The former judge, who was appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005 to head a committee to study the social, economic and educational status of Muslims, said because Muslims are part and parcel of India, if members of the community today lag behind the rest of the people in India, then logically the country would lag behind, too.
"The main focus of his brief address was on the importance of providing educational access to all those who are lagging behind so they can come forward and be at par with other communities in India," Ali Quraishi, president-elect, AFMI, US, told Rediff India Abroad.
Justice Sachar, who was honored by AFMI with its Pride of India award, got a standing ovation at least twice as he addressed a 300-strong audience. Bollywood actor Kader Khan, who also addressed the audience, said Indian Americans have more concerns with issues in India than Indians living in the country itself.
Like Justice Sachar, Khan also pleaded for the eradication of poverty among Muslims as well as other communities, and the only way to do it, he said, is to spread education and literacy among all.
Later speaking to Rediff India Abroad Justice Sachar said members of the audience hailed his recommendations for the betterment of the community. "Their obvious question was whether our recommendations would be implemented by the government or not given that committees come and go in India, and I told them that going by the announcements coming from India and the discussions in Parliament they should have reasons to feel optimistic," he said.
The judge felt he has no reason to doubt the government. "After all they were not under any compulsion to appoint any committee. The prime minister went public after the report was handed saying that the government would implement it and they have constituted a nodal ministry of minority affairs in India," he said.
"Frankly speaking, we have done our job and given the recommendations to the government. Now what the government would do with it is its business," Justice Sachar said.
Asked to comment on the Communist parties's view that the follow-up action report has not listed comprehensive steps to improve the conditions of the Muslim community, he said they should look at places like West Bengal or Bihar. "People who do the least shout the most," he quipped. "I hope the Communist parties pay more attention to West Bengal," he said.
In response to another question Justice Sachar denied that the data used in the report were manipulated in favor of the Muslims. "In fact, most of the data were drawn from the National Sample Survey Organisation. Therefore, these kind of charges are baseless," he said.
The former chief justice of the Delhi
Asked to comment on the issue of Muslims' representation in the armed forces that led to accusations that the Sachar committee was being divisive, he said those kinds of arguments were "really stupid."
He said the committee did ask for information about Muslims representation from the armed forces because that is a public service and one of the terms of reference of the committee was to find out the share of Muslims in public service.
"But when I asked for data from the armed forces there was a big furor in Parliament with parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party charging we were trying to divide the country along religious lines. That was really uncalled for," he said.
Justice Sachar said the BJP's arguments were that the armed forces are a national service and one of the secular ones in the country. "But I think that is a very stupid argument. Are not the all India services like the Railways and banks and others supposed to be secular? We were able to find out the Muslim representation in services like the Indian Administrative Service or the Indian Police Service without controversy. So, were they suggesting that secretaries and joint secretaries are less secular than those in the armed forces?" he asked.
"If collecting data and figures about secretaries does not destroy the country, then how can collecting data about the armed forces destroy the country?" he asked.
But Justice Sachar conceded that people in any country are always very touchy about the armed forces. "And this is true for the United States as well."
He rejected the possibility that India had failed the Muslims in the past 60 years.
"I think you are putting it too strongly. The situation that we have today is because of so many factors like the Partition of India, the states where they had settled, etc. But I do not think there has been a deliberate attempt by the government to discriminate (against the Muslims). Their percentage may be low in the services for various reasons but it may surprise you that the percentage of Hindus and Muslims selected by the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission, which conducts competitive examinations for the civil services) or top management schools in India are almost the same," he said.
"That is why we recommended more educational facilities for the community in states where there are higher concentration of Muslims. We also said there should be diversity in educational institutions and that the government should give grants to schools and colleges that encourages diversity. After all, lack of diversity often causes so many problems," he said.