//Report of the 5th Annual Conference of State Minorities Commissions

Report of the 5th Annual Conference of State Minorities Commissions

New Delhi, Nov. 2 (IndianMuslims.info)

The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh has called for a fair and legitimate share for minorities in Central and State Governments and in the private sector jobs. Addressing the Annual Conference of State Minorities Commissions, organised by the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) here today, the Prime Minister stressed the need to provide the minority youth skills, which will enable them to get their legitimate share in employment, both in the public and private sector.

He further emphasised that communal peace and harmony should be maintained and those who seek to disturb communal peace and harmony must be dealt with firmly. The communal riots victims must be provided with effective relief and rehabilitation assistance. “There should be regular monitoring about the effectiveness and adequacy of any such assistance”, said the Prime Minister.

Addressing the conference, Union Minister for Minority Affairs, A.R. Antulay stated that equitable and inclusive growth is the touchstone on which the quality of economic progress has to be judged, whether it be between regions, groups or communities. He further said that it is the mandate of the Government to see that the minorities are neither put at disadvantage nor discriminated against and feel safe and secure. “As India moves on to a higher growth path, it becomes even more important for us to ensure that those who are lagging behind do not get left behind but participate in and share equally in our progress”, added the Minister.

Mr. Antulay expressed grave concern over the fact that minorities in general and Muslims in particular are lagging behind other communities in respect of many socio-economic indicators. Such conditions breed discontent and make people vulnerable to the mischief of the disgruntled elements of society. Therefore, it is important and critical that such pockets of discontent are transformed quickly into areas of hope and success. In this connection he stressed on the need to think of area specific programmes to be implemented in a mission mode. He informed that the Ministry of Minority Affairs had been engaged in the task of identifying such areas that deserve focussed attention and the exercise is nearly complete.

Referring to the Prime Minister’s new 15-point programme for the welfare of minorities, he said that the programme continues to give utmost emphasis on the maintenance of communal peace and harmony and ensuring a reasonable representation of minorities in Government, including the private sector. He further mentioned that the Ministry of Minority Affairs will monitor the programme very closely, the progress will be reviewed by the committees of Secretaries every six months and a report submitted to the Cabinet, the States have been asked to put similar arrangements in place, said the minister.

Mr. Antulay expressed regret over the submission of only three annual reports of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) in the Parliament, though 12 reports were submitted since 1994. He said that efforts would be made to ensure that all the annual reports of NCM along with action taken memorandum on them are placed before Parliament at the earliest.

Expressing concern over the manner in which some states have handled the rehabilitation of families displaced by communal riots, the Minister mentioned that even central funds have not been used properly. The NCM has studied some cases and found that displaced families are still living in squalor in relief camps and the concerned agencies appear unconcerned. He called for an urgent need to address such situations.

Referring to the high level committee constituted to look into a wide spectrum of issues relating to the minorities and Muslims in particular under the chairmanship of Justice Sachhar, the Minister said that the reports are expected shortly and would provide invaluable inputs in the formulation of appropriate strategies, polices and programmes for the betterment of the minorities in the country. He further stated that the formation of Ministry of Minority Affairs before the beginning of the 11th Five Year Plan will give an opportunity to make an assessment of the needs of minorities and provide suitably for them in the forthcoming plan.

Speaking on the occasion, the Union Home Minister, Shivraj Patil said that further efforts would be made to empower the National Commission for Minorities. He informed that the Government would soon enact a comprehensive legislation to tackle all aspects of communal violence and also bring out a new police act. The NCM has also given its suggestions on these matters to the concerned central agencies, he said.

Addressing the conference the Union HRD Minister, Arjun Singh said that the UPA Government from the very beginning set out certain goals for the welfare and upliftment of the minorities and the ongoing efforts of the Government in this regard will certainly bring out the desired goals which the founding fathers of Constitution visualised.

In his welcome address, the Chairman of NCM, M. Hamid Ansari thanked the Prime Minister for sparing his invaluable time and attending the inaugural session of the conference, as this was the first ever conference attended by any Prime Minister since last 28 years. He said that though minorities constitute 1/5th of the total Indian population, considerable section of minorities still remain marginalised as indicated by the socio-economic indicators. Mr. Ansari emphasised that minorities are assets and not liabilities. The community needs assurance of physical security and equality of treatment in all respects at par with majority. He expressed the hope that decision of the Government to upgrade the status of the National Commission for Minorities to a Constitutional body and a Bill to this effect introduced in the Lok Sabha would give adequate powers to the Commission like NHRC to investigate into the complaints. He expressed the hope that the Bill would be enacted in the coming Winter Session of the Parliament.

Following is the text of the Prime Minister’s address on the occasion:

“It gives me great pleasure in welcoming you to this Annual Conference of State Minorities Commissions. I am happy to note that the National Commission for Minorities has organized this Conference with the State Commissions to strengthen interaction with them for diagnosing the key felt needs of minority communities, identify solutions for those problems on holistic basis and facilitating focus of Government on the needs and concerns of our minority community.

Friends, it is matter of common knowledge that the source of India’s strength and vitality lies in its immense diversity. The founding fathers of our Republic were well aware that management of Indian pluralism will not fit into the classical federal model reflected in the American Constitution of 1776. After months of debate in the Constituent Assembly, the Drafting Committee of our Constitution led by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar sought to assimilate the best features of different constitutions of the world with the needs and aspirations of Indian people and the primary requirement of preserving the unity of our country. The product of this unique evolutionary process in the Constituent Assembly is our magnificent Constitution inter-weaving the characteristics of the Indian pluralism.

The Constitution places a pre-eminent emphasis on the values of liberty and justice, on treating all citizens as equal before law and on safeguarding the rights of minorities and the oppressed. We derive our existence as a political community from the Constitution, which we, the people, gave to ourselves and, in the process established the Republic of India. It is because we are a Republic, and not a mere democracy, that we are enjoined to nurture and indeed celebrate, our linguistic, ethnic, cultural and religious diversity and to ensure
that our citizens do not suffer from want and indignity. Though the Indian tapestry of traditional multiculturism nourished by many centuries of assimilative forces has been subjected to occasional fissures, the most diverse nation on earth has been able to overcome those crises and use the innate strength of Indian Republic to uphold the dignity and integrity of our country.

In September this year I invited attention of the Chief Ministers to the new 15 Point Programme drawn up for the welfare of our minorities. I have emphasized the need of a suitable mechanism to monitor the implementation of the schemes for their welfare. At the national level, the Committee of Secretaries would do that and submit a regular periodic report to the Cabinet. The Chief Ministers have been urged to put in place a similar mechanism at the State level so that the new 15 Point Programme receives due attention at the highest political level. It is essential that communal peace and harmony should be maintained and the minorities get a fair share in Central and State Government and in the private sector jobs. The Indian State has the solemn obligations to protect life and liberty of all citizens, particularly those belonging to the minority communities. Those who seek to disturb communal peace and harmony must be dealt with firmly. Those who are affected by communal riots must be provided with effective relief and rehabilitation assistance. There should be regular monitoring about the effectiveness and adequacy of any such assistance.

Over the years, a large number of developmental schemes had been introduced to address specific problems relating to education, health, employment and shelter for the poor and the under privileged. Most of these programmes were either area-specific or had defined target groups. Naturally, the poor and the underprivileged amongst the minorities are included in the target groups and they are entitled to an equitable flow of benefits to them under these programmes. However, available evidence does not inspire confidence that the benefits of these schemes have flowed equitably to the eligible sections amongst our minorities.

As I see it, the main factor responsible for socio-economic backwardness of the minority communities, particularly the Muslim community is the lack of access to the common school system. This is particularly true in the case of the Muslim girls. During the current plan period and the next plan period, we must therefore ensure that concrete schemes for setting up of secondary and higher secondary schools in the Blocks and Districts having predominantly Muslim population are indeed implemented with a sharper focus on the needs of the Muslim girls. Widening of access of the Muslim girls in professional education, particularly medical and engineering courses should be a priority area of our educational programmes. We have to provide the minority youth skills which will enable them to get their legitimate share in employment, both in the public sector and in the private sector.

We have already taken a decision to upgrade the status of the National Commission for Minorities to a Constitutional body and a Bill to this effect has been introduced in the Lok Sabha. We hope to enact this Bill in the coming winter session of our Parliament. The Commission has to be given adequate powers to investigate into the complaints. Its finances and manpower base will also be expended in order that it can play a more proactive role for the benefit of the minority communities. We are also trying, as Shivraj ji has mentioned, to enact a comprehensive legislation to tackle all aspects of communal violence and also to bring out a new Police Act. I am informed that the National Commission for Minorities has given its suggestions on these matters to the concerned central agencies.

Undoubtedly, India must remain a nation where pluralism and socio-religious variety are respected and honoured. In a pluralistic society like ours, national identity cannot be adjudged by any litmus test simply showing cent percent homogeneity because unlike many other monoracial, monoreligious and monolingual countries, a cent percent homogenous society had never existed and does not exist in India. This nation does not belong to any single race, least of all to any group of religious extremists. It belongs to a mosaic of religiously, linguistically and culturally varied communities and we celebrate that diversity. Let us create an environment where all Indians can strive for equitable prosperity transcending the religious divide. Let us once again dream as did the great martyrs of Indian freedom movement and work for systematic reconstruction of our multi-racial polity and society.

While rituals, theologies and institutions might vary from religion to religion, the basic religious values are common in all the great religions; the basic values in one religion are complementary to the other. Dialogue is the only way to promote better understanding between the various religious communities.

With these words, I thank the National Commission for Minorities and the State Minorities Commissions and hope that they will succeed in their efforts to protect the rights of our minorities, suggest measures for their socio-economic progress of the minorities, promote the cause of communal harmony and thereby strengthen the secular foundations of Republic.

I wish the Conference all success”.