Report on Gujarat

Print edition : October 10, 1998

THE National Minority Commission (NMC), which had sent a team to tour Gujarat from August 10 to 12 following incidents of violence against minorities, has submitted its findings and recommendations to the State Government. The team, led by Dr. James Massey, studied three recent incidents: the exhumation of a corpse from a cemetery in Kapadwanj, the burning of copies of the Bible in a school in Rajkot, and the harassment of Muslims at Randikpur village following some inter-religious marriages.

The team found that there had been instances of violation of the constitutional provisions relating to fundamental rights and fundamental duties, and in some cases violations that would attract Sections 295-298 of the Indian Penal Code concerning offences relating to religion. In an apparent reference to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's (VHP) move to restrict the freedom of Hindu women who wished to marry Muslims, the Commission said that there was an infringement of the basic human right to choose a life partner of one's own choice, which citizens were entitled to under Indian laws. "These events have seriously wounded the religious sentiments of the minorities and caused fear, dismay and disillusionment with the nation's secular and egalitarian traditions," the Commission observed.

The Commission made 10 statutory recommendations to restore communal amity in the State. It urged the Government to disapprove publicly the recent incidents, which offended religious sensitivities, and to affirm its commitment to the protection of human rights. It asked the Government to order time-bound investigations into the three incidents by the highest government agencies. It suggested the transfer of police and administrative officials in the places concerned to ensure that the inquiry is impartial and the guilty are punished. A non-political meeting to bring together representatives of all communities has also been suggested.

In particular, the Commission has suggested that the State Government curb the campaign against certain communities and their religious practices, carried on through pamphlets, leaflets, periodicals and false or exaggerated media reports. The Commission wants the Government to restore the decision to elevate the Gujarat Minorities Board to the status of a corporation so as to make it more powerful and effective in promoting the socio-economic development of minorities. It also proposed that Gujarat follow the pattern of Andhra Pradesh, Assam and West Bengal and set up a special department to tackle problems relating to minorities.

The State Government is expected to table the recommendations before the Assembly "along with a memorandum explaining the action taken or proposed to be taken" on them.

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