NATIONAL CONSULTATION

MINORITIES: PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES

India is a secular democracy. Taking the latter aspect first, a democracy, by definition, is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Thus, a democratic government should not only work for the people, but also seem to be working for the people. Here ‘people’ means all the citizens of a given country, irrespective of their majority-minority status or their ethnicity, religion, caste, creed etc. Similarly, a secular government is expected to maintain equidistant from all religions. But, although Indian Constitution describes India as Secular, what type of secularism is practiced by India has remained a debatable point.

National Consultancy-1

Indian society is multi-religious; the major one being Hinduism. The Government of India has recognised, in the follow up to the Sachar Committee, five minorities viz., Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Parsi and Buddhists, for extending benefits under the 15-Point Programme. There are scores of other minorities, both religious and linguistic.

Despite Constitutional provisions and several laws, rules and regulations, the minorities continue to complain of discrimination in the hands of the government and its agencies. The following are some of the problems that the minorities are reported to be facing:

  •  Educational; adequate financial allocations are not available for minority educational institutions;
  •  Dalit Christians are not granted Scheduled Castes status as has been done in the case of Sikhs and Buddhists;
  •  Christians do not have adequate representation in educational institutions and in Government employment especially in the police force and the bureaucracy;
  •  Church/Wakf property and Muslim and Christian burial grounds as well as Parsi religious grounds are encroached upon and there is no protection against such encroachments or steps taken by the government for removal of such encroachments; the culprits are not brought to book;
  • Police exhibit indifference and laxity during the onslaught by anti-social elements on the members of the Christian community, as well as the Christian institutions and refuse to register FIRs;
  • Sikhs are not adequately represented on the Commissions and Boards established by the State Government;
  • Neo-Buddhists demand privileges, as they are, by and large a deprived segment of society. They also demand protection of their distinctive culture;
  •  A common complaint of all the minority communities is that there are inadequate Anganwadis and Balwadis in minority dominated areas;
  • Prime Minister’s 15 Point Programme for the welfare of minorities is not being implemented in letter and spirit. There is inadequate publicity to the 15-point programme among the minorities on account of which the eligible minorities are unable to avail the benefits and the funds are allowed to lapse;
  • The terms and conditions governing the grant of educational grants/loans under the 15-Point programme are very stringent;
  • State Minority Commissions have not been meeting the minorities at district-levels to understand their problems. It is not enough if the meeting is held in the capital.

It is common knowledge that the Muslim community has been facing most problems as compared to other minorities. Most communal riots that have occurred and which continue to occur are mostly between Hindu and Muslim communities and in such communal clashes, the sufferers are poor Muslim families, who lose not only their homes and hearths but also their earning members(s), making them destitute.  While it   may be difficult to pin the blame for the incidents of violence with any accuracy, the Law Enforcement agencies deal with Muslims with bias. Often, innocent Muslim youth are hauled up and put behind bars for long periods, disturbing the lives of the families concerned.

After every incidence of communal violence, the government has constituted commissions of inquiry. But, the reports of such Commissions have only been gathering dust. The personnel (including politicians, Police etc.) indicted by the Commissions are never made answerable.

A government bound to work by the rule of law, should not give room to so many complaints/demands from sections of the society. If the government strictly follows the principle of planning, implementation and periodical assessment, there should be no room for complaint. But, unfortunately, that is not the case.

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National Consultation

In the above background, the Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai organised a one-day National Consultation on “Minorities: Challenges & Problems” on 8 October 2013 at Sarvodaya Hall, St. Pius Bio-medical college
campus, Aarey Road, Goregaon East. The Consultation, presided over by Dr. (Mrs.) T. F. Thekkekara, Additional Chief Secretary, Minority Development Department, Government of Maharashtra, was inaugurated by Dr. Gautam Gawali, Director, Western Regional Centre of the Indian Council of Social Science Research at Mumbai.

The following were the participants:

  • Adv. Irfan Engineer                           Fr. Allwyn D’Silva
  • Maulana Mohd. Shoaib Koti            Dr. Ravi Duggal
  • Dr. Noorjehan Safia Niaz                   Mr. Anwar Hussain
  • Jyoti Punwani                                      Ms. Mallika Mistry
  • Dr. Mohammad Arif                            Ms. Muniza Khan
  • Mr. Firoz Ashraf                                 Mr. Sadiq Raza Misbahi
  • Mr. Sarath Chandran                          Dr. (Mrs.) Vasundhara Mohan

In his inaugural address, Dr. Gautam Gawali appreciated the initiative taken by the CSSS in organizing the discussion, which is quite relevant in the present times. He however, wondered whether it was correct to identify minorities in terms of religion alone. For, he said, there are several castes whose members were inherently poor and have not received any attention. Even otherwise, in the identified minorities there were sections that were rich and did not need anyassistance by the government. In his view, any section of the population that is poor and socio-economically backward, deserved special treatment. Categorization in terms of religion would only be creating fissures in the society.

Dr. (Mrs.) Thekkekara, Additional Chief Secretary in charge of Minority Development department in the Government of Maharashtra agreed with the views of Dr. Gawali and said that by paying special attention to religious minorities, the government was only creating more reasons for exclusiveness in the society. If a given locality in a town or city was lacking basic facilities like drinking water, hospitals and schools, it should demand the creation of such facilities for the community and not on the basis of religion. Minorities should feel a part of the whole society and should not crave to remain aloof on the basis of religion. Such a demand would only lead to ghettoization and ghettoization would lead to self-preservation instinct and robs the feeling of being a part of the whole society. Minorities should demand for inclusive treatment and not special treatment, as demanding such special treatment would only result in faulty presumptions about others instead of developing connectivity between people. 

Panel Discussions and Recommendations 

The Panel of experts met separately to identify the problems being faced by each religious minority and recommend ways and means of sorting them out.

Dr. Ravi Duggal spoke about the challenges before the Sikh community and stated that Sikhs were a martial race and has been serving the Indian armed forces since times immemorial. But, after 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the community is being looked with suspicion and there appears to be a conscious policy to reduce the strength of Sikh community in the armed forces. Profiling of Sikhs has led to a sense of insecurity among them. He narrated the Sikh history, tracing the background of the Arya Samaj movement and the creation of Khalsa class by Guru Govind Singh.

Noorjahan spoke about codification of Muslim personal laws and said that such codification is a must in the interests of the present generation Muslims. She also stressed on the need for secular education so that Muslim boys and girls get adequately equipped to access better-paying jobs. She was supported by Firoz Ashraf. They also felt that Muslims should join the Police force and the Army etc. The non-Muslims should create awareness among the Muslims and encourage them Muslims joining the forces. It is only when adequate numbers of Muslims join the Police force, there will not be complaints of bias.

Ashraf also pointed out that one of the reasons for Muslim parents not getting their daughters educated was the fear of dowry. He said that giving higher education to girls results in the inability of parents finding a suitable match. However, it is time, he said, that Muslim parents give their daughters and sons secular education and make them capable of competing in the job market.

Mr. Sarat Chandran brought to the notice of the Panel that in spite of complaining about lack of educational facilities at affordable expense, even the minority educational institutions were charging exorbitant fees for children of their own communities. This point was also endorsed by Fr. Allwyn D’Silva. He also said that the amount charged was lesser when admission is sought on-line. It should not be case, he argued. Mr. Firoz Ashraf added that school buses ferrying students do not stop in minority-dominated areas for reasons best known to them. This makes the parents spend more as they are compelled to engage private transport.

Mr. Shoaib Koti pointed out that the government was only making half-hearted attempts in its programmes for helping the poor minorities. Referring to ghettoism in the Muslim community, he said that the main reason for it was the incidence of violence against the Muslims. The latter feel that they would be safe if they live together and the result was the sprouting of ghettos. It is only when Muslims feels safe in the society that they will move to cosmopolitan areas. It is for the government and administration to make them feel confident.

The panelists also discussed the long pending issues like Equal Opportunities Commission and Communal Violence Bill. They desired the setting up of an agency which would act like a Watch Dog monitoring hate speeches, which would lead to communal clashes. There is no such agency now and a number of political leaders who engage themselves in delivering hate speech get away with utter impunity.
The consensus was that the minorities should get over the minority complex and join the main stream, demanding facilities purely based on their socio-economic condition instead of on the basis of religion. It is only when there is an increased interaction between communities that it is possible to avert and banish communal violence.

Firoz Ashraf and Shoaib Koti strongly urged modernization of Madrasa education if the Madras graduates should be treated on par with graduates from secular stream. The outlook of the Trustees of Madrasa should change in that they should accept that in the modern age, Muslim students cannot compete if they are not fully equipped. They also felt that the political and religious leaders of every minority must act in a democratic way in dealing with the members of their communities instead of foisting their diktats on them. It would be futile to expect that the government should treat them in a democratic fashion when they themselves behave in an autocratic way. In this context the Panel referred to the Anti-Conversion Laws passed by certain State Governments. Whenever a person changes his Faith, he does it on his own volition and there are no instances of forcible conversions in India. The draconian anti-conversions laws rob the most oppressed classes from improving their social status by changing their religion. There is a need to re-examine the provisions of such laws.

Referring to the growing use of burqa by Muslim women in some parts of the country, Mr. Firoz Ashraf said that this could be attributed to the increasing influence e of Wahhabis. He also cited the case of preventing women from visiting Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai. Such acts were only harming the Muslim community, in as much as the media highlights the incidents and not instances where Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities jointly celebrate each other’s festivals. Media should play a constructive role in highlighting positive developments rather than the negative aspects. Jyoti Punwani, well-known journalist agreed with these views.

 

Outcome of the Consultation

After a thorough discussion of the real and perceived injustices meted out to the minorities, the panelists recommended that such interaction meetings should be held more frequently and with the presence of religious and community leaders of the different religions so as to find ways and means of avoiding clashes based on religion and caste and coming up with a charter of demands based on the socio-economic status of oppressed and down-trodden communities.

There was also consensus that the minorities should feel part of the whole of India and stop insisting on an exclusive treatment based on religion. The Minorities should work hard and qualify for better-paying jobs instead of complaining that they are being sidelined.

Similarly, Indians should realise the fact that there cannot be a complete homogeneity in the society and accept diversity in the interests of peace, harmony and all-round development. Unless each community decides to accept this principle and get rid of faulty assumptions and myths about others, there cannot be peace and social harmony.

As the government is ultimately responsible for ensuring peace and communal harmony, the outlook of government officials at the decision-making levels should change. Often even Muslim officers, for instance, were discriminatory in their behaviour towards Muslims.

A workshop may be organised for the Trustees of Madrasas which are still following the outdated curriculum so as to impress upon them on the need for change in the best interests of the Muslim community. They should understand that modernization of madrasas doe not necessarily mean straying from Faith.

Adv. Irfan Engineer, Director presented Vote of Thanks.

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