A seminar held at the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru, on November 19 discussed various development models for religious minorities. Here is a brief description of the papers presented by academicians and observations made by participants.
Prof. Abdul Aziz, Economist
Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policies
National Law School of India University (NLSIU)
Deprivation levels among religious minorities in terms of social status, educational attainment and economic status are higher than communities that form the majority community in India. But the religious minorities themselves are not a homogenous whole. Christians, Sikhs and Marwari Jains (who are basically migrants from Rajasthan) are better off. It is mainly the vast majority of Muslims, Digambar Jains and rural Buddhists who are victims of deprivation. This seminar seeks models of educational and socio-economic development for religious minorities. It seeks to suggest ways to uplift those minority communities who are placed low in terms of social and economic status.
Minority backwardness stems from lack of productive employment arising on account of lack of capital and skills, lack of drive and risk-bearing capability, comparatively low work culture, insecurity due to frequent communal conflict, and lack of scope for airing their grievances due to low representation in political bodies and legislative forums.
In this context, it is to be pointed out that there are several models available from other communities who have come up during the post-1947 phase of development. First among these could be Sikhs of Punjab, many of who were originally engaged in agriculture. But they transferred the surplus from farming to set up industries, impart education and skill to their younger generation and setting up industries in Punjab and elsewhere. The community has no beggars. They are enterprising, show great will to work hard, migrate to distant locations and invest in new enterprises.
Second example could be Christians, who empowered themselves by setting up quality educational institutions which enables them to land up on higher positions in the bureaucracy and the global job market.
The Brahmin community could also be a model. The community’s emphasis was on development of human resources. Many of those who owned land prior to Independence moved to the cities, leaving behind one or two members in villages. Their children were admitted to schools and colleges and given the best of education and skills in the organized sector. This qualitative output improved social status and political power and added weight to the community. The qualitative weightage proved to be more important than quantitative weightage as evidenced from the fact that the member of this community occupying decision-making positions in important places in the bureaucracy
Yet another model could be the Vokkaligas and Lingayaths of Karnataka, two communities dominating southern and northern parts of the state. They were predominantly farming communities in pre-1947 days. They too shifted surplus from farm income to urban areas, where they invested in cinema theatres, marriage halls, hostels and endowments, educational institutions etc. Their emphasis in education was on the profession of law. Law being a passport to politics, considerable numbers among them enter political parties and today occupy important places.
Finally, something can be learnt from the Marwari community, which is mainly a migrant community from Rajasthan. They have built support structures within to bring in people from rural areas of Rajasthan, provide them finance and skills and guide them. Individuals are helped to set up businesses.
From among Muslims themselves, Kakas (from Kerala) and Labbai Muslims from Tamil Nadu also have prospered in cities of south India. They are hardworking, principled, lead austere lives and are honest in their dealings.
All models and everything in a specific model will not be replicable among worse-off sections of minorities, particularly Muslims. One way of improving the productivity of urban informal enterprises is for the state to intervene and provide capital for entrepreneurship. The KMDC does provide capital to minority community entrepreneurs, but an evaluation study of the performance of this Corporation presents a depressing picture. A startling finding of this study is that the beneficiaries, in connivance with middlemen, secure loans on wrong addresses, never to be returned. It is recommended that respected members of the mohallas of beneficiaries should be involved to identify the bona fides of the borrowers. Some form of counseling in mores and value-orientation to induce ethical practices among the entrepreneurs will be in order.
The Directorate of Minorities Welfare of the Karnataka Govt has done well to start a number of good quality schools. There should be effective supervision to enhance their quality continually.
Prof. N. Jayaram
Not all minorities are homogenous. Each minority has stratification, and there are caste variables that exist between them.
The Sachar Committee Report compares the status of Muslims who are not listed as Other Backward Classes (OBCs)—and, thus, do not qualify for reservation in educational institutions and in public sector employment—with the Muslim OBCs. Data from NSSO 55th round has been used. The Report noted that 40.7% of Muslims are ‘Muslim OBCs’, which is 15.7% of the total OBC population of the country. It observed that while the condition of the general Muslim category is lower than that of the Hindu OBCs, the conditions of Muslim OBCs are worse than that of the general Muslim category. The Report delineated three groups of Muslims in India: 1- those without any social disabilities, the Ashrafs; 2- those equivalent to Hindu OBCs, the Ajlafs; and 3- those equivalent to Hindu SCs, the Arzals. Those who are referred to as Muslim OBCs combine (2) and (3). Forming as it were a ‘caste’ hierarchy, these three groups obviously warrant different types of protective discrimination for the social development.
It is possible to devise objective indicators for education, health, employment or unemployment rates, consumption patterns and gender equality and to measure and compare the relative achievement of the different minority communities. The government schemes largely address these objective factors of social development such as ICDS, SSA, Kastura Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya Scheme, Indira Awas Yojanata etc etc. But there are subjective factors such as fear, insecurity and stereotypes that also impact the development of minorities. How would one measure absence of fear, happiness, confidence, trust, well-being and life-satisfaction etc?
Even when the polity is avowedly secular in its ethos, the dominance of the majority community in a democracy is inevitable. This is the case in all democratic countries. Muslims could take other religious communities, especially, Christians, Jains, and Sikhs, as a point of reference in this regard. The challenge for the community is how to travel the path of social development without either compromising their community identity or exaggerating it.
Ashutosh Varshney’s comparative study of communal conflict in three pairs of cities—Aligarh and Calicut, Hyderabad and Lucknow, and Ahmedabad and Surat—offers some insight by way of an answer as to how to build harmonious intercommunity relations. He showed that cities like Calicut, Lucknow and Surat which are strong in civic engagement are better able to control outbreaks of communal violence as compared to Aligarh, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad, which are weak in civic engagement.
Prof. D. Jeevan Kumar,
Karnataka State Rural Development & Panchayati Raj University
Effective participation of minorities in policy and decision-making processes, and particularly in policies and decisions which concern them, is a fundamental precondition for the full and equal enjoyment of the human rights of minorities. Effective participation of minorities contributes to the alleviation of simmering tensions in multi-ethnic societies. Several models exist to ensure political representation of ethnic groups. These include the Proportional Representation (PR) system; positive discrimination (by reserving seats for minorities and women); reserved number of seats in one or both chambers of Parliaments; quotas for candidates for parties to nominate (e.g., Singapore); representation through specialized agencies (e.g., Swedish Assembly in Finland).
Similarly, there are varied electoral systems to ensure accommodation of minority and ethnic groups. Several countries have modified and amended their electoral system. Fiji has moved first-past-the-post (FPTP) system to a mixture of the alternative vote and communal rolls; Thailand moved from the Block Vote to a Parallel System with PR; Iraq and Afghanistan have opted for List PR; South Africa changed the national List System to one with 69 multi-member constituencies electing between three and seven and 100 ‘compensatory MPs’.
Consociationalism is a form of democracy which seeks to regulate the sharing of political, national or linguistic groups by allocating them collective rights. Consociationalism stands in contrast to ‘Majoritarianism Democracy’. Majoritarian system calls for the integration of minority groups and the distribution of individual rights solely. The ‘Consociationalist’ approach consists in accommodating minorities by granting them collective right. It seeks to avoid the destabilizing byproducts of winner-take-all majoritarian democracy. It prioritizes cooperation and sharing of power between political elites. When group leaders are empowered to govern together, the group loyalties that formerly stoked violent conflict are channeled into resource allocation instead.
Assistant Professor, NLSIU
Larger designs of conflict should be understood. We need to understand the cultural linkages and their role in literature. There are umpteen cultural traditions which are syncretic in nature and need to be explored to forge communal amity.
Member, Karnataka State Minorities Commission
Sikhs are facing the danger of becoming a minority in Punjab itself. This is due to drug abuse and social evils etc. Sikhs were not beaten down by crises like 1984 massacre. They don’t carry the baggage too long. They are a resilient community. Manmohan Singh was a prime minister of a party that was responsible for the 1984 massacre. Major challenge for Sikhs is retaining their visual identity. Setting up an Equal Opportunities Commission will be a positive step forward.
Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
It is to be taken for granted that a democracy will always have a majoritarian flavor. A minority is defined as a group of people who are numerically less than a larger group; are powerless due to their non-dominance; and insist on ethnic, linguistic and religious characteristics which they cherish and wish to preserve as integral to their identity (ref. Definition by Francesco Capotorti). Research must be conducted on how to measure even subjective factors such as fear, apprehension, insecurity, happiness, satisfaction etc among minorities to incorporate into assessment of their well-being. Questions such as “How likely is one to hire a house in a majority-dominated colony? How likely is one to sport a religious symbol of appearance in a plural society?” could ascertain a minority individuals’ state of well-being.
Language is sometimes more a deterrent in integration and participation in a plural democracy than religion. There is better harmony between communities where minorities linguistically and culturally identify with the majority community e.g., Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and West Bengal. Similarly, exclusionary trends are more evident in regions where minorities are likely to politically assert, such as in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam.
Representative of Parsi community
We need to ponder over some facts such as to why old civilizations like India and Egypt are poor and less developed, while Canada, Australia and New Zealand are not more than 200 years old but advanced and developed.
Minorities can prosper only by practicing values such as integrity, respect for law, the will to be productive, punctuality, efficiency and hard work. Parsi community individuals have inherited these characteristics in ample measure.
(Report compiled by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj)