Once upon a time, coal miners took with them a canary. If oxygen levels dropped in the mines, the canary began tweeting, warning miners. The same can be said of minorities and downtrodden in a society. In an unhealthy, unethical society, the minorities are first to be affected. Perhaps that is why our Constitution makers were particular about granting rights specially to minorities and backward classes. The demand for political rights of minorities began as early as 1916. In response the British did not give them rights, but by providing separate electorates to 18 different religious groups and castes, divided them from one another. When in 1931 a separate electorate was also proposed for the depressed classes opposing this, Gandhiji went on a fast unto death in Poona Jail. Please don’t be obstinate Gandhiji. If something happens to you, your followers will blame me for it. The decision to fast unto death is mine. And if something happens to me, no one but I will be responsible for it. But if Harijans and other Hindus get divided, you will be responsible for it Ambedkarji. When were Hindus and Harijans one, for them to be divided now? You’re right. The Hindus have always treated Harijans as untouchables. But now when we have a chance to bring them together politically, why do you demand separate electoral provisions for Harijans? By voting together in a booth on a particular day, Hindus and Harijans will not become one. But if Harijans elect only Harijans and upper-castes elect only upper-castes by this rule you are arranging for them to be separate forever. Hence I propose that every time we reserve seats, where everyone will elect a member from a list only of Harijans. For general seats a Harijan may contest like any other Indian. I will need time to think it over Gandhiji. In the end Dr.Ambedkar concurred with Gandhiji and the two signed the famous Poona-Pact. Thus, the demand of separate electorates for Dalits came to an end. In December 1946, within a month of the Assembly coming into session, among the first committees formed, was one for Depressed Classes and Minority Rights which had 72 members. Allow me to talk a bit about history. After World War I, East-European countries like Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria etc. where there were minorities in large numbers, their governments included minority rights in their constitutions. But who guaranteed these rights? Governments of other countries. The result was that by the time World War II came, these minorities were annihilated. This teaches us a lesson that the protection of minorities cannot be left to an outsider. It has to be given by the majority which surrounds the minority. The truth is that it is not just the happiness of the minority and majority, but their very identities are inter-dependent. As soon as the committee was formed, every religion, caste and sub-caste sent… …suggestions and recommendations. If the All-India Adi-Hindu Depressed Classes complained of discrimination, others objected to the word “Harijan”, still others the Poona-Pact. Some wanted provisions for government jobs, others wanted special budget for education and yet others wanted land for the landless. The Shwetambar Jains complained that their Munis were being arrested as beggars. The Sikhs and Muslims were worried about their language and traditions. K T Shah in a note opposed such demands. Along with the right to freedom and the liberty of worship, the right to safeguard one’s language and culture is being claimed. If this is conceded, not only will it maintain the differences between communities but also prevent the evolution of a common language. Yet, instead of escalating the quarrel by oppposing it, it is better to concede to this demand. It is best not to change religious laws and practices. Religious orthodoxy is often in close alliance with vested interests, anxious to protect their position. These vested interests do not easily tolerate changes that challenge their superiority. It is also true, that giving concessions to any community in the name of security only ends up encouraging reactionism. In the next few months when the committee met again many things were decided about those classes of society whose protection and growth is our joint responsibility. Thus the tribals were given the right that guaranteed their lands could neither be bought, nor could be sold to non-tribals. There is another section of our society, that has been equally exploited because they neither had equal rights nor status. And these are the women of our country. The primary duty of this committee should be to suggest ways to eradicate the prejudice against minority groups These include underprivileged, depressed classes and women as well. According to me women are the single largest minority of our society. Not only has tradition and custom dealt harshly with us, even the law continues to militate against us. But women have never looked at themselves as separate from society at large. All we want is equal opportunity before law, in society and education. Because that is the right of every human being. Rajkumari Amrit Kaur was a devout Christian who believed in the essential goodness of every one. But others did not share her belief. I believe that no minority should beg for safeguards. But they should be brave and trust the goodwill of the majority. For no Constitution, however carefully worded, can never guarantee the absence of strife. This confidence can only be instilled by mutual goodwill. We should have a comprehensive view of the safeguards to add in our Constitution to protect minorities, be it political, economic, social, religious, educational and even culturally we have to add safeguards to protect minorities. We also have to decide upon the duration for these safeguards. And when they should be abolished. No. We will have to fix a timeframe in which to remove the divisions between backward and forward classes that has divided us for ages. That will be the day when India will truly become independent. That day, it was decided that if the weak and backward classes get the support and protection of the Constitution for 10 years, they will be in step with the rest of society. But perhaps social equality is not a work of ten years, but ten decades. It is easy to change the Constitution, but how do you change attitudes? Hence, Dr Ambedkar and other Dalit leaders demanded reservations in elections, government jobs and the Cabinet. A heated debate was obviously expected on such a topic. By this are you not bringing back separate electorates? This will only ensure that elected majority community candidates, will have to get the concurrence of other communities as well. Otherwise the dominant majority, on the strength of their numbers, will ride roughshod over them. The committee also recommended reservation in government jobs for the scheduled castes, tribals of Assam, mazhabi Sikhs, and Anglo Indians. With a vote of 9 against 7 it was also decided that Muslims should also have reservation in jobs. But when Syed Ali Zaheer wanted to amend the resolution, some objected and Maulana Hifzur Rehman and other Muslim members staged a walkout. As a result, the resolution to give reservation to Muslims was cancelled. Even after more than six decades, this demand is still raised. In some places, backward Muslim communities have also got reservations. A month later, when the Minorities Committee met again, debates raged on about religion and traditions. The way Clause 16 of the Report of the Fundamental Rights Committee has been altered by the Minorities Committee, I am emphatically against that. After much thought and discussion the words free practice of religion was specifically not included in the Constitution. Everyone here is well aware of the evil practices… …carried out in the name of religion. be it purdah, polygamy, animal sacrifice, dedication of girls
to temples, to name a few. After being given freedom of religious worship and free profession of religion what more does a community or an individual need. Above this, making practice of religion a justiciable right, is outrageous. And this will hamper social progress and keep communal strife alive. The most heated discussion was on untouchability. This clause cannot possibly mean untouchability in any form. I can definitely state that for a Hindu, Muslims and Christians are untouchable, and they will remain untouchable forever. What is meant here is untouchability in the Hindu fold. The question is of the prevalent custom of untouchability… …in Hindu society. Christians or Muslims don’t care if Hindus treat them as untouchable or not. I do not mean that. We must be clear about the aim of this Committee; whether we are here to abolish untouchability only among Hindus, or among Christians, Muslims and Sikhs as well. This way, the 5000 year old deplorable tradition of untouchability was forever eradicated by our Constitution. Those whose shadows were once considered an ill omen, are today taking the lead in making a new India. Leading from the front were: by Dr Ambedkar, Jagjivan Ram and Muniswami Pillay. On 27th of August, Sardar Patel presented the report on Minority Rights. The deliberations of the committees had now to be tested by the whole House. As far as the question of representation in the legislatures goes i.e. whether there should be joint or separate electorates this debate has raged on for almost a decade and we have suffered heavily for it. All are now agreed that there should be no separate electorates but only a joint electorate hereafter. This is an important and happy decision. We have decided further that in some government jobs,
reservation is necessary for some special communities particularly the Anglo-Indians, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes… …for whom we have to make special provisions in many ways. The first voice in favour of this historic report was of Muniswami Pillay. My only prayer is for the word ‘Minorities’ be totally wiped out from our history. The ten years that we have given is a sufficiently long period. And I hope that much before the lapse of these 10 years, when we meet, these minorities will come and tell us: “Neither do we want any special rights nor support.” Some members spoke frankly even when it was disliked by many. Like Shri K M Munshi who was a lawyer, historian, writer, scholar and much more, with a definite outlook on society. Our Harijans brothers, whom we call scheduled castes, are neither a minority by race, nor by birth. And they are certainly not a religious minority. Calling them a minority is the result of a few people’s mischief and stubbornness I want to clarify that… …under no circumstance can Harijans be called a minority. They were a part of the Hindu community and continue to remain so. And we should give them special safeguards and protection only till the time that they break the barriers of untouchability to become an inseparable part of the great Hindu community. On the other hand, Maulana Hasrat Mohani dismissed the whole exercise of minority rights as pointless. I have serious objections on this Minority Report because it is based on a fundamentally wrong principle. Instead of talking of social classes and political parties reference has been made only to religion. The whole thing is absurd. But others took the issue very seriously. Representing the tribals and forest dwellers was a man from of the Munda tribe from Chhota-Nagpur – Shri Jaipal Singh Munda. He was sent to study at Oxford by a missionary family. He was a reputed hockey-player, captaining the Indian team which won the Gold medal in the 1928 Olympics. He emphatically demanded reservation for the tribals. Sardar Patel’s Report was easily passed but the appendix, when presented, led to many amendments. And now Sardar Patel was challenged by Sardar Bahadur B.Pocker Sahib He suggested that separate electorates given to Muslims in 1936… …be continued. Many members spoke both for and against the motion. The last speaker was Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant. And finally Sardar Patel rose to defend his report. That day it was decided that in India people of any faith or religion… …can represent anyone else. And that we can select the follower of any… …religion as our representative. This was a revolutionary step. But some people went further and did not want any concession for the infirm, the backward or minority. If safeguards are necessary for backward classes there are other means. Give scholarships to their deserving students provide other financial help opening institutions to lift them up. But to forever divide society in the name of backward and forward classes would be such a foolish act that its price would have to be paid by the society and nation forever. And we won’t be able to assess the damage at the present time. Many other members shared similar views. Looking at how hard you work, I feel jealous. You have assigned me a hard task, which I have to carry out, be it day or night. Bhimrao, I need to talk to you about something. Yes, tell me. You have seen the resentment against reservation in government jobs. If Scheduled Castes and Tribes get reservations then Sikh, Christian, Parsi, Muslim – no one would want to be left behind. True, but Sikh, Christian, Parsi, Muslim, and others cannot be compared with Scheduled Castes and Tribes. They are all wealthy and socially secure. That’s right. But if the door of reservation is opened once, then everyone will demand it and Hindus will have no jobs left for them despite being a majority. What is it you want then? Not just me, Sardar Patel would also like to remove any clause on reservation from the Constitution. As long as I’m there, reservation will not go away from the Constitution, no matter how much you insist. But there should a way out… There is a way. I will resign from the Drafting Committee. Then all of you can make a Constitution of your choice. Oh! Please listen, Bhimrao. From that day, Dr Ambedkar stopped work on the Constitution. He also sent a message that not just the Drafting Committee but he will also resign from his post as Law Minister. The going away of such a talented, hardworking and responsible man was bound to create a storm. Now there was just one way left and only one crisis manager. Bhimrao it seems you are upset with what Munshiji said. He claimed to speak for you. That’s why I offered to resign from the Drafting Committee. You know, that not only in the Congress but the entire nation, there is no one other than you who can give shape to our Constitution. Even Bapu concurred… But when did you agree with him Patelji. Gandhiji agreed with my proposal to give reservation to depressed classes. Pandit Nehru, despite being upper caste said: “For thousands of years Hindus have kept untouchables and tribals oppressed, poor, and illiterate.” And if we want them to rise to our level then they will need to be given special treatment. You are right. But you also know that for higher posts only merit can be considered. So, why take such a risk merely for clerical jobs? Risk? I don’t see any danger in this. The danger is that if one group is given reservation then other communities will also seek reservation. This way the poison of casteism will spread throughout India. It is we who have drunk poison for thousands of years and yet have managed to stay alive. You have broken our backs and despite that we stand erect. Just give us a chance to become equal with you Patelji, and then see how quickly we move ahead. And this can never happen without reservation. But if you still consider my opinion poisonous then I have kept my resignation letter ready you can take it yourself. I am a stubborn man Ambedkarji, but not a fool. I am a farmer and merely by looking I can tell which seeds will give me a good crop tomorrow. This way, both Dr. Ambedkar and reservation for Scheduled Castes and Tribes, remained. Others sought to increase the scope of Scheduled Castes and Tribes by including those whom we know as ‘Other Backward Castes’ or OBCs today. In the enlightened and developed province of Madras several castes were grouped together. Each group was given government employment proportionate to their population. This has worked so well, that Madras is counted as one of the most advanced provinces of India. This has not happened in other provinces, particularly in C.P. & Berar where 90% of government employees are of one specific caste. My demand is that by keeping justice and fairplay in mind even those millions should get a chance who are currently not in a position to compete with you. Merely keeping the Scheduled Castes and Tribes in the backward category is not right. There are millions of others more backward than these for whom there is neither provision nor any arrangements. Chandrika Ram of Bihar expressed similar sentiments in greater detail. Our society is divided vertically in three parts. The top level consists of caste Hindus. The lowest level constitute the depressed classes, untouchables, scheduled caste or Harijans. Between these two is a large middle level who can be termed backward. Let me take the example of Bihar These backward classes are in a majority. But where are their representatives? Except for a few from the Ahir community, there are none. The Harijans recognized as backward get many facilities. Why can’t we employ the same argument to the other backward classes and give them the same facilities and reservation? Those who think that these backward communities do not exist, to them I say that they are looking
at history, social change and the present with their eyes shut, and not with an open mind. Others feared that extending the ambit of Backward Classes, would lead to dilution of the rights of those who needed the maximum constitutional support. Thus the issue of special rights for Other Backward Castes was postponed. And this important section of our society had to wait until 1989 when the Mandal Commission Report was implemented. Meanwhile the tough question of the personal laws of religious minorities was before everyone and exists even today. Making a Uniform Civil Code was as much a constitutional necessity as honouring personal laws. On 19 November, 1948 this issue was raised when Shri H.C. Mookherjee was in the Chair. What do you want to declare Maulana saheb? Sit down. Order! Phool Singhji, please sit down. I declare in the House that this nation’s Mussalmans will never allow any interference in their personal law. And if someone dares to, then we will oppose them with all our might and they will have to face an iron wall of Muslim resistance. What are you talking about? Please sit down. On the basis of personal law, will you allow human sacrifice? You have spoken a lot. Sit down now. Order! You are threatening us? Look at the language he is using. Order! Please sit down. Please sit down. Dr Ambedkar had the last word on this matter. This way, while our Constituent Assembly ensured many rights for our minorities, allowing them opportunities for reform, a number of issues were also left for the future. Meanwhile the majority also had its own problems. And the uniform Hindu Code Bill was opposed right from the beginning. But when women pressed for the bill, it was ridiculed as the Hindu Women’s Code bill. The Constituent Assembly couldn’t pass this bill. Later, this work was completed piecemeal. And till date, India’s most harassed, unsafe and minority group i.e. women, have not yet got equal rights for themselves. The day our society will give women protection and respect that is when we can claim to have truly progressed.