NAC's idea of Minorities is irrelevant and - dangerous

First published  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.

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