Written by Mirza Akhtar Beg · August 24, 2008
The essential requirement of good governance in a country is the welfare of all its citizens. This is the paramount ideal of constitutional democracies. India is a constitutional republic based on a very good and robust constitution.
The first duty of the Indian government is to protect the life and liberty of all its citizens. Everything else pales in comparison. Endemic sectarian riots rob the beleaguered communities. It dehumanizes and polarizes the majority as well as the minority. India has been rocked by cyclical sectarian riots for decades with increasing partisanship of those in power. With the burgeoning information technology, India has unprecedented opportunity and is on an upward trajectory to find its rightful destiny. The endemic poverty of a majority of its citizens and the fear of life by many minorities is an enormous drag, impeding progress.
Many, weak secularist though lightly infected with sectarianism take shelter and find justification in a myopic view that India is better than many other countries. It is true India is a better democracy than many. India’s record is even better, considering the size and tremendous diversity of the population. But simply saying that we are better than others does not wish or wash away the problems. It certainly does not help the nation, particularly the suffering poor and the minorities at the receiving end of the stick.
Baser human instincts propel many, to smugly justify what is advantageous to them and find the reverse reprehensible, if advantage accrue to others. Societies and nations do better when this tendency is on the decline or enough people stand up for the downtrodden. India has a better record than many other countries. Many great souls, particularly from the majority community have sacrificed a lot to stand up for justice for those perceived to be “the others”. Sectarianism of the majority is much more injurious to the nation than the minority sectarianism, because in a democracy minorities do not have the power of numbers to drive the agenda.
Free press should be and is a boon, but it becomes a bane when ordinary decent citizen inundated with insidious propaganda absorbs sectarianism (communalism in Indian parlance) without realizing it. Half truths from anecdotal stories are circulated to fortify sectarianism. Democracy has a self corrective mechanism, when enough thoughtful people rise up to negate such misuse and help protect the minorities from the clutches of entrenched sectarian interests. Fortunately many from the majority community in India have taken up this necessary burden.
Sectarian forces use perceived anecdotal injustices to spread their propaganda. Systematic discrimination and oppression that creates a deprived underclass can only be determined by rigorous social scientific research. In India the constitution itself made special provisions for the long suffering down-trodden casts and tribes (Scheduled casts and tribes) to overcome the horrible disparities and systemic exploitation of millennia. When such constitutional remedies are used some very deserving individuals of upper casts have felt cheated. That is what happens when we think of people as groups.
The case of grouping Muslims and Hindus as groups has many pitfalls, because they do not form homogeneous groups. But in the last six decades, because of endemic sectarian riots a large proportion of Hindus and Muslims have polarized and coalesced into a sectarian consciousness.
In order to design a solution based on well researched statistical data from the government archives and dozens of judicial enquiry reports into cyclical sectarian riots the Government of India established a committee under Justice Sachar. An exhaustive and comprehensive “Sachar Committee Report” came out in December 2006. It deals with the consequences of the endemic sectarian riots, destruction of lives and property and systematic discriminations against a large minority of Muslims and recommends temporary reservations in government employment for Muslims to compensate for the decades of discrimination.
Many object to sectarian reservation, suggesting that help should be based on economics parameter, taking into account individual circumstances. Religion or cast based reservations are not a panacea and have built in resentment. I sympathize with this view, but experience has shown that individuals, especially those at the bottom of the ladder have no power to get redress from systematic discrimination. The only way though imperfect is to implement the policy for the discriminated groups. Larger numbers provide vigilance in implementation of a policy.
The solutions are not simple, but some redress is imperative otherwise, India will continue sliding down the spiral in the sectarian abyss. Fortunately there are two trends to the advantage of India at this juncture.
First is the fast expanding Indian economy due to the technological revolution and the globalization. In a limited economy, for some to get redress others loose, but in an expanding economy it is easier to share, except for those whose ideology is based on hatred of others.
Second. No government can or should try to micro engineer every facet of life on the basis of perfection in equality. It will fail under the enormous weight of bureaucracy. In the burgeoning fields of sciences, education and research meritocracy ought to rule and profit motivated fast expanding private sector can not afford not to employ the best and the brightest. It is in the realm of the governing power where some parity is needed. Inequality in governance, such as police powers, justice dispensation and licensing of industries is not only deleterious, but it has been lethal, as proven time and again in endemic sectarian riots. Based on the judicial inquiry reports and disproportionate number of victims from the minority communities the injustice becomes obvious.
Why the representation of Muslims in administration is pitiful? No great intellectual prowess or great qualification is needed to be a policeman, a city clerk, or a low to mid level administrator. The judiciary at the district level must have judges represented from all communities to avoid blatant miscarriage of justice. Experience has shown that these are the levels where the most damage is done to the impoverished powerless communities. If different communities have approximate parity in these jobs, sectarian riots will not occur, or if they do, they will be very short lived, because the culprits will have a much better probability of being brought to justice.
Fortunately the Supreme Court of India has been a beacon of responsibility and Justice. One reason could be that they are in the lime light. It was the Supreme Court, the court, the court of last resort that was able to put breaks on Mr. Modi’s pogroms in Gujarat. Though the sectarian influences have kept him in power, but his murderous ways have been checked. There are now documented evidences of the culpability of the Gujarat government under Modi using the state machinery of power. That is why the events in Gujarat have been classed as pogroms rather than riots by most non sectarian observers.
The essential responsibility of a government is to safeguard its people from the enemies. Foreign enemies are easy to recognize, it the domestic enemies who injure the constitution and the national fabric. They are more dangerous and pose an existential challenge to the nation. The sectarian rioters are the domestic enemies. They can be curbed if the government really wants. There are glaring examples within India. Bengal, particularly Calcutta was prone to communal rioting in the 1960s. Since the advent of the communist government in Bengal the sectarian riots have all but vanished.
Should there be limited reservations in above mentioned jobs? I feel uncomfortable with the idea. Besides religion and politics when they are directly connected, they make an explosive mix and it solidifies the identity separation. The government should make effort to bring about equity in essential services among many better defines smaller subgroups among all communities. It will avoid major cleavages based on religion. Many minor cleavages tend to cancel out each other. It is good for the people and it is good for the country.
If the government does not succeed soon in designing programs similar in spirit as the “Affirmative action” in USA, I am afraid the reservations, a much less desirable remedy until a reasonable approximation to parity is achieved will be needed by default. By limiting reservations to administration of justice, police, army and low level bureaucracy will leave the rest of the burgeoning private enterprise open to meritocracy.
A government that can not safeguard the lives of its citizens fails in its primary purpose.