happy at this success. Immediately after returning home, I offered Two Rakats of Thanksgiving Namaz.
Overwhelmed with the response which I got from my cabinet colleagues, I intensified my efforts to bring consensus on Muslim reservation. I invited Muslim religious leaders, intellectuals, representatives of various NGOs and arranged screening of the same CD. This evoked positive and welcome response from the community leaders. The opposition to reservation got minimised. It forced the opinion makers of the community to understand the depth of poverty and backwardness among Muslims.
At a later stage, the same CD was submitted before the Backward Classes Commission to help it understand the existence of profession-based socially and economically groups within the Muslim community. The contents of CD were so realistic that they also silenced the critics of reservation who were opposing the proposal due to communal reasons. On wrong pretext, they were trying to deny the poor Muslims their due rights in education and jobs which was guaranteed to them by the Constitution of India.