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Seminars
Last Updated: March 12, 2008
A Unique Meet of Global Minorities in Delhi
By A U Asif

Vice President Hamid Ansari with delegates
of Global Minorities Meet on March 8

This was a unique four-day meet of minorities from India and abroad, discussing the plight of the minorities and ways to empower them. It was organized at Parliament House Annexe, New Delhi on March 6-9, 2008 by the Delhi-based South Asian Council for Minorities (SACM) in collaboration with the Institute of Objective Studies (IOS).
 
The four-day “Global Minorities Meet” was inaugurated on March 6 by Minister of External Affairs Pranab Mukherji and presided over by former Supreme Court Chief Justice A M Ahmadi. Welcome address was delivered by Dr Manzoor Alam, Chairman of the Reception Committee as well as IOS, and introductory remarks by Navaid Hamid, Secretary, SACM. The meet concluded on March 9 with the valedictory address by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit.  
 
Representatives of minorities from over a dozen countries included Douglas Devananda, Sri Lankan Minister of Social Service and Social Welfare; M Riza Yehiya, Director (Rsearch), Serendib Institute of Research and Development (SIRD); M A Sumanthiran, Bar at Law, all from Sri Lanka; Justice Tahir Ali Ansari, Nepal Supreme Court, Kathmandu (Nepal); Senator Ganga Ram from Afghanistan; M P Bhandara, former MNA of Pakistan; Ms Arya Inderyas, Catholic human rights activist; Kalyan Singh Kalyan, journalist; B M Kutty; Ramesh Mal; Advocate Zafar Malik; Ms Naima Zafar, and Roohiya Mufeedi, all from Pakistan; Nina Goswami, Hasanul Haque and Misbah Kamal from Bangladesh; Justice Shaikh Abdur Rahman Al Mahmoud, former Chief Justice of Qatar; Senaid Kobilica, President, Islamic Council of Norway; A H Wako, former Minister of Kenya; Fredrik Musisi from Uganda; Jassi Kaur from Australia; Prof Mathias Rohe from Germany; Prof Ms K Hampton, Ms Mejinderpal Kaur and Dr Daud Abdullah from the United Kingdom; Prof Ranbir Singh Sandhu; Dr Nirmal Singh;  Dr Abidullah Ghazi; and Nurah Amat’ullah, all from the USA. There was also a Bahai woman representative from Pakistan.
 
Prominent among those from inside the country present on the occasion were Minister for Overseas Vyalar Ravi; Minister for Science and Technology Kapil Sibbal; Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed; Minister of State for Home Affairs Sriprakash Jaiswal; Minister of State for Food Processing Industries Subodh Kant Sahay; Gandhian activist and Rajya Sabha member Kumari Nirmala Deshpande; Muslim woman scholars and activists Ms Uzma Nahid and Dr Ms Haseena Hashia; former Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajinder Sachar; economist Dr Abu Saleh Shariff; jurist Justice Fakhruddin Ahmed; Delhi Minorities Commission Chairman Kamal Faruqui; Arya Samaj leader and former Member of Parliament Swami Agnivesh; Members of Parliament Hannan Mulla and A R Shaheen; former Rajya Sabha member and columnist Santosh Bharti; educationist A R Sherwani; Inter-Faith Coalition for Peace President Dr Syed Zafar Mehmood; economist Dr Ausaf Ahmad; Urdu triweekly Dawat Editor Parwaaz Rahmani; and IOS Secreatary General Dr Z M Khan. All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat was represented by its President and Milli Gazette Editor Dr Zafarul Islam Khan while Jamaat-e-Islami Hind by its Assistant Secretary Intizar Naeem, and All India Catholic Union by its chief Dr John Dayal. A number of Sikh leaders had too come to participate.
 
Dr Mohammed Manzoor Alam, Chairman, Reception Committee, in his welcome address, said that there was a blueprint for the future that India could unfold for both the developing and the developed world.
 
According to him, they could learn and adapt from the Indian lessons on how a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic society could be transformed in the 21st century; how minorities welfare and rights could be safeguarded and nurtured in a globalizing world.
 
Navaid Hamid, Secretary, SACM, in his introductory remarks, averred that it was a fact that minorities that had been provided special protection under United Nations Charter and Constitutions of different countries, didn’t get its due at the global level and as a result of which they continued to suffer as an ‘excluded’ section of the civilized world society. He explained that actually with this concern the SACM that came into being two-and-half year ago at a workshop held on the condition of minorities in South Asia with a 6-point aims and objects, decided to organize this meet so that their plight in different countries could be discussed in detail. 
 
In his view, due to its commitment to Secularism, India despite a number of communal incidents occurred during the last 60 years after Independence, was trying to tackle the problems of minorities in a right way. According to him, in the third report “Peoples under Threat” of the London-based Minority Rights Group (MRG), released on February 27, 2008, India had been shown way down in the global ranking with 9.38 points, being sixth from the bottom and 65th in the list of 70 countries with persecuted minorities while Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan were higher up on the list with 12.18, 14.48, 16.63 and 19.16 points, respectively.
 
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, in his inaugural address, said minority communities in the country needed protection from fundamentalist forces. "It has been the government's policy to ensure that we embark on a course of action which would ensure the well being of the minorities and remove their perceptions of discriminations and related backwardness that they suffer," said Mukherjee.
 
"We have to be aware that some minority communities are being extorted to resort to violent and militant means to express their feelings. In this regard, we have to guard against fundamentalists forces which thrive or attempt to thrive on religious and cultural backwardness," he said.
 
Mukherjee also highlighted the "need for ensuring equality both in principal and in practice". Although the Constitution promised equal rights and opportunities to all communities, Muslims had traditionally registered lower educational levels and as a consequence, higher unemployment rates than Hindus. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had urged for better access to education for Muslims.
 
Rajinder Sachar, better known for his report known as “Sachar Committee Report”, asserted, in his keynote address, a world free of fear and terror was the need of the hour. Arguing in the light of the demographic figures religion and caste-wise, he said there was at all no possibility of India becoming a Hindu State.
 
Overseas Minister Vyalar Ravi said a peaceful co-existence to all, irrespective of religion, caste, colour and race, was a must but it could be possible only when every section of the society got equal rights and privileges. According to him, it was the duty of the government to protect people from poverty without any distinction of religion.   
 
Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed said India was a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society and its Constitution provided protection to each and every culture and ethnicity. He said steps were being taken to improve the condition of Muslim community as a whole on the basis of the Sachar Report. He claimed India was the only country in the world to provide Haj subsidy.  

Kumari Nirmala Deshpande averred that so far as the talk of providing equal rights to all without any distinction was concerned, this had been a part of the Indian culture and it existed even during the period of Emperor Asoka. In her own words, this was not a matter of just social justice but of fundamental rights for all.    

Justice A M Ahmadi, in his presidential address, asserted that in India’s Constitution “we have already provided equal rights and opportunities to all, irrespective of religion, caste and colour, so, it is our duty to see minorities are not discriminated.” He also said that Muslims had to see themselves also where they were in a majority, others who were there in a minority got the same treatment and justice which they themselves expected.
 
According to him, India had always remained a laboratory for peace and co-existence. It was another matter that some people tried to disturb it. However, he was sure that their designs won’t be successful in any circumstances.

Dr Syed Zafar Mehmood, in his vote of thanks, summed up the views expressed by the speakers in the inaugural function.
 
The second day began with the introductory remarks on the sub-theme “Ethnic Violence: Role of State Machinery and Security of Minorities” by Dr John Dayal, who is also a well known columnist.
 
 
Afterwards, Minister of State for Home Affairs Sriprakash Jaiswal declared that “India is Secular and would remain Secular.”

Sikh leader Ranbir Singh Sandhu from the US while speaking on “Ethnic Violence: Role of State Machinery and Security of Minorities in the United States”, said Sikhs earlier had to face too many difficulties and social and political discrimination in the US but this was caused by lack of Sikh participation in social and political affairs.
 
Narrating the status of the backward Hindus in Pakistan, Ramesh Mal from Hyderabad (Pakistan), in his topic on the “Role of State Machinery and Security of Minorities in Pakistan” said they were subject to double discrimination there. On one side, politicians overlooked them considering them as Hindus and on the other, upper castes of Hindus exploited them. He said the backward Hindu population resided in the interiors of Sindh province where powerful landlords treated them as the untouchables.

Minister of State for Food Processing Industries Subodh Kant Sahay said Sachar Committee recommendations should be enforced in entirety. He said the committee furnished the facts that had shaken the country. This totally negated the propaganda launched by fascist communalist and anti-minority forces that minorities had long been appeased.
 
Thenafter the afternoon session on the “Inter-Faith Dialogue and Working for Peace” started with the moderation of Dr Zafar Mehmood. Dr Z M Khan, Secretary General, IOS, introduced the sub-theme.
 
Guest speaker Swami Agniwesh, who is a former MP, emphasized upon inter-faith dialogue and said this would pave the way to a permanent peace.
 
Dr Nirmal Singh, who resides in the USA, read his paper on “Of Being and Wanting to be a Minority” and discussed in detail the situation on the minority front in the USA.
 
Dr Daud Abdullah, Deputy Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain, in his paper “Harmonious Relations between Different Communities in Britain: Challenges and Constraints”, said although the British society had been able to make progress in relations between different communities, there was still a lot to do and these problems related particularly to the race.
 
The third paper was read by Senaid Kobilica, President, Islamic Council of Norway. It was on “Muslims in Europe: Co-Existence and Dialogue”. Kobilica said situation has changed to an extent as a result of efforts for co-existence and dialogue. He said, however, much more needed to be done.
 
Justice Shaikh Abdur Rahman Al Mahmoud, former Chief Justice of Qatar, in his presidential address, said there was always scope for dialogue and understanding instead of clash between different faiths. However, he rejected the hypothesis of Samuel Huntington with regard to clash of civilizations.      
 
The third day saw serious deliberations on “Constitutional Rights of Minorities and Adherence to UN Charter and International Laws” following introductory remarks by Justice P K Shamsuddin, former Chief Justice, Kerala High Court. Shamsuddin stressed the need for ‘ijtihad’ and ‘taqlid’.      
 
Focusing on the present Sri Lankan political situation and the issues that have to be addressed to bring about a permanent peace in Sri Lanka, a solution that would be acceptable and beneficial to all communities, Sri Lankan Minister Douglas Devananda presented before the participants the issues related to social and political ethnic conflict in the country and the urgent need for a permanent and viable solution that would fulfill the needs of the Tamils and bring an end to the present feeling of disparity.
 
The Sri Lankan Minister also explained the pragmatically viable three-stage proposals, submitted by his party, the EPDP, which was mainly based on the 13th Amendment within the framework of the Sri Lankan Constitution.
 
Devananda believed that it was in the right direction and would provide the basic infrastructure and the foundation, and it would pave the path to move forward from the present crippled stage and would meet the political aspirations of the Tamils and grant them their political and equal rights, that they have been aspiring for decades, and finally solve the ethnic issue in a united Sri Lanka.
 
Minister for Science and Technology Kapil Sibal said the world could be turned into a global village only due to technological advancement. He said: “Therefore, different communities have to live together and show accommodation to each other because any excesses against and denial of rights to the weaker sections, including minorities by those in stronger position and in majority can’t be kept hidden. Any event immediately comes to light and is known the world over the next moment.”
 
Sibbal suggested that “we have to change our mindset because only legislation won’t bring any desirable result.” He also emphasized that a positive change could be brought through education only.
 
Sri Lankan Attorney M A Sumanthiran, in his paper “Rights of Minorities in Sri Lanka” said there were 70 per cent Sinhalas, 15 per cent Tamils, 10 per cent Muslims and 5 per cent Christians in Sri Lanka. He said the minorities actually began feeling marginalized following the declaration of Sinhala as an official language of the State. According to him, minorities needed constitutional rights as per the UN Charter and international laws.
 
German scholar Prof Mathias Rohe dealt with the legal status of Muslims in Germany while British lawyer Ms Mejinderpal Kaur discussed how the discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities could be redressed through international law. Bangladeshi scholar Neena Goswami too dwelt in detail the legal status of minorities in Bangladesh and said that minorities were suffering there particularly since the replacement of Secularism by religion by Gen Ziaur Rahman.
 
While presiding over the session, renowned lawyer of Bombay High Court Yusuf Hatim Muchala said if there was coordination between rights of minorities in the Constitutions of different countries and the UN Charter and international laws, the problem would be solved to a great extent.
 
The same day in the afternoon the delegates discussed the “Instruments of Minority Rights and Persecution of Minorities by the State”. The session was conducted by Woman Islamic scholar and activist Uzma Naheed.
 
US scholar and expert on the curriculum in madarsas and Muslim institutions Dr Abidullah Ghazi said there had been a positive change in the treatment meted out to the minorities in different countries and they were being provided protection under different Constitutions. “So, the matter is how they get this all in practice. And, for this the minorities would have to rise themselves,” he added.

In his thought-provoking paper, Dr Jon Dayal said “there should be judicial enquiry into RSS activities that play a pivotal role in widening the gap between the majority and minorities”. He said it was true that there had emerged Zionist, Hindutva and Al Qaeda forces but the solution lied in the emergence of a non-communal and Secular society based upon the policy of co-existence and dialogue.
 
Former Pakistan MNA M P Bhandara said that Islam was a religion of peace and it had nothing to do with extremism. According to him, there were 3 per cent minorities in Pakistan and there existed sectarian, not minority problem. While dwelling in detail the situations in different regimes, he also said that the Pak society had turned into a liberal one since the days of Field Marshal Ayub Khan. B M Kutty from Pakistan and Senator Ganga Ram from Afghanistan too spoke on the occasion.
 
On the fourth and final day, the session on “Empowerment and Equal Opportunities” was lively. While expressing her view, on the rights of minorities in the context of the changes on the global level, Prof K Hampton of British School of Law and Social Sciences said that the problems of minorities in any country should not be seen as a local problem. According to her, those struggling for their rights should see their problems in the global perspectives and get benefited from the experiences of each other.
 
Uganda’s Fredrik Musisi, Bangladesh’s Misbah Kamal and Hasanul Haque and also Sri Lanka’s M Riza Yehiya dwelt in detail the conditions prevailing in their countries. 
.     
Throwing light on the situation prevailing in his own country, M Riza Yehiya, Director (Rsearch), Sri Lanka’s Serendib Institute of Research and Development (SIRD) said in a multi-cultural and multi-religious country the problem was natural but solution was possible only in following the principle of co-existence, and this co-existence could be done through dialogue and interaction between each other. According to him, his institute was engaged in promoting this cause. He pleaded more interaction among the countries particularly in South Asia so that experiences could be shared with each other.
 
Hasanul Haque of Bangladesh observed there was little change in the situation of minorities in the sub-continent.
 
Economist Dr Abu Saleh Shariff said the situation on minority front in India was quite different from those in Europe, America, Africa and other countries. And, this was due to the fact that here the minorities were not migrants, rather they were very much part and parcel of the country, hence, sons of the soil. According to him, if an Equal Opportunity Commission came into being as per the recommendation of the Sachar Committee, it would definitely help in removing the discrimination.
 
Referring to his own experiences, Delhi Minorities Commission Chairman Kamal Faruqui said the question was not of intention but of implementation because the Constitution and laws of the land provided enough guarantee to the minorities.
 
Eminent educationist Ahmed Rashid Sherwani, in his presidential remarks, urged the minorities to rise up themselves and achieve whatsoever had been provided in the Constitution.

The valedictory session began with the assertions by Navaid Hamid and Dr Mohammed Manzoor Alam.

Sri Lankan Minister of Social Service and Social Welfare Douglas Devananda too expressed his views and said that such interaction would help minority representative from a country understand the problems of minorities in other countries.  

Afterwards, CPI (M) MP Hannan Mulla, in his valedictory remarks, said the government would have to be serious in its effort to empower the minorities.

Kumari Nirmala Deshpande, who is now in her late 70s, said in her presidential remarks that she was hopeful the delegates from inside and outside the country representing different minorities would not sit silent but keep in touch with each other. She said this meet was a beginning, good beginning. So, the need of the hour was to keep alive this tempo. She complimented both SACM secretary Navaid Hamid and IOS Chairman for taking up this important area. 

The four-day meet ended with a resolution condemning the discrimination against minorities in different countries and urging the governments concerned to make it sure that all the citizens got equal rights in the light of the UN Charter and international laws. On this occasion, a 64-page document comprising the concept note, selected papers read at the global minorities meet along with a few details of the last meet held two-and-half year ago in Delhi, was also brought out.

 

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