State’s anniversaries list: Muslims think only judiciary can help
In November 2015, the Maharashtra government’s General Administration Department released a list of 26 anniversaries that public offices have to observe in 2016.
Among the names in the list are Lokmanya Tilak; Shahu Maharaj, a Maratha king who started one of the first affirmative action programmes for oppressed castes in the early twentieth century; social reformer and poet Savitribai Phule; Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, and Jijau, Shivaji’s mother. Apart from the reformers, political leaders, historical figures and freedom fighters, the table mentions ‘Martyrs Day’ on March 23 and ‘Anti-terrorism Day’ — on May 21.
Other names include Vasantrao Naik — a new entry in the list — who was Maharashtra chief minister for more than a decade until 1975; Krantisinh Nana Patil, freedom fighter and a Member of Parliament from the Communist Party of India; and Valmiki, author of the Ramayana.
The notice also instructs government workers what to do on these days. While statues of Savitribai Phule have to be garlanded with flowers on January 3, her birthday, public officials have to read out the preamble to the Constitution of India on November 26, which is Constitution Day.
There are no instructions on what is to be done on Jijau’s birthday, but government officials have to take a pledge on May 21 to fight terrorism.
The list went unnoticed by citizens, until some Muslim groups found that there was nobody from their community in the latest list.
What disturbed them more was the fact that the name of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the country’s first education minister and a recipient of Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award, who was in the last list, is missing this time.
In 2015, his birthday on November 11 was observed as Education Day.
Muslims feel the list ignores the community’s contribution to nation building. Last week, a community group petitioned the Bombay high court.
They want the court to ask the government to create a new list that will be more representative of the communities that live in the state. The petitioners said the court is likely to announce the first date of hearing on Monday.
“It can be argued that the list means nothing to most people, but our worry is that this is part of a scheme to derecognise the social contributions made by Muslim leaders,” said Khalid Muttam of the All India Milli Council, one of the petitioners.
“If this continues, the next generation will think that Muslims have given nothing to this state or country.”
The petitioners said they were upset when they found that Azad’s name was taken off the list. “He was the country’s education minister when the Indian Institutes of Technology were set up. He opposed the country’s partition when other leaders like (Muhammad Ali) Jinnah wanted Pakistan,” added Muttam.
It is not clear how the annual list of anniversaries is created. Sarfaraz Arzu, a journalist and a petitioner in the case, said, “There is no transparency in the selection process (of the names). The government does not ask for suggestions and there is no prior announcement.”
Explaining why they decided to file a petition, Arzu said, “We think that remedy does not lie with political bosses; it is a constitutional issue, so we think we should get remedy from the judiciary.”
Apart from Azad, the community has suggested that the names of Maulana Hasrat Mohani, an Urdu poet and a freedom fighter; Dr APJ Abdul Kalam; Abdul Rahman Antulay, a Maharashtra chief minister who was also a central minister; and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, a freedom fighter and UP minister, can be considered for the list.
While it can be argued that Mohani and Kidwai were not associated with Maharashtra, the current list has names of leaders and historical figures who do not figure in the state’s history. “We find some undeserving names in the list,” said Arzu.