Hyder Mohammad Khan, MD, PhD
US India policy Institute (USIPI) was incorporated in Washington DC as a tax-exempt Think Tank in 2011(*1). It is a community supported Institute. Human development research has been its focus. It fills a void in the area of non-governmental activities devoted to issues of India’s poor and marginalized communities, including Muslims.
Think Tanks play a significant role in producing evidence-based research that generates new ideas and out of the box solutions to problems. Their goal is to influence policies that lead to human welfare. Think Tanks also train new talent that finds its way into policymaking bodies of the state.
As regards the issues and problems of India’s poor and vulnerable communities, one finds very successful efforts in the areas of relief and rehabilitation in response to man-made or natural disasters. But there is a near total absence of any organization devoted to strategic thinking and research on identifying the causes of worsening socioeconomic condition of some groups and developing policy options that can bring about systemic transformation in their plight.
During the last decade a whopping 271 million people in India were lifted out of poverty. This was achieved through policy interventions by the government using the massive resources at its disposal. Obviously, no charity organization can match that. It is ironic, however, that in the backdrop of this illustrious achievement, poverty in India is now more concentrated among certain socio-religious groups. A large part of them are India’s Muslims and Dalits.
USIPI was launched with the precise goal of addressing this issue. Dr. Abusaleh Shariff, a prominent economist, became its Chief Scholar and guide.
USIPI has published a dozen papers, published one book and has influenced policies at the state and central government level that led to massive benefits to the community.
Dr. Amitabh Kundu Committee appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh received data and analysis support from USIPI. The Committee’s findings were the basis of 142 percent increase in Central government’s budget for minorities in 2016 (*2).
In the state of Telangana, data support by Dr. Shariff, our Chief scholar, as well as Drs. Abdul Shaban and Amirulla Khan, provided the basis for Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) recommending reservations for Muslims. Furthermore, establishment of two hundred minority residential schools by KCR, providing free room, board and education, was the result of our scholars’ research-based policy recommendation. An estimated sixty thousand students from families subsisting below the poverty line are the beneficiaries.
In the state of Karnataka, former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah accepted USIPI research report on establishing an Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) in the state and referred it to the Law Ministry for review (*3). Change in government, however, has for now consigned it to cold storage.
USIPI’s analysis on the issue of Triple Talaq was used as evidence in the Indian Supreme Court (*4).
USIPI, partnering with the Center for Research and Debate in Development Policy (CRDDP) and Ray Labs, two India based non-governmental organizations, galvanized the issue of eligible voters missing from electoral rolls, Muslims being disproportionately a large number of them (*5). This led to millions of them registering and voting in 2018 elections.
Three projects USIPI is currently focusing on are: National Register of Citizens (NRC), Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) and Capacity Building for USIPI.
NRC in independent India was first done in 1951. Those listed in NRC are citizens. Census, in contrast, counts every person living in the country, both citizens and non-citizens, including illegal aliens. Last census were conducted in India in 2011. Next census will be conducted in 2021.
NRC was carried out in Assam to comply with Assam Accord of 1985 to identify and expel illegal migrants from the state. Bordering with Bangladesh, it was assumed that a large number had illegally migrated from there and settled in Assam. Ultimately, this year, 1.9 million were declared non-citizens and may be placed in detention camps.
The Home Minister of India, Mr. Amit Shah, has announced that NRC will be implemented throughout the country (*6). But before nationwide NRC, he has promised approval of Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB). The CAB stipulates grant of citizenship to all migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, except Muslims. And therein lies the proverbial fly in the ointment.
Once the government announces the NRC, those absent from it bear the responsibility to prove they, or their ancestors, were citizens of India. Millions of poor and illiterate people will be unable to provide any documentary evidence and will be declared non-citizens, notwithstanding their presence in India for generations. Such indeed is the case with many in Assam. If approved, all non-Muslims will be protected through CAB. Only Muslims will become the target of this onerous policy.
USIPI is gathering and analyzing 2011 census data on non-citizens living in India. Preliminary analysis for one state has confirmed seventy thousand
non-citizens in a population of 61 million. Most of the non-citizens were legally residing in India.
The USIPI will also examine the legal and constitutional validity of NRC and CAB, as well as its legitimacy according to international treaty obligations and Declaration of Universal Human Rights.
2. Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF)
USIPI has partnered with DEF (*7) to establish eleven digital centers in rural areas of Jharkhand, UP, Rajasthan, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh with significant minority population. USIPI hopes to add ten new centers every year.
DEF has already established 600 centers and targets opening 3000 in next few years.
By providing digital infrastructure in remote villages, digital centers facilitate access to information, digital literacy, government rations, scholarships, pensions for aged and infirm, tele-healthcare , markets for local artisans far beyond their borders etc. During the last twenty years these centers have made a positive impact on the lives of 7.5 million rural poor!
USIPI will use data on economic measures from digital centers in its Human Development research.
3. Capacity Building.
Today, USIPI enjoys respect and recognition in academic and policy circles of India. It’s potential to influence policies and public opinion, however, can be magnified manifold.
USIPI plans to engage subject matter specialists/academics in a range of social sciences that can dwell on the ways to improve the life of the poor and marginalized in India. Affiliation with University professors will make it more likely for USIPI to successfully tap into research grants, attract and train new talent to work on issues that matter to us.
USIPI is in discussions on two new initiatives. One, the publication of a quarterly journal of minority affairs. Two, short course offerings on poverty alleviation and human development for students from US and abroad.