The National Commission of Minorities (NCM) held its annual conference on March 28, 2023 (today), at the Ambedkar International Centre, Janpath in New Delhi. The day-long Conference provided a platform to State Minorities Commissions who had come up with their issues for a hearing. The Conference was held after a gap of six-years. The Conference was divided into three segments – (1) Role of minorities in development of India. (2) Role of Administration in addressing minority related issues. (3) An open session where the representatives from state shared their problems and suggestions. Minister of State (MoS), Ministry of Minority Affairs, John Barla inaugurated the Conference in the presence of NCM Chairperson, Iqbal Singh Lalpura, NCM Vice Chairman, KK Deboo alongwith members Dhanyakumar Jinappa Gunde (Jain representative), Rinchen Lahmo (Buddhist representative), Syed Shahezadi Muslim representative) apart from distinguished delegates who had come from their respective states to attend the event.
Addressing the gathering, MoS, Ministry of Minority Affairs, John Barla said, “I am delighted to become a part of this conference. This has immense significance as it will help to understand the problems of the minority community that often they cannot share. I can see that minorities have come to attend the event from different parts of the country. In order to fulfill the mandate of our Constitution of welfare of minorities”. The minister reiterated on the need to resolve issues by talks rather than holding ‘dharna’ protests as, “We have institutions like Ministry of Minority Affairs and National Commission for Minorities, working day and night. We have a crucial role in fulfilling Government’s vision of ‘Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Prayas.’ Barla reiterated, “Having Minority Commissions across all the states is essential and those who did not constitute till date must do it soon”.
NCM Chairperson Iqbal Singh Lalpura said, “There is no doubt that India is tolerant towards all the communities. The country has witnessed approximately 5% decrease in majority population and 5% increase in minority population. It shows the level of protection, India has provided to the minority communities”. He mentioned the good work NCM has been doing like celebrating all the festivals which strengthen the essence of ‘Unity In Diversity’. Lalpura slammed those who spread rumor by saying ‘minorities are unsafe in this country’, he said India never differentiated between ‘minorities and majorities’. “No profession has remained untouched, when it comes to the contribution of minorities. Minorities have immensely contributed to every field and profession from sports to defence and judiciary to education and more”, added Lalpura.
Excerpts from technical sessions:
The first session of the day – ‘Role of Minorities in Development of India’, was presided over by Director of Parzor Foundation Dr Shernaz Cama, Chairman of India Islamic Centre, Sirajuddin Qureshi, Former Governor of Arunachal Pradesh General JJ Singh, Founder of Maulana Azad Foundation for Education and Social Amity Husnara Salim, and President of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee Harmeet Singh Kalka. Vice Chairman, NCM, KK Deboo (Parsi representative) and Dhanyakumar Jinappa Gunde (Jain member) moderated the session.
Director of Parzor Foundation Dr Shernaz Cama added a different flavolur to the discussion by sharing the exquisite and exclusive signatures of history and architecture. “India has such a vast window from architecture to history and cultural diversity to the holistic heritage and these art forms makes us spell bound”, said Dr Cama represented the Parsi community at the Conference said, my Parsi community is very small in number but it had contributed immensely in the making of India since pre-independence day and after. She mentioned stalwarts like Dadabhai Naoroji, Bhikaji Cama, Homi J. Bhabha, Sam Manik Shaw, JRD Tata to name a few. Talking of contributions of the Tatas, she said, “We can have a lovely city like Jamshedpore, the only city named after Parsi person. However, referring to issues of the minority she said there ia a need to make people aware of the policies and programmes laid down by the NCM for the minorities”, she added. “Both present and future are equally important like past”, smiled Dr Cama.
Chairman of India Islamic Centre, Sirajuddin Qureshi said the NCM has been doing a good job but it needs to spread awareness about the schemes that they are entitled to. Qureshi stressed on the need to have more interactive sessions where minority community would know about their rights as a large section of them are deprived of fare justice. “I don’t want to call ‘minority or majority’ but we all are ‘Hindustani’ and this should be our identity”. He raised the issue of a large number of Muslim households losing their livelihood as states have closed down the cottage industries that used to run from the four walls of their homes. Qureshi compliment the Sikh community for their relentless selfless services, “Muslims should learn from Sikh community that I respect for their services towards the poor and deprived. I am not saying this because I am at NCM Conference and sitting with Lalpuraji but since my childhood I used to appreciate this gesture. Across all the Gurudwaras, even the affluent Sikhs come and offer their services since dawn as ‘Karsevaks’ and also contribute something in the treasury”. “We must learn this community feeling and from Sikhs”, he added. The entire auditorium was filled with chants of ‘Bole So Nihal…Sat Sri Akal…” and ‘Waheguru Ji Da Khalsa… Wahe Guru Ji Di Fateh”.
Retired General JJ Singh who had served as Governor in Arunachal Pradesh said, “Its not important to be minority or majority but the criteria should be good human-being. We must always stand beside the truth and Guru Nanak DevJi had also said this in his teachings”. General Singh slammed those who say Sikhs are unsafe in India. “Who said Sikhs are unsafe in India? I am myself the first Sikh Army Chief serven in the illustrious 9 Maratha Light Infantry. He recalled the contributions and sacrifices of Guru Teg Bahadurji Maharaj and Guru Govind Singhji Maharaj. “I feel every Sikh should use ‘Singh’ as surname and not their castes as our Guru Maharaj wanted all Sikhs to be known as ‘Singh”, he added. “Guru Nanak Devji gifted us with ‘Chardi Kalan’, honestly, I don’t how to translate it as the word in itself is so inspiring and translation would spoil the ‘nostalgic’ feeling. Chardi Kalan means ‘high spirit… full of energy’. “We should be always following Chardi Kalan”, smiled General Singh.
Founder of Maulana Azad Foundation for Education and Social Amity Husnara Salim began by paying tributes to the luminaries who had made India proud with their sacrifices and contributions since the freedom struggle days. “We cannot forget India depicts the essence of ‘Unity In Diversity’. Our heads bow down in respect when we talk of the contributions of iconic figures like Mother Teresa, Bhikaji Cama, or Bhagat Singh. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had set an example by showing equal respect towards all the communities in his Azad Hind Fauz”. “We can never forget the contribution of Sir Sayeed Ahmed Khan and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad for setting up Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and formulating numerous education policies being the first Education Minister of India respectively.
President of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee Harmeet Singh Kalka complimented the NCM Chairperson. “I thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi for doing relentless work for the Sikhs. Let me give you three examples – (1) Opening the iconic Kartarpur Sahib corridor for us. (2) Observing the Veer Bal Diwas. (3) The grand event to celebrate 400th Prakash Parv of Guru Teg Bahadur at red Fort”. Kalka suggested that there should be a regular interactive sessions of the NCM members.
NCM (Parsi) member KK Devoo said, the Commission had been trying its best to reach out to the minorities. “Parsis are the smallest community with only 57,000 population in India. From Dadabhai Naoroji to Homi J Bhabha, and Bhikaji Cama to Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata all have made immense contributions”. Devoo recalled the contributions of the Tatas and said, “Its a misconception that that Tatas contributed to industries alone. The fact is they contributed in all perspective from education and health sector (referring to the iconic Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, Maharashtra).
Summing up the session, NCM (Jain) member, Dhanyakumar Jinappa Gunde recalled the contributions and sacrifices made by the minorities. He said nothing can break the ‘Unity In Diversity’ in Indian tradition that makes us so proud as other countries lack this. Gunde said, “I belong to Jain community and in our community there are 118 castes. Its indeed a tough job to bring all the heads together. Both Buddhism and Jainism have a lot in common including both Gautam Buddha and Bhagwan Mahavira taught their beliefs in Rajgir during the 5th and 6th Century BC”. “If abide by our Fundamental Duties then nothing can stop us from becoming ‘sone ki chidiya’ (the golden bird) once again. We must keep the Fundamental Duties in front of us at offices, workplaces”, said Gunde.
Excerpts from second technical session – Role of Administration in addressing minority related issues.
Panelists for second technical discussion were – Retired IPS officer and former Delhi Police Commissioner SK Jain, Vice Chairman of Punjab State Minority Commission Dr Mohammad Rafi, President of Federation of Catholic Associations of Archdiocese of Delhi AC Michael and Senate Member of Baba Amravati University Manish Gawai. NCM members Rinchen Lhamo and Syed Shahezadi also participated in the discussion.
While addressing the session Vice Chairman of Punjab State Minority Commission Dr Mohammad Rafi (who was also the moderator) said, “There are nearly 18 state commissions but hardly members know each another. How can then we share our problems on a common platform? I have a request, please formulate a programme that would define an universal rule for all the states which will enable them to understand the working structure of the NCM”. Dr Rafi reiterated that there should be initiatives by the NCM to pick up talents within the minority community and if they are provided a better livelihood then they would not go away from Punjab. “The biggest problem today’s Punjab is facing is ‘brain drain’, it can stop only if they are provided with technical trainings like development, and subsequently employment opportunities”. Dr Rafi who is a wonderful orator and have a hang for poetry added a special flafour to the session by rendering ‘shayaries’ (couplets).
AC Michael complimented the NCM for the good work and presented a few suggestions that he said would help the Commission to reach out to its goals in a better and effective way. However, he informed the NCM of regular instances of atrocities taking place against the Christians and the administration turns mute spectators. Over 597 cases had surfaced in 2021-22. Some of the allegations made by him – (1) Hate speeches against Christians. (2) Religious extremism. (3) Verbal and physical abuse against faithful. (4) Regular instances of conversions. Picking at John Barla who had reprimanded the Jantar Mantar dharna in the morning session, Michael said, “I was myself at the dharna and I did not see any minister or minority commission representatives trying to talk to us. I heard the minister targeting the dharna but we had no other way out but to protest as there was no one to hear to our voices”, said Michael who also informed the NCM that three Christian tribal girls were stripped nacked but nothing has been done.
Reacting to Michael, NCM (Muslim) member Syed Shahezadi refuted the allegations made by Michel that NCM is driven by political agenda, “I refuse to accept what Michael has alleged as we at NCM take up issues whenever they are brought to our notice but at the same time we too do a cross checking as anybody can make allegations. India is tolerant to all religions and at NCM we try to do out utmost to resolve such issues”, said Syed Shahezadi who mentioned two cases where she had herself gone to do a cross check of the situation. “If you have any grievances then please write to us or meet us at our office – CGO Complex, 3rd Floor, New Delhi”, added Shahezadi.
Speaking at the session, NCM (Buddhist) member, Rinchen Lhamo said, “India is a secular country. We need to resolve the differences as only then India will progress”. There are many programmes and policies for the minorities – empowering education or skill development and so on. She also mentioned the PM 15 point programme that ensures to make the minority community strong. She said, “Be it NCM or state minority commissions or small bodies across districts, we need to work together as only then minority commission will become successful reaching its goals. I have myself been to so many states and seen the work structure, some are doing extremely well while some need improvement”. Like Syed Shahezadi, Lhamo too asked minority community to write to NCM or visit their office, “combined efforts and joint initiates will bring changes and we at NCM are always ready to talk”. Rinchen Lhamo shared her experiences of meeting minority community across the country during her state visits.
Former top cop of Delhi, SK Jain stressed on the need for police reforms and said if the police is not helping the minorities (as per the law) or is conniving with the influential people in the society then strict action should be taken against them. “India is land of multiple democracy and no community should feel left out. There are enough provisions in the law that ensures the safety and security of minority community. The PM 15-Point Programme has laid down the policies clearly”. Jain himself being a retired top cop like Lalpura mentioned various provisions enshrined in the rule book. He made it clear that if police do not abide them they are liable to punishment.
The last speaker of the second technical session, Manish Gawai presented a PPT presentation. “The NCM has been doing a great job and ever since Lalpuraji has taken over as its Chairperson, we have seen immense improvement in the working and implementation of the NCM. I feel today’s NCM is working on the lines of Ambedkar who not only wrote the constitution but had been a game changer in many ways – It was he who had introduced the maternity leave way back in 1942”. Gawai also thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for giving the PM 15-Point Programme that according to him if implemented properly then it would resolve the issues faced by the minority community.
The day-long conference came to an end with an open house discussion. Questions from the representatives of State Minorities Commissions were taken up. Issues including withdrawal of MANF Scholarship, misuse of Waqf property in Telangana, poor management of Waqf Boards, modernization in Madarsa education, inadequate funding for overseas education, creation of State Minorities Commission in Himachal Pradesh, were raised and solutions for each were discussed. Chairman, Vice Chairman and Members of State Minorities Commissions of Karnataka, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Delhi attended and representatives of State Minorities Commissions were felicitated by Hon’ble Chairman and Members of NCM for their efforts in the upliftment of minorities.
During the entire day, numerous issues like – role of Administration in resolving the issues of minorities, issues including alleged fraudulent conversions, hate speeches against minorities, incidents of violence, problem in obtaining minority certificates, lack of awareness of schemes, no formation of minorities commission etc came up for discussion. Some received straight answers while few were left for further introspection as some of the issues were sensitive. However, NCM had reached a consensus on two things (predominantly) after the day-long discussions:
(1) Need to have more interactive sessions with the State Minority Commissions. It was stressed on the building of an universal system across the country for issuing minority certificates.
(2)Awareness towards policies, programmes, and schemes laid down by the Government for the minority community. Also, the provisions laid down in the law for the safety and security of the minority community including the functioning of police.
In his concluding remark NCM Chairperson Iqbal Singh Lalpura informed that he plans to hold a two-day long session during December this year. The day one will be exclusively dedicated to an open house session as NCM wants to hear the members. The day two will have technical sessions.