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Sardar Patel in Constituent Assembly – On Conversions and Minority Rights

Author: Niticentral Staff
Publication: Niticentral.com
Date: January 11, 2015
URL: http://www.niticentral.com/2015/01/11/sardar-patel-constituent-assembly-conversions-minority-rights-295693.html

Union Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptullah and Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan suggest that the existing laws regarding conversion are sufficient while the government is advocating an anti-conversion law. The debates regarding religious freedom and minority protections were also part of Constituent Assembly debates of 1947.

Some selected extracts below from the Constituent Assembly debates when Fundamental Rights were being debated in the context of Religious Freedoms and Minority Protections.

The Constituent Assembly debated religious freedoms and minority protections on several occasions while our Constitution was being drafted.

Sardar Patel who is credited with the integration of the princely states into the Indian Republic had made some interesting interventions during these debates speaking both candidly and forcefully.

Sardar Patel argued against communally separate electorates while standing up for the principle of Merit over religion based quotas.

Sir, on behalf of the Advisory Committee I beg leave to place this Report on Minority Rights before the House. It has been drafted after considering the report of the Minority Committee and after considering all the points raised with regard to the safeguards for different minorities in this country.

Sardar Patel was to the point when he talked about how most of the wishes of minorities had been met with and differences among the minorities themselves had not been used to take advantage of.

It may be that there are some who are not satisfied on some points, but we have to take into consideration all points of view and feelings and sentiments of the minorities, big and small. We have tried as far as possible to meet the wishes of all the minorities. The minorities among themselves are also divided; there are conflicting interests among them. We have not tried to take advantage of these differences among the minorities themselves; we have tried to see that the minorities also instead of being divided among themselves try to present a united front in order-to safeguard their interests. But there are certain points on which the minorities cannot be united because there are minorities within minorities. So it is a difficult proposition. We have tried to solve this difficult problem without any bitterness and without any controversy which would create any ill-feeling or hitch…….

Sardar Patel also shared his views on joint versus separate electorates for the minorities as he countered forcefully arguments made in favour of separate electorates by some members.

You will remember that we. Passed the Fundamental Rights Committee’s Report which was sent by the Advisory Committee; the major part of those rights has been disposed, of and accepted by this House. They cover a very wide range of the rights of minorities which give them ample protection; and yet there are certain political safeguards which have got to be specifically considered. An attempt has been made in this report to enumerate those safeguards which are matters of common knowledge, such as representation in legislatures, that is, joint versus separate electorates. This is the question which has raised controversy for almost a decade and we have suffered and paid heavily for it. But fortunately we have been able to deal with this question in such a manner that there has been unanimity on the point that there should be no more separate electorates and we should have joint electorates hereafter. So that is a great gain.

Sardar Patel was in favour of filling up posts by merit and had said that if we are to depart from this, the general administration would suffer immensely.

Then comes representation in the services. The general standard that we have accepted is that ordinarily competitive posts must go by merit and if we are to depart from this, the general administration would suffer immensely. It is well-known that since this departure has been introduced in the matter of services our administration has suffered considerably. Now that we begin a fresh, we must see that where we have to fill some administrative posts of a higher level, these posts have to be filled by competition, i.e. by competitive examination and competitive tests. We have made some concessions in the matter of certain communities. which require a little help.

On the 30th of August 1947 Constituent Assembly of India discussed on Clause 17 “Conversion from one religion to another brought about by coercion or undue influence shall not be recognised by law”.

During the debate Sardar Patel defended existing legal provisions against Forcible Conversions while arguing against the need to incorporate them as a fundamental right.

The Committee discussed this and there were several other suggestions made by the House and the clause was referred back to the Committee. After further consideration of this clause, which enunciates an obvious principle, the Committee came to the conclusion that it is not necessary to include this as a fundamental right. It is illegal under the present law and it cm be illegal at any time.

During the debate it was brought to the notice that all sorts of efforts were being made to increase the population of a particular section in India and the fear was expressed that efforts may be made in future to further divide the country.

It was then then Sardar Patel had replied that,

Much of this debate may be shortened if it be recognised that there Is no difference of opinion on the merits of the case that – forcible conversion should not be or cannot be recognised by law.

on that principle there is no difference of opinion.

The question is only whether this clause is necessary in the list of fundamental rights.

Now, if it is an objective for the administration to act, it has a place in the Second Part which consists of non-justiciable rights.

If you think it is necessary, let us transfer it to the Second Part of the Schedule because it is admitted that in the law of the land forcible conversion is illegal.

We have even stopped forcible education and, we do not for a moment suggest that forcible conversion of one by another from one religion to another will be recognised. But suppose one thousand people are converted, that is not recognised. Will you go to a court of law and ask it not to recognise it ? it only creates complications, it gives no remedy. But if you want this principle to be enunciated as a seventh clause, coming after clause 6, in the Second Schedule, it is unnecessary to carry on any debate; you can do so. There is no difference of opinion on the merits of the case. But at this stage to talk of forcible conversion on merits is absurd, because there cannot be any question about it.

A reading of these interventions suggests that while Patel and Nehru were on the same page at that time, Patel’s views are distinctly different from what has come to be practised by the Congress Party as “Secularism” over the past few decades.
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