Turning Point in India's History of Secularism
New Delhi, 15 Feb, 2010: A very important moment in the history of India’s democracy and secularism has come, when on 17th Feb, 2011, the country’s Cabinet will take a decision on Article 341 (2) to file its final reply in the Supreme Court on 24 Feb, 2011, if its Muslim and Christian citizens enjoy the same rights, as Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, and whether India stands by the secularism, as mentioned in the Preamble and in Article 15, 16 and 25 of its Constitution that all its citizens are equal before law, irrespective of caste, creed, sex, colour and religion?
To those, who may not be familiar with the issue, I may briefly mention about the Article 341, which deals with the Schedule Castes reservation. The British Government had introduced in 1938 an Act to bring the under-privileged sections of the society into the mainstream of development by creating and extending them the instrument of reservation for a class, which they defined as engaged in “unclean profession”. This class comprised of certain professions and castes like sweepers, barbers, cobblers etc., irrespective of their religious faiths. Thus the reservation was based on socio-economic parameters and profession, and not faith.
In 1950, the then Prime Minister, through a brazen communal act, through infamous Presidential Order 1950 (Schedule Caste Order 1950 Clause 3 of Constitution), threw out followers of all other religions, except Hindus, from the ambit of SC reservation. This act, not only contradicted the secular character of the Constitution, but also closed the doors of development for Muslims and Christians. Surprisingly though, we continue to call ourselves a secular democracy and India continues to be a member signatory of International Human Rights Commission and several International Covenants, which calls for equality of its citizens before law, and no discrimination based on religion.
In 1956 by taking it to the streets in Punjab, Sikhs under the leadership of Master Tara Singh got re-included in the list and in 1991, Sh. VP Singh, the then Prime Minister of India re-included Buddhists in the list. Muslims and Christians not only continue to be out of SC reservation, but also any efforts to get them included have been curbed by the Union Government from time to time. Realising the political game being played by Congress and vehement opposition by RSS to the re-inclusion of Muslims and inclusion of Christens in the list, there was a petition filed in SC by Mr. Franklin and Mr. Prashant Bhushan on Mar 22, 2004. On the reference by SC, Government appointed Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission in Sept, 2005, which found discrimination to Muslims and Christians through Clause 2 of Article 341 and recommended their inclusion in the list through its report submitted to the Government in Sept, 2007.
UPA Government, alarmed at the political and economic benefits that this report could deliver to Muslims, put it in cold storage and heavily guarded its secrecy. Interestingly the report got leaked to some individuals, who got it published by Chauthi Dunia and later Indian Express and Samajwadi Party took it up in Parliament, which forced the Government to make a Statement on the floor of the House on 18 Dec, 2009, albeit in a cover up manner. In the meantime, SC admonished the Govt for not filing reply, after the Mishra Commission recommendations, it then played game by referring it to National Commission on SC/ST, which fortunately also recommended the case in favour of Muslims and Christens, pouring water on the expectations of the UPA Government. The Government then tried to do dilly dally on the report, before being reprimanded by the SC in the last hearing on 21 Jan, 2011, wherein Government counsel the Attorney General tried to convey “political sensitivity” of the issue, on which SC again scolded and asked to file the final reply for its hearing on 24 Feb, 2011.
The Government has listed in Cabinet Agenda for 17th Feb, 2011 for the final decision to be conveyed to the SC on 24 Feb. It is 60 years of discrimination, 6 years of relentless working by many NGOs and individuals and now fate to be decided by the UPA Cabinet in 3 days from today. Whether the secularism will win or RSS ideology will prevail on UPA Cabinet is to be seen? Whether India will truly practice secularism, what is enshrined in its constitution, as detailed in its Preamble or will practice institutionalized communal bias against its minorities? Whether secular Congress of 2011 will undo the brazen act of communalism, stroked in 1950 by the then secular Congress? Whether it will respect its minorities as equal citizens, without religious discrimination, being signatory to International Covenants of 1948 and 1986?
It is for all of us to convey our feelings to the UPA Partners in the Government and to the members of the Union Governments that the country shall not tolerate religious discrimination any more. It is for all the social organizations, secular persons, media, intelligentsia and political parties to express themselves against the naked religion based discrimination meted out to its minorities for 60 years. It is for us all to raise our voice against it and convey to political parties, ministers and leaders, and who-so-ever, we can reach, approach, fax and speak to on this issue in next 3 days.
India’s secularism and the future of generations to come will be affected by what the Union Cabinet decides on 17th Feb, 2011.
Issued by Indian Muslims' Research and Coordination Centre, New Delhi