Vice President of India Inaugurates ‘Muslim Educational Conference’ in Mumbai

Following is the text of address by the Vice President of India, Shri M. Hamid Ansari at the inauguration of the “Muslim Educational Conference” organized by Maulana Azad Vichar Manch in Mumbai today :
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“I am happy to be here today to inaugurate the ‘Muslim Educational Conference’ organized by Maulana Azad Vichar Manch whose good work amongst Muslim youth in Maharashtra for raising awareness on issues of importance to the community, particularly relating to literacy, is noteworthy.

This conference is timely. Its relevance cannot be over-emphasised. Absence of literacy is denial of one of God Almighty’s gifts to mankind. This audience knows well that the first Message given to the Prophet of Islam was in the opening verses of Surat al-Alaq. It was simple and emphatic:

Iqra be ism-e rabbukal lazi khalaq

Khalaq-al-insaana min alaq

Iqra wa rabbukal akramu

Allazi allamu bil qalam

Allamal insaana ma lum yaalum

(Proclaim in the name of thy Lord who created man out of a mere clot of congealed blood. Proclaim! And thy Lord is most bountiful, Who taught the use of the Pen, taught man which he knew not). Furthermore, narrators have attributed to the Holy Prophet the remark: utlubul ilm lau kaana bis seen (seek knowledge, be it in China).

And yet, despite these emphatic injunctions, many Muslims and many Muslim communities have for long ignored the need to acquire education and through it knowledge and, as a result, deprived themselves of the good that emanates from education. Backwardness was a logical consequence.

There was a time in history when Muslim societies led the world in every form of knowledge. Then neglect set in. As a knowledgeable observer put it, “the modern period of Islamic history begins with decadence within and intrusion and menace from without.” The quest for knowledge was replaced by apologetics.

As a result and till about the middle of the 20th century the disease of illiteracy became pervasive in Muslim communities the world over. Then change set in. Introspection and self correction produced dramatic results in many Muslim societies to the east and west of India. High literacy levels in Indonesia and Malaysia on one side, and in Iran and Turkey on the other, show how determined action can produce excellent results.

On the other hand, a general reading of the educational landscape in regard to the Muslim community in India compels one to recall an old couplet:

Aghyar mehr o mah se bhi aage nikal gaye

Uljhe hue hain subh ke pehli kiran se hum.

This neglect has been costly. The Muslim segment of India’s population has lagged behind, is educationally backward, and because of it cannot avail of all the benefits that are available to fellow citizens.

This was known before the Sachar Committee and the Ranganath Mishra Committee reports. These reports have sanctified the ground reality with official data. They have also administered shock therapy and propelled introspection and corrective action by the community itself. It has also generated demand for affirmative action by the State.

II

A look at the official data available from Census 2001 reveals the dimensions of the problem:

· Muslims constitute 13.4 per cent of the total population as per 2001 census. This amounted to 138 million. On the basis of the 2011 census total of 1.21 billion, the Muslim segment would be around 156 to 160 million. Data shows that this segment lags behind others sections of our society in terms of economic, health and educational indices.

· The literacy rate amongst the Muslims in 2001 was 59.1%, compared to the national average of 64.8%. This gap was greatest in urban areas.

· In higher education, while 7% of the population aged 20 years and above were graduates or diploma-holders, the figure for Muslims was 4%.

· The worker population ratio for Muslims is 31.1% as opposed to the national average of 39.1%. The lower ratios are mainly due to much lower participation in economic activity by Muslim women. It is also impacted on by lower levels of educational qualification which precludes Muslim youth from entering the high paying organised sector.

· Rural areas with concentration of Muslim population are lagging behind in access to social and physical infrastructure such as schools, health centres, roads, housing, sewage and water supply. Access to bank credit is low and inadequate.

In addition, Muslim representation in central and state public services including police and armed forces remains low. The overall situation has been summed up succinctly by the 12th Plan document:

“While India has experienced accelerated growth and development in recent years, not all religious and social groups have shared equally the benefits of the growth process. Among these, the Muslims, the largest minority in the country, are lagging behind on all human development indices.”

The reason for this ‘lagging behind’ has been traced to a mix of inter-linked issues of equity, identity and security; a significant part can nevertheless be attributed to the educational backwardness of the community which leads to higher unemployment, rampant underemployment and confinement to traditional, low paying professions and under-representation in modern organised business sector.

Educational backwardness thus has a negative impact on the social attainment of the community and by implication on its role in decision-making.

Education, therefore, is the most important socio-economic challenge for the Muslim community; its deficit is the biggest impediment to its progress, prosperity and empowerment.

Pursuant to the Sachar and Ranganath Mishra reports a number of schemes for scholarships and for development of minority- concentration districts were included in the 11th Plan. Their implementation has been uneven; the beneficiaries of scholarships were limited in number and reports about the good done in identified districts are less categorical. The lessons learnt need to be translated into conceptual and procedural correctives.

The 12th Plan also recognises the importance of educational empowerment of the minorities, especially the Muslims, and aims at providing adequate resources and ensuring a more efficient and effective implementation of new and existing new schemes.

Here a question comes to mind. This relates to the ambit of Article 15(4) of the Constitution. It speaks of special provisions for the advancement of Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes as also for “any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens”.  This provision for affirmative action is inclusive, not exclusive, and can be extended to any class of citizens identified to be socially and educationally backward.

Once such identification has been undertaken, the quantum of corrective action has to relate to the actual extent of backwardness and cannot be discriminatory or symbolic. In doing so, we can draw upon our experience of six decades.

III

The time is ripe for invigorating the process. The high rate of admission at primary levels amongst the Muslims shows their intense desire to seek modern education. The lower percentages at other levels show that the community starts lagging behind from the secondary level onwards. The reason for this lies in economic incapacity.

Neighbourhood schools and schools up to middle level need to be set up in minority concentrated blocks, large villages and urban minority concentrated settlements for easy access and retention. Particular attention should be paid to vocational training centres and their employment potential.

The biggest catalyst for a positive transformation of society is the education of its women folk. We will have to focus on female literacy, both in the national context and in the case of the Muslim community.

In rural areas, schools for girls up to senior secondary level should be made mandatory to ensure that girls continue their education. There is also an urgent need for village level centres to lower the girls drop out rates as they start attaining adolescence. This will also have a positive impact on employment and income generation for the families. In many pursuits, educated and trained girls can work from home and generate income for the family.

As access to bank credit remains an issue for the minorities scholarships should target, in addition to primary levels, the secondary level band to ensure higher retention rates at that level.

Furthermore, tertiary level incentives, especially on scale of scholarships to those who qualify, should be appropriate and realistic.

The socio-economic amelioration of backward segments of the Muslim community is not merely a question of minority welfare. It is a national issue. India cannot emerge as a modern, developed nation-state without its largest minority being a part and parcel of the growth story and being fully integrated in the national mainstream in social, political and economic spheres.

It is my hope that over the next two days the Muslim Education Conference will provide a vibrant platform for discussions on the educational status of Muslims in India and come up with suggestions for consideration of the government as well as the civil society.

I thank the organisers for inviting me today. I wish the Conference all success.”

29 May 2013

UN vote on issues that make a difference

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The United Nations has invited citizens to vote on the issues that make the most difference to their lives.

This is one of the largest global surveys ever undertaken, providing real-time and real-world intelligence on what people think are biggest challenges.

The head of the UN system in India, Lise Grande, said that,  ‘’we need people to tell world leaders what they want. India is a global leader and when its people stand up for better healthcare, better education, decent work, pensions, sustainable energy for all, human rights and good governance, the world pays attention.’’

The ‘MY WORLD’ initiative is a way for Indians to shape the global development agenda. It’s an opportunity that’s too important to miss.

UNICEF representative to India Louis Georges Arsenault pointed out that the highlight of this survey is that it has given young people an opportunity to contribute meaningfully in shaping the global agenda.

Minar Pimple, regional director, Asia Pacific, UN Millennium Campaign, described the launch of the mobile survey as an important step towards making the process more participatory. Pimple said said that, ‘’given the deep penetration of the mobile phone in this country, we are hopeful that millions of people will cast their vote.’’

The initiative is supported by over 400 partner organisations globally and has received strategic support from Department for International Development (DFID). In India, the mobile platform is a partnership between the Web Foundation, technology provider Kirusa, service provider Loop Mobile, hosted by the civil society partner ‘Wada Na Todo Abhiyan.’

Through the initiative, people cast their ballots in favour of the six most preferred developments that would significantly alter their future.

Results from the ‘MY WORLD’ survey will be shared with the UN Secretary General, the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development. In India, the votes so far have indicated that the single largest transforming development would be ‘better education’, followed closely by ‘better job opportunities’ and ‘better healthcare.’

The survey can be taken online at http://www.myworld2015.org or by calling 0730-201-0000.

Kashmir Civil Society Group Concerned About J&K Prisoners

Srinagar: Kashmir Civil Society Group has expressed concern over the safety of prisoners of Jammu and Kashmir. The joint statement issued by Kashmir Civil Society Group after a two days consultation organized by Center for Dialogue and Reconciliation in Delhi states that the Group in the aftermath of the killings of Sarabjit Singh in Kot Lakhpat jail in Pakistan and Sanaullah Ranjay in Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu, feel deeply concerned about the safety and welfare of prisoners of Jammu and Kashmir, India and Pakistan languishing in various jails. The recent killings have yet again highlighted the deep hate and hostility between both the countries. It has also brought to fore the lacunas in the safety measures for the prisoners lodged in India and Pakistan.

“We urge the leadership of India and Pakistan to take bold political measures for providing adequate security for these prisoners and subsequently as a goodwill measure release all the prisoners who are languishing in jails for several years as under trials,” the statement reads.
The Group has urged Government of India to release all the political prisoners of Jammu and Kashmir so that the atmosphere of fear, denial of democratic space, hostilities and animosity is replaced by the atmosphere of genuine politics, freedom of expression and peace building. “It is incumbent upon the Indian government to allow the space for political processes in Jammu and Kashmir, which would create conducive and enabling conditions for the permanent resolution of Kashmir dispute.”

“We demand that Government of India should remove all the impediments for free travel of the people of Jammu and Kashmir within and outside Jammu and Kashmir. In this regard the increasing trend of attacking various leaders of Jammu and Kashmir in Delhi and other places is a matter of concern and government should take measures not only to ensure their safety but allow a space for articulating their political viewpoint in a peaceful manner,” the statement reads.

“We also demand that Government of Jammu and Kashmir should put an end to blatant use of Public Safety Act (PSA) under which number of innocents have been booked and put behind the bars. Government of India should also ensure safety of Kashmiri youth studying or staying outside the state and put an end to their harassment at the hands of various agencies.”

Source: Kashmir Watch

Civil society under attack around world

In December 2011, 159 governments and major international organisations recognised the central role of civil society in development and promised to create an ‘enabling’ operating environment for the non-profit sector. Despite the tall talk at the fourth high level forum on aid and development effectiveness in Busan, South Korea, NGOs, trade unions, faith based groups, social movements and community based organisations working to expose rights violations and corruption remain in a state of siege in many parts of the world.

Reports by UN officials and respected civil society organisations show that false prosecutions and murderous attacks on activists are rife and threatening to derail international development objectives even as we debate a new framework to replace the Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015.

In fact, moves are being championed by some governments to limit civil society participation at high-level meetings of the UN General Assembly through a process whereby states can issue politically motivated objections to the inclusion of particular NGOs in key discussions. Unfortunately, legal restrictions on free speech, formation of civic organisations and the right to protest peacefully appear to be on the rise despite the rhetoric of engaging civil society in global decision making forums.

Intrusive inspections

In many countries civil society groups are being prevented from accessing funding from international sources, as highlighted by the UN’s special expert on freedom of assembly and association in his latest report. In Russia, non-profit advocacy groups receiving international funding are being subjected to intrusive inspections to ensure compliance with a controversial law that requires NGOs to register under the highly offensive nomenclature of ‘foreign agents,’ or face sanctions.

A draft law currently pending in Bangladesh seeks to implement a cumbersome approval process for civil society organisations receiving foreign funding, in an attempt to discourage criticism of the government. Egypt is mulling over a new law that would allow intelligence and security agencies to exert control over independent civil society groups.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s most prolific blogger is serving an 18-year sentence for writing about the implications of the Arab Spring for his country. A respected Laotian activist is missing after he criticised state-sponsored displacement of local communities.

The situation is alarming in fragile and conflict-affected states. As the civil war rages on in Syria, a number of peaceful civil society activists and journalists are being imprisoned and persecuted in violation of international human rights law.

 Women’s rights activists challenging patriarchy and religious fundamentalism in Pakistan are gunned down with frightening regularity, while activists from Sri Lanka and Bahrain voicing concerns at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva often face reprisals upon return to their home countries. Even in so-called mature democracies, expressing dissent remains an activity fraught with negative consequences. A section of the environmental group Forest Ethics Canada decided to give up its charitable status, including tax advantages, in order to protect itself from intrusive inspections after being blamed by the conservative government of “obstructing” the country’s economic development.

Julian Assange, founder of the activist website WikiLeaks, continues to be hounded for his exposé of US diplomatic cables and, arguably, doing what most investigative journalists are expected to do.

As evidence from State of Civil Society Report 2013 shows, promises made in Busan about creating an ‘enabling’ environment for CSOs were ignored as soon as the proverbial ink had dried.

With discussions on the post 2015 development agenda well underway, influential civil society groups are urging the UN’s high level panel to explicitly recognise the centrality of an enabling environment for civil society in any new formulation of internationally agreed development goals. While politicians are currently preoccupied with kick-starting or maintaining economic growth, there is a real danger that civil society’s right and ability to engage decision makers in various forums will be further limited.

If global development goals are to succeed, civil society needs to be able to operate free from fear of reprisals for advancing legitimate if uncomfortable concerns. After all, civil society groups contribute substantially to development strategies and help find innovative solutions to complex developmental challenges.

More importantly, they help ensure the representation of a wide range of voices, in particular those of the vulnerable and marginalised in development debates. Perhaps this is why they are being persecuted.

Dalit Civil Society launches anti-touchability campaign

KATHMANDU, May 25: Dalit Civil Society (DCS) members on Friday launched a twelve-day national campaign against caste-based discriminations and untouchability.

Announcing different programs as part of the campaign in the capital on Friday, DCS members said that the campaign would once again exert pressure on the government to implement the decisions it announced after the country turned republican. Parliament had declared Nepal as untouchability-free Nepal on June 4, 2006 and free of discrimination. It had also announced special economic programs for education, healthcare and employment of the oppressed community living under the poverty line. Similarly the parliament also passed a bill — Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability (Offence and Punishment) Act, 2068 — on May 24, 2011 acknowledging the principle that everyone is equal in terms of rights and human dignity.

Addressing the campaign launching ceremony, Madhav Paudel, Minister for Information and Communications, said that there are strong constitutional and legal grounds against the practice of untouchability and other forms of discrimination. “But again untouchability has remained a national issue, and I can without hesitation say that the implementation aspect is pathetic.” He also assured to step up measures to make sure that the law is implemented. He urged the media to focus in its news production on ending caste-based discrimination and untouchability right from the root.

Political analyst Shyam Shrestha said that government and media must work hand in hand to end the problem. He said, “It´s a shame for the any nation to undergo the pathetic situation despite the important declaration and announcement made by the government.”

Former lawmaker Binod Pahadi said that it is necessary to empower the downtrodden people to institutionalize democracy in the country, but government appears oblivious. DCS is also organizing interactions with Nepal Police, National Human Rights Commission and and the chairman of the Interim Election Council, and hold a peace rally to mark the camapaign.

UN experts call for an end to caste-based discrimination in Asia

United Nations human rights experts are calling for more effort to protect an estimated 260 million people in South Asia who are victims of caste-based discrimination.

The experts say the victims, commonly referred to as the Dalits, are treated as “untouchables” and occupy the lowest levels of strict, hierarchical caste systems founded on notions of purity, pollution and inequality.

They face marginalization, social and economic exclusion, segregation in housing, limited access to basic services, and are subjected to working conditions  similar to slavery.

The UN experts say Dalit women and girls are particularly vulnerable and are exposed to multiple forms of discrimination, sexual violence and trafficking.

The experts are calling on states in South Asia to adopt legislation to prevent caste-based discrimination and violence and punish perpetrators of such crimes.

They are also calling for political leadership, targeted action and adequate resources to be devoted to resolving the long-standing problems, discrimination and exclusion faced by the Dalits.

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UN convenes meeting on role of technology and innovation for sustainable development

Senior United Nations officials, policymakers, civil society representatives and other stakeholders gathered today at UN Headquarters in New York for a special Economic and Social Council forum on mobilizing science, technology and innovation for sustainable development.

“Science, technology and innovation hold great potential as tools and enable to integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development,” said the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo.

“They can be used to promote health, increase productivity, improve the efficiency of resource use, and reduce negative human impacts on the environment. They will be critical to tackling some of the major sustainable development challenges of this century. These include providing food security to a growing population, eradicating poverty and tackling climate change.”

Attended by policymakers, key stakeholders and UN system representatives, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Integration Meeting seeks to follow-up on the commitments made by world leaders at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June last year.

That historic summit recognized ECOSOC’s role in achieving a balanced integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development, and adopted an outcome document, The Future We Want. Following the Conference, ECOSOC held a Ministerial meeting in September, where participants discussed how to strengthen the multilateral system for sustainable development.

Mr. Wu underlined that ensuring food security and universal access to sustainable energy are “complex challenges” that “must be addressed in an integrated way.”

“Some of the technological solutions are simple, as with clean cook stoves. However, social and economic barriers to their broader diffusion can be complex,” he said. “Innovation extends beyond developing hardware, to finding solutions, to the broad social acceptance and economic affordability of improved technologies.

In his opening remarks, Deputy-Secretary General Jan Eliasson stressed the importance of Council in promoting balanced integration of different dimensions to sustainable development in the UN system, and called for cooperation to achieve not just sustainable development objectives but also the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Agreed on by world leaders at a UN summit in 2000, the eight MDGs set specific targets on poverty alleviation, education, gender equality, child and maternal health, environmental stability, HIV/AIDS reduction, and the creation of a ‘Global Partnership for Development – all by a deadline of 2015.

“The world is counting on the UN to deliver, to be a catalytic force and to set the direction for the road ahead,” he said. “This means that we have to work with the Millennium Development Goals not yet achieved and at the same time, look beyond 2015 and the new sustainable development agenda.”

ECOSOC President Néstor Osorio said the meeting would identify potential policy changes, facilitate a multi-stakeholder dialogue, develop a clear understanding of how science, technology and innovation relates to sustainable development, and identify new policies at local, national and international levels.