Are rights of minorities in India in jeopardy?

What had started as an idea has today metamorphosed to a fullfledged mission. Scope of Delhi Minorities Commission extends to Dalit Sikhs in Shillong and anyone unwary of their minority rights

The AAP government in Delhi has achieved two wonders. First, a sizeable number of government schools in the Capital city are running on par with the public schools. The examination results of the last academic year and the parents’ reaction have gone ahead to show that if a government genuinely wants, it can make the educational institutions stand out, even with the basic fees and facilities.

The other sphere is the AAP government’s earnestness to reach out to the minority groups and communities. The indication became clear in last year July when Arvind Kejriwal-led government appointed three fearless members in the Delhi Minorities Commission (DMC) — Dr Zafarul Islam Khan as chairperson, and Anastasia Gill and Kartar Singh Kochhar as members.

Of course, it would have been too soon then to write about this team but, now, as it has completed a year in the office, we can see that for the last several months the team has been taking on the police and the administrative authorities in matters related to minorities where their rights are sabotaged, dented or even bypassed. And now, more recently, the Delhi Minorities Commission has also issued notices to two particular television channels for provocative and communal slants in their reportage.

The DMC is not just directly naming and pinpointing the ‘wrongdoers’ but also issuing notices so that the cases reach a logical conclusion. In fact, Zafarul Islam Khan, a PhD holder from Manchester University in Islamic Studies and Editor of the Milli Gazette, who has worked for several international organisations, told me recently that there has been no political interference nor even the slightest trace of political pressure. Perhaps, with that in the background or foreground, this team is daring to do its utmost, to see that fair play and sense prevails to keep the fabric intact.

In May, DMC issued a notice to Zee News where it pointed, “While bypolling was on in Kairana parliamentary constituency, Zee News telecast a report showing Kairana’s Muslim women wearing Talibani burqas. The report, anchored by Sudhir Chaudhry on May 28, repeatedly targeted elderly Muslim women of Kairana who wear burqas which the channel dubbed as “Talibani burqas”. It alleged that the Muslim community of the area is inspired by Wahabism and that they are trying to propagate the “ideology of Taliban.” Amid images of Muslim women wearing burqas were flashed like “Bharat mein Talibani soch ki ghuspaith?” (Talibani thinking’s intrusion into India), “Talibani burqe ka itihasik DNA test” (Historic DNA test of Talibani burqas), “Dekhein Kairana mein Talibani burqe ka kya kaam” (Look, what Talibani burqas are doing in Kairana). In addition to the broadcast, the channel also published a report same day on its website with the headline: “Dheere dheere Bharat ke Musalmanon ko kattar banaya jar aha hai” (Slowly, Indian Muslims are being made extremists). It has claimed that Indian Muslims are being Talibanised which it called a “karwa sach” (bitter truth) and said that attempt is being made to change the DNA of Indian Muslims, that Kairana has become a “laboratory” of communalism and of religion-based politics, that “Talibani thinking has crossed Afghani borders into Pakistan and from there it has infiltrated into India”. Such comments are a clear attempt to defame a community, propagate disaffection against it and concoct a fake story which has no root or basis since the kind of burqas the channel refers to are centuries-old in India. This clearly is an offence under IPC Section 295/A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) and IPS Section 505 (spreading false rumours). The broadcast was also an attempt to polarize communities and influence voters on communal lines while a byelection was on in the area, which is a punishable offence under Section 171/C of IPC.”

The DMC also issued notices to the Sudarshan TV channel over a report it telecast about residents of Bawana in North Delhi. The notice reads, “The channel had aired a programme on May 11 which dubbed Bawana residents as “Bangladeshis” and “Rohingyas” although these Indian citizens have been officially settled here by the government agencies after relocating them from various Delhi areas over the decades… DMC has ordered the managing director of the channel to reply by June 12 with proofs to show that Bawana residents are “Bangladeshis” and “Rohingyas”…The Commission has also issued a notice to DCP North District to file a report about the action taken against the said broadcast, especially against one Ganga Ram who is allegedly behind spreading rumours that residents of the area are “Bangladeshis” and “Rohingyas”.

I am left amazed by the DMC’s outreach. Even the slightest intrusion into religious places of worships and dargahs has been halted by them. Two very recent cases:

When news trickled down that the land of Dargah Shah Kaleemullah in New Delhi would be converted into a “heritage parking” to serve the visitors of the nearby “Heritage haveli”, the Delhi Minorities Commission has issued a notice to the Delhi Waqf Board to explain what steps have been taken by the board to protect the Dargah land and why this land is required when a parking lot exists nearby Subhash Maidan?

In another case, Delhi Minorities Commission has issued suo motu notices regarding Gulshan Masjid in Mehrauli where anti-socials stopped Namaz, damaged prayer mats and attacked the Imam. A year ago, these elements had demolished graves inside the mosque compound. The DMC notices have been issued to DCP South, SDM South and Delhi Waqf Board to file a report about what action has been taken against the anti-socials who have attacked the Imam and have stopped Namaz in the mosque for few days. The notices have also asked what action was taken against the destruction of graves by anti-socials a year ago.

DMC is reaching out to even those residing beyond Delhi. Why not! After all, its duty is to protect the human being. And, as the communal violence went uncontrolled in Shillong, the DMC Chairman, Dr Zafarul Islam Khan wrote letters to the Chief Minister of Meghalaya Conrad Sangma and Deputy Commissioner of Shillong Peter Sansan Dkhar asking them to take strict action against the mobs attacking Sikhs in Shillong: “We believe it is a clear failure of the law and order machinery to control the situation and bring the culprits to justice. The Delhi Minorities Commission hopes your administration will rise to the occasion and discharge its responsibilities without discrimination. Mobs must never be allowed to rule the streets of any part of our country. Rule of mobs means a total failure of the lawful authorities to discharge their duties under Constitution and Law. We hope a strict message will be conveyed to the mobsters and their political supporters that their tactics will not be tolerated at any cost and for any consideration.”

While, the AAP government is trying to reach out to the aam aadmi (common people)… I wonder why we insist on playing fault finding game! It has become almost fashionable to find fault with everything, even when it’s a doer!