THE RIGHTS OF MINORITIES- Should Not end up in Isolating them Further

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According to a report (http://newindianexpress.com/thesundaystandard/article591647.ece), on July 30 the chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) wrote a letter to the Union Culture Minister and recommended opening up the religious structures under the protection of Archaeological Survey of India for public prayers. The existing rule does not permit such prayers inside such structures barring a few exceptions.

Expressing dissatisfaction over the maintenance of a number of mosques identified by the NCM, the chairperson proposed a joint survey by the ASI and the Waqf Board to examine the present position of these structures on the plea that the Mosques under the control of ASI have been maintained in “less than satisfactory condition and used in a manner not in keeping with the sanctity expected for a religious monument,’’. Also forwarding a letter of the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind in which this association of the Islamic clerics belonging to the Deobandi school Sunni Islam expressed desire to take the responsibility of these mosques, he demanded their control under this religious body. “The minister has assured the NCM chief that she would revert. But since this is a hypersensitive matter, all aspects needs to be discussed,’’. The ministry official on the other hand was quoted saying “If approved, it would open the floodgates of thousands of such demands and if the proposal is rejected, there is a possibility of the government being seen as anti-minorities,’’.

Despite the fact that the NCM being a statutory body and is supposed to be apolitical, its religio-political overture suggests that it is also a part of the forces that have been fighting for the rights of the Muslims staying back in India after partition of the sub-continent which are determined to create one or other controversy even at the cost of communalising the situation if it suits their self-seeking interest. It appears that these forces are engaged in digging up the ruins of Muslim history and fight for their revival in the name of minority rights. They are not trying to understand that such issues are not only detrimental to the communal harmony in the country but would also keep the second religious majority of this country isolated from the main current of the socio-political and cultural stream.

India, a country of multi ethnic, linguistic, sectarian and religious groups is practically a nation of various minorities. Accordingly, after emerging as a “Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic, Republic” in 1947 it adopted a constitution which granted equal rights to all its citizens without any discrimination on the ground of religion or on the basis of minority and majority. Chief Justice Gajendragadkar observed, “The essential basis of the Indian constitution is that all citizens are equal and this basic equality obviously proclaims that the religion of a citizen is entirely irrelevant in the matter of his fundamental rights”. Keeping in mind that the country being a nation of minorities and it should be driven by universal human and democratic rights without the concept of minority rights, the Indian Constituent Assembly widely debated this issue when Jawaharlal Nehru said:

“(In) a full-blooded democracy, if you seek to give safeguards to a minority, and a relatively small minority, you isolate it. May be you protect it to a slight extent, but at what cost? At the cost of isolating it and keeping it away from the main current in which the majority is going – I am talking on the political plane of course – at the cost of forfeiting that inner sympathy and fellow-feeling with the majority.”

India is the second largest Muslim populated country in the world. Therefore, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the tallest Muslim leader of Independent India rightly observed that “he didn’t think Muslims were minorities – he called them India’s second religious majority”. But despite the constitutional guarantee for equal rights to all its citizens and saner words of above mentioned two leaders, a dubious idea called the rights of minorities included in Indian Constitution under Articles 29 and 30 which was perhaps promised in good faith to reassure India’s anxious Muslims at the time of partition. Unfortunately, the Muslim leaders used this constitutional provision as lethal weapon to fight for the politico-religious rights of their community and made the term minority synonymous with Muslims.

The constitution of India has not defined the term minority but the central Government through a notification identified Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Parsis as minorities. However, except Muslims none of the remaining minorities ever wished to fight for their rights that would isolate them further from the mainstream. Thus, establishment of various institutions for the rights of minorities were meant only for catering the never ending demands of one particular community only.

Drawing inspiration from the philosophy of Rahmat Ali, the Muslim leaders of India revived the fight for the rights of their community which is rooted to the separatist demand of Muslim League like separate electorates in British India for the Muslims that was the preparatory step to the partition. Rahmat Ai had coined the word Pakistan in 1933 and “believed that the Muslims of India had to reform politically in order to become a viable, independent community”. Even after creation of Pakistan in 1947 as an independent Muslim nation, he continued to argue at United Nation over the rights of Muslim minority in India (Wikipedia).

Taking advantage of the two articles of the constitution referred to, the Muslim leaders of the country overlooked the observation of Maulana Azad and Nehru on the issue of minority and preferred to follow the footsteps of Rahmat Ali. They began their fight by reviving a deep-rooted medieval attitude in the minds of the second religious majority in the country and not only kept them away from the main current as apprehended by Nehru but also dispirited them to think independently for developing a critical perspective and to analyse the life in a more meaningful manner suited to the contemporary global environment.

The subsequent events and government programmes like minority character of Aligarh Muslim University, creation of Minorities Commission, Constitutional amendment to neutralise the Supreme Court judgement in Shahbano case, separate Ministry for Minorities, separate fund allocation for minority developments, creation of the Minority Cell under the National Institute of Open Schooling Government of India to look after problems of minority communities, appointment of Rangnath Mishra and Sacchar Commissions, Prime Minister’s new (2006) 15-point Programme for the Development of the minorities, National Integration Council, Office of the Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities, Central Wakf Council, Central Madrasa Board, Haj Committe, National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation and above all the declaration of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while addressing at the meeting of the National Development Council in Delhi on December 2006 that "We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably the fruits of development. They must have the first claim on resources" suggest that the fight for the rights of the Muslims sabotaged the natural process of their secular integration with rest of the population and electoral democratization.

A brief narration of some of these events particularly the AMU and National Commission for Minorities may reveal that how the fight for the rights became a prime source of the community’s isolation from the national mainstream.

In 1951 the first amendment to AMU (Aligarh Muslim University) Act 1920 was made by the Nehru Government with following important changes:
· Membership of AMU Court (Senate) was made open to non-Muslims also.
· Theological instruction was made optional even for Muslim students.
· All colleges within the radius of fifteen miles in Aligarh were affiliated to AMU.
· The composition of the university court, the executive council and the academic council was to undergo changes in accordance with the new statutes.

The purpose behind these changes was to secularise this university and stop breeding the sleeping communal cells which had started since the days of Muslim League. The amendment was though not liked by the Muslims in general and students of the university in particular, there was no immediate agitation in view of the tensed communal environment of the country after partition. The Muslim activists however, re-visited the historical contribution of the AMU in partition and made the issue of its minority status as a starting point of their organised fight for the rights of the community.

After the murderous attack on Ali Yavar Jang, the Vice Chancellor of the university, the second amendment was made in 1965. With this amendment the AMU Court, which was the supreme governing body was reduced to the status of only advisory body. Muslim leaders took this amendment as depriving the AMU with its unique minority character and challenged it in Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court maintained that the AMU was established by the Act of 1920, which was enacted by the then British government and as such Muslim minority administering the same did not arise.

At the instance of Nurul Hasan, the then Union Education Minister, another amendment was made in 1972, when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister. This amendment was made to appease the Muslims by de-affiliating the colleges from the university, which were affiliated to it after the1951 amendment. This was the first victory of the Muslim leaders fighting for the rights of the Muslims.

In 1978, the Janata Party government made another amendment and restored the status of the university to the position of 1951. But to soothe the feelings of the Muslims on AMU issue, the Morarji Desai Government created the National Minorities Commission which was basically a reward to the community that had voted en- bloc to the Janata Party in 1977 elections against the Congress Party (Indira). This political blunder of the Janata Party Government was another shot in the arm of the Muslim activists fighting for the rights of the Muslims.

In 1981, the Indira Gandhi government restored the minority character of the AMU. Since then various amendments according to the whims of the political parties made the AMU a part of Muslim vote bank politics. These amendments had nothing to do with the modernisation of Muslim society as dreamt by its founder.

Surprisingly, M. H. Beg, the former Chief Justice of India and the Chairman of the Minorities Commission created by Morarji Desai Government in his very first report recommended that “the Minorities Commission should be replaced with or merged into a National Integration-cum-Human Rights Commission”. He even repeated his recommendation during a conference of State Minorities Commission in 1984.

Ironically, contrary to this recommendation by a prominent Muslim personality, the government led by Narsimha Rao on the basis of a resolution of the Ministry of Home Affairs converted the National Minorities Commission into a National Commission for Minorities by a statutory Act of Parliament in 1992. Since then the NCM worked as a prominent apparatus of Muslim politics as other religious minorities integrated in the national current of the democratic Indian society.

NCM’s letter to the Election Commission in 1998 to prevent the use of the words like “vote-bank” and “appeasement” by the political parties during elections and another letter to the political parties in 1999 to ensure at east100 seats of minorities (read Muslims) in the Lok Sabha, are also attempts to politicise the issue.

Other advisory recommendations like proportionate representation of minorities in the armed Forces and Police, special information to minorities regarding recruitments, share of employment of minorities in both public and private sectors, representation of minorities in selection committees and boards, adequate representation of minorities in appointment of Government Counsels, withdrawal of the guidelines issued by the Custodian of Enemy Properties regarding preservation and management of Enemy Properties in India, grant of exemption to candidates belonging to minority communities from the requirement of clearing UGC’s NET for their appointment against teaching posts in all Colleges and Universities and seeking constitutional status to itself indicate that the NCM is trying to function as a state within Indian State to undermine the latter’s independence and sovereignty.

Ironically, there is no dearth of Muslim scholars in post partition India but they too did not make visible efforts to neutralise the prevailing attitude of social exclusivism even among the modern educated middle class Muslims. Their indifference towards this problem therefore, allowed this unending fight for rights which worked as a catalyst in fostering communal consciousness in the community and damaged their secular and democratic integration in Indian society.

India needs a system with a strong centre having equally strong political will to ensure that there is no discrimination in the rights of its citizens on the basis of majority and minority.

First published in http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/

Also read
1. Who is a Minority by sanjeev nayyar
2. Definition of Secularism by sanjeev nayyar
3. Why did the Ramakrishna Mission say they are not Hindus by sanjeev nayyar