Proceedings of the seminar on Minorities of India: Problems & Prospects published by the Indian Council of Social Science Research in association with Manak Publications Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2007, Pps. 374


Professor M.L. Sondhi
Chairman, ICSSR, New Delhi

Ladies and gentlemen!

I think this effort, which will occupy us for 23rd and 24th November 2000 is perhaps one of the most important events for the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR). That this organisation could arrange this seminar at a rather short notice, largely with dedicated work of the members of the ICSSR secretariat, shows that given a challenge this organisation can rise to the challenges. I will dwell for a few minutes on the way in which discourse can be employed to influence reality.

We have entitled this seminar as Minorities of India in the 21st Century: Problems and Prospects. We might as well envisage that another seminar will be held or would be held or could be held or should have been held on the ‘Majority in India in the 21st Century: Problems and Prospects’. But I think there has to be a balance, there are fears, hopes and memories on both sides of this devide. I’m sure those who look at this problem today will be concerned with problems of minorities but, as all responsible Indians, we would also like to understand how the tasks of any group of scholars extend not only to their own concerns but to the concerns of those from whom they think they are in adverse relationship. Because I think that in this relation of social science the future and the hope lie in the view which would derive from Immanuel Kant more than anything else. Immanuel Kant is not an Indian, but I find he comes very close to the way of thinking of many Indian thinkers, and I only refer to one singular book by him, Perpetual Peace, which (left) Hitler (so) enraged that he arranged its burning. I use this book very often for my introductory course at JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) on ‘peace research’. I think, it provides the rationale for the Indian regime today more than any other document I can think of, and I think, therefore, we should bear in mind that there is an inter-relatedness of problems. Appeasement of tyranny at home leads to appeasement abroad and both will incur very high costs. There is hardly any doubt in the mind of any sane person in this country today that our regime is founded on liberal principles. Individual liberty and political pluralism are absolutely essential for safe-guarding democratic values. The question is: can we derive theoretical constructs which have a conceptual validity? That is a very big challenge.

The evolution of a peaceful political system requires, to my mind, at this stage above all a decision-making perspective. I would therefore recommend this seminar to devote itself to policy choices from given alternatives: it should be firmly planted in Indian reality and it should be judged from the effect produced on Indian policy makers by our national discourse. The academic world has a great role to play, but I think it would be deceiving ourselves to think that there it ends. Because there is a practical field and unless we can influence policy planning and many other organisations of the government including intelligence, a subject which we have shied away from so far, we will be making a serious mistake.

I entirely agree with the words spoken by Dr. R. Barman Chandra, the Member-Secretary (of ICSSR) on the modernisation project. You will permit me to personally qualify it by saying that I do not equate modernisation with secularisation. I think that the secularisation theory has a basic weakness in the assumption that ordinary decisions in public life should not be shaped by one’s view of the ultimate reality. In other words, issues of metaphysics were just put aside, now also it requires a recognition of political reality and social and academic reality all over the world that this secularisation theory has begun to erode away in many parts of the world. Partly because of the stresses of modern life, and partly because of people’s inability to deal with them without larger belief systems, religion has recovered its salience in society. This does not mean that religions have to be at each others throat, but it requires us to think about our problems from a fresh perspective. I think if we have to achieve something in meaningful terms we have to decide that first of all different approaches will have to be tried. You cannot just have a unilinear approach and say, ‘Here it is, take it or leave it’. There are deep rooted human relationships and these have turned out to be very very important.

For a long time we thought that state-centred philosophies would help and be self-sufficient. That just has not turned out to be the case. At the same time, it is extremely urgent that we don’t hold up progress by holding further arid debates. We have fairly sensible ides. Most of us today need to ponder what can be done and what is required in the next stage to which we belong.

In other words, we have to approach our problems in terms of Indian culture and Indian space. But when we come to this agenda I think you will realise that it has been very intelligently drawn up. It deals with social issues, it deals with educational issues, it deals with economic issues and it also deals with political and administrative issues and finally of course the question of social violence and minorities, and even requires us to decide if social violence has any meaningful social categorical views. I think all these questions require a very open mind on our part but openness of mind also doesn’t mean that we state things with such ambiguity that we never come to the root of the matter.

I am concerned with taking a little time of yours on the Indian Council of Social Science Research. I think we have to decide what type of body this should be, where did it come from, where is it going. In these days, to say that it should have no relevance to policy issues, to my mind, seems to be the height of irresponsibility, because policy is right there, waiting for you to either guide it, misguide it or to be silent about it, and if you cannot articulate policy, then the policy maker will not pay any attention to you.

So, at the end of two days, if you do not have any recommendations, this exercise will just be a cry in the wilderness. It may lead to some poetry, it may lead to some consolation, it may lead to lighting lamps and so on, not that these are unimportant. But, when I come particularly to the question of minorities I also intend to come to question of the Urdu language. I think these are the questions which are very important for us to face, because there is a tradition of lighting lamps, holding Mushairas, holding evening songs, getting enjoyment with the music and literature and thinking all problems have been solved! I think the challenge which each one of us has to discover for oneself is: Are we prepared to revise our mindset? Are we prepared to think things afresh? Are we prepared to really postulate certain requirements of conflict resolution and of evolving a society in India which shows today, for once, tremendous promise and optimism?

In all the spheres which are part of this agenda, if you take the macro sphere, the response of the world to us and of our people to ourselves, seems to me overwhelmingly positive; there is not a single prophet of doom who has turned out to be correct, there is not a single Cassandra who has been proved to be right. Please go back in time. We were told that we would starve but we have not starved. There are problems in Kalahandi. There are problems in other areas. But then, any comparative study shows that there is more hope at the end of the tunnel here than in any other part of the world. So we have to build on hope, we have to build on our enthusiasm, to build on that strength of outlook which an institution like the ICSSR has. But we have to define its direction, we can easily produce a lot of study in excessive weight, we can make it into an institute of peace and conflict resolution, we can make it into an institute of higher policy direction, we can also decide that we should wind it up and just leave the work to our 20-27 research institutes, which will merrily jog along the ways that they are jogging along, with no shift of agenda, no shift to new issues, just status quo which seems in this country to be the most comfortable way to approach reality. But to disturb this reality, to disturb the status quo in India is literally touching the hornet’s nest, because we have not equipped ourselves in the first decade, after we achieved freedom. It’s just that ability which is needed, which is to take decisions which are important, relevant, on the ground, related to reality, and which inspire other people rather than discourage them. We know that we had people blaming the bureaucracy, blaming the judiciary, blaming others, but what about the ICSSR, and what about the problems of the minorities, and what about the essential problem here which is the problem that there is a Muslim minority in India which has a rich past, uncertain present, perhaps a very creative future? What is the ICSSR doing for that segment of the problem by not mentioning our responsibility towards the universe of Urdu.

This is one area where it should be disturbing to most people to realise that every prescription that is made, every sound that is uttered, every thought that is expressed ends up with something cosmetic. For example, when the New Delhi Municipal Committee (NDMC) decided, when Mr. Inder Kumar Gujral was here (as prime minister), to take up the cause of Urdu in a big way, tangibly, it resulted in writing the names of 10 or 12 roads in New Delhi in the Urdu language on the milestones. Now, I think, this tokenism has to be given up, and our responsibility here is to inculcate a certain sense of sincerity, a certain sense of outlining what our next task is. So, before coming to the larger question of what our agenda should be, I propose to concentrate on the Urdu language. I think those who belong to that language and have worked with it, and regard themselves as its custodians, will forgive me for trespassing on their turf. I have discussed some of these ideas with several persons and I am very grateful to them for their inputs and I have also opened my own mind to the seriousness of the problem. Basically, I think it is the non-serious attitude which has caused irreparable loss that we do not have, even now, the basic inputs for policy planning. I think there is the need now to stem the rot before the things go from bad to worse.

So, the ICSSR should itself resolve and it should be a part of your recommendation that this very rich component of our culture should be saved from the lack of any policy, and I underline the word any policy, for Urdu education. This may annoy people, because policy is policy if it is seriously intended to be implemented not simple a diversionary activity. There is a need, therefore, for formulating a policy on Urdu and having dwelt on that need, we have come to the conclusion that we shall implement it and we shall start a major project on Urdu education, and we shall implement it in the major representative states of Urdu. There are several points to note here. For example, no data on Urdu education is available on whether it is education as a medium of instruction, from primary to a senior secondary levels, or as an optional subject at those levels. We do not have authentic data relating to a single city. It is unfortunate too that no Urdu organisation has made any progress for the language despite tall claims. There are a few studies here and there but they are outdated, and even a casual reading shows hardly they had any seriousness of the purpose. Somebody got the idea and wrote down something.

The ICSSR, therefore, will launch a major or rather a mega project to survey major areas inhabited by Urdu speaking people and collect data for an objective analysis for policy makers. This we can do with our own resources. There is a fashion recently in the press here: for any suggestion you make a hue and cry is raised as to where will the resources come from? I think this is one question which is absolutely dishonest in content because putting your thoughts together, finding an innovative solution, is itself a way to raise resources. So when the project is fully launched we shall go forward to collect objective analysis for policy makers and we must realise that the four northern states where Urdu is there, three have a substantial number of Urdu speakers. It is not something just on the side or in the wilderness; it is alive, it is there; so I will not understand, nor will I endorse, nor will condone hesitancy on the part of the ICSSR to take up this project. All talk about turf wars between UGC (University Grants Commission), ICSSR, ICHR (Indian Council of Historical Research), these are all now absolutely wide of the mark. Whatever terminology we use, whether or not we are allowed to call it an educational project, we intend to go ahead with this project. This could be carried out as a part of the socio-educational project or the aspect of the Urdu linguistic minority. I also submit that only the ICSSR can do it. There is not a single Urdu organisation in India which can take up the Urdu education project, because they are inhabited by people, they have an ambiance, they have a sensitisation, which deal with only literature and related activities.

I started by saying that I am not denigrating literature and it is upto anyone to misunderstand my remarks but we cannot, of course, interrupt the proceedings here to suddenly lapse into poetry, music, art, culture, also histrionics, dramatics. I am not against Mushairas but they are not our problems today. You want to take a patient to the intensive care unit and you are taking him to twenty beauty clinics. It’s a very strange scenario which is unfolding. Government organisations like Urdu academies do not technically have the mandate or expertise to take up this project. Their meagre budget too does not allow them this opportunity. What have these Urdu academies become? Whether you like it or not I have to put it bluntly because I know where the shoe pinches; they form show-windows for furtherance of literature only.

As you are aware there are certain harsh realities which social scientists have to take into account. Urdu was left without a home state in 1956, when the states were reorganised on a linguistic basis. Education being the state subject, no state was interested in providing it through Urdu medium, since they have their own regional and state languages. You cannot wish this away by exhortation. You cannot hold one hundred press conferences bemoaning the fate of Urdu without realising where it will end. It will only serve a political purpose and then we will scramble over as to who the vice chancellor should be, there will be scramble over the composition of the academic council, there will be a scramble over the funds, and yet another show-window will be added to the scene. I think the drama of India was shown up when an aeroplane was hijacked on the ground. Something went wrong at the ground level and some bright person found the answer that you could have sky marshals in the air. Sky marshals of India will only take up the space of the passengers land then you do not know why the terrorist should not come dressed up as a sky marshal and take charge of the whole plane comfortably. The problem, to my mind, is that Urdu medium schools at primary level are provided. This has not occurred to anyone in the current debate. Everyday we have seen that madarsas are there, children are being sent to madarsas, madarsas are breathing ‘thisism’ and ‘thatism’. But why do people send children to the madarsa? The government has failed to provide education in Urdu for those who speak Urdu and this has had the most unwholesome consequences. It is that psychology of fear, a kind of Kafka mood, if you have read Franz Kafka, that all his novels, all his concerns are always dark spaces, always struggles against you don’t even know what the enemy is! So, this failure of the government is in turn the failure of the academics, it is a failure of bodies like ours. I do not see, in the last so many decades, any proposal in this direction. There is a lot of exhortation to secularism, thee is a lot of exhortation to don’t do this and don’t do that, lot of prohibitions, but I do not find a single recommendation in this area which I am referring to. So the task of your conference today is a very important one, very burdensome one, and I would request you to kindly concentrate, no doubt, on the problems of the minorities, but do not also fight shy about the problem of the Urdu education, because that is where the shoe pinches; and, in this situation, with formally registered Urdu schools becoming scarce, authentic data on Urdu education is difficult to come by. And one thing breeds another. Due to lack of material, scholars of social sciences may feel hesitant to work, on Urdu. But being an area affecting a large section of the Indian people, it is simply too late in the day to ignore this problem. So we are starting this work immediately, we are having it as a project, a mega project, the details can be filled in, and I hope this seminar will help in filling in those details. I trust also that this work will get the support, not only of the scholars but of administrators, of retired people who are a very important source material. It will indeed require a very interdisciplinary approach whether it is of social science generally or it is on social justice or it is the use of information technology in setting up information gateways. All these require today many people to come together, open their mindsets and think of problems creatively.

I have spoken out what my thoughts are on this basic question. I just conclude by saying that I hope that the distinguished chairperson of the first session, whose knowledge and experience are unrivalled, will apply not only his creative mind but also his discipline because I have the luxury of speaking over larger areas but you have to get into the nuts and bolts. That is where the questions will have to be settled and there the dialogue and conversation may, as far as possible, be kept free from invective and mutual recrimination. We have to work on conflict resolution and one of the most important first steps to conflict resolution is to ‘deconflictise’ our language also. We have to take up educational issues and we have a very distinguished chairman for that also, and we have experienced people who have worked in government. But the question is will we be able to skirt past a mine? Education literally has become a minefield in this country today, any new step you take seems to be calculated to bring a lot of despair to some people who were very comfortable with what they were doing. I remember visiting a printing press here. Somebody had written a book on what is known as estate duty, that is the duty you pay after somebody dies and you have to pay a tax on it. Now estate duty was abolished and this man was sitting there and his book had been made ready, and he was weeping over why estate duty had been abolished, why couldn’t they abolish it after five years when book would have been sold.

So I think certain similar problems also face us. We certainly find the possibility of a solution to our problems and then we are alarmed whether this solution will work; then we look elsewhere and then we want to find excuses that the solution has not worked. The economic issues are extremely important but here again can we really turn the clock back? When Sydney and Beatrice Webb wrote Soviet civilization, Soviet new civilization, our friends from Russia would say, is the Soviet civilization flourishing or has it failed? Our other totalitarian civilizations of the globe which seem today to be flourishing are also doomed to meet the same fate.

The Indian civilization has a lot of problematic but I have not seen a single forecast that the Indian civilization is going to fail. This is a period of resurgence. It’s a period when people are stretching themselves, concepts are being extended, a lot of energy is being unfolded. But energy by itself can be very destructive unless properly channelised. Hence there is a need for very strong and logical thinking on political and administrative issues. We cannot ignore the political and administrative side of life. We certainly cannot turn anarchist because society has not found a way by which anarchism could work. It works in theory but it cannot work in the practical field. We probably had a certain past where we could afford for human beings a lot of anarchism. Today we have to deal with problems of governance and we have to give directions to those who are in power. We need not exaggerate their role, we need not think that they dominate. They can be controlled, even commanded, even brought to heel.

Finally, the question of violence. I think we have to face the fact that there must have been something very remarkable about that person called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi when he saw in a flash that violence is not going to be of much use to the world to come. We may have areas where violence is still inescapable but violence as a social strategy contending that there is no other way out except to be violent will not meet the test of time.

I think this conference which has attracted some of the best minds in our country has also finally to turn its attention to that little area where some guidance is needed by the Indian Council of Social Science Research. We have, while studying various subjects here, totally ignored the study of religion. Now this is a very difficult question to answer. There is a divisive influence of religion no doubt; religion seems to threaten us everywhere by conflict, by struggle, by proselytisation, by all kinds of coercive means.

But at the same time we have to see the ground reality, that in most of the issues which have been settled after the Second World War, religious bodies, religious groups have played a very constructive role. The enterprise known as the European Common Market could not have been there but for three very religious minded people – Adenauer, Schumann, and de Gaspari. There have been several other projects where men of religion contributed a lot. Wherever we turn our attention to, around the globe, we see problems—in Algeria, in East Timor, in Chechnya, in Northern Ireland, in Middle East, Sudan, and elsewhere in and around our own country and we may feel that perhaps we better bid goodbye to religion. But I think that it would be very counter-productive. We simply cannot do it. It would rather be more interesting for us to evolve some ways by which religion and statecraft can be brought together, not in order to pervert the realities, but in order to find out ways in which we can utilise this religious resurgence for constructive political ends.

Issues of real politic and economic advantages are sufficient to convince political leaders and others to go to war and the most compelling reason is often needed to motivate those who would be asked to put their lives in danger for their country. Religion is one of the most effective vehicles in this regard for it alone is able to provide the vision of reality that transcends temporal and terrestrial type of life which inspires people to make the ultimate sacrifice. Conversely few influences are more effective in discouraging people from starting or continuing war and violence than a declaration on the part of religious authorities that such activity will provoke divine disapproval. Put simply, when the temporal and the spiritual authorities clash on issues of major importance, more often than not the temporal has to bow its head before the religious or spiritual, and it is in this sense that Mahatma Gandhi used to talk of his politics as his religion. It has been misinterpreted but as time goes by Mahatma Gandhi would not be misinterpreted but may be interpreted properly to suggest that his were the outpourings of a deeply religious personality, for whom religion was a reality and hence he did not feel the need to force his religion down the throat of any other person.
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