By Rafi Adeen, Executive Editor, The Rahnuma Daily (therahnuma.com)
(RAHNUMA) The idea of equality is one of the beginning values that gives a perfect foundation for our Nation as a republic. Equality is not only a guaranteed fundamental right in India but is one of the celebrated achievements of the Freedom Movement. It is evident to the builders of modern India that the freedom movement drew its untiring energy not just from an urge to achieve political freedom but also from an expectation of equality. It was known therefore that the thought of equality was expressed as the opening among the Fundamental Rights in the Constitution of India. The Preamble to the Constitution includes “Equality of Status and of Opportunity to all Citizens” as one of the governing values for the new Republic.
“On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter a life of contradictions. In politics, we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics, we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life
of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril.” – Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
The strong foundations and noble doctrine that this great Nation stands on that makes our society multicultural and presents the finest texture of Unity in Diversity is being manifested in the constitution. Articles 14, 15, 16, and 17 secure formal equality before the law, stipulate equal opportunity in employment, and prohibit unjust discrimination based on accidents of birth. Having secured this, the Constitution goes on to make
provisions for substantive equality. Some of these provisions for substantive equality were included in Articles 15(3), (4) and (5), 16(3), (4), (4A), (4B) and (5) and 17 in Fundamental Rights in Part III of the Constitution and Articles 330 to 342 in Part XVI of the Constitution.
The mandate is further clarified by adding a positive duty on the State which reads: “The State shall, in particular, strive to minimize the inequalities in income, and endeavor to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities, and opportunities, not only amongst individuals but also amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations” [Article 38(2)].
In March 2005, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had constituted a seven-member High-Level Committee chaired by former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court and a member of United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Rajinder Sachar to study the social, economic and educational condition of Muslims in India. After extensive research and collection of data, facts, and sample surveys the committee submitted its report in the next year, 2006. The committee prepared a 403-page report and presented it to the (Lok Sabha) the lower house of the Indian Parliament, This report highlighted issues facing the Muslim community and their representation in Indian public life including suggestions and solutions for the inclusive development of the community in India.
The report bears the well-defined imprint of the thoughts of Justice Sachar and his approach in dealing with the Muslim question. One of the primary concepts defining the report is encapsulated in the following statement:
“All developed countries and most developing ones give appropriate emphasis to looking after the interests of minorities. In any country, the faith and confidence of the minorities in the functioning of the State in an impartial manner is an acid test of its being a just State.” (Excerpts from the Sachar Committee Report)
Justice Sachar’s report had recommended the setting up of an Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC), National Data Bank, Assessment & Monitoring Authority to address the grievances of deprived groups, including the Muslim community.
The Sachar Committee underlined and presented its counsel on how to remove obstacles that prevent Indian Muslims from fully pitching in the economic, political, and social mainstream of Indian living. The report was the first of its kind to reveal the “impoverishment” of Indian Muslims. A concern highlighted was that while Muslims constitute 14% of the Indian population, they only include 2.5% of the Indian bureaucracy. The Justice Sachar Committee report concluded that the conditions facing Indian Muslims were below that of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The Report brought the issue of Muslim Indian inequality to the country’s consciousness, sparking a debate that is still ongoing. The Committee recommended the establishment of an Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) as an instrument to prevent discrimination against minorities.
It is distinguished fact that even after 72 years of independence, citizens belonging to the lowest layer of society are over-represented in low-paying, unskilled professions while very few of them are found in hugely paid professional employment despite the reservations already granted in education and jobs. Unfair practices reportedly continue to exist in education, employment, housing, and other areas where minorities, Dalits, tribals, disabled persons, minorities, women, and other “deprived sections” are sometimes denied the equal chance.
NSSO (National Sample Survey Office) data has also confirmed the highlighted facts issued in the committee’s report that though the government has been discharging a range of measures and initiatives targeting the deprived sections, these attempts need to be gauged to establish how they could be made more worthwhile in providing the purposive assistance, This is needed to reduce inequalities that persist covering the entire scale of basic survival needs, education and employment or representation amongst the privileged segments of society.
Although the schemes initiated by the government are aimed at particular social categories and sections for their upliftment and betterment, these efforts need to be explored and ballooned if they are to meet the challenges of the present.
Experiences from the functioning of Equal Opportunity Commissions (EOC) and similar establishments in other prosperous Nations demonstrate the effectiveness and benefits of such an institution when it is fashioned to the determined socio-economic, judicial, and institutional context of the country. The envisioned Equality Commission in India needs to be autonomous and follow an evidence-based approach.
An expert Group commissioned to examine and determine the structure and functions of an EOC, set up by the Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India in 2008 expressed in its report that The role envisaged for the EOC secures equal opportunity and non-discriminatory operations in the areas of employment and education, particularly for disadvantaged groups. The Commission is anticipated to be a watch-dog institution that serves as an instrument to develop and assess measures for the promotion of equal opportunities, following an evidence-based perspective.
The report further said: “Jurisdiction of the Equal Opportunity Commission would extend to all ‘deprived groups’, who have been denied or who claim to have been denied equal opportunities by government, public and private bodies in education and employment. EOC was to assist the deprived groups in securing equal opportunity through suitable schemes or measures from the Central or State Government, and public and private enterprises and institutions. It is to work towards ensuring the elimination of all forms of discrimination and denial of equal opportunity. The EOC would investigate practices of inequality of opportunity in education, employment, and such other areas as may be notified by the Central Government and recommend remedial measures. It will evaluate the attainment of equal opportunity and the obstacles to such attainment for different groups of people.”
The recommendation of the Sachar Committee was revolutionary for addressing the problems of underprivileged sections of society.
When a journalist questioned, Justice Sachar which two recommendations of the report he would like to insist on implementing”. He suggested the following:
“First, establishing an Equal Opportunity Commission as an instrument to prevent discrimination against religious minorities in the private sector like housing and employment. The EOC can be set up by the state government without taking permission from the center.
Second, an extremely important recommendation dealing with the unfairness inherent in the demarcations of electoral constituencies, which result in fewer Muslims getting elected to legislatures relative to their entitlement based on their population in the area.”
Justice Sachar in his last days of life would often tell the Muslim youth he interacted with that the work of the committee was to present a report. It was now their job to get its recommendations implemented. The justice would urge them to work with the central and the state governments in order to implement the recommendations in a planned way. He would further suggest that they must create awareness among the boys and girls, men, and women who were meant to be the true beneficiaries of the recommendations.
The Sachar committee’s recommendation for setting up an EOC to benefit deprived citizens of the nation was a distinctive effort to broadcast and curb the scope of inequalities influencing the lives of innocent Muslims. Justice Sachar advocated that the most beneficial way of diminishing the deterioration of Indians Muslims was to secure their proper representation in education, administration, business, and politics, to make them live a prosperous Indian life. In spite of his open enlightenment, not a single civil minority organization or a group has been launched in the Nation to this date to have lobbied with the government for the sake of implementing the recommendations of the Sachar Committee report.
The dimensions and complications of affairs in a huge Nation like us need specialized authorities to advocate the Constitutional objectives especially on the account of underprivileged and necessitous subjects of the country. This is the known ordinance of the Constitution and the Nation has Constructive commitment on this account. It is this commitment as described that must be purposive to be addressed by the Equal Opportunity Commission.
While solitary discrimination can be dealt with at our honorable Jurisdiction Courts, to date there is no established system employed to address group discrimination and refutation of equal opportunity to underprivileged sections of the society. The Equal Opportunity Commission could take up such issues on behalf of these sections initially in the domain of education and employment and ultimately in other areas as well.
Nations with Ethnic diversity all around the globe have been exploring various employable administrative and jurisdiction systems to accomplish the security of rights, wants and justice among different ethnic groups, focussing more on minority and deprived. Our Nation also has been successful in setting up many commissions at the center to look after the needs and wants of disadvantaged sections. These National level commissions have been in premier service to uplift these sections by bringing the focus of the authorities on their necessities and are custodians of their prosperity.
Nevertheless, the concern of equal opportunity in mismatched classes and deprived grouping has not secured the rightful recognition, as this concern hasn’t been furnished with needful comprehensive quantitative and qualitative facts – figures, sufficient legislative support, and robust public movement.
We Indians are forever in gratitude to the architects of our Constitution, the disadvantaged and marginalized are braced with rights and liberties with respect to health, employment, education, and honor. The trouble arises with their helplessness and inability to argue rights and resists discrimination as an ethnic group.
“It is a well-accepted maxim in law that not only must justice be done but it must appear to be done. It is in that context that the committee recommends that an equal opportunity commission (EOC) should be constituted by the Government to look into the grievances of a deprived group.” Hence was the inter-alia recommendation of the Justice Sachar committee. It has become more important now to have an EOC established than before which seems to be the last hope for the discriminated groups and marginalized minorities to have an equal share in the bureaucracy of this nation to which they intend to serve.
Rafi Adeen is a Law Student and an Executive Editor for The Rahnuma Daily (theRahnuma.com), the online English daily edition of The Rahnuma-E-Deccan Daily (ReDD), India’s oldest Urdu daily print newspaper. Established in 1921, ReDD is ranked by the INA (Indian Newspaper Association) as among the top five most widely circulated Urdu newspapers in India. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org