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In this second part of a wide-ranging interview with HT, minority affairs minister Najma Heptullah talks about policy-making and the Modi government’s approach to address stark disadvantages faced by some of India’s six religious minorities; such as discrimination, low literacy and high poverty levels. Heptullah said the NDA would address inequality by boosting delivery of welfare programmes, but ruled out affirmative-action tools, such as reservation. Edited excerpts:
There are certain dogmatic issues when it comes to minorities. The previous government brought out the Sachar report and promised reservation for Muslims.
First of all, reservation is not possible because of constitutional constraints. Secondly, we should strive for better education facilities so that they can compete in a globalised world. When I study the Sachar report and in my own study, I have observed our minorities are educationally backward, resulting in their social and educational backwardness. It has a cascading effect, which is doubly confirmed by the report. My focus is always education. I reject the ways in which the carrot has been shown to minorities all these years that you should have reservation in jobs. It won’t be possible because of the Constitution… so why do things you can’t do?
Any change in approach in the way these issue are addressed?
The tweak is (in ensuring) faster delivery and transparency. We will avoid state government’s constraints. Students don’t get the money when they need it. The other thing is… the BJP manifesto is very clear and comprehensive. It talks about preservation of traditional crafts and madrassa upgradation. I am very happy that the PM announced the Jan Dhan Yojana, more bank accounts will be opened so direct transfer of our schemes will be possible. I suggested to the FM (finance minister) on behalf of my ministry to include a scheme call Ustaad — upgradation of traditional arts and crafts. There are weavers in Moradabad, Saharanpur, Kashmiri shawls, in Murshidabad and Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. That’s why we called it Ustaad, which gives it dignity. We will also facilitate exports.
Muslims, India’s largest minority, claims widespread discrimination?
The feeling of discrimination among Muslims came because they were discriminated. The Prime Minister (Modi) says that their basic entitlements and rights have been denied in the last 60 years. The basic things are roti, kapda and makaan. If you don’t have these, you don’t have empowerment, so they don’t have access to education. But this not a ministry of Muslim affairs but for all six minorities.
Do you think the Sachar Committee report is an important document that reflects the conditions of Muslims?
The PM’s statement itself said Muslims generally are backward. It is not that Sachar has identified backward among Muslims alone. Aren’t there Hindu backwards among Hindus and upper caste also?