And Its Secular Tasks
By Asghar Ali
06 June, 2004
Centre for Study of Society and
new United Progressive Alliance Government (earlier called United Secular
Alliance which was more meaningful) has been welcomed by all progressive
and secular forces in the country. The victory of this alliance has
proved to be liberative for the minorities and the oppressed people
of India. The NDA Government led by the BJP was not only communal and
anti-minorities but also pro-rich and anti-poor to the extreme. Even
the Amnesty International Report made public on 26th May has lambasted
the Indian Government for its poor human rights records particularly
in Gujarat. Now even the BJP and Shiv Sena leaders have admitted that
they lost because of Gujarat carnage.
It is for this reason
that the minorities in particular have welcomed the new government,
particularly so as it is backed by the left forces whose secular credentials
are unimpeachable. Thus this government certainly inspires confidence
among minorities and the poor. However, this initial confidence has
not only to be sustained but strengthened through proper action. The
Congress has always been ideologically secular but lost its secular
orientation during the last days of Mrs. Indira Gandhi and began to
be dubbed as the 'B-team' of Hindutva Party BJP. The minorities began
to be alienated from the Congress until they deserted it after demolition
of the Babri Masjid during the Prime Ministership of Shri Narasinha
Once it lost the
confidence of minorities, particularly the Muslims, it lost power at
the Centre and could not regain it until it could win the Muslim confidence
again. The Congress had to work hard to convince Muslims again to regain
their confidence. Now let us hope the Congress will not go off the course.
Not only this it will have to take steps to inspire confidence among
them. It should be seen as a party sympathetic to the problems of minorities.
For that number of steps will have to be taken, some of which are suggested
It would greatly
inspire confidence among minorities if a ministry of minority affairs
is created and some minority leader of integrity is put in charge of
it. In fact one of the Congress leaders from Maharashtra Mr. Gurudas
Kamat also has made this suggestion. All minorities like the Muslims,
Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains should be included under it.
All put together these minorities constitute more than 20 per cent of
Indian population. Indian Muslims alone are around 150 million.
The ministry can
study many of the problems facing these minorities, which are of huge
proportions. Today no government ministry even monitors data and indices
pertaining to these minorities. The Gopal Singh High Commission Report
prepared during the eighties, which had painfully collected data on
minorities was also put in cold storage and its recommendations were
never implemented. The data was collected during early eighties and
hence has become totally outdated. The Report prepared after lot of
hard labour was not even tabled in the Parliament. When I spoke to the
then Prime Minister Shri. V.P. Singh about it in 1990 he was not even
aware about its existence.
Had there been a
full-fledged ministry such reports would not have been wasted like this.
It is true there is a minorities commission but it hardly has any powers.
It has often been described as toothless tiger. It functions under Welfare
Ministry and its budget is also controlled by this ministry. Thus the
Commission is totally at the mercy of the welfare minister. It has hardly
any priority for the ministry. Since I was on one of its sub-committees
I know its plight very well. And the NDA Government appointed a BJP
man as its chairman. What sympathy such a person would ever have for
minorities. The very psychological orientation of BJP members is anti-minority.
This was very much demonstrated when Mr. Trilochan Singh, the Chairman
of National Minorities Commission gave certificate to Narendra Modi
Government in Gujarat when Muslim carnage was taking place in 2002 and
when the National Human Rights Commission was lambasting Mr. Narendra
Modi. So much for the credentials of the NMC.
However, it may
take time to take decision for setting up a ministry for the minority
affairs, which is also bound to generate political controversy with
the BJP in opposition. Meanwhile it is suggested that the National Minorities
Commission should be strengthened and should be made statutory. Today
it has no statutory powers at all and its recommendations are not binding
on the government. Often its reports are not even tabled in the Parliament.
The NMC must be given statutory powers and its recommendations should
be made binding on the government. This should be done as early as possible
as it is long standing demand.
The NMC should also
be asked to gather fresh data on the pattern of the Gopal Singh High
Commission and suitable recommendations should be formulated on its
pattern and these recommendations should be implemented to uplift the
economic and educational status of minorities. This should be given
top priority. In fact reliable data on all India pattern about minorities
is not available and in the absence of such data no suitable policies
can be made.
The other suggestions
relate to communalisation of education. Even during earlier Congress
and other regimes no serious efforts were made to de-communalise our
school textbooks, particularly relating to history. The BJP campaign
for Ramjanambhoomi would not have succeeded to such an extent if our
history text -books had not been what they are today. The British rulers
had designed our history textbooks to divide us and rule over us. These
text- books were never seriously revised and made genuinely secular
so as to de-communalise our education system.
It is for this reason
that you find educated middle class people who avail of these faulty
text books much more communal than the poor illiterate masses. Our education
system really makes them communal and injects communal ideas into their
minds. Thus one can hardly fight communal forces if our education system
is not thoroughly reformed. Our education system should be devised to
inculcate secular rational outlook, on one hand, and, respect for all
religions, on the other. But unfortunately our education system is producing
communal bigots instead.
Thus text-book reform
is an urgent need and should be attended to on priority basis. The Human
Resources Ministry under the leadership of Arjun Singh should pay attention
to this task. This will really strengthen our secular polity and would
permanently checkmate communal forces from capturing power. The BJP
rode to power on the basis of Ramjanambhoomi issue and this issue in
turn became so powerful because of the mind-set created by our text
books. It is difficult task but first step must be taken by appointing
a suitable commission, which can thoroughly examine all text- books
taught throughout India and then suggest steps to reform them. Education
is a concurrent subject and, therefore, should not be difficult to devise
them for whole of India. Of course regional considerations would be
there and guidelines could be given for states to prepare these text
There is another
important area, which needs to be attended to with similar sense of
urgency. It is the textbooks taught in the RSS run Shishu Vihars some
32 thousand in numbers. These schools do not take grant from government
but that does not mean they should be free to teach what is totally
contrary to our constitutional values. The textbooks taught in these
schools are highly objectionable and inject poison against minorities.
We have examined these textbooks and what is written there in will never
be permitted by any secular government.
Similarly, if one
finds any objectionable material being taught in madrasas too, steps
should be taken to remove such objectionable material from madrasa text-books
also. So far I have not found any objectionable material but our study
may not be thorough and madrasa text -books should also be thoroughly
examined. No institution, public or private, should be allowed to violate
the spirit of the Constitution. Thousands of students study in these
private schools who grow with hatred towards other religions because
of such textbooks and thus it becomes very easy to communalise polity.
Such a step to de-communalise
our textbooks will strengthen our secular foundations. Unfortunately
it has remained highly neglected area and as a result we have witnessed
thousands of small and big riots throughout the post-independence era
culminating of course in the Gujarat genocide. Much of this could have
been avoided if we had courage to reform our textbooks right after independence.
Now at least, after having paid heavy price, we should not hesitate
to take this much needed step on top priority.
area of reform is functioning of the police. Since police is also educated
through these very institutions they also get easily communalised. I
have seen that in the police training colleges there are no orientation
lectures on secularism. The policemen handle communal riots with such
communalised mind-set and as a result they tend to be anti-minority
in their behaviour. Various inquiry commission reports, particularly
the Madon Commission and Srikrishna Commission Reports on Bhivandi-Jalgaon
and of 1970 and of Bombay riots of 1992-93 have severely castigated
the role of the police in these riots. In Gujarat carnage of 2002 it
was even worse and yet no steps are being taken to effectively de-communalise
the police. The Congress-led UPA Government should pay urgent attention
to this problem as well. We have much to learn in this respect from
the Left-Front Government in West Bengal.