First published http://www.firstpost.com/politics/nacs-idea-of-minorities-is-irrelevant-and-dangerous-23975.html. To read unedited article see below.
The National Advisory Council headed by Sonia Gandhi has put in public domain a draft of a proposed legislation titled 'Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011. It appears to be an endeavor to prevent and punish communal violence in the country.
According to a key definition on the people who are presumably the focus of targeted violence, “group” means a religious or linguistic minority, in any state in the Union of India, or Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST)….”
The bill uses the word ‘minority’ as the basis for separating one group from another. However, the Indian Constitution does not define the word ‘minority’. The term minority is used in Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution. The circumstances and the environment today are very different from what existed sixty plus years ago when the constitution was written.
The composition of India’s population has substantially changed since 1950; the cumulative experiences since then make it imperative to revisit the meaning of the word Minority. Note that barring India nowhere in the world is a minority defined by religion.
According to the Supreme Court judgment of August 2005, “Minority as understood from the constitutional scheme signifies an identifiable group of people or a community who are seen as entitled to protection due to deprivation of its religious, cultural and educational rights by other ‘majority’ communities. Majority here refers to a group or community that is likely to gain political power in elections under a democratic form of Government”.
The minorities initially recognized were based on religion and at national level e.g. Muslims, Christians, Anglo-Indians and Parsis. Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains were not treated as national minorities at the time of framing the Constitution. In fact, throughout the Constitution they are treated as part of the wider Hindu community and continue to be governed by codified customary laws like Hindu Marriage Act etc.
Post independence, the underlying rationale for granting minorities special rights were: 1) Minorities deserved protection of their rights from the majority community i.e. the Hindus. 2) The Hindu community was a monolith which voted solely on religious lines (i.e. Hindu vs. non-Hindu). 3) Hindus would force non-Hindus to assimilate into Hindu culture.
It is imperative for a Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court to rethink who a Minority since these assumptions are flawed!
First, the Hindu society could only be a monolith if it were governed by the equivalent of a Church. It has numerous schools of thought which co-exist peacefully and believe there are many ways to the same ultimate goal.
Two, by its very nature Sanatan Dharma allows others to assimilate into its culture. Over the centuries it has absorbed numerous aspects of alien cultures and made some of them its own. India also gave refuge and untrammeled rights to communities that were persecuted in other countries such as Parsis, Jews and Syrian Christians.
Three, during the last sixty three years we have seen that the Hindu does not vote on religious lines but for e.g. on performance, ethnicity, caste and locality.
Four, the Constitution does not specify a population percentage beyond which a community ceases to be a minority. Muslims are app 15% of the India’s population and a majority in large pockets all over India. They are also in a majority in Jammu and Kashmir just as Christians are in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram and rule these states. In Kerala, Muslims and Christians are app 45% of the state’s population. The latter controls most educational institutions there. Today 49 of 72 MLAs of the United Democratic Front belong to the Minority group and the Chief Minister is Christian.
Therefore, the Minority group has political power and rules the state. This was not the situation when the Constitution was written. Today it is the so called Majority community in Kerala that requires special constitutional rights to protect its religion, culture and education. Ditto is the case in Jammu and Kashmir and many North Eastern states.
Since the Constitution provides special privileges to minority run educational institutions - OBC reservations of 27% are not applicable to them and UPA1 asked Banks to treat loans to them as priority sector lending there is clamor to be declared a Minority.
The state of Punjab has been ruled by a Sikh Chief Minister for years and Sikhs constitute 59% of the state’s population as per 2001 census. Yet the Supreme Court, in 2008, stayed a Punjab and Haryana High Court order which said that Sikhs were not a minority. Similarly, the Ramakrishna Mission petitioned the Courts that it be declared a minority. The Apex Court rejected its prayer in 1995.
The Government also provides special scholarships to Minorities but ignores economically backward Hindus. Obviously this divides the country along religious lines and causes anger against the so called minority groups that gets manifest in many ways.
In the United Kingdom division is based on skin, color and race. However, racial minorities have no special privileges. In the U.S. affirmative action, not reservations, is allowed for racial minorities but not for religious groups.
As human beings, the majority community is no different from the minority group. Therefore, they should also have equal ‘Constitutional and Human Rights’ to preserve their religion, culture and educational system.