Volume 15-06 No:174
The question of minorities mostly remains buried under mountains of debris of unconcern, apathy, prejudice and hostility. In India, they suffer from an added disadvantage. Any public expression of sympathy with minorities is construed as electoral expediency. It is why even their supposed benefactors tend to shy away from talking, doing or delivering anything that could in any way mitigate their hardships and accord them equality, liberty and justice. All these together have the effect of condoning the gravest of violation of human rights against them. Babri Masjid’s is a case in point.
The setting up of a Minorities Commission was therefore seen as a major step towards giving the minorities, who constitute 18 per cent of the national populace, a fair deal, monitoring the implementation of Constitutional safeguards with regard to them, to help formulate policies regarding their development, and to act as a “national clearing house” of information on them. The Emergency (1975-77) was a major watershed in the post independence history of the nation. Coming up as it does as a decision of the first non-Congress government at the Centre in 1978, the Minorities Commission kindled hopes of a new start at least at the policy and planning level. But sadly, it was not to be. For most of its quarter century of existence, the Commission merely remained a ceremonial adjunct of the Central Government. Frowns appeared the moment it began to assert its limited autonomy or hinted flexing of its muscles.
In the book under review, Prof. Tahir Mahmood, a legal luminary and a conscientious intellectual, who himself headed the Commission for three years (1996-99) - and rarely such Muslims are put at the head of responsible positions in the central dispensation - has chosen to comment on the nearly quarter century of functioning of the Minorities Commission.
Though the Minorities Commission in Uttar Pradesh existed prior to the Centre thought of it, the idea of Central Minorities Commission essentially stemmed from the notorious excesses against Muslims (Turkman Gate massacre and Sanjay Gandhi’s forcible sterilisation campaign to mention a few). The Morarji Desai government was specially beholden to the Muslims, for it was the massive swing of Muslim votes which swept out the mighty Indira Gandhi out of power at the Centre. Two genuine attempts to give it constitutional status fell through because of the unhelpful attitude of the Opposition Congress party even while nobody had anything to say against a similar privilege being conferred upon National Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Commission. Appointment of M. R. Masani, a Parsee, as the first chairman of the Commission instead of a Muslim, caused much disappointment to the community who were to be the major beneficiaries of the new Commission. Masani resigned soon enough to allow Justice M. R. A. Ansari to succeed him. Ansari was bold and was widely appreciated for his handling of the minority issues.
Coming back to power, Congress was back to its old game of giving positions of power to a few Muslims, but not to empower the community. It acted as if there existed no Commission. A grotesque anomaly came to surface when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi appointed a high power panel headed by Dr. Gopal Singh to go into the reasons of economic backwardness of Muslim community. The Commission was shifted from Home Ministry to Welfare Ministry thereby indicating the de facto dilution of its status as well as the ideological shift from an institution for right enforcement to one concerned with welfare. Even the linguistic minorities were taken out of its purview.
For the next seven years, under the chairmanship of a fawning courtier of Indira durbar, Justice Hameedullah Baig, the Commission became a faithful spokesman of the Government. Baig spared no opportunity to sing paeans of the government. His flattery of the power-that-be looked almost like an application for bigger and better assignments and earned him the national title of Padma Bhushan. Baig even recommended merger of the Commission with the proposed national human rights commission. A questionable questionnaire circulated by the Commission during his tenure even raised umpteen eyebrows within the community. The Commission organized seminars on secularism and national integration. Most of the annual reports of the Commission could be prepared and submitted only after three years. Though nearly 5,000 Sikhs were slaughtered in the aftermath of assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1984, the Commission made only a passing reference to the tragedy. The Shah Bano agitation against the adverse Supreme Court verdict was dubbed by Baig as ‘unpatriotic hostility to our system’. He even volunteered to help Rajiv Gandhi with “notes enabling him to defend against embarrassing questions against India’s treatment of its minorities at the Commonwealth Conference at Vancouver (Canada)”. Baig was granted full two terms and one more year in extension (total seven years from 1981 to 1987) for all the efforts in appeasing the Government. Baig’s era demonstrated as to how the ‘pro-minority’ Congress government subverted and undermined the Commission. The callous disregard with which the Commission was treated is evident from the fact that of its 14 reports by 1988, only four had been tabled in the Parliament.
Some life was injected into the Commission by conferring statutory status, though still short of Constitutional status, through a 1993 Act. Justice Sardar Ali Khan initiated some bold measures, but fell from grace of the Welfare Minister Sitaram Kesri. But it entered a dynamic mode, when well meaning counsellors in the capital prevailed upon Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda to appoint Prof. Tahir Mahmood (the author) as the new chairman. Putting his redoubtable intellectual prowess to good use, Mahmood was able to bring the Commission into national limelight. The Commission in its new activist role took prompt notice of atrocities on minorities - by this time, Christians were under the assault from the hate-mongers. Violence erupted in Dangs in Gujarat; Australian missionary Graham Staines was burnt alive in Manoharpur; nuns were raped in Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh; tribal hutments in Ranalai in Orissa were set aflame; a Christian priest was paraded naked in Dumka in Bihar on trumped up charges of sodomy; community specific census was carried out in Gujarat; Muslim properties in Old Delhi were served notices under Enemy Properties Act. Minority Commission dispatched teams to all these troubled spots and kept the government and the media posted with its independent investigations. It began to look into grievances of Hindu minority in Jammu and Kashmir and three other smaller states and admitted Jains into the list of minorities. It set up a special cell to look into complaints of minority educational institutions set up under Article 30(1) of the Constitution.
Naturally, furrows appeared on the foreheads of the powers that be in Delhi. Fortuitously, at least two of these dynamic years coincided with the rule of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. However, tactfulness ensured that the Commission’s objectivity is not impaired. Indeed these were the years when the Government began taking notice of the Commission. At least twice, the Government sought the Commission’s opinion on various matters.
The book enriches the readers not by invalid rhetoric, but by intimacy of ground realities. Howsoever minor might be the role of the Minorities Commission in the national polity, value-oriented activism could impart it greater relevance. Unfortunately, there have been fewer occasions when individuals from among the minorities have measured up to the opportunity, let alone challenge. One would have wished the chapter on the glorious years under Tahir Mahmood, the man who animated the moribund organization, should have been penned by somebody other than the author. The book is a valuable addition to minority studies in India. But for a few proof mistakes and certain repetitions here and there, the book is superb in its subject and style.
Islamic scholars in the Indian sub-continent attach paramount importance to the study of Arabic literature as the source books on Islamic sciences in order to access jurisprudence and theology which were compiled in Arabic in earlier times. For a sound knowledge of Arabic language and literature, and correct interpretation of the religious texts a comprehensive knowledge of Arabic is essential. Each of the Arabic madrassa has separate department and expert teacher for the teaching of grammar. Some of these institutions have compiled separate text-books on Arabic grammar. These books were written in Persian and then in Urdu.
With the passage of time, research scholars have discovered, both in the East and the West, books on Arabic poetry, prose, history, geography, medicine, culture and a variety of subjects which had almost been lost and driven into oblivion. This discovery has revived the need for books on Arabic grammar. Such books and their number is constantly increasing. In English too, Arabic dictionaries, lexicons and texts for students of different ages and standards are being compiled either under supervision of the universities or by private endeavour.
Recently, Dr. S.K. Bahmani, an Arabic teacher in the New College, Chennai has compiled a very useful book to promote Arabic studies under the title Comprehensive Arabic Grammar. Having taught Arabic language and literature for years, he has called to his aid his profound knowledge and vast experience which would make the comprehension of Arabic grammar easy.
It is not mere grammar that a student learns from a study of this book, it offers information on allied subjects such as Modern Arabic Usage combined with illustrative texts and sentences.
With the emergence of Arab states in Asia and Africa there has been a renewed interest in the study of Arabic. Special courses have been devised by several universities to cater to the needs of the professionals and executives who have developed contacts with the Arab world. So is the case with the academics who wish to acquire a knowledge of Arabic to understand the cultural heritage of the Arabs and their contribution to world civilization. A study of. Bahmani’s book will be a significant step towards fulfilling this objective. There is ample scope for the reader as this book offers a number of model sentences together with vocabulary lists carefully selected for each lesson. The book contains passages both from classical and modern Arabic which should evoke interest in the reader for further study.