- Indian Constitution is a progressive document based on a liberal ethos of equality and freedom. Secularism, as imbibed in the document gives freedom of religious practices and beliefs and even propagation to people of all faith.
- This is also considered as the fundamental characteristic of the Indian Constitution which cannot be altered.
In this article, we shall attempt to understand minorities in India and issues related to them. We will also look into the particular provisions in the legal and political setups which make India a secular polity.
Minority community in India:
- In 1993, the first Statutory National Commission was set up and five religious communities viz. Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians (Parsis) were notified as minority communities under Section 2 (c) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992.
- In 2014, Jains were also notified as a minority community.
- As per the Census 2011, the percentage of minorities in the country is about 19.3% of the total population of the country.
- The population of Muslims is 14.2%; Christians 2.3%; Sikhs 1.7%, Buddhists 0.7%, Jain 0.4%, and Parsis 0.006%.
What does the Constitution say about minorities?
The expression “minorities” appears in some Articles of the Constitution but is not defined anywhere.
- It provides that any section of the citizens residing in any part of India having a distinct language, script, or culture of its own, shall have the right to conserve the same.
- It grants protection to both religious minorities as well as linguistic minorities.
- However, the SC held that the scope of this article is not necessarily restricted to minorities only, as the use of the word ‘section of citizens' in the Article includes minorities as well as the majority.
- All minorities shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
- The protection under Article 30 is confined only to minorities (religious or linguistic) and does not extend to any section of citizens (as under Article 29).
- The 7th Constitutional (Amendment) Act 1956 inserted this article which provides for a Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities appointed by the President of India.
- It would be the duty of the Special Officer to investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provided for linguistic minorities under the Constitution.
Other important minority rights
- Article 15 prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion race cast sex or place of birth.
- Article 17 Prohibits untouchability.
- Articles 25 to 30 preserve the right of minorities on grounds of religion.
- Article 25 provides the right to practice any religion.
- Article 26 allows religious institutions to be opened.
- Article 27 provides that no person shall be forced to pay any taxes which is not mandatory.
- Article 28 provides that there shall be no religious instruction to be followed in any particular educational institutions.
Defining properties of Minority
- Subordinate in some way to the majority.
- Distinguishable from the majority based on physical or cultural features.
- Collectively being regarded and treated as different and inferior.
- Excluded from full participation in the life of the society.
Geographic spread of minorities in India
Notified minorities constitute about 19% population of the country.
- Rural India: In rural India during 2009-10, 11 percent of households followed Islam with about 12 percent of the population. Christianity was followed by around 2 percent of the households constituting about 2 percent of the population.
- Urban India:In urban areas, the percentages of households and population following Islam were about 13 and 16 and those following Christianity were about 3 and 3, respectively.
The government of India has also forwarded a list of 121 minority concentration districts having at least 25% minority population, excluding those States / UTs where minorities are in majority (J & K, Punjab, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Lakshadweep).
Socio-economic status of minorities in India- 66th round of NSS:
- Sex-ratio:The sex-ratio for Muslims in both rural and urban areas showed a decline between 2004-05 and 2009-10; however, those corresponding to Christians showed an improvement during this period.
- Household size:The average household size, in both rural and urban areas, for Muslims was higher than those of other religious groups, and the average household size was the lowest among Christians. The household size in rural areas was higher than that of urban areas for each of the religious groups.
- Rural: In rural areas, self-employment was the mainstay for all religious groups. The proportion of households with major income from self-employed in agriculture was the highest among Sikh households (about 36 percent). The proportion of households belonging to the household type rural labour was the highest among Muslims (about 41 percent).
- Urban:In urban India, the proportion of households with the major source of earnings as self-employment was highest for Muslims (46 percent). The major source of earnings from regular wage/salaried was the highest for Christian households (43 percent) in urban areas.
- Literacy rate:The literacy rate among persons of age 15 years and above was the highest for Christians, for both the sexes in rural and urban areas. The proportion of persons of age 15 years and above with an educational level secondary and above was the highest for Christians, followed by Sikhs.
Intolerance against minorities
- Discrimination against minorities exists on the following grounds:
- Economic grounds
Approaches To the Minority Problem:
- Various Approaches have been adopted towards a solution for the minority while some suggested assimilation, others suggested protection and for some, the way out was to get rid of the minority community itself, by persecution, deportation, etc.
- Assimilation: Earlier the problem was seen as one of the conflictsbetween religions and ethnic groups. These days the problem is essentially related to national minorities. The minorities are made to abandon their ethnic, religious cultural, and linguistic characteristics which differentiate them fromthe dominant group. In the present times, states usually don’t resort to assimilation through coercion, but rather prefer indirect methods.
- Discrimination and Annihilation: In this case, the minorities are allowed to preserve their distinct characteristics they are also subjected to a great deal of discrimination. They are subjected to ridicule and segregation which further compels them to stay away from the majority. That is why we find that minority groups stay together in ghettos away from the majority.This discrimination in fact leads to assimilation among some ambitious members of the minority community. These people to advance themselves seek to rid themselves of their disabilities by deliberately surrendering their typical features. These disabilities may, many times, be sufficient to induce assimilation, also certain encouragement is given to induce this change. In case assimilation is found to be impossible, some states resort to the very direct method of annihilation.
- Tolerance and Equality: The policy of tolerance and fair treatment is adopted by many states when dealing with the minority community. A great deal of leeway is given for the preservation and pursuance of the minority social and cultural life. Though thestate may have in mind the assimilation of various minority groups as the finalgoal. It will nevertheless adopt a tolerant attitude towards minority groups aslong as the minority communities do not cause any destabilizing effect on thenation-state.
- We find this policy of tolerance and fair treatment guiding the provisions of our Indian Constitution. The Constitution establishes no state religion and guarantees equal opportunity to all irrespective of caste, creed, and religion.
- The Constitution was not in favour of forced assimilation to preserve the rich harmony in Indian culture within the framework of national unity. The Constitution forbids discrimination against minorities. Thus, we find that Constitution envisages fair treatment for all.
Problems of Religious Minorities in India
- Despite the provisions of constitutional equality, religious minorities in India often experience some problems among which the following may be noted.
- Prejudice and Discrimination: Prejudice and discrimination are found in any situation of hostility between racial and ethnic groups and divergent religious communities.
- Prejudice refers to a ‘prejudged’ attitude towards members of another group.These groups are regarded with hostility simply because they belong to a particular group, and they are assumed to have undesirable qualities that are supposed to be characteristic of the group as a whole.
- Discrimination, on the other hand, refers to actions against other people on the grounds of their group membership. It involves the refusal to grant members of another group the opportunities that would be granted to similarly qualified members of one’s group.
- Common people who are gullible never bother to find out the truth behind these statements but are simply carried away by them. Such prejudices further widen the social distance among the religious communities. This problem persists in India.
Issues faced by minority women in India
- Patriarchal society: For a long time, women in India were in the clutches of patriarchal society and were denied even basic rights, all of this was intertwined with gender inequality and abuse. Women were subjected to many social evils like child marriages, Sati pratha, widow exploitation, the devadasi system, etc.
- Exploitation:Challenges get intensified when it comes to women of the minority community. Minority women are often subjected to abuse, discrimination, and stereotypes, for instance, manual scavenging is often reserved for Dalit women, in both urban and rural areas and they are paid menial wages for this degrading and unsanitary task.
- Identity association: The identity of a female belonging to the minority is often associated with a male in the family and in rural areas they are even considered the property of their father or husband thus failing to create their own concrete identity.
- Security issues:The problem of security is common to all women of the country and not just the women belonging to the minority community but these women are often left feeling more insecure, both physically and psychologically, and are prone to abuse and threats from both their community and the majority community.
- Problem Relating to Equity: Women are deprived of various opportunities for development as a result of discrimination, based on both religion and gender. Due to the difference in identity, the minority community develops a sense of inequality. They are forced to miss out on many academic and employment opportunities.
- Lack of representation: The Constitution provides for equality and equal opportunities to all its citizens including religious minorities and women through various articles and provisions but this concept sometimes fails to apply to minority women and they lack proper representation in many spheres, for instance, in civil services and politics.
Government Schemes for the Empowerment of Minorities
- Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) Scheme.
- Naya Savera - Free Coaching and Allied Scheme for the candidates/students belonging to Minority Communities.
- Padho Pardesh – Scheme of Interest Subsidy on Educational Loans for Overseas Studies for the Student belonging to Minority Communities.
- Nai Udaan – Support for Minority Students clearing Prelims conducted by UPSC, State Public Service Commissions (PSCs), and Staff SelectionCommission.
- (Seekho aur Kamao (Learn & Earn)
- USTTAD (Upgrading the Skills and Training in Traditional Arts/ Crafts for Development.
- Nai Manzil - A scheme to provide education and skill training to the youth from Minority Communities.
- Concessional credit through the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation (NMDFC).
- Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakaram (PMJVK)
- Nai Roshni – The scheme for leadership development of Minority Women.
- Hamari Dharohar – A scheme to preserve the rich heritage of minority communities of India under the overall concept of Indian culture.
- Jiyo Parsi – Scheme for Containing the Population Decline of Parsis in India.
Prime Minister’s 15-Point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities
- The government of India has formulated the “Prime Minister’s New 15-Point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities”.
- An important objective of the Programme is to ensure that an appropriate percentage of the priority sector lending is targeted at minority communities and that the benefits of various government-sponsored schemes reach the underprivileged, which includes the disadvantaged sections of the minority communities.
- The Programme is being implemented by the Central Ministries/Departments concerned through State Governments/Union Territories and envisages the location of a certain proportion of development projects in minority concentration districts.
The “strength, profundity, and maturity” of democracy, are measured by a government’s ability to engage with dissenting voices and opinions and in being able to address the legitimate concerns raised by human rights defenders and civil society organizations.
The implementation of the ‘rule of law’, the protection of human rights, guaranteed individual freedoms of expression, assembly, and religious practice and freedom from discrimination are all the hallmarks of a thriving, throbbing democracy.The Government of India must reflect on its constitutional obligations, revisit its duties and responsibilities toward the welfare of all citizens of the country and ensure the protection and promotion of democratic values for its minorities.