Minority Flavour by the Majority Party – Sacchar Committee

MUSLIMS_jpg_830fMinority is the flavour of the season. As a ruling party for fifty years Congress is still sloganeering mode about minority rights and development. To counter the BJP and Hindutva forces the Grand Old Party is adopting minority gimmicks. The politics cannot survive if the minorities lead a well-off lives. This is evident from the backwardness of Mewat region which is just 50kms from the national capital of Delhi. There is no difference among the political parties in exploiting the public for the votes. NDA created the ministry of disinvestment as its trademark stamp and the UPA created ministry of minority affairs.

Andre Betelie the eminent sociologist writes in The Times of India (12 October 2009)

The Sachar committee report, when it came out in 2006, created a stir among advocates of social justice and minority rights. The report and the
surveys conducted in its wake revealed continuing disparities between the Muslims and the rest of Indian society, particularly upper caste Hindus. In a country where social prejudice is widespread, not to say endemic, advocates of minority rights have found it natural to attribute the plight of Muslims to the practice of discrimination against them. It is, of course, difficult to demonstrate that those Muslims who have fallen behind in the competition for education and employment have been individually the victims of discrimination, or that prejudice was the sole reason why they fell behind.

Presumption of prejudice and injustice against Muslims has created a demand for special provisions in recognition of their separate status as a minority. They did enjoy such a status under colonial rule. That underwent a major change with India’s partition and attainment of independence. The Constituent Assembly sought to create a new consensus on the basis of equal citizenship for all without consideration of race, caste, creed or gender, and protection of minority interests in cultural and educational matters. The constitutional consensus was against provisions for the representation of minorities in politics and administration of the kind adopted for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. There would be quotas for the latter, but not for the former.

On quotas, Nehru and Ambedkar thought alike. Ambedkar gave pointed expression to the view then shared by most: “It is wrong for the majority to deny the existence of minorities. It is equally wrong for minorities to perpetuate themselves.” He did not want the special interests of the minorities to be ignored, but he also did not want a return to the status quo ante. The new Constitution was designed to establish a new political order based on the rights of the individual as citizen. Some concessions could be made to groups that had suffered the consequences of centuries of geographical isolation and social segregation, but religious minorities did not fall within their scope.

India had been since time immemorial a society of castes and communities. What counted in its traditional social order were village community, caste and joint family rather than the individual. The new Constitution sought to make a break from the old order by enlarging the role of the individual citizen and restricting the role of castes and communities. Ambedkar and his associates in the Constituent Assembly were not unaware of the challenges in making a break with the past.

Ambedkar’s anxiety about the minorities seeking to perpetuate themselves must be seen in the light of the primacy he assigned to citizenship in the new constitutional order. Communities were important, but it would be wrong to allow their claims to supersede the claims of the individual. Some wished to give the village community primacy. He opposed them, saying, “I am glad that the draft Constitution has discarded the village and adopted the individual as its unit.”

The positive response to the Sachar committee report was an endorsement of Ambedkar’s view that it would be wrong to ignore the existence of minorities. But what about his view that it would also be wrong for the minorities to perpetuate themselves? It is doubtful such a view will be received kindly by those who were enthused by the report and the committee’s recommendations. India’s political climate has changed substantially in the last 60 years. In December 1946, when the Constituent Assembly first met, only the Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha espoused identity politics. Today, it has become the staple of all political parties.

Prejudice against other communities is a common feature of large societies that contain a plurality of communities. It does not take an equally virulent form in all societies, nor is its expression equally pernicious in all historical conditions. Realistically speaking, one cannot eliminate social prejudice but only try to moderate its influence and to insulate certain spheres of life from its exercise. Constitutional morality requires bringing discriminatory practices to light, and allowing grievances to be articulated. It will be difficult to argue that the combative assertion of one community’s rights as against those of another is the best way of coping with social prejudice. Minority right is a powerful sword but it would do well to remember that, in our present political circumstances, it is a double-edged sword.

A reasonable approach to the problem will lie in recognising that social prejudice infects all communities. Minorities undoubtedly have grievances against the majority that cannot be brushed under the carpet. The majority also has grievances against the minorities, and not all of those may be without foundation. Grievances on the one side tend to reinforce those on the other. Identity politics, which brings different communities into confrontation with each other, may have made people more conscious of their rights, but it has also made social prejudice more difficult to control.

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