By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh drew attention to his governmentâ€™s policy towards backward communities and minorities, giving emphasis to several schemes having been implemented by Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). â€œThe recommendations of the Justice Sachar committee are being implemented and these initiatives are bringing about a positive change as well. These initiatives need to be speeded up,â€ the Prime Minister said in his inaugural address at a Dalit and minorities international conference organized by former union minister Ram Vilas Paswan.
The one-day conference, attended by distinguished representatives from different parts of world, including several members of American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI) was held in the capital city (December 29).
At the conference, following the arrival of Prime Minister, floral tribute was paid to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Abdul Khaliq, Secretary General, Dalit & Minorities International Forum gave a welcome address. After Paswan outlined the main theme and thrust of the conference, Prime Minister delivered his inaugural speech.
During his address, the Prime Minister dismissed apprehensions about his government having sidelined recommendations of Sachar Committee. He said: â€œI have often heard people saying that the government has not implemented the recommendations of the Sachar Committee. I wish to state here today that this is not true.â€ The Prime Minister also drew attention to the cabinet decision on allocation of a 4.5% sub-quota for minorities in the existing Other Backward Caste (OBC) quota for government jobs. Around 300,000 weavers and 15,000 cooperative societies will benefit from his governmentâ€™s package for handloom sector, which includes one-time waiver of overdue loans and interests, the Prime Minister pointed out.
The Prime Minister illustrated his governmentâ€™s policy favoring minorities by pointing to an increase in recruitment of minorities in government jobs, security forces and the banking sector during the past four years. The same period has been witness to loans for these communities being given priority, which had risen from 9% to 15%. In addition, he cited examples of his government having awarded 4,000,000 scholarships to minority students and having implemented minority-specific development programs in around 90 minority-concentration districts.
The international forum, with Paswan as its Chairperson, focused on problems and issues concerning Dalits (Hindu backward class) and minorities. The Indian minorities include Muslims, Christians and Sikhs.
During his address, Paswan, who presided over the conference, demanded reservations in private sector and also the judiciary. Paswan, a leader of Lok Jan Shakti Party, also drew attention to political debate on the Lok Pal bill, a part of the anti-corruption drive begun by Anna Hazare and his supporters. Questioning the political credentials of Team Anna, Paswan suggested that the government must not succumb to their pressure tactics. â€œThe office of the Prime Minister cannot be brought under the Lok Pal and the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) must remain independent of the proposed ombudsman,â€ Paswan said.
Among the first international representative to address the gathering was AFMI Trustee and Founder Dr. A.S. Nakadar. Emphasizing that AFMIâ€™s mission was securing 100% literacy in India, Dr. Nakadar also elaborated on the success of this organization since it initiated this drive around two decades ago. Dr. Nakadar was listed as a guest of honor at the forum.
Dr. Nakadar highlighted the importance of cooperation across boundaries of caste, religion, and class, arguiing that religious intolerance has impeded Indiaâ€™s material progress. He argued that the lessons he learned in India of hard work, responsibility and honesty, had borne fruit through his years of medical practice in America.
In addition to highlighting the importance of â€œsocial justice and gender equality,â€ Dr. Nakadar pointed out: â€œWe believe education is not complete unless two components of education are acquired. One is a formal education and other is a religious education. While the formal education is a must in this highly competitive world, the religious education is equally important. The fundamentals and the bases of any religious teaching are on developing character, morality, honesty, and accountability.â€ He noted: â€œThis also is the answer to the recent cry against rampant corruption. No rules or regulation or a democratic process will be able to eradicate it from its roots, unless the basis of an individualâ€™s daily dealings are on solid foundation laid by his/her religious teachings.â€
In his address, AFMI member, Dr. Aslam Abdullah highlighted the need to give more importance to promoting literacy among the fairer gender. Educating girls was equivalent to laying ground for ensuring higher literacy of an entire family in the coming generation. He also emphasized the need to give substantial importance to religious education.
At the day-long conference, various speakers also elaborated on issues such as: — what more needs to be done for betterment of Dalits and minorities; importance of reservation for promoting their educational, economic and social interests; caste and communal violence; impact of media and hate propaganda; inadequate allocation of funds for welfare schemes for minorities and Dalits: terror and its impact on minorities and secularization of educational curriculum, textbooks as well as culture.
Among other AFMI members who attended the conference and voiced their stand on issues concerning Indian Muslims were: — Ali Quraishi, Shafi Lokhandwal, Hussain Nagamia, Ashfaq Qureshi, Tajuddin Ahmad and Shakir Mukhi.