KOLKATA // India's largest Hindu fundamentalist group said it would launch a nationwide campaign to oppose a recommendation that 10 per cent of all government jobs should go to Muslims, with five per cent earmarked for other minorities. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) "rejects every line of this anti-constitutional, anti-national and anti-Hindu report. To appease minorities and to create a vote bank among them, the [Congress-led] government is planning to provide this reservation," Pravin Togadia, the international general secretary of the VHP, said this month.
Right-wing Hindu groups said that job and educational reservations for Muslims and Christians would cut into quotas for low-caste Hindus, which they claim would lead to social unrest. Last month, the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM), also known as the Ranganath Misra Commission, presented to parliament its recommendations for setting aside government jobs, educational institutions and social welfare schemes for minorities. Muslim and Christian groups across the country have since begun demanding that the recommendations be implemented immediately.
"Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs from Dalit origin are entitled to reservation [under existing laws], but Christians and Muslims from the same lineage are being denied it. It's sheer injustice," said Aziz Mubarki, the secretary of the South Asia Ulema Council. Since its independence from Britain in 1947, India has had a quota system for government jobs and benefits, but it has excluded Muslims and Christians. However, in 1949, the drafted constitution reserved 22.5 per cent of government positions and places in institutions of higher education for the 24 per cent of the country's population listed as low-caste Hindus and animist tribes.
By 1993, 49.5 per cent of government jobs were reserved for people from these groups, with 27 per cent of the positions apportioned only to Hindu groups termed as Other Backward Castes or OBCs. "Dalit Sikhs and Buddhists have been provided reservation because Sikhism and Buddhism are considered offshoots of the country's majority religion [Hinduism]. Islam and Christianity are considered 'foreign' religions and so a big part of poor Christians and nearly all Muslims continue to be denied reservation," Abdur Rouf, a Kolkata-based author and analyst of Muslim affairs, said.
In India, where they make up 13.5 per cent of the country's population, Muslims hold between two and three per cent of government jobs, according to official figures. Fixing the disparity, as the Mishra Commission report recommends, prompted the VHP spokesman Surendra Jain to say: "The reservation for minorities is possible only by reducing the present share of reservation provided to Hindu backward class [OBCs]. We shall not allow our quota to be shared by them.
"If the Mishra Commission report is accepted [by the government], the first consequence will be the development of dissatisfaction, class struggle. It may also lead to a civil war in the country - this report should be thrown into a dustbin," Mr Jain said. Balbir Punj, an MP with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, said the "Congress-sponsored religion-based reservation" would encourage low-caste Hindus to convert to Christianity and Islam.
If the Commission's recommendations are implemented, he said, "division between the majority Hindus and minorities would widen, and separatist forces will gain strength which could destabilise the country." While saying that such preference programmes are ostensibly unfair, Zafarul Islam Khan, the president of the Delhi-based All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, said blatant discrimination was the biggest hurdle Muslims in India were facing.
"When you see that some segments of the society, especially Muslims, are being consistently marginalised and deprived since independence ... there is no way to get even part of our share except through reservation according to our backwardness and deprivation index," said Mr Khan. "We only want our share of the national cake, nothing more." email@example.com