There was a need to correct a sense of discrimination and ‘unconscious bias’ against Muslims in appointments or disbursal of loans, said Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, on Saturday.

Addressing a gathering of Muslims on the occasion of Milad-un-Nabi here, Mr. Chidambaram decried the tendency to brand those religions that came into India from outside as alien. Though four major religions had originated here, all religions practised by the people of the country should be deemed Indian. Islam, he pointed out, came to India when Prophet Muhammad was alive. Zoroastrians came here as displaced people and they contributed a lot to industrial development. No religion, even if it had come from outside, could be looked at as alien.

Not all the practitioners of a religion followed its tenets in a disciplined way and the aberrations of a few persons should not be extended to a community. The faults of a few people should not lead to faulting the religion per se, he said.

Maintaining that the country’s strength was its plurality, Mr. Chidambaram said the real challenge was in people belonging to different religion enjoying a peaceful coexistence, devoid of any confrontation. The economic imbalances now existing between communities could be set right by ensuring equal rights and equal opportunities. The Rajendra Sachar Commission, in its report, had referred to imbalances such as denial of loans (for Muslims) and low representation in government employment and the armed forces.

According to Mr. Chidambaram, the factors that lead to imbalances were of two kinds – internal and external. Some of the internal factors were absence of education, especially among women; girls getting married at a very young age and restrictions on their movement in public. The government would not interfere in religious practices and hence the society should find solutions for these internal factors. The external factors included discrimination and an ‘unconscious bias,’ which should be rectified.

The situation, Mr. Chidambaram said, had improved in the last three years. Lending (to the minorities) had come up from seven per cent to around 15 per cent during this period. But to set right all imbalances, there should be a change in the mindset.

Extremism, he said, was a threat to the country’s unity and integrity. India had no place for violence and the government was ready to hold talks with misguided youth if they gave up their violent path. He appealed to the Muslim leaders to guide the misguided youth back to the path of peace.

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