Workshops and Reports on Protection of Minority Rights

Dialogue on ‘Minorities and their Alienation’ in the framework of EURASIA-NET Project, organized by Calcutta Research Group on 8 August 2009 

Concept Note                

While minorities as a modern category of government and administration emerged in South Asia with the evolution of census and the practice of enumerating diverse sections of population groups in the second half of the nineteenth century, minority politics acquired its importance insofar as they become an object of active discrimination. As the countries of South Asia grew into sovereign and independent nation-states - thanks to de-colonization and subsequent Partition of the region - ethnic and communal minorities became an inseparable part of their existence. The publication of Sachar Committee report has brought to light the nature and patterns of discrimination that the minorities continue to be subjected to. The recently held Parliamentary elections according to some commentators have only widened the breach between the majority and the minority. The nation as it were is bursting on its seams. It is true that minority protection was promised in most of newly Independent states including a theocratic one like Pakistan. Yet their track record of protecting the minorities has turned into a major source of conflict particularly in postcolonial India. The forces and processes of globalization have only helped in reinforcing the trend. New policy responses are being advocated. Reservation of minorities is likely to have its ramifications for the landscape of minorities. The policy of reservation, it is feared, will bring in newer sources of differentiation within the minorities. It is in this background that the Dialogue proposes to review the status of minority protection in India and seeks to explore the following questions:   

(a) Who is a minority? Should the women or the immigrants be categorized as a ‘minority’? Is it apt to call them the ‘new minority’? 

(b) How, in a ‘democratic’ State like India, minorities are protected through some institutional means and practices (particularly with reference to the establishment and functioning of various Committees and Commissions) and in what way the issue of ‘protection’ is predicated on the larger question of governing a hugely diverse and heterogeneous society like India? What are could be the possible policy responses? Is reservation the answer?  

(c) Given that minorities also constitute concrete social groups and communities, it is important to find out whether they can be permanently reified under the given order of administrative categories and divisions that have otherwise produced them. The emerging minority (like the women and the cross-border immigrants as well as the Internally Displaced Persons) solidarities are seen to increasingly cut across the existing political borders and boundaries. What are the implications of this process for the new profile of minority politics in South Asia? Can we think of regional instruments for minority protection?  

A single-day Dialogue to be divided into three sessions is expected to revolve around these four sets of questions mentioned above. Each participant is requested to present a 500-word note in response to any of the three sets. Since the idea is to get the discussion circulated amongst the participants, each presentation should not be of more than 10-12 minutes’ duration. 2-3 participants will initiate discussion in each session. The notes should be in the nature of short and sharp responses to the questions framed for the relevant session. Each session is to be chaired by a moderator who is supposed to keep the discussion on track. 

The Programme Schedule  

9.30 – 9.45 am:                       Registration
10.00 – 10.45 am:
                   Inaugural Session
                                                Chair: Subhash Ranjan Chakraborty

10.00 – 10.10 am:
                   CRG & Its Activities: Ranabir Samaddar
10.10 – 10.20 am:
                   About the Dialogue: Samir Kumar Das
10.20 -10 -45 am:
                   Keynote Address by A. S. Narang
10.45 – 11.15 am:
                   Tea Break
11.15 am - 1.15 pm:
                Round I: Institutions of Protection: National and West Bengal   Experiences
                                                Chair: Pradip Kumar Bose

                                                Panelists: Mandira Sen, Abdur Rauf, Sabir Ahmed, Krishna Bandopadhyay

1.15 – 2.00 pm:                       Lunch Break

2.00 – 3.00 pm:
                       Round II: Issues of Minority Protection: Policy Implications of Sachar
                                                Committee Report

                                                Chair: Prasanta Ray

                                                Panelists: Miratun Nahar, Kumar Rana, Suha Priyadarshini Chakravorty

3.00 – 3.30 pm:                       Coffee Break
3.30 – 4.30 pm:
                       Round III: Towards a Regional Charter of Minority Rights
                                                Chair: Debi Chatterjee
                                                Panelists: Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury, Anindya Batabyal
                                                            (To be followed by discussion)    

4.30 – 5.30 pm:
                       Wrap Up Session
                                                Chair: Ranabir Samaddar
                                                Concluding Remarks: Prasanta Ray
                                                Vote of Thanks: Samir Kumar Das

N. B.:  (a) The discussion will be in Bengali and English
The programme is tentative and subject to last-minute changes

Proceedings of the Dialogue 

A public dialogue on ‘Minorities and Their Alienation’ was organized by Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group at Rang Durbar, Swabhumi – The Heritage Plaza in Kolkata on 8 August 2009. The Programme was attended by about 30 participants drawn from diverse walks of life including academics and researchers, feminists and representatives of indigenous people, legal activists, and minority and human rights activists from all over India. Besides the CRG members and its Research Team, the participants included: A. S. Narang – a professor from Indira Gandhi National Open University (New Delhi), Asghar Ali Engineer – an eminent writer and activist of Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism based in Mumbai, Dyutish Chakrabarty – a professor from North Bengal University, Miratun Nahar – a feminist activist from Suraha Sampriti, Abdur Rauf from Forum for People’s Initiative, Ahmad Hasan Imran – the editor of Qalam Weekly, Saba Tehseen – a researcher, Amites Mukhopadhyay – a professor of Sociology from Kalyani University, Prasanta Ray – professor of the Institute of Development Studies, Mrinal Kanti Chakma – an indigenous people’s rights activist, Kumar Rana – the research coordinator of Prateechi Trust, Debi Chatterjee – a Dalit (depressed classes) rights activist and a professor of Jadavpur University, Mandira Sen – a feminist publisher and many others. In the absence of Akhtar Majid – a professor from Jamia Hamdard and a member of Sachar Commission – who had to cancel his trip under unavoidable circumstances, Suha P. Chakaborty read out his brief note.    

In the Inaugural Session chaired by Subhas R. Chakraborty, Ranabir Samaddar explained to the participants CRG’s research activities, while Samir Kumar Das made a brief statement about the objectives of the Dialogue organized in the framework of Eurasia-Net project. He also reminded that the organization of this Dialogue marks twentieth anniversary of the publication of late Prof. Myron Weiner’s provocatively titled essay on ‘Who are Minorities and What do They Want?’ in 1989. The state of minorities encapsulated in the essay has of course changed over the past twenty years and Das drew our attention to three such changes that occurred during this time: First, while it is true that minorities are those who ‘lack power’ and ‘who do not share what they regard as the central symbols of the society’, his essay does not tell us why or how such symbols acquire centrality and pride of place in the society. Such symbols playing a crucial role in the organization of the social whole are increasingly facing criticism in recent years. Secondly, his assumption that democratic institutions and processes are supposed to remain untainted by ethnicity and communalism is observed more in its violation as is evident from human and civil rights reports including those of the statutory bodies like the National Human rights Commission etc. Thirdly, his essay does not take into account how minority relations particularly in South Asia are being negotiated independently of the mediation of the states – which was not the case earlier.   

A.S.Narang – a Professor of Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi – delivered the keynote address. In his address, he made a distinction between ‘pluralism’ – where ethnic plurality is negotiated within an essentially monistic culture and ‘multiculturalism’ where the presupposed existence of a monistic culture is itself in question. He also showed how state institutions are supposed to play a neutral role particularly in times of riots and how violence becomes infamous for their ‘active inaction’.   

The following points emerged in course of the three rounds of discussion that formed parts of the Dialogue: 

(a) One may not call women a minority but that they are similarly marginalized like the other minorities is beyond any doubt.

(b)While legal and Constitutional protection may not be inadequate, the persons handling the state institutions suffer from a ‘bias’. Minority leaders are also alienated from their communities. There is need to the attitude of government officials and other concerned people.

(c) The question of linguistic and other cultural minorities cannot be overshadowed by the over-attention being paid to the religious minorities.

(d)The Sachar Commission Report in India brings out clearly the discrimination against the minority Muslims. The Report also breaks the myth that the Muslims do not want education by demonstrating that there were not enough schools in Muslim areas.

(e) Minority protection is not only an issue to be solved by the minority people. The majority has a role to play in this regard. Sachar Commission made no comments on the issue of reservation as they felt that discriminatory feelings towards countrymen would be aggravated through reservation.

(f) There is acute need for dispelling the myths and misperceptions concerning the minorities. 

(g) The way the minority issues are dealt with by the state seems to show that the Muslims are concerned only with issues of cultural identity. Mainstream issues of socio-economic status that are directly dependent on the educational status have been neglected.

(h) The Sachar Commission Report has brought the issue of minorities particularly the Muslims under public glare and media attention.

(i) There are ‘conflict entrepreneurs’ whose very survival depends on continuation of conflicts.

(j) Nation building efforts in South Asia have contributed to homogenization.

(k)NHRC or National Commission on Minorities are recommending bodies with no power of enforcement and should be invested with more effective power.

(l) Most trans-national initiatives are primarily mediated through governments; importance of civil society initiatives can no longer be doubted.SAARC is important but it has failed. National and state initiatives have their own limitations.

(m) Overt centralization will not serve the purpose.

(n)  The history of majoritarianism grants individual rights but not their rights as groups. South Asia cannot be homogenous. The cultural diversity has to be taken into account. There is however a limit to the rights of groups. What happens when some groups practice human sacrifice or female genital mutilation? Minorities are certainly not homogeneous.

(o) Should a regional charter be signed by the nation-state or should it be treated as guidelines to be followed by them? Will it make sense to speak of a model national law than regional charter? Regional charter derives its inspiration from the European experience. Europe has a history of the formation of the charters including people’s charters. Is there a need to go beyond this and see if we can have a charter of freedom? And the European way may not be advisable.

(p) Sovereignty needs to be reinterpreted as responsibility that the States owe to their citizens. The draft charter is not a panacea but can be a mechanism for bettering the conditions of the minorities.

(q) SAARC can learn a lot from ASEAN in terms of inter-governmental approach.

(r) It must be noted that India is a nation of bewildering diversity. It can never be conceived as a nation in the classical European sense.

(s) In the present scenario only nations with diversity are possible. Thus the process of nation building cannot succeed without justice to all the sections of the people. The Muslims of India require three primary rights — economic, educational and political including security. Hence justice to all sections of the minority is required to make India a true working democracy.

(t)There’s a need to relocate areas of enquiry with a new focus on how the market and economy reproduce/sustain inequalities towards the minority.

(u) What we require are a much wider database, a little more candour and rules of objectivity. The entire preoccupation with the minority stems from a moral position. Hence as a methodology, while delving into minority issues objectivity is required. There is need for an ethnographic exploration of these dialogues taking place (or whether at all) in everyday life.  

The dialogue ended with a vote of thanks proposed by Samir Kumar Das. He particularly thanked the project partners and European Academy, Guenther Rautz and the distinguished participants.   


The ‘EURASIA-Net Final Conference on Trans Regional Platform and Joint Research Agenda on protection of Minority Rights’ organized by Calcutta Research Group on 18-20 march 2010 

CRG was responsible for organizing the final conference of the EURASIA-Net project at Rang Durbar, Swabhumi, Kolkata. The Conference was the final culminating point of the project. The key objectives were to bring out the outcomes of the project activities undertaken as part of the two year research programme and to work on the recommendations discussed during the course of the conference for implementation in future. The inaugural lecture was delivered by I.A. Rehman of Human Rights Commission, Pakistan, on the evening of 18 March and the conference came to an end with the valedictory lecture presented by Justice Rajinder Sachar which was also published in print media. The two and a half day workshop comprised several sessions, the report of which could be found in the report of the conference given below.  

Annexure 1 – Programme Schedule of the Conference

Annexure 2 – List of Participants

Annexure 3 - Final report of the workshop  click here