Rehnuma Law Centre, Rangareddy organized a Telengana State-level Consultation on Minority Rights, in collaboration with National Academy of Legal Studies & Research (NALSAR) University, Hyderabad on January 23rd, 2017 which saw over 15 NGO representatives (based in Telengana), 30 of our own field-level volunteers and paralegals and stakeholders from the Telengana State Government in attendance.
The panelists were Mr. A.K. Khan (Retd. IPS & Advisor to the Telengana State Government on Minority Welfare), Professor Syed Jahangir (Dean, School of Arab & Asian Studies, English & Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad), Mr. Mohammed Khasim (District Minority Welfare Officer, Rangareddy District) and Advocate A.P. Suresh (Practicing Advocate, Hyderabad High Court).
Mr. A.K. Khan gave the Keynote Address on UNDERSTANDING THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC & POLITICAL SITUATION OF MINORITIES IN TELENGANA. His speech was very practical as it dealt with his personal ground-level experience with minorities and his lessons learnt and suggestions for the way forward. He noted how Muslim minorities in particular have become on par with SCs/STs as per the Sachar Committee, Kundu Committee and Sudhir Committee etc. reports. However, he went on to point out the difference between these reports.
According to the Sudhir Committee Report, the enrollment rate is better among Muslims as opposed to what was noted in the Sachar Committee Report. However, the current issue is not regarding enrollment but regarding the drop-out rate which is very high.
He emphasized how when one is unable to retain these children in schools, there is no point in talking about their development and went on to elaborate the reason for these high drop-outs, which he was able to trace from his long service as an IPS Officer in Hyderabad. He had become the Joint Commissioner of Police in 1990 and served as the Deputy and then Commissioner of Police post-2002. Over the years, he had seen first-hand that the society had evolved.
The level of literacy had risen substantially, particularly among girl children. Girls even performed better than boys.
Narrating his lessons from the Old City part of Hyderabad, he noted how, in that area, girls would attend school up to Class V. They would make up at least 20-22% of the class. But from Class VI to VIII, this percentage dropped to somewhere around only 4%. When he tried to find out the reason for this, the parents of these girls had said that there were no toilets in the schools and hence no privacy for their children as they were slowly maturing into adulthood. Concerned about their safety and well-being, these parents had stopped their growing daughters from attending school. After hearing this, Mr. Khan had taken it upon himself to collaborate with some NGOs to ensure that at least one toilet was built in each of the schools in that area. Subsequent to this action on his behalf, the retention rate was markedly better.
Mr. Khan stressed that for social change, major resources are not required.
A small investment in the right thing at the right time is more than enough to bring about a remarkable change.
He then went on to discuss the health status of minorities, particularly minority women, noting how their health is very poor and this is primarily because they have very low access to health-care facilities. Talking about job opportunities, he noted how jobs in the higher levels of the government see only about 1% minorities, the higher civil services see about 4-5% minorities and even at the clerical levels there are only just about 5-6% minorities. This representation is very low as compared to their population ratio. Economic empowerment is another factor which shows dismal levels among the minority population. They don’t approach banks and don’t know about welfare schemes etc. Here, Mr. Khan pointed that the reason for this is a lack of leadership among the minorities.
Leadership need not only be political in nature. A true leader is one who understands the plurality of the society and works for the state and the country.
He stressed on the importance of leadership and noted how it should always come from the middle classes and not from the already privileged classes.
Having roughly looked at the situation of minorities in Telengana State, Mr. Khan went on to discuss the way forward and how the current situation can be bettered. He noted that the reason for such poor lifestyles among minorities is primarily the lack of adequate education. All the other problems stem from this one aspect alone. There are a lot of schemes brought out by the Governments (both at the national-level and the state-level). The PM’s New 15-point Programme is one such example.
The question is whether the benefits are reaching the relevant communities or not, and if not, what is the reason?
He gave the example of India’s science and technology prowess by noting how, once upon a time, we were able to make satellites but not its launch vehicles.
After we discovered innovative ways to make the launch vehicles and began to launch our own satellites to the orbit, several countries have come to India to launch their own satellites because of the cost-efficient and innovative way it is done here. Today, the same needs to be done especially to better the conditions of minorities. The schemes are like satellites. They are in place. However, their ‘launch vehicles’ need to be put in place so that those schemes reach the relevant communities at the grassroots-levels.
He spoke about his own personal efforts at doing just that, by adopting some villages in Shamsabad, Rangareddy. He had found there that the public did not know about schemes of the state as well as those of the Centre.
He suggested the NGO representatives in the audience to adopt such villages, and to connect the community with the relevant Government officers so that they can avail of such schemes. He advised that NGOs should not be egotistical and should network openly with other members of the civil society and should also be patient when it comes to expecting results for their work. He stressed on the fact that governments are actually very speedy in responding to the welfare needs of the people and this he put forward with his own experience of having worked as a Government servant. However, he also put forward the fact that he had seen how officers most often feel that the government is for them and not for the others, since most of the state’s budget anyway goes in paying their salaries and other benefits. Government officers also tend to behave egotistically and think anything they do for the people is a favor rather than a duty. Because of this, dealing with them requires patience. To explain this better, he compared civil society’s work to a football match.
The aim is to reach the goal post and score a goal. How this is done is through a strategy. One player alone does not carry the ball forward. The players work together as a team to take the ball forward and to ultimately score the goal. In the match, what matters is the team winning by scoring the goal and it does not matter who scores the goal, ultimately. This is how civil society should be when working for the marginalized communities. In order to do good for the needy communities, they should network and collaborate, coordinate and cooperate with fellow civil society members and do so with patience and humility in order to achieve the desired result.
He complained about how NGOs often end up only highlighting the negative aspects of governance and focus on what the government is ‘not’ doing or ‘not’ able to do. They should understand that change does not happen overnight. These days, especially the youth in NGOs are hot-blooded and expect something to go from 10 to 100 in a short span of time, when actually they should be expecting realistic changes i.e. from 10 to 20, then 20 to 30 and so on. He noted how Mother Teresa did not become ‘Mother Teresa’ in a day. It took her a lifetime of work with the poor to become the ‘Mother Teresa’ we all know of.
NGOs should work on smaller objectives and build up their work base so that the Government will take note and cooperate with them to reach the larger objectives, by seeing their style of work.
Mr. Khan also narrated the incident of how he had once met Mother Teresa. At that time, without any advertisement, several people came to meet her (thousands of them). Several businessmen collected money in gunny bags to give her. This happened because of her long record of service. She worked hard and put in years and years of toil and established her credibility for working for and with the community. This style of work helps to strike the right chord with the Government and its officials.
Mr. Khan went on to speak about several Government schemes which would be useful for minorities and openly admitted his selfish interest in attending the consultation because he had wanted to use the platform given to him to reach the audience (who also included many minorities from the Field areas of Rehnuma Law Centre, Rangareddy). He emphasized how, in the field of education, the work done in Telengana State is incomparable and how it is leading by example in India. Their intervention in the education sector is historic, he noted. Minority residential schools have been established. The initial numbers were 60 and soon this number increased to 120, of which 60 schools were for girls alone. Mr. Khan strongly stated that if there are no communal problems in Telengana today, it’s only because of educating the girl children here.
The 1980s were very violent. There were people who incited hatred. Such people continue to exist even today but they don’t have as many people who react to their incitement, thanks to the continuously rising levels of education among the society.
This minority residential school initiative had been spearheaded by him and at the initial level, when he had suggested the establishment of such a large number of schools especially so many exclusively for girls, many had frowned upon the idea, asking him where he would find students whose parents would be willing to send their children there. When the schools opened, 17,000 applications were received and today around 7000 girls study in such minority residential schools.
He also spoke about how exclusive Urdu-medium schools would not be good for the children’s future. English is required to be eligible to access better opportunities in life.
There is no one language for any religion. To say that the Muslim community should study only in Urdu is not good. A change with the times is essential to become developed and to gain knowledge from wherever and whenever. Another false propaganda is that Islam is not giving emphasis on girls’ education. It is not right to say boys should be educated and not girls because this has nowhere been written in the Quran.
He spoke about future plans regarding the education sector in Telengana State.
Schools will be built at the cost of about Rs. 28 crores which would mean that the government would be spending up to Rs. 77000 on each student. This money will not to be given to the parents. The parents simply have to bring the kids to the schools. The teachers will be highly qualified with salaries of about Rs. 36000 for elementary school teachers and about Rs. 70000 for principals. This is a programme which has not been replicated elsewhere in India.
He asked the audience to enroll 38,000 students to study in these 71 schools. These schools are secular but they are residential so that the students get an all-round character-building experience, like the Muslim students will be given a space to do namaz etc.
His message to the present members of civil society was that they should not become ‘satellites’ but instead become ‘satellite launch vehicles’. They should use their strength and create a synergy and through this, the whole effort to help the needy becomes complementary instead of competitive. He noted how the Government’s strength is its resources and NGOs’ strength is implementation of Government schemes at the ground-level. Both have to come together for overall success. Many officers in high positions are openly saying that they are looking for minorities during recruitment but they just don’t reach those levels. Many do not even apply. This is like surrendering the weapons before the battle even begins. This should not be the case. Today, many ex-civil servants are now working in civil society organizations. They utilize their experience of government service in serving the people at the grassroots levels.
There is no dearth of schemes for minorities in Telengana State. Rs. 20 lakh is given as a grant for minority students going abroad for their studies. The Arogyashree scheme exists in his adopted villages. The Minority Welfare Department exists and it facilitates all these schemes.
He noted that this time, 129 schools need to be started from Class V to VII with two sections in each class. Many vacancies are there for Class V children in the 71 schools. And since there is no restriction regarding medium of instruction that the child should have studied in before applying here, there ought to be no hesitation in applying. He encouraged the community members sitting in the audience to bring in students for such schools. He spoke about how, when he’d retired, he had requested the officials to not deprive him of access to his flagship programme of minority residential schools. He continues to work for this and feels it is the most beneficial programme for minorities since education is a need of the hour for their development.
He expects the civil society to work hard in service-delivery for the implementation of the numerous schemes. He himself has now taken on a formal role in getting situations unstuck and invited them to connect wherever they found obstacles in service-delivery of such schemes in Telengana State. He strongly believes that all Government schemes are strong in terms of conception. There is no need to critique that. The critique should only come in terms of testing out the efficiency of service-delivery to the target group. For instance, he himself criticized the on-going Shaadi Mubarak scheme, saying that it was conceived well but problems began during implementation. The money comes to the girl after 8-9 months of marriage and is deposited in her account instead of the parents’ account. And since no decent person will ask their own daughter for that money, the beneficiaries i.e. the girl’s parents never end up receiving the actual amount. He himself had registered 19 cases when he was a police officer, against people who had duped the Government for obtaining these benefits. He concluded by encouraging the civil society to bring problems to him to be rectified, be it in conception or otherwise.
Professor Syed Jahangir (Dean, School of Arab & Asian Studies, English & Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad) then spoke on THE CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING UNIFORM CIVIL CODE & TRIPLE TALAQ. He began by appreciating that the present audience was a mature one since they all worked for bringing the grievances of the society to the higher levels of Government. He stressed on how Allah’s favorite is the one who works in the interest of Allah’s work i.e. social work and it does not ultimately matter which religion you belong to. He appreciated the civil society saying that every moment they work for the people is precious and will be eternally rewarded.
Any person who doesn’t work for the society and serve humanity is not an ideal human according to Islam. It’s a big deal to work for human beings. Why do persons like Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi get respect? It is only because they worked for the society. The concept of deen in Islam is all about working for the society, contrary to what people actually think deen is.
His views on the uniform civil code were that a plural country like India cannot ever be under the purview of one such code. The society cannot embrace this common code. He spoke about Hindus all over the country.
Hindu customs are not uniform in themselves. Then, where can one talk about Muslim practices being uniform? Pondicherry’s Hindus are governed by French law. Bengali Hindus cannot be spoken of on the same terms as South-Indian Hindus. Common civil law may be a project with a long-term vision. However, currently, there are so many diversions that such a vision is impossible to be implemented. Everyone tried their best. The same Hindus who talk in support of the UCC today were against it in the past.
With regard to triple talaq, he noted that Muslim rural areas essentially need awareness on this.
The consequences and results of triple talaq are not known. There is a need to discuss this. Triple talaq is not a problem but it has been made into an issue. The most hated practice as per Islam is talaq. It is said that the sacred bond between a man and wife when broken, is frowned upon. Triple talaq has made the Islamic society a joke. Muslims have become a joke. They talk about not allowing others to talk on their personal laws, but why haven’t they thought about talking about the practices that make people think that internal reform is necessary? When talaq itself is frowned upon, how is its misuse even being discussed? Awareness needs to be done by civil society, even on this.
Prof. Jahangir went on to explain how talaq happens through several stages, according to Muslim personal law. In the first stage, counseling is done and a waiting period of 90 days follows. The second talaq is given if the issue is not reconciled in the previous waiting period and a further period of 30 days follows. Only at the last instance, when the counseling fails, then the talaq is final. Triple talaq is something that everyone needs to be aware of, especially the Muslim youth.
Every Muslim should be conscious of what he or she is doing. It does not matter whether he or she has gone for the Haj or not, any misuse of his or her power under the personal law and hurting others through such misuse will definitely have dire consequences.
He concluded with his opinion on the way forward.
There is a need to be open-minded and not enforcing only one viewpoint on any issue is part of the solution. Triple talaq is a problem now but what other problems exist that actually need attention? The misuse of triple talaq is the actual problem since it is now executed as a punishment rather than a solution to an unhappy marriage. Muslim youth are ignorant about these issues. The misuse of triple talaq needs to be opposed and necessary measures must be made under personal law so that the wrong-doers are punished. Only through reform will there be an end to this debate. When we take up the issue to condemn the misuse of these practices, change can be brought about. India is actually a very peaceful country despite being plural in every sense. Hence, change is possible without fostering insecurity about one’s identity, be it religious or otherwise.
Mr. Mohammed Khasim, District Minority Welfare Officer, Rangareddy spoke on MINORITY WELFARE PROGRAMMES IN TELENGANA & ITS IMPLEMENTATION. He began by stating that it is necessary for him to maintain a relationship with Rehnuma Law Centre, Rangareddy as the relationship is beneficial on both sides. As an officer, he works on the schemes and RLC, Rangareddy works towards the implementation of these schemes at the grassroots levels. This relationship will facilitate the work done on both sides. He proceeded to present the minority welfare programmes in Telengana via PowerPoint and began an interactive session discussing with the audience about how well they could coordinate with him to ensure the implementation of the welfare schemes at the grassroots level. He emphasized his belief that there is a need for him to keep in touch with civil society because they too help him do his daily service as a Government officer. He concluded by addressing several questions on how to access schemes and many concerns regarding the procedures involved in accessing schemes.
Mr. A.P. Suresh (Practicing Advocate, Hyderabad High Court) spoke on HUMAN RIGHTS-BASED WORK – THE WAY FORWARD. He began by saying that before doing social service, one must acquaint oneself with the law. He noted how differences among us are man-made and how such differences were fostered only by certain people to further their own agenda in society. He asked why, even after all these years of independence, women’s problems have not been solved in our country. He also asked whether the country is more important or its divides?
Today, we need to analyze what rights are in today’s context. Articles 21 and 14 form the core of our country. In 1972, these rights were suspended during the emergency. Till today, we are unaware of our rights. It’s because of the importance we are still divided on the basis of identity.
He concluded by pointing out how personal laws, particularly that of Prophet Muhammed passed on to Muslims, were very progressive and how they enshrined rights which were recognized much later by our own Constitution and our Supreme Court.
In order to work in human rights, the most important step to take for the way forward is to create awareness of human rights at the grassroots level and also to work towards changing mindsets so that we can evolve together as a plural society.