To protect India's minorities

India is well-known for its nonviolent philosophy. But the history of the past 33 years of independent India demonstrates that nonviolence, peace, and toleration are words with little or no meaning so far as the minorities, especially the Muslims, are concerned.

Almost every year a new wave of violence rises against the Muslims, taking a heavy toll of lives and property. According to a report published by the Home Ministry of India, there were 300 "serious communal riots" during the decade 1960-1969. The latest example is the series of anti-Muslim riots which started at Moradabed (100 miles east of Delhi in Uttar Pradesh) on the Eid day (August 13, 1980), a day of thanksgiving and prayer as sacred and important to the Muslims as Christmas is to the Christians. The technique employed was to unleash a number of pigs into the Eidgah (congregational prayer-ground for Eid). Muslims all over the world consider the pig an unclean animal, so the immediate Muslim reaction at Moradabad was to try to stone away the pigs from the prayer-ground.

This action was presumably interpreted as an attempted Muslim attack on the Hindu community. False alarms were raised, and the police, almost 100 percent Hindu, responded by opening fire on the crowd of 15,000 praying Muslims. About 150 persons lost their lives. The event caused sympathetic rioting in other cities. Aligarch claimed 50 more lives, mostly Muslims. Since then, the trouble has spread to other cities and towns but little news filters out of the total censorship that has been clamped on the country.

The measures taken by the government to eradicate communal violence are well-meaning but wholly inadequate. If democracy has any meaning, it must provide at least two things: majority rule and protection of minority rights. Majority rule by itself does not constitute democracy. Therefore, Indian democracy is and will remain imperfect until it is able to provide the second ingredient along with the first.

Ill-treatment of an important minority like the Indian Muslims cannot be kept a secret for long. There is a new awakening among the Muslim nations all over the world, and it would be in India's own interest to read the handwriting on the wall and to avoid creating unnecessary tension in an increasingly interdependent world.

Here are a few broad guidelines for solving the communal problem of India.

* It should be accorded the highest priority and form part of the prime minister's own responsibility. Lesser officials are likely to sidetrack the real problem and scatter and waste the public resources.

* It should be studied in depth by a powerful commission chaired by the chief justice of India and composed of acknowledged representatives of all communities in India. The commission should be required to submit recommendations covering every aspect of Indian social life that affects intercommunal relations. For instance, some of the major recommendations might include: new educational orientation of India's children; writing of balanced history; codes of conduct for journalists and political leaders; and conscious introduction of internationalism into the Indian politics.

* Based on the commission's recommendations, there should be a comprehensive law and a long-term plan for bringing complete communal harmony in India, say, within a generation. The plan might include such things as: increasing minority representation in the law-and-order forces; preparation and enforcement of strict rules of police behavior in tense communal situations; provision of means for monitoring police action in riots; provision for imposition of exemplary punishment including collective fines on areas found indulging in violence, etc.

* At the political level, there should be a rule requiring each aspirant for political office to gain a reasonable percentage of the minority vote before he or she can be declared duly elected. This is not a suggestion to introduce separate electorates or anything of that sort. The suggestion is simply to ensure that a person who claims to represent allm the people really does so.

* at the local level, the municipal and district board authorities should be encouraged to hold officialm intercommunal functions. For instance, on the occasion of Holi and Diwali, all the people, irrespective of their faith, should be invited to an official function. Similarly, all the people, regardless of religion, should be encouraged to attend official functions organized on the occasion of the two Eids and Christmas. Once this practice starts, it is likely to reduce tensions and improve the intercommunal atmosphere.

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