The two-day international conference on Dalits and Muslims, organised in New Delhi by the Lok Janshakti Party supreme Ram Vilas Paswan, turned out to be a platform for the Central Government to express its concern for the weaker sections, particularly Dalits and Muslims.
The conference began in New Delhi on December 27 with the declaration of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that his Government was committed to remove "inequities" and "imbalances" faced by the Muslim community, which has been deprived of an equal share of development benefits. His declaration was meant to brush aside BJP’s charge of Muslim appeasement.
Some minorities in India have done better than others, he said citing the example of Jains and Sikhs who have fared relatively well from the process of social and economic development. “However, other minorities, especially the Muslim community in certain parts of our country, have not had an equal share of the fruits of development," he said.
"It is incumbent upon any democratically elected government to redress such imbalances and eradicate such inequities. Our government is indeed committed to doing so," he also said.
Equating 'untouchability' with apartheid, the Prime Minister also spoke of the plight of Dalits, saying they faced a "unique discrimination" in society.
"Dalits have faced a unique discrimination in our society that is fundamentally different from the problems of minority groups in general. The only parallel to the practice of 'untouchability' was apartheid," he said.
"Untouchability is not just social discrimination. It is a blot on humanity," Dr Manmohan Singh told the two-day meet being attended by delegates from 83 countries.
Observing that even after 60 years of Constitutional and legal protection and support, there was still social discrimination against Dalits in many parts of the country, he said that political, social, cultural and intellectual battle against such discrimination must continue.
"Our government is deeply and sincerely committed to the equality of all sections of our society and will take all necessary steps to help in the social, educational and economic empowerment of Dalits. This is our solemn commitment," Singh said.
Referring to some of the suggestions made by V P Singh for the upliftment of minority communities, he said "practical ways and means needed to be explored to redress the inequities in the system" and assured to apply his mind to the issue.
Acknowledging that there were problems facing the SC and ST communities on account of acquisition of land, their displacement, their livelihood and forcible migration in search of job opportunities, Singh said these issues would receive the attention of his government.
The UPA government has taken several steps in the past two years to empower SCs and STs both through affirmative action and reinforcing the Constitutional amendment to reservations, Singh said.
"Administrative measures taken by the government to develop the capabilities of these groups are not the end-all and be-all of positive action against social discrimination and disparities. We need a change in mindsets," the Prime Minister said adding "the battle for social equality has to be waged and won in our minds".
Noting that even in a free society there were glass windows and glass ceilings, he said that the first step in dealing with such problems was to recognise their existence.
"The second step is to come up with universally acceptable policies that are not viewed as a zero-sum game, but as win-win solutions through which everyone is better off and no one is worse off".
V P Singh, in whose tenure the Mandal Commission report was adopted, suggested that those among the Muslims who qualified for reservation under the Mandal Commission should be given the benefit. This required no Constitutional amendment, he said.
The Former Prime Minister also suggested restoration of SC reservation to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians which was taken away in 1950 through a Presidential order and also favoured an all India Judicial Service which would provide reservation facilities.
The highlight of the first day of the conference was that the dais at the inaugural session was shared by two former Prime Ministers---V P singh and I K Gujral. The LJP supremo Ram Vilas Paswan was the star attraction at the conference.
Two status papers on Dalits and Muslims were presented at the conference by P S Krishnan, former member-secretary, Mandal Commission and Qurban Ali, consultant, Doordarshan News, respectively.
The second day started with the Centre announcing that the Sachar Committee report on the status of Muslims would be implemented “in toto”' in 2007.
``We will not only implement the recommendations of the committee, but its observations as well,'' said Minority Affairs Minister A. R. Antulay. He said the Government was considering changes in the relevant laws to ensure that the Wakf Boards were monitored.
Home Minister Shivraj Patil assured the gathering that victims of communal riots and families of those killed in such incidents would get immediate compensation under a law awaiting Parliamentary approval. The Government proposed to double the punishment to those indulging in communal disturbances. Central and State officials found wanting in the discharge of their duties in such situations would also suffer the consequences, he said.
Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal wanted Dalits and minorities to pay more attention to the education of their wards. He appealed to the wealthy among the two communities to help in payment of salaries to teachers of primary schools.
Veteran socialist leader Chandrajit Yadav felt that the present Government was well placed to ensure social justice, as many alliance partners were fully committed to the concept.
Mr. Paswan presided over the conference, which was also addressed, among others, by Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman K. Rehman Khan, Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Minister of State for Railways R. Velu and Republican Party of India leader Ramdas Athavale.
Two status papers on Dalits (47 Pages) and Muslims (47 Pages) were presented at the conference by P S Krishnan, former member-secretary, Mandal Commission and Qurban Ali, consultant, Doordarshan News, respectively.
A day after the 2-day conference the LJP supremo Ram Vilas Paswan claimed in a press conference called at his residence that the conference was cent per cent successful in the sense that both Dalits and Muslims responded fully. According to him, the major point of success was that it had aroused enthusiasm among both Dalits and Muslims to get united and fight to get their rights.
Also See Text of PM’s Inaugural Address, and the 20-point Resolution on Muslims