Roughly ten days back, we at TFI had carried a report asking a single question and a rather simple one that. “What does it take to be constituted a ‘minority’ in India?” While it took some time, it appears that the Centre has woken from its deep slumbers and started to address the issue.
Reportedly, after the Supreme Court pressed the Centre for not taking a stance on the politically sensitive question of identifying minorities at the state level and granting of ‘Minority Status’ to Hindus in states where their numbers have fallen below that of other communities — the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs came up with a statement.
Ball in state government’s court: Centre in the affidavit
In an affidavit filed in the apex court, the Ministry noted that “state governments can also declare a religious or linguistic community as a ‘minority community’ within the state”.
The affidavit further said, “Matters like declaring the followers of Judaism, Baha’ism and Hinduism who are minorities in Ladakh, Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Kashmir, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab and Manipur can establish and administer educational institutions of their choice in the State and laying down guidelines for identification of minority at State–level may be considered by the State government concerned,”
The plea sought to challenge and keep in check Centre’s power to determine minorities
Centre was responding to a plea submitted by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay who had sought directions for framing of guidelines identifying minorities at the state level contending that Hindus are in a minority in 10 states and are not able to avail the benefits of schemes meant for minorities.
Upadhyay had also challenged the validity of section 2(f) of the National Commission for Minority Education Institution Act, 2004 alleging that it gives unbridled power to the Centre and termed it “manifestly arbitrary, irrational, and offending”.
The twisted definition of Minorities
As reported by TFI, in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid case, Congress playing its appeasement politics had brought the National Commission for Minorities Act (1992) act. To not make it obvious which particular community was being serenaded by Congress, Section 2(c) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992 granted minority status to five communities (Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis) based on their national population.
However, the 1992 law did not define the term ‘religious minority.’ Instead, it was the central government that was empowered to notify a few communities as “minority” for the purpose of this Act.
Despite being minority, Hindus are not given the ‘minority’ tag
It is pertinent to note that Hindus are minorities in numerous Indian states. Muslims are a majority in Lakshadweep (96.58%) and Kashmir (96%) and there is a significant population of the community in Ladakh (44%), West Bengal (27.5%), Kerala (26.60%), Uttar Pradesh (19.30%), Bihar (18%) and Assam (34.20%).
Similarly, Christians are clearly a majority in Mizoram (87.16%), Nagaland (88.10%), Meghalaya (74.59%). There is a significant population in Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Kerala, Manipur, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal as well. Yet, the entire community, across the country, is treated as a minority.
Those who follow Hinduism, Judaism and Baha’ism are minorities in regions like Ladakh, Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Kashmir, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab, and Manipur.
However, they cannot establish & administer educational institutions of their choice because of the non-identification of ‘minority’ at the State level, thus jeopardising their basic rights guaranteed under Articles 29 and 30.
Up until last year, Lakshadweep, a Muslim-dominated UT had Fridays – the day of Jumma as a holiday, instead of the usual Sunday. No one batted an eye. However, the moment the secular government overturned the decision, the minority ‘majority’ population of Lakshadweep started feeling threatened.
Granting ‘minority’ and ‘majority’ status based on the national population is a lazy and bummed approach. The centre should follow up on its statements made in the affidavit and quickly instruct the state governments to declare Hindus a minority in the states where their numbers have dwindled to alarming levels.
Currently, the ‘minority’ tag is a candy that is distributed to the non-Hindu population by politicians to ensure their proverbial vote banks are filled to the brim. The centre is still hesitant to yield its power completely but it is a welcome step that it has accepted states have the power to determine the minorities.