New Delhi, Dec 27: A triple talaq legislation, Haj- related reforms and attacks were some of the issues related to minorities that dominated headlines this year with the government stressing that empowering the community educationally will be high on its agenda in 2018.
Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who scaled up in rank as Cabinet minister for minority affairs after Prime Minister Narendra Modi re-jigged his council this year, said the BJP-led NDA government strived for welfare of minorities sans appeasement till now.
While attacks on members of minority communities, including the 17-year-old Junaid killing case, gave fresh ammo to the Opposition to attack the Centre, Naqvi maintained that the government did not allow "destructive agenda to dominate agenda of development".
BJP MP from Madhya Pradesh Virendra Kumar joined as Naqvi's deputy following the Cabinet reshuffle. The government increased the ministry's budget to Rs 4195.48 crore for 2017-18 from Rs 3827.25 crore in 2016-17, an increase of about 9.6 per cent over the last fiscal.
"There was only appeasement of minorities in the name of development during the last six decades. There was zero empowerment. We have tried to change that during the NDA's governance," Naqvi told PTI.
About his ministry's priority in the year to come, he said, "Educational empowerment, especially education for girls, is our focus and our effort is to increase literacy rate of the communities on par with other communities."
A panel formed by the Maulana Azad Education Foundation (MAEF), a non-profit and non-political social services organisation funded by the ministry, this year expressed concerns over educational backwardness of Muslims. It suggested a three-tier model of institutionscentral schools, community colleges and national institutes to for their empowerment.
According to the 2011 Census data, literacy rate among Muslims was 68.53 per cent against the national average of 72.98 per cent. Saudi Arabia increased India's Haj quota from 1.36 lakh to 1.70 lakh, which the central government termed as "biggest expansion" of the quota since 1988. In a major reform, the government also for the first time decided to allow women aged above 45 to travel without a male colleague in a group of at least four to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage.
In addition, the Haj Committee of India also launched 'Haj App' for aspirants to apply for the pilgrimage. The ministry also carried out an outreach programme 'progress panchayat' in minority-dominated areas, seeking to inform them about the welfare initiatives of the government. The last such programme was held in Rajasthan's Alwar on December 17.
Naqvi inaugurated various development projects including schools, hostels, primary health centres then.
"So far, two dozen such panchayats have been held," the minister added. In a bid to offer commercial exposure to artisans and craftsmen from the communities, the ministry organised 'Hunar Haat' (Skill Haat) in the national capital.
It plans to organise similar Haats in Mumbai, Kolkata, Bhopal and other cities in the time to come. In line with the government's push, the ministry went digital in 2017. In August, the Supreme Court by a majority of 3:2 ruled that the practice of divorce through triple talaq among Muslims is "void", "illegal" and "unconstitutional".
The government then brought out the draft 'Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Marriage Bill' according to which giving instant triple talaq will be illegal and void and will attract a jail term of three years for the husband. The bill seeking to criminalise the practice of instant triple talaq is set to be introduced in the Lok Sabha tomorrow. The matter is being pursued by the Law Ministry and not by the Minority Affairs Ministry.