Equal Opportunity could be on such idea which can work as anti-discrimination institution and look into the grievances of the deprived groups and their upliftment. There is no doubt that there is an urgent need to enhance diversity in living, educational and work spaces. Moreover, enhancement of diversity in different spaces/sectors should be viewed as a larger policy objective. The idea of EOC envisages for a new equality regime in India. The idea of EOC extends to ‘deprived groups’ in general, not just Muslims.
Although targeted programs based on religious identity are often seen as unconstitutional, especially by Hindu political forces, it does not seem a far-fetched idea in the context of Indian democracy, as caste, gender and region based affirmative action has been seen as constitutional. Along with these markers, religion is a fundamental identifier in the Indian society, and if it is empirically established that a particular religious community is lagging behind others, it is in the spirit of the constitution to uplift that community through affirmative action. Article 14 on right to equality, article 15 on access to education, and other such articles, dictate the government to ensure such basic amenities for all the communities (Shariff, 2016). If some communities are found to be lagging behind in these basic indicators, then it is incumbent upon the government to redress their problems urgently. The state has the right and the duty to identify the backward communities, and provide them with special treatment. This identification process cannot be arbitrary, and has to be empirical in nature, taking into account the pre-existing inequalities and the current trajectory over the last few decades. In this context, Muslims have been placed lowest in many key indicators of development, and hence have a right to affirmative action from the state. In fact, the Muslims have fallen below the SCs in many indicators (GoI, 2006), and as discussed above Dalit Muslims have not yet received identification (Hasan, 2009).
The evidence points towards systemic bias against Muslims within the Indian democratic framework. Providing equal opportunity and access to programs which reflects the population proportion of the community is the only way to achieve increasing equality. The Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) should be seen as a body which improves diversity of various sectors, and public bodies by becoming more inclusive, and at the same time, seeks to report and ‘eliminate the deficits’ in various indicators. Even though many government development programs are planned and funded properly, the access various communities have to these services and their decision making aspect is extremely limited. The SCs and STs have closed the gap thanks to reservations benefits and some affirmative policies. However, in all the crucial fields of education, employment and political empowerment, the Muslims have been visibly excluded in post-colonial India. It is based on this general fact of exclusion, that SCR recommended forming of EOC, which will ensure among other things, proportional representation of Muslims in various public sectors. This step has been necessitated as the traditional democratic institutions have failed to provide equal access and opportunity to Muslims over the last six decades. Most of the redressal mechanism have been ineffective. For instance, the bureaucracy has very few Muslims, and its chain of command is opaque to outsiders. The judiciary also has very few Muslims, and is generally beyond the reach of a lower class Muslim. Similarly, Human Rights Commissions, and other special purpose commissions, have acted as branches of the government, and not independent bodies which would check the government’s abuse of power. If all of these formal bodies have been ineffective in getting proportional representation to the Muslims, then it is incumbent upon the government to constitute an EOC with punitive powers.
On similar lines, EOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Office) has been successfully implemented in USA, where, based on the principle of equality of access, minority representation has been taken seriously. From the primary level, to the level of employment and political representation, the minority communities in USA are being brought into mainstream using an elaborate set of bodies, policies and initiatives. Similarly EHRC (Equal Human Rights Commission) has been constituted in UK for similar purposes. A study of the structure of these bodies will be fruitful to extract lessons suitable for the Indian political environment. EOC is meant to be a powerful body which seeks to help the government through monitoring, research, policy recommendations (which can or cannot be binding), and analysis of public offices as well as private markets with respect to the access which minorities have (Khaitan, 2008a). The jurisdiction of EOC must also extend to the public sector. Similarly, the EOC should have the power to encourage diversity among public and private bodies through perks and subsidies which will eventually force the employers in a competitive market to be more inclusive vis a vis the minorities. Any effective anti-discrimination measure has to focus on the most intractable of problems and cannot spread the protection so wide that implementation becomes impossible. The EOC must consider the concept of a “deprivation index” to be able to identify “deprived groups”, so that those groups/communities that are suffering because of systemic and widespread forms of discrimination and exclusion for so long are taken into consideration (Khaitan, 2008a