It was the second death anniversary of Justice Rajinder Sachar on April 20. On this solemn occasion it is necessary to understand that his concerns about the ever-increasing alienation of Muslims in Indian society were very deep. He also had a keen grasp of this complex problem. He always considered the problem as a modern Indian citizen. Recognising the prevailing emotional attitudes about the problem as insufficient, he worked to develop concrete and enduring solutions.

I still cannot fathom why as prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh chose Justice Sachar to prepare a detailed report on the social, economic, educational situation of the country’s largest religious minority. As a committed Lohiaite Socialist, Justice Sachar was staunchly opposed to the New Economic Policies associated with Dr Singh.

Perhaps it was the PM’s intention that the reality of the status of Muslim Indians should be brought to the knowledge of their fellow countrymen. Perhaps only then could the Muslims be included in further development under the New Economic Policies! But despite the Sachar Committee’s grim findings, the Congress did not show the willingness to implement the report’s recommendations properly.

Rather, Dr Singh stated paradoxically that ‘the first right over the resources of the country is that of the minorities’, allowing the Bharatiya Janata Party which was already strongly opposed to the report to create unnecessary controversy. I call the statement paradoxical because Manmohan Singh being a pioneer of the New Economic Policies had in fact ensured the first right of corporate houses and multinational companies on the country’s resources. The so-called secular parties, which had stripped the Congress of its so-called Muslim vote bank, did not implement the recommendations of the report seriously either. If these recommendations had been implemented, perhaps the current horrific level of alienation of Muslim Indians from Indian society would not have occurred.

A seven-member High Level Committee of the Prime Minister was constituted on 5 March 2005 under the chairmanship of Justice Sachar. The committee completed its work on time and submitted a report of 403 pages to the government, which tabled it in Parliament on 30 December 2006. The entire report was prepared on the basis of statistics received from various agencies of the central and the state governments. What is noteworthy about this report is its exposition of certain guiding principles of what constitute a civil society in the modern world. As soon as the facts, conclusions and recommendations given in the report came to light, Justice Sachar’s name became famous across the whole country. However, he always credited the report to the entire committee and always kept himself away from the seminars and discussions organised around it.

It is well known that Justice Sachar played an active role in promoting civil liberties and rights. He played a central role in the functioning of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties founded by socialist stalwart Jayaprakash Narayan. His active involvement in various ongoing struggles at that time to bring justice to oppressed groups is also well known. Furthermore, he was always present at programs associated with the socialist movement.

The office of a judge in India is often associated with privilege and instils a sense of terror in most. Justice Sachar was a judge whose father had been a senior Congress leader and chief minister in the first government of Punjab. But Justice Sachar with his unassuming personality was considered readily accessible by all. He did not know how to distinguish big and small on the basis of one’s rank or economic status. He was a true socialist in this regard.

After the Sachar Committee report, his busy itinerary included a series of meetings with organisations and people belonging to the Muslim community, work which continued till his death. I was present with him on many such occasions. Muslim-led organisations large and small, and individuals, showed eagerness to invite Justice Sachar to various programs, to listen to him, and even be photographed with him.

He would often tell the Muslim youth he met that the work of the committee was to submit a report. It was now their job to get its recommendations implemented. He would urge them to work with the central and the state governments in order to implement the recommendations in a planned way, instead of calling him to meetings or seminars on the report. He would further suggest that they create awareness among the boys and girls, men and women who were meant to be the true beneficiaries of the recommendations.

Justice Sachar believed that the most effective way to reduce the marginalisation of Muslim Indians was to ensure their proper representation in education, administration, business and politics, i.e. the national life of India. But despite his repeated advice, not a single Muslim organisation has been formed in the country till date that works for the purpose of implementing the recommendations of the Sachar Committee report. Just as political leaders and parties created a ruckus about the report, but did not do any concrete work to implement its recommendations, so too did Muslim organisations and individuals not play any concrete role in that direction.

The PUCL, Socialist Yuvjan Sabha and Khudai Khidmatgar organised a one-day discussion in Delhi on 22 December 2016, Justice Sachar’s birthday, to mark ten years of the Sachar Committee report. Justice Sachar himself was present. The discussion was attended by Maulana Mahmood Madani, general secretary of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and Dr Mohammad Salim Engineer, general secretary of Jamat-e-Islami Hind, besides many other scholars and committee members.

Syed Mahmood Zafar, who was Officer on Special Duty on behalf of the central government in the committee, in his lecture explained in detail that even after 10 years the recommendations remained neglected. Regarding the resolution to be passed at the end of the debate, I asked Justice Sachar which two recommendations of the report he would like to insist on implementing. He suggested the following.

First, establishing an Equal Opportunity Commission as an instrument to prevent discrimination against religious minorities in the private sector like housing and employment. The EOC can be set up by the state government without taking permission from the centre.

Cartoon: Mir Suhail

Second, an extremely important recommendation dealing with the unfairness inherent in the demarcations of electoral constituencies, which result in fewer Muslims getting elected to legislatures relative to their entitlement based on their population in the area.

This anomaly, to some extent, arises from the irrational demarcation of seats in the legislature. Constituencies with a substantial number of Muslims come to be reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates, and constituencies with a substantial number of SC voters remain unreserved. This is unfair to both Muslims and those from the Scheduled Castes.

Sharjeel Imam, a student charged with sedition

The Committee had hoped it would receive the immediate attention of the central government because the Delimitation Commission was engaged in this exercise at the time. But nothing was done in this regard.

Therefore, Justice Sachar suggested that concrete action be taken to resolve this anomaly. That conference resolution was released in the public domain and sent directly to the governments of states ruled by non-BJP parties. But no state government took the initiative to set up an Equal Opportunity Commission even then.

Asif Sultan, a journalist arrested in 2018

Discussion about the Sachar Committee report has completely disappeared from what remains of political and intellectual discourse in the country. In the last general election not a single party of mainstream politics even mentioned these recommendations in its manifesto. Most party leaders have laid down arms in front of the communal fascist tactics of Bhagwat-Modi-Shah.

Nor do Muslim political leaders express any concern about the non-implementation of the Sachar Committee recommendations. Factors such as the subversive politics of the corporate-communal nexus, the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizenship, National Population Register and now the Tablighi Jamaat episode have put Muslim society in a state of extreme alienation.

For this, not only leaders and governments who engage in hypocrisy when it comes to minority interest are responsible, but the political-religious and intellectual leadership of Muslims is equally responsible.

Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, December 2019

While remembering Justice Sachar on his second death anniversary, it becomes a duty for all the people of the country to resolve to break away from caste and religious mobilisations in order to make a truly constitutional ‘socialist, secular and democratic’ Indian nation.

It is high time for a resurgence of the Sachar Committee’s findings and recommendations in the academic and political discourse, so that minority communities including Muslims are relieved of the agony and injustice of alienation.

Photograph by Masrat Zahra, charged yesterday under UAPA

Prem Singh teaches Hindi at Delhi University and is former president of the Socialist Party India