Published : Jan 04, 2008 00:00 IST

Humayun Kabir saw no conflict between his loyalty to his country and his concern for his community. - THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

Humayun Kabir saw no conflict between his loyalty to his country and his concern for his community. - THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

Had Humayun Kabirs voice been heard, nearly half a century ago, there would have been no need to set up the Sachar Committee.

Humayun Kabir saw

THE ideological motivation and the political spirit of this development in the advanced countries is concisely formulated by a distant observer, Prof. Humayun Kabir I am quoting the Indian philosopher and administrator Prof. Humayun Kabir who on many points has attained a more succinct formulation of some of our general experiences in north western Europe than most of our own writers, Gunnar Myrdal wrote in The International Economy (1956). Kabir showed early promise. A contemporary at Oxford, the journalist D.F. Karaba wrote But the power behind us all was Humayun Kabir one of the greatest products of modern Oxford I remember Kabir that night at the Majlis dinner. Seldom have I seen any one speak with such sincerity It was the soul of India that was pouring out of the mouth of Humayun Kabir the soul of the new India, my India, his India, the India of those like us, who are young and unafraid (I Go West, London; 1938).

Twenty years later as a member of Jawaharlal Nehrus Cabinet, Humayun Kabir took an initiative that exposes the rank dishonesty of those who describe the Sachar Committees Report and the Government of Indias efforts to implement its recommendations as appeasement of Muslims. Had Kabirs voice been heard, nearly half a century ago, there would have been no need to set up the Sachar Committee.

The hypocrisy of its critics is astounding. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had no qualms about addressing the All India Convention of Muslim Women organised by the Mahila Morcha of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on October 4, 1998. He had not even words of sympathy for Muslim women raped, widowed or orphaned in Gujarat in 2002, let alone help. On the contrary, soon after Narendra Modis pogrom, Vajpayee roundly blamed the Muslims at his infamous speech in Goa. The Statesma n noted, the next day, that the meeting [Vajpayees] could be described as the beginning of the BJPs attempt to woo the minorities in the wake of the forthcoming Assembly elections in Delhi. This, from a party that denounces vote banks.

But what Vajpayee told the audience was offensive to a degree. It was an elaborate profession of friendship with Pakistan. Why did he single out a Muslim audience for this claim? His tacit assumption was clear Muslims are pro-Pakistan. To secure their votes, he would pander to this sentiment. It is another matter that the assumption is false and libellous of Muslims. But it exposes the best and the brightest of the BJP as viciously communal.

There is, however, another aspect to this the Sarkari Musalman. None of the Muslim members of the P.V. Narasimha Rao Cabinet had the courage and decency to resign in protest at the demolition of the Babri Masjid, to which he was privy by conscious default. Arjun Singh spoke up before and after the crime. The Muslim members had nowhere else to go.

Therein lies the significance of Humayun Kabir, who was respected by Jawaharlal Nehru and was a confidant of Maulana Azad. He was highly educated. He did not live off politics. He saw no conflict between his loyalty to the country and his concern for his community. Even on sensitive issues such as Kashmir and relations with Pakistan, he put forth his own viewpoint.

High credit is due to Jawaharlal Nehru, who valued his independence and insights. How many Indian Cabinets since could have boasted of members of comparable quality? Two of his books deserve mention Minorities in a Democracy (1968), dedicated to Rajaji, to whom we owe so much; and Muslim Politics (1906-47) and Other Essays (1969), dedicated to Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Both were published by Firna K.L. Mukhopadhyay of Kolkata. But it is not only the sordid Sarkari Musalman but also the no less sordid parasitical leaders of the community whom Kabirs personality and endeavours expose as charlatans, particularly the ones who, for selfish reasons, pursued a confrontationist course and helped the Sangh Parivar foul the atmosphere. The Babri Masjid and the Shah Bano case revealed their intellectual and moral bankruptcy.

Unlike this lot, Kabir was cultured, erudite and, above all, honest. His record bears recalling today, especially in the context of the Sachar report.

Of all the institutions named in his memory, none offers Jawaharlal Nehru a greater and more fitting tribute than the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library at Teen Murti House in New Delhi. Among the papers in its custody are files containing the Humayun Kabir papers. The writer would like to pay a tribute to this fine institution and also to acknowledge a debt of gratitude for allowing access to the papers and furnishing copies of them. This article draws on that treasure.

Justice Rajinder Sachar

The context was the All India Congress Committees (AICCs) concern over the lot of the minorities. Its Minority Committee held two particularly important meetings on September 9 and 13, 1957. Kabir was one of its members. The question of inducting into the services an adequate number of qualified persons belonging to minority communities was discussed in detail, the minutes record. The committee suggested submission of returns by the Central and State governments as also public sector units showing the position (a) before independence, (b) after independence for every year up to 15.8.1957, and thence (c) for every quarter.

Home Minister G.B. Pant forwarded to Kabir, on January 10, 1958, an article by Syed Iqbal Ali Shah, a noted academic from Meerut, on Integration of Muslims in Indian body politic. The writer, Kabir noted, had only posed the problem without suggesting any measures for dealing with it. Kabir had by then taken up the matter with Nehru and Azad. In his reply to Pant, on January 29, he mentioned that they felt it was a matter which was primarily the concern of the Home Ministry. Kabir forwarded to him A Note on the Minorities Problem dated January 30, 1958, copies of which he sent to the Prime Minister and to the Congress president U.N. Dhebar.

He noted that a feeling had developed among some sections of the minorities that they are not getting an adequate share in services, trade and commerce and representative bodies at various levels. He recalled the deliberations of the AICCs Minorities Sub-Committee. There were problems in recruitment to higher posts by holding competitive examinations. But for a large number of appointments in the lower ranks of the Military, the Railways, the Police, the Postal Services and similar departments, appointments are made without any competitive examinations. There was the same sense of grievance in respect of industry, trade and commerce. Licence-permit raj held sway then. The minorities felt that they have not received their adequate share in the issue of such licences and permits in the last ten years. Nor had they been properly represented in the legislatures and, indeed, even within the Congress organisation.

The real solution was a long term one, namely education, which would improve the economic development of the minorities. Here, again, problems confront the minorities, especially in regard to admission to medical, engineering and other technical institutions. If necessary, seats in engineering, medical and technical colleges can be reserved for such minorities for a period of ten years so that without becoming a drag they can become effective and creative members of the nation.

He suggested inter alia annual returns showing the number of persons from among the minorities appointed in different categories of public services since Independence; similar returns with regard to permits and licences in industry, trade and commerce. The Central government as well as the Congress should keep under constant review the representation of the different minorities in the legislatures, in local bodies as well as in the Congress organisation.

Nehru wrote a letter to the Chief Ministers on this subject on March 26, 1958. (Letters to Chief Ministers 1947-1964; volume 5, 1958-1964; pages 34-37) It bears quotation in extenso because of its relevance to the present situation. Communalism held sway, he regretted. But he drew a distinction which is very relevant today with the BJPs espousal of Hindutva. We have also, let us be frank about it, communalism not only in the minority but very much so in the majority. The chief difference is that in the majority it puts on the garb of nationalism and democracy. But that is a false democracy (page 35; emphasis added throughout). No wonder the Sangh Parivar hates Nehru.The Prime Minister made concrete suggestions. I shall not refer here to many matters which affect the minorities. I want to lay stress on one particular aspect. This relates to services. In our present conditions in India, recruitment to the services plays a very important part in producing a sense of satisfaction or the reverse in the minds of the minority groups. I have sometimes called for figures of recruitment and these have been very unsatisfactory insofar as the minorities are concerned.

When I have asked for an explanation, I have been told that recruitment was made by examinations and it is nobodys fault if people did not pass the tests. That is not a good enough explanation. Firstly, there is a tendency for the minority group not to appear for these examinations in sufficient numbers because they imagine that things are weighted against them. Secondly, subjects and tests for the examinations also come in their way. For instance, in the Hindi-speaking areas especially, Hindi is a compulsory subject and the type of Hindi required is high-flown and difficult. Many people who know simple Hindi quite well cannot easily pass that difficult test. This applies often to Muslims in the Hindi-speaking areas. They know the Urdu version of Hindi and they learn Devanagari etc. and try hard to improve their knowledge of the language. But this is no easy matter after a certain age. The result often is that while they are quite good in other subjects, they fail in Hindi. This is unfair and bad for the minority as well as for the State which loses sometimes good people and gets secondraters.

Long ago, the Congress Working Committee, dealing with the question of all India public examinations, laid down a rule that while these examinations may in future be conducted in Hindi, English or the regional language, a compulsory paper on Hindi should not be included as this would obviously be unfair to the non-Hindi speaking people. After the person has passed the examinations, Hindi or any other regional language should be learnt and, if necessary, an examination could be held in it at a later stage. This was I think a fair provision.

Hindi, as used now, is becoming more and more an artificial language far removed from common speech. In our Parliament here questions are often answered in Hindi, drafted no doubt by bright young men fresh from the schools. Most Hindi-knowing people even do not understand these answers and there is frequently a hubbub in the House when these answers are read out. Something very radical has to be done about this if the growth of Hindi is not to be checked.

I would beg your attention to this question of recruitment for services. I would suggest to you to examine why the present methods come in the way of members of the minority communities appearing [for] these examinations or passing them. I know bright young men who have failed when persons not nearly as good as they are, have passed.

Then there is the question of recruitment to the Police, Army, the Railways, Postal Services and many minor services where no examinations are necessary. This requires particular attention because here it is easy for partiality to creep in.

At a convention

I would request you to have charts prepared showing how the system of recruiting for these various services by examination or otherwise is working. There might be quarterly charts and I would be grateful if you could send me these charts every three months. I have referred to the services because the state is directly concerned with them. But this applies in a different way to trade and industry and commerce, to our Corporations in the public sector.

On May 7, 1958, the Government of India sent a letter to the Chief Secretaries of all the States to provide information in an attached pro forma in respect of employment of members of the minority communities in each of the State services. So, the idea is nearly half a century old.Kabir prepared A Further Note on Minorities dated August 4, 1958, elaborating on the points made in the earlier note. The special measures must be self-liquidating over a number of years. They must not be perpetuated. He gave a good rule of the thumb for assessing backwardness any class which is not adequately represented in these [public] services is educationally and, therefore, also socially and economically backward. Hence, the need for statistics. The same rule applied to annual income-tax returns. When these surveys have been completed, communities which are under-represented in the services should be declared to be socially and educationally backward classes of citizens. In regard to States, the population figures of the State would be relevant.

In the case of State services, a community which is defined as backward in the above terms should be given similar protection by reserving a proportionate number of seats in the higher State services. At the Centre as well as in the States, reservation of seats should not last beyond a generation 25 years.

Simultaneously the long-term remedy improved educational facilities should be pursued. Kabir analysed the provisions of the Constitution, particularly Articles 15(4), 16(4) and 32(4), to establish that his suggestions were constitutionally valid. He also cited Articles 338 (3) and 340. This Note was sent to the Prime Minister as well as the Union Home Minister on August 6, 1958.

The AICC, however, set up a National Integration Committee of which, surprisingly, Kabir was not a member. Its report was published on May 23, 1961, with an Introduction by Congress president Indira Gandhi. It opined: No proportions can or should be fixed for minorities but it would be worthwhile to examine the present position and take steps to expand opportunities where expansion is justified a quaint phraseology for under-representation. It mentioned public services. The position seems to have deteriorated. Private enterprises could also help. There is no dearth of suitable candidates. It made an important assertion: Where the administration is efficient, rioting, loot and arson do not take place. Where there is a breach of peace, the responsibility for it should be fixed and appropriate action taken.

Unlike the Sarkari Musalmans and his counterpart, the communal parasitical Muslim leaders, Humayun Kabir also turned the search light inwards. In a letter to Nehru, dated July 8, 1963, he reported the proceedings at a meeting of 16 eminent Muslims at Vice-President Zakir Hussains house. They met to discuss reform of the Muslim personal law.

He wrote: Dr. Zakir Hussain and I explained that in view of the changed circumstances, it was inevitable that some modifications should be made in even personal law, but there was no and could not be any intention of going against any religious principle. The participants differed sharply. A majority agreed that a committee should be appointed with two terms of reference: (a) Collection of information about recent changes in Muslim Personal Law in other countries with their justification and (b) An enquiry into differences in Muslim Personal Law in different States of India.

No government would appoint such a committee. But there is nothing to prevent Muslim activists from appointing such a committee comprising not only lawyers but also activists and persons in various walks of life. An informed, documented report would go a long way to expose the bogus Muslim Personal Law Board. Muslims problems and grievances remain as they are. The calibre of Muslim politicians and of the discourse concerning Muslims have declined steeply.

The Sarkari Musalman and his partner, the parasitical communal leader, have personally prospered. But there is a ray of hope. Outside the political arena, Muslims are coming to the fore in various walks of endeavour. They are well educated, informed, articulate and assertive. With their healthy contempt for the Sarkaris and the parasites, they should be able to put both out of business.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment