Im not in favour of reservations, but then what is the alternative

Written by Nistula Hebbar | Nistula Hebbar | Updated: Feb 27 2012, 06:43am hrs
With polls in Uttar Pradesh overshadowed by issues related to quota for minorities, the matter has acquired an urgency it didnt have before. National Commission for Minorities Chairman Wajahat Habibullah spea-ks to Nistula Hebbar on quotas, the proposed Equal Opportunities Commission and the state of the minority population in India:

Much has been said about a sub-quota for minorities within the OBC quota. Quite apart from the controversy with the Election Commission, what is your take on the matter

Well, legally the sub-quota is possible. The people who are talking about the sub-quota are not talking of anything other than what already exists for the Other Backward Classes (OBC). Personally, however, I am not in favour of reservations, but then what is the alternative We need to address the issue of equality and look at the country as an economic unit. Just as productive and unproductive aspects are to be looked at in other economic units, the country also has to do the same and pull up those who are disadvantaged

and who got left behind. Large sections of the Muslim community are backward and frankly the nation cannot afford it.

The question again comes back to whether or not reservations is the way to go I'm not very sure that it is, but other countries like the United States have also got a policy of affirmative action and the results have been mixed. But something has to be done. Now as to the exact percentage, well, studies show that recruitment of Muslims is already around 4%, therefore 4.5 percentage for all minorities is actually considered unfair in some circles.

Where has the proposal to set up an Equal Opportunities Commission reached

The exact situation is known to the ministry (of minority affairs), but my understanding is that groups which enjoy special opportunities under the Constitution have raised objections to the commission. Their understanding is that their special status as

a deprived sections would be diluted by the setting up of the Equal Opportunities Commission.

The NCM has taken up some cases of wrongful arrest and ethnic and religious stereotyping in law enforcement. What has that been like and how do you sift through cases

Yes, that is one area we have been getting into because we have found that there are several cases where there has been wrongful arrest or miscarriage of justice. We successfully intervened in the Mecca Masjid blast case (2007), there the matter had been processed by the courts and the state's liability was clear. In the Malegaon case, we couldn't comment on wrongful arrest or anything but we did ask that bail not be opposed for the accused since the evidence has been demonstrably questionable. We havent gone further than that. My appeal to the media and others is that whenever there is an incident please do not jump to conclusions and prejudice the public.

What about Batla House, since that is occupying

a lot of mind space vis-a- vis UP elections

The Batla house matter came before me when I was Chief Information Commissioner. The matter then was regarding access to First Information Reports (FIRs) of the case by a third party and a copy of the post-mortem report. I had ruled that FIRs could be made available. Other than that, at the NCM we haven't taken up the matter.

For many, the word minority automatically means Muslims, but we do have other religious minorities and some of them face great levels of discrimination and have major issues. Could you give an over view

Yes. As you know both Christians and Buddhists have quite serious issues which they feel aggrieved about. For Christians, more than 70% are tribal converts and this perception of Christians as missionary proselytiser brings with it hostility and violence.

For example in Kandhamal, in Orissa, those who were the victims of the violence havent been allowed

back into the area, only to some suburban, outer parts of the area.

For Buddhists, again, the neo-Buddhists many of whom are converts from the scheduled caste groups, there are problems related to getting Scheduled Caste certificates as other Dalits or even some people in administrative positions feel that with their conversion their deprivations with regard to caste are over.

The law in many cases is also discriminatory. For example, the premier buddhist shrine in India is the one at Bodh Gaya, a 1950 law related to its administration says that the governing body has to have half its members from the Hindu community, and the district magistrate, supposed to be the secretary of the board of governance can only occupy that position if he is a Hindu. The Sikh community is treated as Hindu in its personal laws in several states and have huge grievances related to that.

Are minorities, 60 years after independence, better or worse off than before

I dont think they are worse off. The Sachar committee report has shown that

there are positives and negatives in the situation. They have forums like the NCM for a hearing and frankly my observation is that minorities are now increasingly vocal about issues like education and development rather than just physical safety which was earlier the prime concern.