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New NCM Chairman wants investigative arm for Commission

Written by: Staff
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New Delhi, Mar 22: The newly-appointed Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM), M Hamid Ansari, has sought a full-fledged investigative arm for the Commission on the pattern of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

''There is a good case for strengthening the investigation machinery of the Commission. It should be of the same capability as that of the NHRC,'' said Mr Ansari in an interview with UNI.

At present, NCM depends on outside agencies for probing cases linked to minorities unlike the NHRC, which can send its own team to trouble spots.

''There are cases where minorities suffer from problems. These problems need to be investigated quickly so that you can find answers to them and deliver speedy justice,'' Mr Ansari said.

There is nothing wrong with the legal framework of the Commission, created in 1992 through an Act of Parliament, which clearly spelled out the need to increase the confidence level of minorities, he said.

The NCM was given the mandate to evaluate the progress of development of minorities, minotor implementation of constitutional safeguards for members of minority communities, suggest steps for better ways of implementation, conduct studies on all these subjects and lastly to receive grievances and take steps for redressal with central and state governments.

More than a decade later, however, the Commission, ''the best legal framework in the world for minorities'', has not been able to deliver the desired results, mostly because of lack of proper implementation, said Mr Ansari, a career diplomat who served as India's Ambassador to countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and UAE.

The issue of minorities development can be neglected only at the cost of the country as a whole, feels Mr Ansari.

''Every fifth Indian belongs to a religious minority.

This aspect of the country's demography was well understood by leaders of the national movement. Jawaharlal Nehru had this picture in mind and the Constitution makers recognised it. So the birth of the NCM was the result of this consensus,'' he said.

Replying to a question, he said the NCM was different from the NHRC in one important sense that the Minorities Commission was looking at group rights and the Human Rights Commission at individual rights.

Awareness of group rights is not so much developed in India as in other developed countries. However, slowly it is building up.

When the NHRC was set up, it had not had so much power but over the years, it has grown teeth and contributed to the awareness of individual rights, he said.

The issue of minorirty rights, he said, is an issue of the whole country, not just of minorities. It would be foolish to describe any step for ensuring their security, their economic and social development as a kind of some undue concessions to them, said Mr Ansari, adding that asking for minority rights should not be thought of as a divisive step.

''If the minorities have any problems, these should be solved,'' emphasised Mr Ansari, a former Vice-Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University and member of the National Security Advisory Board.

It is necessary to point out not all minorities suffer in the same way, Mr Ansari noted. The Parsis, Christians, Sikhs, Muslims have different kinds of problems, though some problems may be common. So, each minority is to be assessed separately, he said. Asked on the role of madrasas in educating Muslims, he said the primary responsibility of providing education was of the State and all talks of modernising or strengthening madrasas is only a secondary matter. ''People send their children to the madrasas only if they can't afford a good school,'' he added.

On the status of Muslim women, he said it was a serious issue which needs to be addressed as several Islamic countries like Pakistan, Malaysia and Turkey have brought changes in their laws to empower women.

''We must follow the good practices elsewhere,'' he said.

Replying to a question on the issue of reservation for minorities, he said there was nothing as such wrong with the word 'reservation'. It just means doing something for a backward group to bring it at par with other citizens.

''Let us leave out the word reservation. We may as well start talking of affirmative action. It's just not about reserving seat in any educational institution. You can take affirmative action on a whole range of issues like for example, you can set up schools in those minority dominated areas which don't have it, or provide credit to them to enable them to create self-employment or pursue some professional course. So this term has to be interpreted very broadly,'' he said.

Replying to a question about the security of life and propoerty of minorities, Mr Ansari said security was an essential requirement of not only minorities but of all citizens, and it is the duty of the State to provide it.

''Every time there is a riot, it is a failure of the State,'' he added referring to the Gujarat riots of 2002 when about 2,000 Muslims were killed in one of the worst riots in independent India.

Hailing the proposed law against communal violence, he said slowly a strong opinion against the problem was building up in the country and thanks to the judiciary, new norms are coming into place and the system was being made to follow it as in the case of judgements in anti-Sikh riots and Gujarat riots cases.

Does he think the attitude towards the minority community has changed today with a Muslim as President Muslims as fast bowlers, a Muslim woman as the nation's biggest tennis star and a Muslim as the richest Indian? Not completely, says Mr Ansari. ''In some cases, Muslims are synonymous with terrorists.'' However, the Indian society does not think all Muslims are terrorists, he hastened to add. ''The message from Varanasi after the blasts was loud and clear.''

UNI

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