Minorities in India: how a sacred trust has been broken
The guilt of the fiendish murder of Junaid, who was stabbed to death on a train, cannot be sidelined by the Hindu majority under the slogan of “Not in My Name”.
In fact, the Hindu majority should continue to be held guilty as long as such devilish acts continue. These acts are a stamp of shame on our Constitution and this challenge has to be met frontally.
The spirit of secularism
The recital in the preamble to the Constitution that India is a secular state means that no religious group (including Hindus) can claim any special dominant position or status in the country.
Secularism does not signify anti-religion. In India, people fervently believe in their respective religions and an overwhelming number of persons of all communities give equal respect to the religion of others.
Secularism signifies giving equal dignity and respect to all religions. Of course, it goes without saying that the Indian State has no religion of its own, nor for that matter can any religion claim superiority over another religion by resorting to the false premise that any religion in the country is indigenous while others are foreign.
This is heresy and is not permitted by our Constitution, which gives equal reverence to all the religions practiced by various communities of India.
As expressed succinctly by 19th century British politician Lord Acton: “A state which is incompetent to satisfy different races condemns itself; a state which labours to neutralise, to absorb or to expel them is destitute of the chief basis of self-government”; we need only substitute minorities for races to in the above quotation to apply the test in India.
As the Supreme Court said in the case of Dr Ismael Faruqui Vs Union of India, 1994 (6) SCC 360: “It is clear from the Constitutional scheme that it guarantees equality in the matter of religion to all individuals and groups irrespective of their faith emphasising that there is no religion of the State itself.”
A plural society
Lord Scarman of House of Lords in the UK once devised a test: “The purpose of the law must be not to extinguish the groups which make the society but to devise political, social and legal means of preventing them from falling apart and so destroying the plural society of which they are members.”
Thus inclusive development in India, and for that matter in any country, alone is the path to prosperity. It is an undeniable truth and needs to be irrevocably accepted by all in India, namely that minorities, Muslims and Christians, are not outsiders. They are an integral part of India.
Let me quote what Swami Vivekanand (even the worst of RSS idealouge will not deny that he was one of the greatest spiritual personalities of India) has to say of the intimate connection between the spirit of Islam and Hinduism. He told Hindus not to talk of the superiority of one religion over another. Even toleration of other faiths was not right; it smacked of blasphemy. He pointed out that his guru, Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, had accepted all religions as true.
Swami Vivekanand, in fact, profusely praised Islam and in a letter to his friend Mohammed Sarfraz Hussain (10 June 1898), he wrote, “Therefore I am firmly persuaded that without the help of practical Islam, theories of vedantism, however fine and wonderful they may be, are entirely valueless to the vast mass of mankind. For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems Hinduism and Islam – Vedanta brain and Islam body - is the only hope… the future perfect India.”
There can be no real progress in India which does not include minorities, Muslims, Christians as equal stakeholders. It needs to be emphasised that development and growth in the country has to be all inclusive – the mode of development must necessarily take into account the needs and sensitivities of minorities, Dalits and tribals.
This was reaffirmed and emphasised recently by the Socialist party (India), which is inspired and follows the philosophy and programme of Jayaprakash Narayan and Dr Ram Monohar Lohia; “that they must be treated as a special trust and there is an urgent need to attend to their problems immediately.”
The report of United Nations Human Right council, Forum on Minority, issued in December 2010 mandates the following as follows; “Consequently, the right of minorities to participate effectively in economic life must be fully taken into account by governments seeking to promote equality at every level. From implementing non - discrimination in employment and enforcing protection laws in the private sector to developing national economic development and international development assistance schemes.”
The basic task is to reconcile the pluralism which exists in that State, and the need to respect the identity of the various groups, with the overall concerns of non-discrimination, equality, national security, territorial integrity, and political independence.
The path to prosperity
Minorities, especially Muslims, have been the ignored factor by all Central governments.
It is not understood why ever since the Prime Minister’s High Level Committee Report was given in November 2006, and which had recommended the establishment of Equal Opportunity Commission as an instrument to prevent discrimination against Minorities in the private sector like housing, employment, (since courts can not interfere in discrimination in private sector) this recommendation has been inexcusably violated and also remained in cold storage.
Thus, inclusive development in the country alone is the path to prosperity. It is an undeniable truth and needs to be irrevocably accepted by all in the country that minorities, Muslims and Christians are not outsiders.
They are an integral part of India. There can be no real progress which does not include minorities, Muslims and Christians as equal stakeholders in the country.
I cannot put it better than what Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan, one of the greatest leaders of our country, had to say over a century back. Gandhiji repeated it in 1921, and also in another prayer meeting at Rajghat on 24 March 1947: “In the words of Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan… I would say that Hindus and Muslims are the two eyes of mother India just as the trouble in one eye affects the other too, similarly the whole of India suffer when either Hindu or Muslim suffer.”
This puts a sacred obligation on the majority to fight for justice to minorities like Junaid.
I can do no better than end with a quotation from the well-known Italian author Dante: The hottest spot in hell is reserved for those who see injustice and do nothing.”
Rajinder Sachar is a former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court. He chaired the Sachar Committee, which submitted a report on the social, economic and educational status of Muslims in India.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu