Thursday, May 04, 2017

Are Muslims and Christians minorities? Our Constitution says ‘No’.

Are Muslims and Christians minorities? 
Our Constitution says ‘No’.

(Editorial in Hindu Voice, May 2017)

The word ‘Minorities” is now-a-days being used very often - whether it is the Telangana Govt.’s decision to give 12% reservation to minorities, or  discussions on triple talaq and Uniform Civil Code,  or the refusal to sing Vande Mataram, etc.. But whenever this word ‘minority’ is used, one invariably thinks that it refers to Muslims and Christians. But, does our constitution says so? A big NO. Let us see what our constitution says about minorities.

Article 29 (1) of our Constitution titled ‘Protection of interests of minorities’ says: “Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same”. The Article does not talk about ‘Muslims’ or ‘Christians’ or religion, but only about ‘language, script or culture’. So, the question of ‘religious minority’ does not arise at all. 

I am a Tamilian and am settled in Mumbai since January 1970. Article 29 (1) gives me the right to conserve my ‘language, script or culture’. Looking at the diversity of our nation (with different castes, languages, scripts, life styles, etc), the framers of our Constitution have prudently inserted Article 29 (1), with a view to strengthening national integration. 

However, this Article 29 (1) meant for protecting the ‘language, script or culture’ has been distorted to give it a religious (read communal) colour, by the earlier Nehruvian dispensation. The Article is twisted to mean only Muslims and Christians, against the intention of our Constitution framers. The term ‘language, script or culture’ is given a go by and the term ‘religious minorities’ has taken its place.

Further this right to conserve the ‘language, script or culture’ is denied to those who have settled in J&K, Nagaland, Mizoram, etc. from other parts of our country, by the majority community there. On the contrary, the majority in these states (Muslims and Christians) are still treated as a minority.
This is a subversion of our Constitution by the continuous governments at the Centre and in the States, with an intention to polarize votes in their favour.

Further, the Govt. of India has enacted a law - National Commission for  Minorities Act, 1992, without defining the word ‘minority’. However, under this act, the Govt. has declared five religious communities - Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Bhuddists and Parsis - as minorities.  Now Jains are also included.

Article 15 (1) of our constitution says: “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them”.

When the constitution prohibits any discrimination of the citizens on the basis of religion, how can a law be enacted discriminating people on the basis of religion? Hence, the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992 is unconstitutional.

First, the Govt. of India has snatched away the rights available to a linguistic minority and has wrongly conferred it on religious minorities, i.e. Muslims and Christians, violating Article 29 (1) of our Constitution.

Second, by enacting a law - National Commission for  Minorities Act, 1992 - the Govt. of India has violated Article 15 (1) of the Constitution.

Explaining these points, I wrote a letter (1) on 18th November 2013 to The Chief Justice of India Supreme Court, New Delhi. I requested the CJI to treat my letter as a PIL, (2) on 17th November 2014 to Shri Narendra Modi Ji, Prime Minister of India, and (3) on 18th December 2014, to Dr. Najma Heptulla, the then Union Minister of Minority Affairs Government of India, New Delhi, saying that “Your Ministry is unconstitutional”. 

Surprisingly, none of the above three replied to me, not even an acknowledgment was received, making me wonder whether my interpretation of our constitution is wrong. But look at this:

In reply to an RTI query by a Hindu Voice reader, the CPIO and Under Secretary to the Govt. of India, vide his letter dated 31st October 2013, has written as follows:

“The Constitution of India used the word ‘minorities’ or its plural form in some Article 29 to 30 and 350A to 350B. But does not define it anywhere. Article 29 has the word ‘minorities’ in its marginal heading but speaks of ‘any section of citizens .... Having a distinct language, script or culture.’ This may be whole community generally seen as a minority or group within a majority community. Article 30 speaks specifically of two categories of minorities - religious and linguistic. The remaining two articles - 350A & 350B relate to linguistic minorities only.”

(Article 30 ‘Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions’ says “All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”)

Secularism means non-interference of the state in the religious affairs of its citizen. In a multi-religious country like ours, we can say secularism means ‘respecting all religions and treating them equally’. But the Govts. - past and present - are tomtoming about secularism and at the same time are providing special privileges to a section of the people purely on the basis of religion. This is just oxymoron, apart from being unconstitutional. Also, discrimination on the basis of religion is against the canons of Justice, Equality and Fraternity as enshrined in the Preamble to our Constitution. This is also against  Article 51A (e) - Fundamental Duties - “to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India ...”

It is time that this distortion of the word ‘minority’ is stopped. Will the Modi govt. consider all these facts and declare that the word “religious minority” is unconstitutional?  Otherwise 
they must prove me wrong. 

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