Reformist Bohras face social boycott in Hyderabad
A small but dedicated group of ex-Dawoodi Bohras insists that the community is in the stranglehold of the top leadership. (TOI file photo by Hemant Shirodkar)

HYDERABAD: At the outset, the Dawoodi Bohra community in the city is vibrant. Its members are predisposed to business; the thousands of large and small hardware and glass stores dotting the city bear testimony to the fact that the largely mercantile community is thriving. The tasteful gold-embroidered skull caps and spotless flowing white saya, which men sport, and the women’s rida, a variant of the burqa, are unique. But while all seems bright and beautiful, a small but dedicated group of ex-Dawoodi Bohras insists that the community is in the stranglehold of the top leadership.

Identifying themselves as reformists, many of the 70-odd families say that they are victims of an unofficial social boycott. The reason behind it is that they questioned various religious and administrative practices within the community.

Ali Asghar is one such reformist. It all began when Asghar’s family was questioned after they closed their departmental store in Pathergatti for a day after a Bohra, who had left the fold, a patriarch of Haji Qurban Hussain family, died. “It was a mark of respect. The upset leadership reprimanded us for expressing solidarity with an ‘outsider’,” Asghar said.

But the worst was yet to come. The issue of raza, or permission, from the aamil, a local regent of the Dai al Mutlaq, the spiritual head of Bohras, came up when Asghar’s father died around 20 years ago. “It took us more than 12 hours to get permission to touch the body because the then aamil was busy,” he recalled.

What later ensued was a “whisper campaign” that sought to exclude Asghar and his ilk. “I was informed of my mother’s death four days after she passed away. None of my relatives wanted anything to do with me,” he said.

For others, the problem began when they questioned the opacity in funds transfer. Like the Sunni denomination, the Bohras too pay zakat. Businessman Sulaiman Ali (name changed) said the whisper campaign against him began once he questioned how the funds were being used. “Opacity is the norm. The local aamil told us that questioning was a sign of weak faith,” Ali said.

The claims are not surprising. It was around 35 years ago in Gujarat that the Nathwani Commission was constituted to probe instances of excesses by the leadership. Another reformist, requesting anonymity, said, “The ripple effect of such practices is still being felt. There is a dire need for reforms.”

The registered reformist organization in the city, AP Dawoodi Bohra Jamaat, is similar to renowned scholar late Asghar Ali Engineer‘s movement. Prominent businessman Iftekhar Hussain, its president says, “There are around 150 families in Hyderabad and abroad who are a part of this. There was a time when I protested against Engineer. But now, we are inspired by him. We are not saying that the Syedna is right or wrong. We only wanted transparency. We are concerned that in a beautiful community in which dowry doesn’t exist, such practices are prevalent,” he said.

Claims have also surfaced that access cards have been issued to mainstream Bohras so as to monitor their movements. “There was a recent ‘furman’ from the top that Bohras earmark 10 days of mourning in Moharram without fail. It was seen that some were not coming and therefore cards were issued. No action is being taken for those who don’t come,” an insider claimed.

When contacted, aamil Shaik Haider said, “Raza is a Quranic concept. We have nothing to do with zakat funds as they are dealt with in the Mumbai headquarters.”