Dr Shahid Akhtar, who was appointed the chairperson of Jharkhand state minority commission on January 9, 2013, had to face many challenges to make people aware of the commission. It deals with religious and linguistic minorities. A young and dynamic Akhtar talks to Kelly Kislaya about the challenges he faced since he joined, his work and plans.
What was the condition of the commission when you joined as the chairperson?
Before me there were three other chairpersons since the commission was constituted in 2001. But when I joined, the commission was almost defunct. There was a lot of communication gap between the commission and common man. Not many knew about the commission and its functions.
What did you do for the promotion and recognition of the commission?
The first thing I did was construct a website named http://www.jsmc.in. The next step was to establish a helpline number where people can call to complain about their grievances.
What are the common complaints you get on the helpline number?
Most of the complaints are against education institutions for not giving scholarships. Another common complaint is against the banks for not sanctioning loans to the minority communities. The problem is solved once we contact the institute or the bank.
What do you think is most important for the betterment of minorities?
I think education is the most important thing. Under right to education, there should be a school within a range of one kilometre from a locality where minorities dwell. If you look at Muslim colonies, there is not a single school in these localities. Among Muslims, 25% children do not take admission in schools and 25% drop out by the time they reach Class X. Also, you will notice that most of the child labourers belong to the minority communities.
Many a times the minority community children do not even come to know of the variousscholarship programmes of the government which are made only for them. What are you doing to spread the awareness about such programmes?
Yes, it is true. In fact, last year there was a quota of one lakh five thousand minority community students for the pre-matriculation scholarships. Only 65,000 applications were received and the officers who were in charge for giving scholarships rejected 20,000 forms. We have made sure that this time onwards transparency is maintained in the system and the applicant gets to know the reason for rejection. Also, we have hired NGOs who will organize workshops and seminars at every school in the state and inform students about the various schemes for the minority communities.
What are your plans for betterment of the minorities?
My focus is mainly on education. The central government has planned to establish six universities across the country for minority community children. I am trying to see that Jharkhand is one of the states where a university gets established. We will also try to upgrade the existing minority institutions in the state and make sure that they provide free education to 10% of the minority children. Also, I will try to establish minority women’s college and girls’ school at the district level.