Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Wednesday sections of minorities including Muslims had not shared the fruits of development in India and pledged to take measures to end "such inequities."
Addressing a Dalit-Minority International Conference in New Delhi, Manmohan Singh said some minorities, particularly the Jains and Sikhs, had fared relatively well in the process of social and economic development.
"However, other minorities, especially the Muslim community in certain parts of our country, have not had an equal share of the fruits of development," he said, reading out a prepared speech.
"It is incumbent upon any democratically elected government to redress such imbalances and eradicate such inequities. Our government is indeed committed to doing so."
And in an obvious reference to the opposition to the reservation of seats for the underprivileged in institutions of higher learning, he said it was incumbent upon the government to ensure that the growth process was not only equitable but also seen to be so.
"Even as absolute poverty may be reduced by growth, inequalities can get sharpened. This can be politically and socially destabilising. Hence, we have to take steps that reduce social and economic inequalities, without hurting the process of growth and without reducing the incentives for individual enterprise and creativity."
But he emphasised that administrative measures the government takes to develop the capabilities of such groups are not the end-all and be-all of positive action against social discrimination and disparities.
"We need a change in mindsets. This requires a wider, broad-based social, political and cultural movement against all forms of discrimination and injustice. The battle for social equality has to be waged and won in our minds.
"We have to recognise that even in a free society there are glass windows and glass ceilings. The first step in dealing with such problems is to recognise their existence.
"The second step is to come up with universally acceptable policies that are not viewed as a zero sum game, but as win-win solutions through which everyone is better off and no one is worse off."
Manmohan Singh also said that Dalits had faced "a unique discrimination" in Indian society that could be compared only with apartheid and that anti-Dalit attitudes had not gone away.
"Even after 60 years of constitutional and legal protection and support, there is still social discrimination against Dalits in many parts of our country. The political, social, cultural and intellectual battle against such discrimination must continue.
"Our government is deeply and sincerely committed to the equality of all sections of our society and will take all necessary steps to help in the social, educational and economic empowerment of Dalits."
Wednesday's meeting was organised by Steel Minister Ram Vilas Paswan and attended among others by former prime ministers VP Singh and Inder Kumar Gujral.
Speaking about minorities, Manmohan Singh said that their specific problems should ideally be dealt with based on certain universal principles.
"These principles, I believe, are defined by the idea of equality before law, the universal application of the rule of law, commitment to basic human rights, and the right of minority groups to protect, preserve and promote the values cherished by such groups."
He urged the conference to "pay more attention to finding solutions to a problem rather than merely harp on the problem."
The prime minister made a pointed reference to Narendra Jadhav of the Reserve Bank of India, saying his book "Outcaste" had deeply moved him. "It was a soul stirring account of empowerment and liberation."