Slogans Fine, But Does the Reality Include India's Minorities?
'Bombs' and 'hydrogen bombs'
The Aryan Khan drug case, involving the son of the Hindi film superstar, Shah Rukh Khan, is taking new turns every day and has become the primetime entertainment on the electronic media, with ‘bombs’ and even ‘hydrogen bombs’ being exploded by the Maha Aghadi government of Maharashtra and the BJP to malign each other.
Whether the erstwhile investigating officer, Sameer Wankhede, is a Muslim or a scheduled caste officer belonging to the very backward Mahar community, has also become a bone of contention with the continued exclusion of the socially and educationally backward Muslims and Christians from the purview of benefits for scheduled castes.
The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, had declared that no non-Hindu could be a scheduled caste. Later, under political pressures, it was amended by the Jawaharlal Nehru government in 1956 to extend the benefits to Sikhs and by the V.P. Singh government in 1990 to cover Buddhists.
The Order now reads: “Notwithstanding anything contained in paragraph 2, no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu, the Sikh or the Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of a scheduled caste.”
In her dissenting note, Asha Das, Member-Secretary of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, had argued that the scheduled castes who converted to Buddhism in large numbers after the 1950 Order were already enlisted as scheduled castes. They converted voluntarily to protest against the unseemly practice of untouchability.
The notification continued the recognition so that they could benefit from the special protection/facilities which were already available to them. But this was only partly true. The provision extended the concession to Buddhists prospectively as well.
The validity of the order was considered by the Supreme Court in Writ Petition No. 9596/83 in the case of Soosai vs Union of India and Others (AIR 1986 SC 733). The Court observed: Now it cannot be disputed that the caste system is a feature of the Hindu social structure. It is a social phenomenon peculiar to Hindu society… it is quite evident that President [of India] had before him all this material indicating that the depressed classes of the Hindu and the Sikh communities suffered from economic and social disabilities and cultural and educational backwardness so gross in character and degree that the members of those castes in the two communities called for the protection of the constitutional provisions relating to the scheduled castes. (emphasis added)
Available evidence clearly brings out that the caste system is as much prevalent among the Muslims and the Christians (and the Jains) as it is among the Hindus, irrespective of the assurances given to the persons at the time of their conversion to these religions.
The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (Ranganath Misra Commission) (2007) found that “By all available evidence we do find the caste system to be an all-pervading social phenomenon of India shared by almost all Indian communities irrespective of religious persuasions.” But, these categories among the Muslims and the Christians (and the Jains) have been consciously kept out of coverage all these years.
The Misra commission had recommended that, ideally, there should be no distinction on the basis of caste, religion or class. There should be a single list of socially and economically backward, including religious and linguistic minorities, based on common criteria.
The existing lists prepared on the basis of backwardness of caste or class should cease to exist after the list of socially and economically backward is ready. The new list of socially and economically backward has necessarily to be family/household based.
The commission had also observed that census statistics on the status of religious minorities reveals that the educational status of Muslims is relatively low. However, disaggregated data presents a picture of unevenness in the educational status of Muslims and Buddhists cutting across the States. The States of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and UP, [BIMARU states], which account for almost 65 percent of the total population of Muslims in the country, present a dismal picture in terms of social indicators of development for the general population also. There is, therefore, an urgent need for taking a comprehensive
view of the socially and economically backward of all communities in an integrated manner.
The commission had, inter alia, recommended amendment of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 and the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order 1951 as also of the central and state lists of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
Justice Rajinder Sachar committee on Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community of India (2006) also found that Muslims faced fairly high levels of poverty and segregation. The committee concluded that the conditions facing Indian Muslims was below that of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The three groups of Muslims ashrafs, ajlafs and arzals (in order of caste hierarchy) require different types of affirmative action.
Unfortunately, both these reports have not even been discussed in Parliament, leave aside serious consideration and follow-up of their valuable recommendations.
The Supreme Court has declared secularism as a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. But, the BJP has denounced its implementation as pseudo-secularism or mere appeasement of minorities, at the cost of the majority community’s interests. The Modi government has announced that it would not make any distinction between Indians on the basis of religion and would treat all of them as common citizens. Hence the slogan Subka Saath, Subka Vikas, Subka Vishwas. Prime Minister Modi has also been emphasising India’s faith in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the whole world is a family). If these slogans are not to remain as mere rhetoric, it is necessary that no distinction should be made on the basis of religion while recognising and dealing with social, economic and educational backwardness. If this long-overdue reform is made, Prime Minister Modi will blaze a new trail and go down in history as a messiah of the under-privileged and deprived sections in India’s multi-religious society.
Madhav Godbole is a former Union home secretary and secretary, Justice. His latest book is India—A Federal Union of States: Fault Lines, Challenges and Opportunities.