In recent days, the print, electronic and social media have been concerned about the Aryan Khan affair. Without a doubt, this is due to the fact that he is the son of Hindi cinema superstar Shah Rukh Khan. In keeping with the current majority ethic in the country, Khan being a Muslim has become relevant. His nearly three-decade-old interfaith marriage has added a new twist to today’s preoccupation with the âjihad of loveâ. Additionally, a senior Nationalist Congress Party minister in Maha Vikas Aghadi’s government in Maharashtra has boiled the pot with his revelations against Sameer Wankhede, the NCB’s Scheduled Castes (SC) investigating officer. Wankhede’s SC status is challenged by the claim that he is a Muslim. Regardless of the court’s final decision, two issues raised in the case require urgent attention.
The first is to revise the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985 (NDPS), which has clearly become obsolete. As I have pointed out over the years, in India there is no âsunsetâ clause in any legislation and a law once enacted continues to eternity. There is no provision for setting a specific time limit for the expiry of the act, unless it is revised and re-enacted. And the way most laws are enacted for political convenience, often without broader public consultation and scrutiny by special parliamentary committees, mocks the justice system. Such laws have made our courts “the courts of law and not of justice”. The setbacks of the NDPS Act fully demonstrate this. The issue of amending the NDPS Act is important enough to be referred to the Law Commission of India for urgent consideration, with a request to prepare a new bill after reviewing the implementation of the this Act, conducted extensive consultations and referred to international experience. The bill received from the Law Commission should not be adopted hastily and should be submitted for consideration by the mixed select committee of Parliament.
The second problem concerns the treatment of backward communities among Muslims and Christians on the same basis as among Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. At the time of the constitution, it was believed that the classification of SCs was only justified for Hindus and that backward castes in other religions were not subjected to such degrading discriminatory treatment. It was factually incorrect. Later, under political pressure, reservation concessions were extended to Sikhs in 1956 by the Congressional government under Jawaharlal Nehru, and to Buddhists in 1990 by the National Front government of VP Singh. Muslims and Christians have been left out, although the governments concerned have declared themselves secular.
To play the devil’s advocate, this could have been due to the apprehension that with the fundamental right to freedom of conscience and profession, to practice and to spread religion under Article 25, conceded at the insistence of Muslims and Christians, giving reserve to backward communities in these religions would increase their appeal and lead to more conversions of Hindus. But this fear was hardly justified. In addition, over the years, several laws have been enacted to prevent conversions by force or by seduction. We must also take into account the strong public climate against conversion today.
Ideally, the delay should be judged on the basis of socio-economic, educational and cultural factors. Religion must have nothing to do with it. The Ranganath Misra Commission for Socially and Economically Backward Sections, appointed by the Manmohan Singh government in 2004, was headed by Justice Ranganath Misra, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Dr Tahir Mahmood, former Chairman of the National Commission for minorities, and Dr Anil Wilson, Principal, St Stephen’s College, Delhi, among others. The commission recommended that ideally there should be no distinction based on caste, religion or class. There should be a single list of socially and economically arrears, including religious and linguistic minorities, based on common criteria. The criterion of reservation should be socio-economic backwardness and not religion or caste. I had strongly supported this approach in my book, Secularism: India At A Crossroads (2016).
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was, what we call in Marathi, aarambhashoor – someone who is very good at starting new things but never gets them to their conclusion. As the Japanese would say, he was like a proverbial three-day monk, eager to start something new, but ineffective in bringing it to fruition. This has been seen in the case of the Ranganath Misra Commission, the report of the Sachar Committee on the social, economic and educational status of Muslims, and the initiative it has taken to create nine high-level expert working groups. to study J & K’s problems and to chart a course for the future. It is India’s misfortune that there has been no follow-up action on any of the above points.
The issue of the reservation for Muslims (and Christians) was raised again in the Sameer Wankhede case and I hope it will not be passed over in silence, as has happened so far. As Fayaz Ahmad Fyzie pointed out in his recent article, from the First Backward Class Commission (the Kaka Kalelkar Commission), to the Mandal Commission, the Ranganath Mishra Commission and the Sachar Committee, all recognized caste discrimination within of Muslim society. It is wrong to project the whole of Muslim society as a homogeneous entity. It is the same with Christians.
Regardless of religion, social and educational backwardness is a human problem. In several international indices such as world hunger, poverty, literacy, gender discrimination, infant mortality and undernourishment, India’s performance has fallen sharply. And that’s not surprising, given that among other factors, a large percentage of its minority population (17%) is not covered by a safety net. The Indian government has reportedly set up a clues monitoring cell to rectify this situation and India’s image abroad. To follow the logic to the end, we must act to give the benefit of the reserves to Muslims and Christians without wasting more time. You don’t have to wait for the Supreme Court to intervene. For what is at stake is India’s image as a forward-looking nation at peace with itself, committed to inclusive growth and social justice.
This column first appeared in the print edition on November 5, 2021 under the title âLessons from an essay on narcoticsâ. The writer is a former Union Minister of the Interior and Secretary for Justice. His latest book is India-A Federal Union of States: Fault Lines, Challenges and Opportunities