The Definition of the term ‘minority’ is founded on a flawed notion dictated by a blinkered vision of modern secularism. Time to redefine
One of the most debated concepts in modernity India is secularism, which has got enormous powers to deconstruct, review, and replace the traditional practices irrespective of its claim in the ancient past. This is because the intellectuals who flourished in this land almost throughout the 20th Century, assumed scientific view as intrinsic feature of secularism. Hence it was considered sacrosanct. However, in the past seven decades, it [secularism] has created and popularized some practices that are non-scientific and arbitrary in nature.
For instance, the concept of minority and majority in the political and economic realm has come under the scrutiny of the Apex Court in the country. “Proceedure for identification of minorities in India is completely arbitrary, illogical and violates the basic principles of the Constitution. It is not based on any scientific principles but was arbitrarily used in the form of a dictate by the executive in 1992, apparently to satisfy the vested interests of the ruling dispensation of that time. Even today there are no objective or scientific criteria for identification of minorities in this country, while the majority enjoys the rights of minority in several states. As a result, an insignificant minority in some states has been left to suffer exploitation for no fault of theirs. They suffer due to the conventional idea of secularism based on several non-scientific concepts and dogmatic theories,” said Ashwani Upadhayaya, a lawyer in the Supreme Court of India. Upadhyaya has challenged the dogmas some of the minorities have had to suffer for no fault of theirs. And these dogs were considered sacrosanct in the 20th Century and are still religiously followed by the minority institutions of India without any scientific reason. The rationality of Upadhyaya’s view is reinforced by the inability of National Commission for Minorities (NCM), an institution; to submit a scientific rejoinder on allegations of arbitrariness adopted in identifying or defining minorities in the country. This has given rise to suspicion of the existence of dogma beliefs that dictate Indian secularism.
In its order on February 11, 2019, the Supreme Court had asked the NCM to decide within 3 months on demands for inclusion of the Hindus in the list of minorities in States, where they are less in number. As per a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) Hindus are a minority in at least 8 states: Lakshdweep (2.5%), Mizoram (2.75%), Nagaland (8.75%), Meghalaya (11%), Jammu and Kashmir (28%), Arunachal Pradesh (29%), Manipur (31%), and Punjab (38.40%).
Once Minority, Always Minority
According to NCM, the 96.20% of Muslims in Lakshdweep are ‘minorities’. The Commission is responsible for the protection of their constitutional rights and delivery of welfare schemes but the less than 2% ‘majority’ Hindus have no right. In 1991, Kashmir’s majority Muslims subjected the minority Hindus to inhuman tyranny and persecution in the Kashmir valley that caused the mass exodus Kashmiri pundits. The entire state machinery has been a mute spectator. apparently because the 90% Muslims are registered as ‘minority,’ while the minority victims were registered as Hindus. The Muslims in Kashmir valley is around 98% but under India’s modern secularism the insignificant ‘majority’ Hindus have been entrusted with the ‘social and moral responsibility’ to protect the 98% ‘minority’ Muslims.
- “The procedure for identification of minorities in India is completely arbitrary, illogical and violates the basic principles of the Constitution
- It is not based on any scientific principles but was arbitrarily used in the form of a dictate by the executive in 1992. There are no objective or scientific criteria for identification of minorities in the country, while the majority enjoys the rights of minority in several states
- Majority Muslims subjected the minority Hindus to inhuman tyranny and persecution in Kashmir valley that caused the mass exodus of Kashmiri pundits
According to the 2011 Census, Muslims constitute around 68.30% population in the state of Jammu and Kashmir but they enjoy all the minority rights and welfare schemes. They don’t have any moral or social responsibility to protect the Hindus who are now a minority. This is also true of the state government dominated by the Muslim majority leaders.
Initially, Christians were also a minority in almost all the states of India but as per census of 2011, there are 87% Christians in Mizoram, 75% in Meghalaya and 41.29% in Manipur but for NCM they are still a minority. However, it considers 2.7% Hindus of Mizoram as majority community to whom the commission has no responsibility, allowing the real majority to destroy the ‘statutory majority’ on the ground.
Minority means Muslim, Majority means Hindu, irrespective of their numbers, which is illogical and unscientific. This is popularized by the pseudo-secular Indian intellectuals who dominated the narrative since introduction of secularism in the Indian Sub-continent during British Raj. It was against this background that the concept of the minority was theorised and philosophised. This caused tremendous alienation of Muslims that led to a separate country, Pakistan, for ‘minority’ Muslim.
After creation of Pakista in 1947 comprising Muslim majority territories of India, the Muslims who opted to reside India were obviously less than 50%. Indian Muslims raised the same apprehensions of discrimination to secure several constitutional and legal rights. However, there is no restriction of these rights for a particular community but ‘minority means Muslims’ dominated in the narrative of intellectuals of all the walks of life from polity to academics to social work to lawyers etc. The intellectual narrative that ‘minority means Muslim’ was so dominating in the Indian psyche that Indian secularism shows empathy with the sufferings of Muslims in Palestine but failed miserably to empathise with inhuman exploitation of Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
This narrative might have been valid in the initial decades of Independence but today it has become an anachronism due to the 360-degree demographic change in several states of India,” says Sandeep Mahapatra, senior lawyer in Delhi. This dogmatic narrative of minority and majority has created a disastrous situation on the ground with the result that Hindus can never have constitutional rights even if they become a significant minority in any state where Muslims and Christians are minority even if they constitute over 90% of the population in any state or country. Thus the Indian secularism has become a formidable weapon of Muslim and Christians.
“The word ‘minority’ has been used twice in the Constitution in Article 29 and 30 under Fundamental Rights but without any definition. In the course of time the political class misused the provisions to the extent of subverting the Constitution,” said Upadhayaya, Article 29 of the Constitution says ‘any Section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same’ while Article 30 proclaims ‘all minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice’. These provisions of the Constitution do not provide rights to any specific community but protection to all those who are minority. “The term minority is not explained in the constitutional debates but it is true that the focus of minority rights was primarily for Muslims and Christians but not for other communities like the Sikhs or the Jains who had to struggle to get included in the list of minorities,” said Monika Arora, Advocate in the Supreme Court.
The Act of 1992
The Constitution enjoins on the Government to protect the rights of the minorities but the Hindus facing persecution at the hands of ‘statutory minority’ in Kashmir were never provided any rights. It is probably due to the narrative that Hindus are always majority irrespective of their insignificant number and inhuman exploitation neither executive nor the judiciary came to their rescue as in the books of law they belonged to the majority community.
In 1992, the Parliament passed National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Act. The Central government, by using Section 2(C) of the NCM Act, notified Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Parsi as ‘minorities.’ The parliament has vested unbridled powers with the executive to exclude or include any group from the list of minority without any rationale. Thus what was practised as convention provided in the form of a written document through this act.
Why this act after so many decades after Independence? “The reason could be found in the political atmosphere of the country in 1989-90. During these years, the Congress was gradually loosing its popularity. The emergence of OBC leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP and Lalu Yadav in Bihar; and Dalit leaders like Kanshi Ram and Mayawati had wittled down the Congress in the Hindi heartland. The grand old party was badly in need of a vote bank,” said Upadhayaya. The petitioner has also alleged that successive governments has misused the NCM to manage their vote banks and committing fraud on the Constitution.
The Jain community that is an insignificant minority in several states had to fight a long legal battle to be included in the list of minority community in 2014. “The narrative to keep Hindus permanently out of the minority list was not built in a day. There have been sustained efforts at all the levels, from academics to political class to legislations, to deprive Hindus of their constitutional rights in the states where they are insignificant in number,” argued Sandeep Mahapatra.
Decisions of the Supreme Court
The PIL to challenge the NCM Act 1992 was filed in the Supreme Court on November 10, 2017 on the grounds that the unbridled powers NCM violate the provisions of Articles 14,15, 21, 29 and 30 of the Constitution of India. As the Supreme Court directed to approach the NCM, the petitioners filed representations but the pwerful NCM could not explain the rationale for including or excluding a community in the list of minority it claims to represent.
The contention that Hindus should be accorded the status of minority community in the states where they are real minority is based on the judgment of a Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court in 2002 popularly known as TMA Pai case. The eleven judge constitution bench stated that the unit for determining minority status is the State. “This court rejected the contention that since Hindus were a majority in India, they could not be a religious minority in the State of Punjab, as it viewed the State as a single unit to determine whether the Hindus were a minority community,” said the constitution bench in the judgment. As the Supreme Court has been granted the responsibility for interpretation of the Constitution, it has affirmed beyond doubt that Hindus are very much a minority in states like Mizoram, Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab but not the Christians, Muslims and Sikhs who are in huge majority. The bench further stated, “Every section of the public, the majority as well as minority, has rights in respect of religion as contemplated in Articles 25 and 26 and rights in respect of language, script, culture as contemplated in Article 29. The whole object of conferring the right on minorities under Article 30 is to ensure that there will be equality between the majority and the minority. If the minorities do not have such special protection, they will be denied equality. The Supreme Court has been consistently emphasizing that the decision on granting minority status to a community should be taken at the state level. It was reiterated in the Bal Patil judgment of 2005. However, the Supreme Court had denied the Jain community a separate identity from Hindus but in 2014, the Jains were granted minority status by the NCM.
The present case is different in the sense that here Hindus are fighting for the rights of minority in the states like Mizoram, Lakshadweep and Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab where the Hindus are significant minorities.
Hope for Hindus
The order of Supreme Court has provided a ray of hope for the Hindus in at least eight states, where they are a significant minority but dismissed as majority by the NCM. “It is desirable that the Hindus in Christian and Muslim majority states be given minority status. I will protect their freedom and rights. They will be able to build their own educational and cultural intuitions. When their rights are violated, they can redress them,” said Prof. Kanagaraj Easwaran, Department of Social Work, University of Mizoram. In this states, the Hindus are less than 3% but have no rights under the Constitution to protect their culture, language, script or administer the academic institutions. On the other hand, the Christians who are over 75% enjoy all rights and protection from the state and also from the NCM. As the Christian missionaries are still engaged in religious conversion campaigns, the actual population of Hindus in Mizoram would have been shrunk even further. “There is an urgent need for immediate intervention to provide protection to the Hindus for conservation of their culture. They are almost extinct in the state and have no constitutional rights,” added Easwaran.
There is no significant scheme for minorities by state government of Jammu and Kashmir but the benefits of the various schemes launched by the Central Government are lapped up by the Muslim majority on the ground. According to the data of NCM, around 717 out of 753 scholarships allotted by the Government were provided to Muslim students but none to Hindus. Thus the students of the minority Hindu community in Jammu & Kashmir have no right to claim scholarships to study in the universities outside the state or foreign countries. Here the Muslims enjoy the status of ‘permanent minority’ even though they constitute more than 68% of the population of the state.
“In Punjab students from Sikh community are provided several facilities including scholarships from the Central government but students of the Hindu minorities are not provided any kind of facility by the state government. If the minority Hindus are included in the list of ‘statutory minority’ in Punjab where they are real minority on the ground at least the students of the Hindu community would get benefits of the minority schemes launched at the state level. This will ensure a sense of checks and balances between the majority and minority communities besides instilling a sense responsibility among the ‘statutory minorities’ who are enjoying the status of permanent minority,” said Dharampal Singh, Department of Social Work, Punjabi University. He further argued, “the standards for according minority status should be uniform and based on scientific world view. If Christians and Muslims are provided minority status, so should Hindus wherever they are in minority. Such uniform benchmarks would give a level playing field to all communities including Hindus in terms of rights, incentives and other such benefits”.
India Deserves Rationale Secularism
The experts also believe that the inclusion of Hindus in the list of minorities would provide a new paradigm to Indian secularism. Firstly, by providing constitutional and legal protection to Hindus where they are struggling and secondly, by instilling a sense of responsibility among Muslim, Christian and Sikh communities who are majority in those states. “This will bring about a change in entire political and academic narrative of the country. The Hindus would develop a habit to fight for their constitutional rights while Muslims, Christians and Sikhs would develop a culture of sacrifice and responsibility in the states of their dominance,” said Sandeep Mahapatra. “After implementation, India would witness a new form of responsible and reasonable secularism based on the scientific world view,” he added. The kind of secularism India is facing today was developed on ‘vote bank politics’, argues Upadhayaya. “The New Age Secularism of 21st century envisions introducing scientific world view, rationality and logical criteria for determining the minority in the state. In this kind of secularism the state governments would never be a mute spectator to the mass exodus Kashmiri Hindus, argued Upadhayaya.
Monika Arora lists several irrational and arbitrary aspects of the Indian secularism with no reasonable ground. They are in practice because they have built a mythology for themselves that is not in any religious book. “The curious case Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is one amongst them. This institute was established through an act of the Parliament fully funded by the public exchequer but claims to the status of minority merely to deny the rights to students and job seekers belonging to the Hindu community,” said Arora. He also contends that a tradition of minoritism has been created in the country.
“Besides providing the equal rights to the Hindus where they are facing persecution for being real minority the scientific criteria for inclusion and exclusion of the communities in the list of minorities would be helpful for protection of plurality of the country. The present arbitrariness for identification of minority is disastrous for plurality of India,” she added.