• The Constitution of India does not define the word ‘Minority’ and only refers to ‘Minorities’ which are ‘based on religion or language’
• The Constitution spells out the rights of the minorities in detail.
‘Common Domain’ and ‘Separate Domain’ of rights of minorities provided in the Constitution
• ‘Common domain’ rights are those which are applicable to all the citizens of our country.
• ‘Separate domain’ rights are those which are applicable to the minorities only and these are reserved to protect their identity.
• (Bullet)The Preamble to the Constitution declares the State to be ‘Secular’ and this is a special relevance for the Religious Minorities.
• Equally relevant for them, especially, is the declaration of the Constitution in its Preamble that all citizens of India are to be secured ‘liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship and ‘equality of status and of opportunity’.
‘Common Domain’ of Minority Rights
1. The Directive Principles of State Policy – Part IV of the Constitution:
• Obligation of the State ‘to endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities’ amongst individuals and groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations. Article 38 (2).
• Obligation of State ‘to promote with special care’ the educational and economic interests of ‘the weaker sections of the people’ (besides Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes). Article 46.
2. Fundamental Duties – Part IVA of the Constitution:
• Citizens’ duty to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; and
• Citizens’ duty to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.
3. Fundamental Rights – Part III of the Constitution
• Both the rights common domain and separate domain are being provided to minorities under Fundamental Rights.
In the ‘common domain’, the following fundamental rights and freedoms are covered:
• Article 14 – People’s right to ‘equality before the law’ and ‘equal protection of the laws’
• Article 15 (1) & (2) – Prohibition of discrimination against citizens on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
• Article 15 (4) – Authority of State to make ‘any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens’ (besides the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes).
• Article 16(1)&(2) – Citizens’ right to ‘equality of opportunity’ in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State – and prohibition in this regard of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth
• Article 16(4) – Authority of State to make ‘any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State
• Article 25(1) – People’s freedom of conscience and right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion – subject to public order, morality and other Fundamental Rights.
• Article 26 – Right of ‘every religious denomination or any section thereof – subject to public order, morality and health – to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, ‘manage its own affairs in matters of religion’, and own and acquire movable immovable property and administer it ‘in accordance with law’.
• Article 27 – Prohibition against compelling any person to pay taxes for promotion of any particular religion’.
• Article 28 – People’s ‘freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in educational institutions’ wholly maintained, recognized, or aided by the State.
‘Separate Domain’ of Minority Rights:
• Article 25 – Sikh community’s right of ‘wearing and carrying of Kirpans.
• Article 29(1) – Right of ‘any section of the citizens’ to ‘conserve’ its ‘distinct language, script or culture’.
• Article 29(2) – Restriction on denial of admission to any citizen, to any educational institution maintained or aided by the State, ‘on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them’.
• Article 30(1) – Right of all Religious and Linguistic Minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
• Article 30(2) – Freedom of Minority-managed educational institutions from discrimination in the matter of receiving aid from the State.
• Article 347 – Special provision relating to the language spoken by a section of the population of any State.
• Article 350 A – Provision for facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at primary stage.
• Article 350 B – Provision for a Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities and his duties; and
• The goal of establishing an egalitarian society is at the foundation of the Indian Constitution.
• In India, the additional burden of history in the form of inherited social distortions taking ethnic and caste dimensions needs to be addressed with preferential and special constitutional steps in support of the SC/ST communities.
The Constitution provides the following support to them
• Article 15 – eliminates disability with regard to access to public places.
• Article 16 – provides equality of opportunity which is enriched by protective measure for the SC/STs in matters of State employment and appointment.
• Article 18 – abolishes untouchability and the accused has to prove his innocence.
• Article 341 – 342 – The President is empowered to draw a list of SC/STs in consultation with the Governor of each state subject to Parliamentary amendments
• Article 19(5) – The property of these communities cannot be taken away unless specified authorities permit the same
• Article 338 – National Commission of SCs/STs has been set up by the 65th Amendment Act in 1990 The President may appoint a commission to review the functioning of the Scheduled areas and the welfare of the STs in the areas.
• 5th and 6th Schedules – Special provisions are laid down in the 5th and 6th Schedules of the Constitution, which are read along with Article 244 for the administration of areas inhabited by the STs.
• Article 46 (Directive Principles) says that the interest of SC/ST must be protected.
• The President may direct a state to draw and execute schemes for the welfare of the STs.
• One of the criteria for extending the Central grants-in-aid of the states is the obligation of the latter to meet the cost of the welfare schemes for the SC/STs.
• There are seats and constituencies reserved for the SC/STs. It is temporary provision that is being extended, so far, for every ten years.
• In states like Madhya Pradesh, Bihar etc, there shall be ministers in charge of welfare of SC, ST and OBC.