United Power–From left, Bishop Ezra Sargunam (founder,Evangelical Church of India), Mr.Syed Shahabuddin (former Member of Parliament),Dr.A.S.Nakadar (Trustee, AFMI), Mr.Ram Vilas Paswan (India’s Union Minister & Chairman of Dalit & Minorities International Forum), & Mr.Charanjit Singh Atwal (Deputy Speaker, Lok Sabha).
UNIONDALE–The International Dalit-Minorities Conference over the Independence Day weekend in New York discussed the challenges and opportunities for the suppressed classes of India (religious and ethnic minorities and dalits).
The conference, organized by the American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI), which also held its XVII North American Annual Convention in conjunction with the conference, was held at the Marriott-Long Island in Uniondale, New York. Chairing the conference was Ram Vilas Paswan, India’s Minister of Steel and chief of Lok Jan Shakti Party.
AFMI president Ali Quraishi said: “Dalits and minorities, mainly Muslims, constitute about 40% to 50% of the population of India, and if they vote for the right candidates in polls, they can be a powerful voice, and secure what is due to them, that which has been denied to them for so long.”
Participants included social activists, academics, community leaders, politicians, media activists and professionals from a cross-section of the society.
Dr. AS Nakadar (AFMI Trustee) from Michigan, renowned academic Dr. K.P. Singh of Washington University, and Dr. Shakir Mukhi (past president of AFMI) from New York spearheaded the organizing committee of the conference.
In his inaugural address, Paswan, who is also the Chairman of the Dalit and Minorities International Forum (DMIF), said the conference aimed to focus international attention on discrimination based on caste, gender and religion and deliberate on eliminating such societal inequalities.
Paswan called for empowering the socially deprived through education and employment.
“Till such time that the minorities do not have self confidence, India cannot progress. We need to facilitate this,” he said. Despite the constitutional provision for equal opportunity of development, discrimination against Muslims and Dalits are a reality, Paswan said. Legislation is needed for reservation to deprived classes, he continued.
“If Dalits and Muslims get united, they will lead the politics of India, governments will be theirs, and they will rule the country,” he said. Paswan said development and progress of Dalits and Muslims can be only through reservations.
Syed Shahabuddin, a former diplomat, ex-Member of Parliament, said that funds earmarked for the deprived do not percolate to them due to the prevailing bureaucratic set up in India.
“Give money directly to the poor, give them pension as per the per capita pension. It is only then that the scheduled caste, tribe and the Muslims will prosper in our country,” he said.
Dr. AS Nakadar stressed the importance of education, which would help increase the socio-economic capital of not only the individuals, but of communities and countries as a whole.
Prof. Mungekar, Member of the Planning Commission, said, “Forty-two per cent of the people in India are still below the poverty line, despite the economic development witnessed by the country in the past sixty years.”
He said the minorities got marginalized after Partition because of the unequal opportunity structure in the country. He also lamented the political parties for not giving adequate reservation to women, saying the powerful political class is not ready to surrender their powers to women.
The conference was also addressed by Member of Parliament Ram Das Athawale, member of the Planning Commission and Dr. Bhalchandra Mungekar, social activist Teesta Setelvad and Tehelka’s Tarun Tejpal. Delegations of Sulabh International members and Bhopal Gas victims also participated in the conference.
The revolutionary work by Sulabh International has liberated several Dalits from the humiliating work of human waste disposal. AFMI president Nakedar threw light on the aims of the conference and activities of the organization.
“We the voiceless are coming together to let the entire world know that we have learned to articulate our views. We the powerless are coming together to let the entire world know that no longer we will allow any one to divide us in the name of caste or religion. We will define who we are and not what others will define us. For centuries we have waited for this historic moment, a moment that will see the weakest showing their will to survive. It is a moment of self respect, dignity and self discovery,” he said.
At the end of the convention, a New York Declaration was issued, demanding compensation to 1984 anti-Sikh riot victims, justice for Godhra victims and restoration of Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya to the Buddhists.
The declaration called for “the immediate elimination of all forms of discrimination. Restoration of the Human Rights of the Dalits and the Minorities in full measures, whenever and wherever they are violated. Urgent investigation of all cases of involuntary disappearances and custodial killings in Jammu & Kashmir and arbitrary detention through out the country on unverified accusation of terrorism and investigation of mass crimes and communal riots by Special Investigative Teams [SITs] and independent prosecution by special courts that does not spare the mighty and powerful,” it read.