Discrimination and democracy cannot go together. India can be proud of its democratic institutions, and the fact that in spite of many shortcomings we have retained rather strengthened democracy. Yet, we should accept this distressing fact that our march of democracy is woefully marred by overwhelming discrimination against the poor, the downtrodden, the Dalits, the marginalised and the minorities.
The most glaring example of discrimination is evident against the Muslims who account for one-sixth of Indian population. This pervasive prejudice against them and denial of their rightful share in the benefits of development can be clearly seen in every field of national life. In the post-Independence decades this manifested itself in the form of unending anti-Muslim communal riots which targeted their lives, destroyed their properties and devastated their livelihood. The law and order machinery miserably failed in its duty to protect the life and limbs of the community. It either looked the other way or sided with the culprits or targeted the victims themselves. The role of judiciary also has not been exemplary. On the one hand we come across even such cases in which a mere postcard was taken as a complaint and acted upon by some honourable judges. But the proverbial goddess of justice was, in the case of Muslims, deft to the cries of victims and blind to the atrocities.
Congress was at the helm of affairs for about four decades. It was more interested in playing the Muslim card to its advantage, but never gave serious thought to improving the condition of the community. More than two decades back the Gopal Singh Report laid bare the deplorable condition of the community. It would have been more than enough if concrete action had been taken then, on the basis of its findings. But nothing serious was done or thought of. The report was neither placed before the Parliament nor made public.
Then India witnessed the worst and the darkest period of post-Independence period when communal and fascist forces exploited the basest sentiments of large sections of India , stirred passions, spread hatred and gained a foothold in national politics and ruled the country. Any good was unthinkable from these parochial elements.
Now Justice Rajender Sachar Committee has presented its report about the socio-economic and educational status of the Muslims. It presents a painful but true picture based on hard facts supplied by the state governments themselves. It shows that the Muslims have been so severely marginalised that their condition has become a drag on the whole country. The situation calls for serious thinking and urgent corrective steps. Mere rhetoric will not change the things.
It is imperative that the government and the civil society should act decisively. A move to grant reservation to Muslims in education and jobs would be a proper step. But it may be misused by communal parties to stir anti-Muslim sentiments. In the present circumstances the government may not muster enough courage to implement such a move. But it must act and act fast. Schools must be opened in Muslim-concentration areas. Special development schemes should be launched for Muslims. The government should accommodate Muslims in every department and proper representation should be given to them in police, armed services and law enforcement departments. Private commercial and industrial establishments should also do their best to end discrimination and provide adequate representation to Muslims.
Predictions are being made that we are in for a period of economic boom. It is throwing up millions of job opportunities. If we act with broadmindedness, we can usher in a period of economic prosperity as well as social harmony in a big way. If democratic norms are adhered to and constitutional safeguards are respected, we can develop a truly democratic system in which no one would be discriminated against.
The Government should act in a firm and determined fashion. Government’s message must be loud and clear – no discrimination, no prejudice, no marginalisation. Every citizen, every community, every section of society would be respected, helped and elevated.