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Posted Online on Friday 2, September 2005 11:20 IST

Dalit Christian rights issue raised at National Integration council meeting 

The Milli Gazette (online edition)

PRESS NOTE

New Delhi, 31 August, 2005: The demand of the 1.6 crore dalit Christians in India for parity with other dalits in affirmative action law was forcefully raised at the first meeting of the reconstituted National Integration Council at Vigyan Bhawan on 31 August.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, leaders of all national and regional parties and more than two dozen chief ministers of states and a dozen central ministers were present when the demand for dalit Christian rights was raised in a joint statement by NIC members Archbishop Vincent Concessao, Dr John dayal and Rev Valson Thampu. Archbishop Vincent Concessao read out the joint statement copies of which ere circulated to every member.

The Dalit Christian demand was subsequently supported by CPI leader D Raja, CPIM head Prakash Karat and his colleague Sitaram Yechuri, MP, and several jurists.

During the NIC meeting, John Dayal and others also had occasion to canvass the issue with Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and several chief ministers.

The following is the text of the Joint statement at the inaugural meeting of the Reconstituted National Integration Council at Vigyan Bhawan on 31st August 2005 by Archbishop Vincent Concessao, Rev Valson Thampu and Dr John Dayal, Members.

“Dear Prime Minister

1. Please accept our greetings, and our felicitations for reconstituting the National Integration Council, and for convening its first meeting in more than 13 years. The visionary first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, had conceived the NIC as a powerful forum, not as a substitute of Parliament and the Judiciary, but to complement their task of strengthening the secular, socialist and culturally plural fabric of Indian democracy in constructive, multi-polar discourse. The NIC was to be where even the tiniest of minorities, religious, linguistic or economic, could have its voice heard, and its interests articulated.

2. Under Nehru, and later with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, the NIC did meet intermittently and succeeded to that extent in spotting, if not entirely healing, fracture lines in society.

3. It is a tragedy of our times that the NIC has not met since 1992. History will wonder if it could have made a difference in healing the wounds of 1992 when the Babri Masjid was demolished, and later when churches were destroyed in the Dangs (Gujarat) in 1998, Graham Stuart Staines and his sons were burnt in Orissa in 1999, and in the aftermath of the massacres of Muslims in Gujarat following the train fire at Godhra in February 2002. The NIC could also not consider the quasi-judicial violence of the caste panchayats against Dalits, the suicides of pauperized farmers, and the multi-state Naxalite crisis. 

4. Understandably, the absence of the NIC was deeply felt in the critical decade at the turn of the last Century. Citizens from all walks of life and cutting across political affiliations and beliefs indeed came together in February 2003 to set up the People’s Integration Council to fill the void.

5. The UPA government has taken several steps to assuage the angst of the minorities. It has set up the Rangnath Mishra National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities to assess social and economic backwardness, the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, and the Justice Sachchar Commission for assessing economic condition of Muslims. The Christian community and other minority groups appreciate these measures and the new institutions and wish them well. We have urged that the Sachchar Commission also look at the economic disempowerment of the Christian community, particularly of the Dalit Christians. The National Commission for Minorities still needs to be reconstituted in an empowered Constitutional avatar. The Commissions, however, cannot take the place of deeper reforms in Governance to sustain the Rule of law. However, the first session of the NIC is not the time to spell out our expectations in great detail. 

6. We are sure the NIC will meet frequently, and that it will have statutory status with an appropriate Secretariat and Standing Committee to take note of our responses to national developments, and our suggestions to resolve national problems. 

7. The Christian community is your partner in every and all efforts at reconciliation and healing, justice, and lasting peace. We have come to the NIC meeting in a very positive frame of mind, in great hope, and with legitimate expectations. The entire world is in a way watching the course of this NIC meeting. India’s ordinary men, women and children certainly are, whatever be their religion, their caste or their economic and social status.

8. We take this opportunity to present to this august assembly of the National Integration Council a Christian Perspective of National Integration. This is rooted as much in the Gospel values of Truth, Justice and Love, as in the rights and duties of a Citizen of a Democratic, Socialist and Secular India dreamt by social reformer Mahatma Phule, Mahatma Gandhi, and the Constitution’s Founding Fathers Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Christian members of the Constituent Assembly such as Fr Jerome D Souza rejected separateness in favour of a nurturing integration based on an abiding faith in the Rule of Law, Justice and Equity, fundamental ingredients of abiding Peace in the land. This went far beyond affirmative action, reservations, or doles. 

RULE OF LAW AND THE CULTURE OF INTEGRATION

9. The confidence of the Minorities, whether religious, linguistic, ethnic, caste, would be earned in this commitment of the State to the Rule of Law, and Equity and promptness in Justice. Implied is a commitment to the wonderful Plurality of Indian cultural traditions, State neutrality, Transparent Governance and the concepts of Culpability and Accountability. Fifty years after Independence, this remained the Millennium Goal. Implemented in arrhythmic patches, and therefore unfulfilled in reality. 

10. To love India is to cherish and promote her unity and solidarity. But National Integration cannot be achieved without propagating a culture of Integration. Therefore integral to this culture are:

10.1 Upholding the dignity of every citizen, including her or his Freedom of Conscience,

10.2 Ensuring Quality of Life, including basic education, concern for the girl child and the female foetus

10.3 Development with a human face by empowering specially the marginalized and the twice discriminated, such as women, Dalit Christians, urban homeless. 

10.4 Compassion towards Rural India and its poverty. Poverty with its degradation is a national disaster.

11. India can wage, and win this war. We have shown spunk and national pride in battling the Tsunami tragedy, not only rejecting foreign aid, but reaching out to help other countries. We can do it again in the face of any other challenge.

12. For this, our planners ought to listen to the aspirations of the ordinary people, the people of slums and villages. People are beginning to talk. Listen carefully and notice the signs written on the walls and on their foreheads – today this is becoming all the more a necessity, when we think of integrated life in India.

13. Five decades after Independence, we remain a largely divided country, a divided people. Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits any discrimination based on caste, creed or other factors. Article 16 prohibits acts of untouchability. Article 17 directs that there shall be no discrimination in public employment. The ground reality does great violence to this promise. The NHRC report on Violence and Atrocities on SC/ST (2004), for instance, shows that acquittals in Andhra Pradesh are 30 times more than convictions. (cf. pages 38-44). An elected Panchayat leader, if a Dalit, is not allowed to function and at times even killed to maintain a “coercive equilibrium” .Due compensation for displacement in the event of mining, building of dams or forest clearing is not done. In such a situation, any meaningful talk of national integration is a teasing illusion 

Towards transparency and accountability

14. It is not too late to cry halt to all these, to reverse the decay and the decline. This demands:

14.1 Transparency in Governance and through it accountability. . Use the power of the cyber age. Put on the Internet facts and figures regarding enforcement, without falsifying the facts. Follow it up with a major re-orientation programme for the bureaucracy, the judiciary and the police to remove the strong sense of injustice. 

14.2 Bridge the development chasm. We must move away from the rituals of development and development statistics given in reports and official finding to a state or real and authentic development palpable to the poor Any talk of integration is meaningless when the difference between sections of the people is so wide. The BPL (population below the poverty line) is put at 26 by the Planning Commission, but using the same data, that figure doubles. We cannot pose as a modern democratic state with such human development indices.

14.3 Deal with prejudice, in schools, in colleges, and civil society

14.4 A Rational understanding of the root causes of agrarian unrest and violence. In Several states organized violence by the Naxals has grown in volume. The solution lies not in banning of these organizations or police given modern arms and equipment but seeking solutions to the root cause that makes them commit organized violence. Their basic complaint is that there is gross injustice (through neglect or discrimination) on the part of the government, bureaucracy and judiciary and members of civil society, especially its affluent upper classes to the marginalized sections of society. 

15. Communal violence is a bigger threat to national integration. Its causes are well understood. The State cannot abdicate its responsibility, or dilute its commitment, in combating Communalism. Recent examples from several States have shaken the people’s confidence in the commitment to Rule of law, and have brought India much shame in the comity of nations.

16. The guilty remain unpunished. The ideologies that beget and sponsor communalism go unchallenged, undefeated. Defeated they must be if the gains of freedom – and we hold Freedom to be a Divine Gift from God -- are to percolate to the poorest of God’s children in India.

GUIDING PRINCIPLES 

17. In all humility, we propose a very few guiding principles which the Government could consider:

17.1Constructive action begins with a commitment to Truth and to reconciliation. We admit our mistakes, and learn from them. The apparatus of governance must admit shortcomings where due in Punjab, for Kashmir, Gujarat, Delhi, and Orissa, for instance, and in handling the Oppressed people, tribals, Dalits, urban homeless, tormented migrants.

17.2 Mahatma Gandhi’s wish that the least Indian should be the criteria for planning and administration should be involved in the UPA-Left era.

17.3 Commitment to end corruption, Poverty will go when Corruption goes.

17.4 Listen to the grievances of the people who feel alienated by political and developmental distance – in the North east, the Kashmiris, the Andhra farmers, the Dalit Christians, 

17.5 Reach a national consensus to end divisive politics, and ideologies of hate, communalism and fundamentalism. Strengthen laws against hate,

17.6 Make the police, the higher bureaucracy and as important, the rural bureaucracy in Panchayati Raj, truly representative of the people. It is a shame that the Dalits still go unrepresented, or grossly under represented, in all levers of power. This is also, of course, relevant for the Public and Private sectors. Equity is not a monopoly of Government alone.

17.7 Victims of communal violence must get adequate compensation to rebuild their lives.

18. The Education and Human Resource Development system and the Media have a powerful role to play in all such endeavors at National integration. We congratulate the HRD Minister for having taken the steps that he has. The Christian community, though over 50,000 educational institutions – 80 per cent of them in rural areas – has sought to do its mite, but its work, as of others, is severely eroded in the withdrawal of government subsidies and other threats. Government must ensure that these institutions survive, and thrive.

19. We commit a Sin if we poison young minds with exhortations of hate through falsified history. This must end forthwith. Parliament must devise structures to monitor Curricula, textbooks and Pedagogy to ensure an education system that nurtures Indian values, encourages a scientific temper and ingrains equality and fairplay. Only the surface has been scratched in the past one year. How are our teachers being trained? Who is monitoring the rural primary schools and the one-teacher institutions in tribal areas?

20. We do not at this time wish to find fault with the text of the Agenda Papers of this meeting, despite our strong reservations on the draftsmanship, and references to the Christian community, which reflect pre-conceived and false ideas of a section of politicians and the bureaucracy about the causes of violence against us in more than half a dozen states over the last seven years or so. 

21. We welcome the large presence of some of the most illustrious Journalists in the country in the reconstituted national Integration Council.

22. We are sure they will agree those Journalists, Media and the noble Profession of Journalism, have a raison de etre beyond commerce and profitability. TRIPs and NRS circulation figures, Advertorials and audio visual programming of Television and Films, and increasingly of Newspapers through the so-called Page Three which now can extend all the way to Page Thirty, leave little opportunity for a Social Audit by the Media of Government, Political parties and the instruments of State. There is very little column space available to the Citizen.

23. We abhor all forms of Censorship and cultural coercion. Surely the Editors here will find in their hearts the space for the common man/woman, who indeed makes Freedom of Press worthwhile, and Constitutionally possible through Article 19 – the Individual Citizen’s right to free speech.

24 In conclusion, we must work towards a culture of national integration based on Justice, Equality, Dignity, authentic Freedom including the freedom of Conscience, Transparency and Integrity in all spheres of public life.

Thank you

God Bless India and God Bless the Indian People

Members, National Integration Council

Most Rev Vincent Concessao
Archbishop of Delhi

Rev. Valson Thampu
Member, National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions
Government of India
Member, National Steering Committee on Curriculum Review, NCERT

Dr John Dayal
National President, All India Catholic Union
And Secretary general, All India Christian Council
johndayal@bol.net.in «

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