Days after National Commission for Minorities (NCM) member Sulekha Kumbhare said that the panel members would visit clash-hit Saharanpur, NCM chairman Gayorul Hasan Rizvi said the issue was not within the purview of the commission and so there was no question of such a visit. On May 31, Kumbhare had said: “All the team members will visit Saharanpur next week to assess ground realities. Justice should be ensured… But we need to check the factual position first.”
However, speaking to The Indian Express, Rizvi said, “What has the commission got to do with Saharanpur? Those were clashes between Dalits and Thakurs.” The cycle of violence in Saharanpur began on May 5, when a man was killed and 25 homes were set ablaze in Shabbirpur village. The clash began after Dalits objected to a procession of Thakurs to mark the birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap.
Sources in the commission said that Kumbhare made the statement at an impromptu press conference immediately after taking charge. Rizvi, who was in Lucknow at the time, was caught unawares and did not take kindly to it. His immediate fear, according to the sources, was that such arbitrary functioning in the commission could disrupt peace and inter-community amity. He said it was beyond the ambit of the NCM to get involved in caste clashes.
Kumbhare told The Indian Express, “The Saharanpur visit has been postponed. We are now busy with the farmers’ agitation in Maharashtra. We have sought a report from the district administration and will take a call based on that.” Asked about Rizvi’s statement that the NCM has no role in the Saharanpur caste clashes, she said: “Ask the chairman. I do not want to comment.” She added that the commission was not involved with farmers but she was in her personal capacity, as she is from the area. The former Maharashtra minister, sources said, has been asked to lie low for a while and not make suo motu comments.
Sources who have been associated with the NCM said that as an autonomous institution, it is up to the commission to decide which issue it wants to take up. However, the NCM Act clearly lays down which communities are under its purview.
“The commission can take a stand on such issues. It is autonomous. It cannot be told what not to take up. One has to leave it to their judgment, whether one agrees with it or not,” said former chairman Wajahat Habibullah.
Academic and former NCM member Zoya Hasan said, “It was ignorant on the part of the (former) Maharashtra minister. The chairman is right, the issue should be taken up by the SC Commission, which is just next door and has been lying so low that we have not heard of it in a long time. NCM is for religious minorities, as the NCM Act clearly states, and neither Thakurs nor Dalits qualify as such. Even if the commission had received a complaint, it would have had to send it to the SC Commission. The only way it could have been in the NCM’s purview is if Dalit Muslims or Christians were involved,” she said.