The recent agitations in various parts of the country in the wake of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, (CAA) passed by the parliament have taken the country by surprise. Communal peace and harmony has been witnessed for quite some time now, to the extent that many had started thinking that peaceful coexistence between communities has, at last, become a reality in India; the fact that something as inconsequential as the CAA could break this bubble is worrisome.
There is of course, a political dimension to all of this, a canard has been spread that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the garb of the CAA, National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR) is setting the stage to throw the Muslim community out of the Nation.
A reality check would affirm that sending back Muslim from neighbouring countries will be a big problem even after they have been identified as aliens. Most of these people are very poor; they will have nothing that proves them to be citizens of any other neighbouring country, so how will the Indian government prevail upon the government of the neighbouring government to accept them? Nobody can be kept in a detention camp in perpetuity – if at all detention camps are set up. If identified aliens cannot be sent out where does the question of sending out even one bona-fide citizen of this country arise?
It being firmly established that the reason behind the protest and agitation does not hold any merit, the question of a trust deficit between communities in the country takes centre stage. Behind this trust deficit is “Secularism” and “Minority,” two words that are dividing the nation like none others. Under the circumstances the divisive context of these oft repeated words needs to be seen in perspective.
The Forty second amendment of the Constitution of India enacted in 1976 added the words secular and socialist in the preamble of the Constitution. The addition should have effectively divorced religion from the state and should have, as such, done away with what is termed as “minority rights” in the country. It should have paved the way for Universal Civil Code and done away with subsidies and financial support on the basis of religion. Since this did not happen, the two conflicting concepts of “Secular” and “Minority” have been creating confusion and are being leveraged by political entities for electoral gains.
It, however, cannot be denied that minority communities in a country as diverse as India require some special attention failing which their voices tend to get lost. It is for this reason that successive governments of all political parties have maintained a Ministry of Minority Affairs, which acts as the apex body for the central government’s regulatory and developmental programmes for the minority communities. Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains have been notified as minority communities by the Gazette of India.
There is no legal definition of national minorities in international law though protection of minorities is outlined by the United Nations. Basically it can be said that, in a democracy, a minority community is one that does not have the numbers to influence political decisions and as such needs to be protected.
Muslims in India are presently nearly 20 percent in a total population of 1.3 Billion. Their numbers standing as about 250 Million is larger than the population of many Muslim countries. Sikhs at about 20 Million pale in comparison what to talk of the Parsis who are only about a hundred thousand.
With such numbers, Muslims do have the capacity to influence political decisions, a capacity that they have exhibited on more than one occasion. There are also states like J&K where they constitute a majority and others like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where they are significant in number. With this kind of a representation, it would be only fitting Muslims be defined as the “second largest majority” in India.
Hindus are looked upon as the majority in India, but, is it proper to look upon Hindus as a single homogenous community? Defining Hindu is a complex enough matter to have engaged the Supreme Court of the nation on seven occasions since 1996. Hinduism has, since long, given way to Hindutva that is defined as a “way of life,” an all encompassing cultural, national, spiritual and religious identity.
It can be said that while the religious entities like the Muslims, Christians and Sikhs adhere to a single book and a structured concept of religion, the same is not the case with the Hindus. They follow different Gods, pray in different ways; even have different dress codes, languages and eating habits apart from the different castes and categories.
With Hindus not falling in the category of a holistic religious community the derivative automatically is of Muslims being the “largest single religious population in India” which adds another dimension to their majority status within the country.
The aforementioned argument is further substantiated by a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed before the Supreme Court to declare Hindus as minorities in seven states namely Lakshadweep, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Punjab and J&K. Hindus are suffering greatly in matters concerning jobs, education scholarship, health etc. because of exclusion from the minority status in these states.
The Constitution of India has given no clear cut definition of minorities which automatically leaves it to the government to take the decision. The Supreme Court has also called upon the government to work towards gradually eliminating the minority and majority classes which is a constitutional goal. It has elaborated that atmosphere of mutual fear and distrust can create threat to the integrity of the country and sow seeds of Multi-nationalism
Some criteria of population should be set below which a community will be called a minority.
As a mature and a vibrant democracy India needs to reassess the ground reality in terms of minorities and carry out a course correction to ensure that hat justice is be meted out to the actual minorities in the country. By concentrating too much in an area that has outgrown the requirement others who are in need of attention are being sidelined. This should not be allowed to happen.
(Jaibans Singh is a socio-political analyst and author)