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Published in the 16-31 July 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition


The Minorities Angle
CMP and President's address analyzed
By Syed Shahabuddin

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CMP has this goal as the first principle of governance.
One expects that all communal senas like the Bajrang Dal which gives arms training to its recruits and distributes sharp-edged Trishuls to the youth, ostensibly for self-defence but actually to participate in communal genocide, shall be banned, as well as their ideologues like Katiyar, Togaria and Thackeray shall be kept under the legal scanner. 

There is, however, a clear omission on this point. The existing laws against vilification of other religions and demonization of other religious communities and against incitement of hatred, distrust and enmity through word or deed, have proved to be totally ineffective and need to be strengthened and supplemented with what has been called hate legislation which increases the legal penalties if the penal offence is committed with expression of hatred. The UPA should review the effectiveness of the relevant provisions of the IPC and the Cr.P.C. in this regard as a priority item.

Universalization of Education
All minorities, religious, linguistic and otherwise, should welcome the provision in the manifestos, the CMP and the President's Address on universalization of elementary education of quality (emphasis added). To be practical, the quality may not be the highest, on par with central government schools or public schools but it should be reasonable, socially acceptable and economically productive.

The Central Government should ensure that the demand of deprived communities and areas for more primary and secondary schools, in accordance with national norms, receives the highest priority.

Secularization of Education
As part of its long-term policy to brainwash and indoctrinate the younger generation, in line with the philosophy of the RSS, the BJP-led Government had tried to modify the curriculum, the syllabus, the textbooks and the school culture and even inject a religious bias through 'value education'. It introduced religious courses in higher education and penetrated all national institutions, connected with education, including universities, to promote this goal. It is the common objective of the UPA and its government to detoxify and desaffronise the educational system. The President has spelt it out in the following words: 
"Steps will be taken to remove the communalization of the school syllabus that has taken place in recent years."
This is a stupendous task and is not limited to revising the textbooks of history. In fact all textbooks also of all languages, social studies and value education have to be purged of the poison. School culture and extra-curricular activities have to be scrutinized.

Minority Educational Institutions
In the field of education, the Congress Manifesto included a novel proposal to study the possible affiliation of minority professional institutions with central universities. This eventually forms part of the CMP. The scope of the proposal needs to be expanded to cover all secondary and higher secondary schools and degree colleges, established by the minorities under Article 30, which find it difficult to get affiliated to the School Board or University in whose jurisdiction they are situated, largely because of problems relating to medium of instruction, curriculum and culture. It should become possible for them to be affiliated to designated state or central universities. It remains to be examined whether the Acts governing Central Universities need to be amended for the purpose. 

Also the state has to guard against proliferation of proprietory professional colleges which function as commercial enterprises and do not contribute to educational progress of the community. In fact, the privilege under Article 30 should have an inbuilt limit - the availability of eligible candidates for admission from the establishing community at least to fill up 50% of the seats. 
Also, the word 'minority' should be interpreted liberally to mean the numerical status of any religious or linguistic or cultural community at the state or the district or the block or the panchayat level, irrespective of its status in the national or the state or the district population as a whole. This approach shall contribute to meeting the persistent objection of the Hindutva brigade to Article 30.

Linguistic Minorities - Question of Urdu
Every Schedule 8 Language including Hindi is a minority language outside its home state. The only exceptions are Urdu and Sindhi which have no home base and, therefore, constitute minority languages throughout the country. Since Urdu, declared by 55% of the Muslim Indians as their Mother Tongue/household language, is the 6th most widely spoken language of the country after Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Telugu and Tamil and since Urdu, for all practical purposes, has been disowned even by those non-Muslims whose families traditionally spoke and learnt Urdu, it has, for historical reasons, become the prime example of linguistic deprivation. Just as the term 'religious minorities' has become an euphemism for Muslim Indians, the term 'linguistic minorities' has become an euphemism for the Urdu-speaking minority. It is definitely politically correct, socially productive and economically beneficial for the Urdu community to de-communalize the Urdu question. What do the documents say on Urdu:

Congress Manifesto: "The Congress believes in affirmative action for all religious and linguistic minorities." For understandable reason, the CPI (M) Manifesto hints obliquely at the overall problem but leaves undefined what the just right of Bengali, as well as religious, cultural, social and caste minorities are!

The CPI is much more forthright and states: "All languages listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution should be encouraged and developed.... Due recognition to the rights of Urdu and Sindhi under article 345 and 347 of the Constitution."

The CPI formulation finds place in the CMP and also in the President's Address in the following terms:

"The UPA government will also strive for recognition and promotion of Urdu language under Article 345 and 347 of the Constitution."
The problem with the formulation is that neither Articles 345 and 347 nor the CMP lay down the scope and extent of recognition of minority languages of a State as its additional official language to be used for specified purposes. Nor does it define the term 'substantial' in Article 347. A national consensus has emerged that a language spoken by at least 10% of the people at the state, district, block or Panchayat level should be used for specified official purposes. In fact, unless the Articles 345 and 347 are amended, all that the Central Government can do is to remind the state governments of the existing provision.

The real problem of linguistic minorities is not administrative but educational and arises from the non-implementation of Article 350A. This has led to the slow and steady exile of Urdu from school education even in states of Urdu-concentration like UP. Unfortunately neither the Congress Manifesto nor the CMP make any reference to Article 350A which speaks of the use of every mother tongue as the medium of primary instruction. This provision needs to be extended to include compulsory teaching of the Mother Tongue as the First Language at the secondary level, as envisaged in the original Three Language Formula. Both these provisions should be generalized so as to be applicable to all linguistic minorities in every state at every level. The guidelines of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan need to be amended to include a direction for promoting the linguistic and educational rights of all linguistic minorities. This would imply establishment of adequate number of primary schools, in both urban and rural areas of minority concentration, which teach through the medium of the local minority language and of high schools which teach the minority languages of the area as compulsory languages. The State Education Codes and School Curricula need to be amended to make necessary provisions in this regard, so that children who offer their mother tongue are not deprived of learning the regional language or Hindi or English. All linguistic groups should welcome these proposals as all of them shall benefit in those parts of the country where they constitute a linguistic minority.

Some Institutional Questions.
Both the CMP and the President's Address promise to consider the question of providing constitutional status to the National Commission for Minorities (NCM). This will take time nor is it urgent. What is urgently needed is to reconstitute the Commission with persons of status and eminence who command the confidence of the minority communities. Successive government having been filing away the Annual and Special Reports of the Commission and sleeping over its recommendations. No report of the NCM has ever been discussed in the Parliament. This is nothing short of treating the NCM with contempt. This must stop.

Secondly, the Muslims constitute 2/3 of the religious minorities in the country. Minority problems and questions, that come before the Commission relate largely to the grievances of the Muslim community. The Commission should, therefore, have 3 Muslims, 1 Sikh, 1 Christian and, in addition, 1 Buddhist or Jain or Parsi (by rotation). The Chairman should be a Muslim, a convention which was broken only by the NDA Government.

The CMP and the Address are silent on the need for the creation of the Department of Minority Affairs on par with Department of Tribal Affairs which should monitor the situation of the minorities and deal with all government and semi-government institutions of special concern to the minorities. The UPA Government should also move the Parliament for the creation of a permanent Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Welfare of the Minorities. continued...

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