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Is Minority Commission a farce?
By S Ubaidur Rahman

When the Minorities Commission was set up in 1978 amid high expectations it was meant to be a high profile think tank devoted to the welfare of minorities. It was also meant to look into specific complaints regarding the deprivation of rights and safeguards of the minorities; to make recommendations with a view to ensuring effective implementation and enforcement of all the safeguards and the law; to serve as a national clearing house for information in respect of the condition of minorities.

With the commission's objectives of giving the minorities a better deal remaining a pipedream, a number of disgruntled people are now distressed to see the functioning in such a pathetic way.

It is not that the commission suffers from in-built handicaps. It will be absurd to believe that the Commission has no powers. When the Commission was created it was non-statutory body. But in 1993 under immense pressure from several quarters the commission was granted a constitutional status. It was the first statutory body in the country. Other commissions like National Human Rights Commission of India and National SC&ST Commission as well as National Women Commission were granted statutory status only after the NCM. But even after being given the status nothing changed during the 23-years long history of the commission. When the NHRC and SC&ST Commissions are busy discharging their duties more or less efficiently this commission seems to suffer from in-built inefficiencies compounded by ineffectiveness of the people who are at the helm. It has been the same since its inception and nothing seems to have changed in it in such a long period though the commission has parliamentary mandate and there are judicial powers given to the commission. Only one person who could make some difference was Prof. Syed Tahir Mahmood.

‘The two years when Tahir Saheb was at the helms we came to know of the real existence of the commission and some life seemed to have been infused in it', says Maulana Obaiduallah Khan Azmi, a senior leader and Rajya Sabha MP. 'It was he who brought a refreshing change in the functioning of the commission and transformed a somnolent and ineffective body into a live and vibrant institution' he adds. Despite being given the status of a statutory body the commission has never been able to bring the minority issues in the open and do anything worthwhile for minorities in the country, but Mahmood at the thick of Hindutva onslaught against Christians and other minorities including Muslims acted effectively and did everything to contain this onslaught through powers given by the Constitution.

Commission’s ineffectiveness is not a new phenomenon. It has always been so. The two years in between might have been an aberration. When the first non-Congress government came to power, Muslim organizations appealed the government to set up a powerful minority commission to check the increasing number of violence and discrimination against Muslims. It was in 1978 when the Janata government announced to set up a commission. But the commission was just an announcement to appease Muslims. It was sans any teeth. It was only after fourteen long years when the Commission was given any statutory status, though its powers were still very limited. It had been robbed of a number of powers that were being enjoyed by the Schedule Castes &Schedule Tribes Commission.

Even when the commission was provided statutory status it failed to enthuse people who were struggling for it. The minority commission was demanded by the home ministry resolution for the following reason: ‘Despite safeguards provided in the Constitution and the laws in force, there persists amongst the minorities a feeling of inequality and discrimination. In order to preserve secular traditions and to promote national integration, the enforcement of the safeguards provided for the minorities.....is of firm view that institutional arrangements are urgently required for the effective enforcement and implementation of all the safeguards provided for the minorities in the Constitution, in central and state laws, and in government policies and administrative schemes enunciated from time to time.’ When the Minorities Commission was given statutory status hope of the common people soared as they thought that at long last there was an institution that could take care of their issues and problems.

But hopes were dashed and the whole institution disappointed not only Muslims but Christians also, though at a later stage. ‘Minorities Commission has rarely been effective. It has failed to protect and safeguard the interests of the minorities in the country’ says M Afzal, editor of Akhbar-e-Nau and secretary of Congress’ newly launched minority department. ‘It has not much to do with the powers of the commission, but the ineffectiveness of the people who have been at the helm, though there are a few exceptions’ laments Afzal.

The people who have been at the helms have always proved to be puppets remote controlled by their bosses in the government. There are people in the Commission who themselves have demanded the commission to be scrapped. Justice Mirza Hameedullah Beg who was its third chairman and enjoyed the chair for two terms demanded the government to scrap the commission and set up a human rights commission instead. The same was being emphatically demanded by the BJP and RSS at that time.

The commission instead of trying to punish the guilty who have been trying to terrorize the minorities especially Christians in the whole country is now trying to act as mediator between the Sangh Parivar and some disgruntled Christian organizations. Though a number of Christian organizations themselves have openly criticized the planned dialogues and have disassociated themselves from any such move, it has not deterred the commission.

When this correspondent asked the former chairman of the Minorities Commission Professor Tahir Mahmood, he said that there was news that the commission was trying to hold dialogue between Christians and the VHP. He said that it was mind-blowing news for him. ‘The commission is not a conciliatory body and it is not supposed to work as conciliator between communities and factions’ he said. The former chairman said that ‘the commission has judicial powers to function. It has to safeguard the human rights violations against the minorities. ‘It has to safeguard their interests and has to take steps if their rights are violated.’ It is not a facilitator of dialogues between two communities but it has been created to safeguard the interests of common people, he added.

Christian organizations too have severely castigated the move of the commission. Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council and a senior journalist says in a press release that ‘ The National Commission for Minorities is pathetic since it was reconstituted by the BJP government with former Justice Shamim as chairman and Mr John Joseph as the Christian member among others. From the day it was formed, both the chairman and Mr Joseph have been subserving the political agenda of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar and following the dictates of the central government, particularly the ministry of home affairs. The Commission has acted as an instrument of political blackmail, implementing the Sangh agenda.’

The release adds that, they have offered a clean chit to the extremists and violent fundamentalists of the Sangh Parivar who have been accused by their victims of attempted murder, grievous assault, coercion and physical threats. Despite appeals and application the commission has not bothered to act.’

When this correspondent asked Prof. Tahir Mahmood about the functioning of the commission, he said ‘There is hardly any mention of the commission in the media now. There is no news of its working or what it has been doing.’ When asked whether the commission has achieved its purpose Dr Mehmood said ‘No’. ‘There have been very few periods when it achieved anything. There has never been any effort to study the working of the commission’ he added.

Maulana Ubaidullah Khan Azmi also believed that the commission has belied the expectations of all the people and failed to bring about any change in the society.

It is felt that the membership and chairmanship of the Commission has been thrown to undeserving people as rewards. A former member of the commission said on basis basis of anonymity that it has been used to accommodate people and also as rewards. He added that the most recent example of it being rewarded is the case of the existing dispensation in the commission. He added that the chairman has been rewarded for what he did to a high profile minister in the Vajpayee government. ‘The act saved the whole political life of the minister whose prestige and political life was at stakes’ he added.

When this correspondent posed the same question to Dr Tahir Mahmood he said that ‘the perception is true to a certain extent. Not all but quite a few people are rewarded with such posts.’ ‘Personal loyalties are decisive factors in this respect’ he added.

The Minorities Commission has belied the expectations and failed to achieve what it was created for. It has been able to do nothing for the people it was created for. People are so much fed up with the institution that they have started demanding it being scrapped. ‘When its purpose has not been achieved it is better to scrap the commission and reconstitute it. Another thing where a change is being demanded is the modus operandi of the selection of the chairman and members of the commission. The whole selection process depends on the whims of the dispensation at the centre. It needs restructuring. Only then it will be able to serve its purpose.
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