I saw Jinnah smiling. I saw him smiling all day on November 24 when the Sachar Committee report was laid on the table of Parliament. He is happy that something has happened that can offset the setback his ideological legacy had received in 1971 after creation of Bangladesh. The country he founded could not keep the myth of ?Muslims being one nation? intact, but at least in India a Committee appointed by the government has restarted the process of looking at the religious communities as socially cohesive groups. Members of any one religious community subscribe to a particular set of beliefs and practices and in that sense they enjoy commonality. But Sachar Committee holds that this religious commonality makes their secular interests that are social, educational and economic not only common but different and distinct from the secular interests of other religious communities and has coined a new term ?Socio-Religious Category? (SRC) to drive home the point. In fact the lead came from the government notification itself saying that ?there is lack of authentic information about the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community of India, which comes in the way of planning, formulating and implementing specific interventions, policies and programmes to address the issues relating to the socio-economic backwardness of this community.?
The whole struggle between the Congress and the Muslim League right from 1936 was focussed on the role of religion in secular domain. The Muslim League under Jinnah asserted that similarity of religion creates not only similarity of secular interest but these interests are hostile to the interests of other religious communities and therefore he declared Muslims to be a separate nation entitled to a homeland. On the other hand, Congress leadership recognised and accepted diversity of religious belief but said that religion is the private affair of each individual and has nothing to do with the state affairs particularly in a pluralistic society. Since these two positions became irreconcilable, the standoff finally led to the Partition of the country in the hope that at least in the truncated India we can hope to build a modern nation where the government shall do nothing respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Each and every person is guaranteed freedom of religion but the religious belief shall have nothing to do with the affairs of the state.
Now half a century after Partition we have again started talking in terms of social, educational and economic interests of religious communities. The Sachar Committee on page 237 says: ?This report probed the question of whether different socio-religious categories (SRCs) in India have had an equal chance to reap the benefits of development with a focus on Muslims in India.? The report further says, ?It was stated at the outset that the minorities have to grapple with the issues relating to identity, security and equity. It was also recognised that these three sets of issues are inter-related.? This language and terminology is total negation of the spirit of Constitution and the national movement and will heighten community consciousness which in turn will give further fillip to politics of communalism.
Equity and security are the brightest stars of Indian constitutional constellation. One provision after another prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. One fails to understand how equity and security can be linked to identity. Identity must not be confused with freedom of religion, which is a sacred right. In fact, the bogey of identity is always raised to usurp special rights and privileges, which are not available to others. Can anybody object to say if a campaign is launched to put an end to caste discriminations among the Muslims, since Islam prohibits birth-based inequities or if a demand is made to ensure that Muslim women get their share in property as per Islamic law? But what is sought to be protected in the name of identity is the legal right to divorce at will or as in Shah Bano case to deny a destitute Muslim woman protection under Section 125 of CrPC, whereas this protection remains available to every other Indian destitute woman. It is indeed ironic that this inequity under the cover of identity is being linked to equity and security. In fact the issue of ?separate identity? has nothing to do with religion, it is only a euphemism for ?separate nation? a term that became politically incorrect to use after 1947.
The constituent unit of Indian nation is individual citizen not the religious communities. The obligation of Indian State is to direct its policy to secure ?that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood,? likewise the duty to provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age six to fourteen years and several other provisions to ensure better living standards. If these constitutional directives are honoured they will benefit everybody including Muslims without provoking any communal tension or mistrust. But the government appears keen on specific interventions only because they are incapable of doing general good.
Even for Muslims they have no intention or will to implement any Sachar recommendations. They only wish to divert attention from their failures and in the process are endorsing separatist and divisive trends. From Jinnah'sstandpoint it has been a significant endorsement, made possible, it must be said, because people at the helm of affairs have either forsaken the values and legacy of our freedom struggle or they simply know not what they are doing.