IOS webinar on Minorities in India: Issues and remedies

New Delhi: The Institute Objective Studies (IOS) organised a webinar on “Minorities in India: Issues and Remedies” on the occasion of the Minorities Rights Day on December 18, 2020. The webinar began with recitation of a verse from the holy Quran by Hafiz Athar Husain Nadwi. Chaired by secretary general, IOS, Prof. Z.M. Khan, it was conducted by Prof. Afzal Wani, professor of law, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University and vice-chairman, IOS. Introducing the topic, he said that the International Minorities Day was celebrated every year as on this day, the Universal Declaration on Minorities’ Rights was made.

Senior advocate of Delhi high court Tarique Siddiqui observed that it was celebrated all over the world with the commitment to secure to the minorities the rights on par with others. These rights grew out of certain Conventions held before the Declaration. He said that the rights did not confer on the minorities any special privileges, but made out a case for the rights available to other communities. These rights assumed importance in the context of the feeling of insecurity among minorities in India and other countries.

This insecurity prevailed in the field of education, their socio-economic condition, freedom to use religion and political affiliation. He maintained that Article 29 of the Indian Constitution protected the interests of minorities by stipulating that any section of citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of their own would have the right to conserve the same. In the second part the same article said, “No citizen shall be denied admission to any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of state funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.”

He said that a mechanism to redress their grievances was in place in the form of National Minorities Commissions and National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions. In India, the declared minorities were Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Parsis. Jains were added to the list in 2014. The day also happened to be the Migrants Day. But despite the sufferings faced by migrants during the early phase of Covid-19 pandemic, nobody came forward to mitigate their sufferings, he added. 

Founder director of the Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies, New Delhi, Dr. M D Thomas, congratulated the IOS for organising the webinar on a topic that was so relevant. He said that on one side were the minorities and on the other side was the majority. Both went hand in hand. In terms of numbers, a minority could never be a majority. But number was not everything. Nobody could take another’s life away on the strength of numbers. He observed that India was diverse culturally with the people belonging to different religions, castes and cultures. There were certain majority and minority concerns but they should not be allowed to affect harmonious relations between the two. Differences were part of life and sometimes they led to confusion. Differences did exist between two persons, religions and community values. At times this confusion disturbed the balance between the majority and the minority.

Thus there was need to engage with different cultures, religions, societies and communities like body parts that maintained equilibrium. He said that the confusion of difference should be removed. The genesis of such confusion was communal mindset and fundamentalism. He noted that the world was globalised today and the global outlook demanded improved inter-community relations for a better society. He said that many a time religion became a problem, especially when communal and self-centered mindset predominated. This self-centeredness violated rights and duties of an individual. In such cases, ethical values became more important and the leadership had a duty to take everyone along, he stressed. 

Journalist and social activist Prashant Tandon called for celebrating the Minorities Rights Day next year in a big way as minorities had given a lot to Indian culture and ethos. Whether it was good habits, mannerism, and literature or culture, India received as much as it could absorb. Pleading for proper representation to minorities, he said that today it was not even 3 per cent. The situation was the same in case of Civil Services, legislatures, other services, Judiciary and the education sector. In media, 95 percent of the space was occupied by upper castes. Referring to dignity of the minorities, he said that they received a raw deal and indignity. He made special mention of Babri Masjid verdict which overlooked evidence of the eye witnesses, including journalists, who saw it being razed by the frenzied mob. Failing to dispense justice to the minorities was an act that violated constitutional provisions. He opposed the implementation of Citizenship (Amendment) Act [CAA] and accused the government of complicity in the worst riots that took place in south-east Delhi last year.

He said that dubbing the agitating farmers as Khalistanis and pro-Pakistanis was an attack on the dignity of minorities. He demanded that the minorities be given constitutionally-mandated rights. Emphasising the need for inspiring a sense of justice among the minorities by ensuring dignity, justice and equality to them, he said that they demanded nothing more that had been enshrined in the Constitution. He expressed surprise that as mosques and churches were targeted victims of this violence were sent to jail. He urged the people to increase the scope of their understanding about other religions and communities.

Prof. M. Afzal Wani, pointed out that the representation available to various communities must be honoured. This would fulfill the very purpose of democracy and create a good democratic culture. Commenting on Misaq-e-Madina, he said that it was a fine example of accommodation. This was signed 600 years before Magna Carta, which was considered as a document that laid the foundation of democracy. He observed that human rights must be honoured, adding that the truth stated in history would ipso facto come out and flourish. He was certain that if the minorities rights were celebrated, the Muslim community could create hundreds of good-quality institutions every year. Instead of regretting, Muslims should set up educational institutions for the poor with the best teachers. Being a minority was not a weakness, but a potential. Minorities had to understand present, future and their dynamics and become contributors, he remarked.

Presiding over the webinar, Prof. Z.M. Khan stated that the theme was important for the IOS, which wanted to make things better. The fear of losing their citizenship and other rights was stalking Muslims, who were also economically and educationally backward, and no other community suffered as much as they did. He said that they were living in a survival mode. They faced physical harm and economic deprivation. They needed an environment of empowerment. He advised the community to do hard work and desist from looking too much to politics. They should pay more attention to education and economic development. Insistence on mere survival should go and a steady, progressive life to them be ensured, he stressed.

At the end, Major Zahid Husain, a member of the general assembly of the IOS, thanked all the participants. 


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