Ministry of Home Affairs Resolution dated January 12, 1978 mentioned that “despite the safeguards provided in the Constitution and the laws in force, there persists among the Minorities a feeling of inequality and discrimination. In order to preserve secular traditions and to promote National Integration the Government of India attaches the highest importance to the enforcement of the safeguards provided for the Minorities and is of the firm view that effective institutional arrangements are urgently required for the enforcement and implementation of all the safeguards for the Minorities in the Constitution, in the Central and State Laws and in the Government policies and administrative schemes enunciated from time to time.”
In India the last two decades witnessed increasing acts of violence that resulted in thousands of deaths and systematic destruction of property belonging to people of the minority communities. There is growing criticism that the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) has not been effective in protecting minority interests.
Recently Sardar Tarlochan Singh was appointed as Chairman of National Commission for Minorities. Mr Singh brings to this job many years of distinguished public service. We wish him the best and hope that his leadership will help NCM regain credibility.We also thank Sardar Tarlochan Singh for agreeing to this brief interview with SikhSpectrum.com
Question: In the 25 years since 1978 violence against minorities is steadily on the rise. Does this reflect the failure of NCM in safeguarding minority interest?
TS: The rise in violence is a common phenomenon all over the world, it is not only in Minorities but with all communities. India being a vast country, it is highlighted more. Minority interest is always protected and NCM is always at their beck and call.
Question: One of the functions of the Commission is to undertake case studies of problems “arising out of any discrimination against minorities.” Are these [detailed] reports accessible to ordinary citizens?
TS: Annual Reports are prepared and presented in the Parliament which are discussed by the Members. People can get copies.
Question: What about reports detailing actions taken by the Central and State governments and their reasons for non-acceptance of NCM recommendations, if that were the case.
TS: NCM is a recommendatory body. All our recommendations are given to Central and State Governments and by and large these are accepted. Some are not accepted because of the decisions taken by those Governments.
Question: Article 29 of the Constitution of India gives minorities Rights to conserve its “distinct language, script or culture.” A concerted effort is being made by certain non-secular organizations and political parties to distort and rewrite history pertaining to the minority communities. What role can NCM play in this regard?
TS: NCM has been carrying on correspondence with NCERT which is preparing new books. They send the books in advance to us and all our Members go through the portions pertaining to different religions.
Question: Does the Government of India have any program that aids setting up minority institutions especially educational institutions? If not, would NCM consider making such a recommendation.
TS: Government of India gives full aid to minority schools like others. Education is free for all people irrespective of their religion.
Question: What is Central Interest Subsidary Scheme for victims of communal violence?
TS: Subsidy scheme is given in particular cases like the one which was given in 1984 when large number of Sikhs were killed and all the interest on loans of the victims was waived.
Question: In the many incidents of violence against minorities, besides thousands of lives that are lost, there is also extensive damage to minority owned businesses and property. If the Governmet sets aside say Rs.50 crore annually it can use this money to buy products and services, for a period of atleast 18 years, from bona fide victims of violence. This should help the victims rebuild their lives and property. Is it something NCM would like to consider?
TS: This suggestion is for consideration of the Government. NCM has recently helped the victims in Gujarat by getting quite good compensation from the Government of India. The Prime Minister gave Rs.100 crores on our request.
Question: NCM does not have the power concerning matters sub judice. Events that occured over one year or more also do not fall within its purview. Judicial process in India is painstakingly long as is evidenced in several incidents of communal violence awaitng proper closure. Doesn’t this limitation on NCM, to a certain extent, handicap its ability to “evaluate and monitor safeguards”, a function assigned to it under the NCM Act?
TS: NCM has no power to take up the case which is sub-judice. Judiciary is independent and has been very effective in India.
Question: NCM has declared December 18 as “Minorities Rights Day.” Unfortunately most people are unaware of it. What can NCM and minorities do to create awareness?
TS: Minority day celebration is a ritual but we do utilise various TV channels and newspapers for highlighting our role and making appeal for communal harmony. We carry on the campaign of awareness throughout the year.
Question: Explanation II to Article 25 of the Indian Constitution refers to Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs as Hindus thereby denying these communities its distinct identity and culture. Last April former Chief Justice of India, Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah recommended that Explanation II should be omitted. Did the Government of India accept the recommendation? What is its present status?
TS: To get this recommendation from the Constitution Review Commission, I appeared before them and it was on my appeal and pursuation they recommended the amendment which is now to be moved in the Parliament. I have requested Sikh members of the Parliament to move this amendment.
Question: Finally, is there a way minority communities can effectively work with NCM to create a safer existence for itself in India.
TS: Minority Community also needs proper education. To always consider the majority as enemy does not help us. We have to create goodwill and understanding. Our leaders and leaders of the Muslim community have given wrong slogans to the people. We must consider that majority have also their rights and we have to create an atmosphere where majority and minorities can live together happily.