Discrimination or Equal Opportunity – 1
by Rakesh Sinha on 05 Oct 2009 7 Comments

In 2005, after nearly six decades of freedom, the ruling United Progressive Alliance regime suddenly instituted the high powered Sachar Committee. Headed by retired Justice Rajinder Sachar, it was reminiscent of the colonial-era Hunter and Pirpur Committees that attempted to prove the backwardness of the Muslim community, and to attribute this alleged backwardness to ‘institutional discrimination’ at social, political and economic levels.

There was widespread disagreement over the methodology and conclusions of the Sachar Committee. AK Dubey, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said “Sachar Committee has indulged in a statistical manipulation that needs to be understood. The approach it adopted to bring to light social and political truths were muddled” (Dainik Bhaskar, Delhi, 16 July 2009).

On grounds of assumed discrimination against Muslims and their backwardness, the Sachar Committee called for the establishment of an ‘Equal Opportunity Commission,’ based on its perception that instances of discrimination against Muslims by the State is on the rise.

The truth is that the Sachar Committee failed to adduce any facts or figures to establish alleged discrimination against Muslims. Even supporters of the committee acknowledge this (The Right to Equality, Communalism Combat, March 2008 p. 5). Yet the Sachar Committee Report, in its second chapter, legitimized the canards, communally motivated allegations, and fabricated stories of exceptional discrimination. It singularly failed to justify the need for Equal Opportunity Commission. Even the Urdu daily Hamara Samaj noted that the Sachar Committee has failed to explain how this Commission will be different from National Commission for Minorities (Hamara Samaj, 18 July 2009. p.1)

The proposed ‘Equal Opportunity Commission’ (EOC) is a charade; it is based on communal identity, and institutional discrimination. The EOC will crystallize identity on the basis of religion as any citizen who believes himself/herself to be discriminated against can approach the Commission if his/her ‘group’ is identified as being institutionally discriminated against. This is unspeakably perverse.

The mother of this Commission is the committee constituted for welfare of Muslims; the Commission will function under the Ministry of Minority Affairs. The socio-economic groups for which there is already constitutional provision, such as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and Women, will fall outside the ambit of this committee. Minister for Minority Affairs Salman Khurshid has stated that Muslims have the ability to work, but are denied opportunity; hence the need for Equal Opportunity Commission (Hindustan Express, Urdu Daily, 2 July 2009).

Undeclared religion-based reservation

The EOC will thus be an instrument to impose undeclared religion-based reservation on public and private enterprises. Khurshid said the government is trying to get reservations for all Muslims under Backward Communities. The corporate sector should be persuaded to give minorities reservation in return for tax rebates (Roznama Rashtriya Sahara, 11 July 2009).

The Commission is likely to proclaim a ‘Fair Practices Code’ (New Law for Equality on cards, Hindustan Times, 16 June 2009), the purpose of which would be to create a ‘numerical balance’ between the religious communities at the cost of qualifications and suitability. In other words, it would recommend reservation in proportion to population share.

Under these provisions, the police, administrative services, armed forces and public sector will constantly be made to clarify that a particular applicant was not rejected due to his/her religious identity, but due to professional reasons. The now dissolved Commission for Racial Equality (CRC) had created such problems for institutions in Britain.

A pertinent question is left unanswered by persons associated with the present establishment. As institutions like the National Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Minorities, National Commission for Women, already exist, how is the Equal Opportunity Commission going to be different? Khurshid made the astonishing statement: “Whoever gets it first takes it and others stay off” (Economic Times, 11 July 2009).

British experience

Britain’s Commission for Racial Equality, formed in 1976, is touted as the model for constituting the Equal Opportunity Commission. Yet an intense debate raged for its abolition as it was felt that such bodies institutionalize discrimination, and make harmony difficult. It was finally abolished in 2007 in favour of an integrated Equality and Human Rights Commission.

USA, New Zealand, Canada and Australia are also seeking solutions through integrated commissions rather than numerous independent commissions. The expert committee set up by the Ministry for Minority Affairs is contrary to this global trend. Instead of strengthening the National Human Rights Commission and expanding its sphere of activity, it followed the divisive example of the erstwhile Commission for Racial Equality in Britain to recommend the formation of another commission.

Kay Hampton, the last Chairman of erstwhile of Racial Equality Commission, was invited to India to instruct five workshops at Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Lucknow (Communalism Combat, March 2008). Hampton’s views were found obstructive to the growth of a harmonious society in Britain; in all such public campaigns it propagated that institutional discrimination exists in India. This is not only baseless but militates against the well researched works of thoughtful Muslims.

Humayan Kabir, poet, scholar and Union education minister, said:
“We have all heard and read in the papers about discrimination in services, that recruitment is not always fair even though it is laid down in the constitution that there shall be equality and fairness. Now what is the reason? When jobs are few and applicants are many, the person who makes the appointment has a choice ... it may be on the basis of family relationship or it may be on the basis of provincial affinity. It may be on the basis of language or it may be on the basis of caste or religion... this patronage often is and still more often appears to be improper to those who are affected his decision... these are primarily due to the fact that the opportunities are far fewer than the demand for openings for men and women of different communities... a Hindu will complain about another  Hindu, a Muslims will complain about another Muslim and of course a Hindu will complain still more about a Muslim and a Muslim about a Hindu. There are basically result of inadequacy of resources” (Minorities in a Democracy, Humayun Kabir, Calcutta, 1968: 32) Such enlightened Muslims found no space in the bibliography of the Sachar Committee or the Expert Committee formed by the Ministry of Minority Affairs.

Real agenda

It is imperative that we understand the mentality and far-reaching agenda behind such commissions which seek, in the name of ‘equality’ to clear the path for religion-based reservations. AK Dubey states,
“In general there are various kinds of minorities. But in India it commonly denotes religious minority. The demand for reservations on religious ground is already in the air. Since such religion-based reservations could not be granted under secular dispensation, it is suspected that the same is now being accomplished through Equal Opportunity Commission. It might be remembered the elements demanding communal reservations were most activated as soon as the Sachar Committee report was presented.”

It is incorrect to consider the backwardness of Indian Muslims as a ‘historical burden’. This is true only of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Muslims were treated fairly by the Indian state and society even after Partition. An official publication of the Government of India, titled India’s Minorities (Publication Division, 1948: 30) recorded,

“Altogether 10,427 Muslim officers and other ranks opted for India whereas only 2,987 non-Muslim officers and other ranks opted for Pakistan. It is interesting to note that most of the non-Muslims who had opted for Pakistan have since returned to India, leaving only about 200 non-Muslims in Pakistan, most of them Christians and Anglo-Indians. Indeed, a good number of Muslims who had opted for Pakistan have also come back to India.

“The number of Muslims in all categories of Government service, excluding those in the Army, the Navy and the Air force and the Railway, who opted for service in Pakistan ‘provisionally’ and have now ‘finally’  opted for service in India and have already come back to India, is approximately 1,590. Altogether 18,000 Muslim railway men, who had provisionally opted for Pakistan, finally changed their decision and elected to serve in the Indian Dominion.

“The Government of India have taken back and reemployed Muslim officials who changed their provisional option for Pakistan into ‘India Final.’”

It is evident that Indian society and State rejected outright the theory and practice of the ‘Melting Pot’. The concept of Equal Opportunity Commission not only negates this historical backdrop, but also raises a huge question mark over the secular governance by the UPA.

(To be continued…)
The author is honorary director, India Policy Foundation

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