UN sub-committee on prevention against discrimination and protection of minorities define minorities as ‘non-dominant’ groups in population wishing to preserve their ethnic, religious or linguistic tradition which differ from the rest of the population.
The GOI has notified Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Buddhists and Jains as minorities in India. It is to be noted that in India, we do not have a set definition or a policy to define minorities.
How minorities emerged?
Years of migration, conquest, imperialism, refugees due to various geographical or political reasons nd in recent times globalization, have created minorities in almost all countries of the world.
Minorities have been subjected to persecution in different countries e.g. Jews under Hitler. Therefore, talking about minorities issue becomes important not only for the national government but also for humanity in general.
Minorities in India
In a UN report on ‘Freedom of Religious Belief in India’, authored by Asma Jahangir (Pakistani scholar), she has praised the legal system in India and the constitutional provision to protect minorities in India along with its commitment to secularism.
However, she also highlights:
1] Poor implementation of laws at state level.
2] Attack of the majority fundamentalists on Christian minorities.
Suggested Approaches Toward Minorities.
1] Homogenization or assimilation referring to unity in uniformity or the ‘melting pot’ model.
2] Multiculturalism, which is also understood as ‘unity in diversity’ or ‘salad bowl’ model. This approach recognizes the special rights of minorities.
Approach by India.
The constitution of India has recognized special rights of minorities at the time of its framing. The GOI has established the statutory commission for minorities and several committees like Sachar Committee and Plan of Action such as the 15 Point Program by PM in 2006.
The National Commission for Minorities was conceived by Ministry of Home Affairs in 1978. The major reason was that MHA felt a feeling of insecurity and inequality among those belonging to minority community.
Sachar committee on the Socio-Economic Status of Minorities in India, 2006, pointed out that Muslims, largest of all minorities, lag far behind the fruits of development. 3/4th out of all minorities are Muslims.
Statistics presented by committee were as follows.
1] Nearly 25% of Muslim children in age group 6-14 years have either never attended school or have been dropped out.
2] Only 4% graduate only 1 out of 20 of them are PG holder.
3] Muslims are 1.3% in IFS, 3% in IAS and 4% in IPS and 4.5% in Railways. It highlights that people from Muslim communities are not getting proportional representation.
Why have Muslims remained backward as highlighted by Sachar committee?
1] Muslim communities reside in compact area and wish to avail facilities in localities, especially for girl child.
2] They are uncomfortable, shy away and are still confined to Madrasa.
3] Muslim settlements are in very unhygienic areas and low living conditions. They believe in self-employment because of confinement.
4] A psychological fear, alienation from the rest of the society inhibits integration. This results into poor educational outcome, lower employment opportunities and they are victims of unorganized sector.
5] They do not avail the banking or the insurance system. (Islamic banking). Sachhar committee recommends that, they should be connected with ICT, to make them aware about the banking facilities throughout the world.
National Commission for Minorities.
It is a multi membered body where all the members from minority community with one chairperson, one vice-chairperson and 5 members to be nominated by GOI from persons of eminence, ability and integrity.
The commission was constituted by NCM Act 1992 and derives its powers from this act.
The first ever minorities commission was formed in 1960 in UP by the Congress govt. under Dr. Sampurnanand.
The Congress govt. in Bihar established a multi-membered Minorities Commission in 1971 and a State minorities high powered Committee was set up in Gujarat in 1977.
1] Evaluate the progress & development of the minorities under the union and the states.
2] Observe the working of the safeguards provided in the constitution.
3] Attend specific complains regarding deprivation of rights and safeguard of minorities.
4] Observe the working of the safeguards provided in the constitution and in laws enacted by the parliament and state govt.
5] Conduct studies, research and analysis on the issues related to socio-economic and educational development of minorities.
6] Any other matter, which may be referred to it by central govt.
1] Summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person from any part of India and examining him/her on oath.
2] Requiring the discovery and production of any document.
3] Receiving evidences on affidavit.
4] Requisitioning for any record from any court or office.
Important Concerns and Lacunas.
1] Commission should be given constitutional status as par with the National Commission for SCs, STs and OBCs.
2] It is not enough that the commission is given power to monitor. It has been recommended that the power to investigate the working of safeguards should also be given.
3] It is not enough that they have power to look into the complains but the commission should also have power to inquire into complains.
4] It is not mandatory for union and state government to consult the commission with respect to the matters for development of minorities as it is, in case of NC of SC&STs.
5] It is alleged that the response of govt. towards these recommendations have been lukewarm.
6] Like NCW, since the commission is constituted by the nominated members, it performs under the political identity of the day.
7] It is alleged that unfortunately, NCM too have been confined to only political role of the commission: Muslim minority.
NCM along with Digital Empowerment Foundation, organized a conference which strongly discouraged the word ‘minority’, highlighting that it is against the philosophy of the constitution of India because everyone is the citizen of India without being majority or minority.
In 1998, NCM wrote to election commission for preventing the use of words like vote bank, appeasement, concussions in reference to minorities in the forthcoming elections.
1] The Digital Empowerment Foundation along with NCM in the conference recommended a satellite support system for minority institution to mainstream them with educational institutions.
2] Emphasis on e-governance for strong connection between govt. & minorities and minorities & majorities.
3] In India, PM 15 Point Program was introduced in 2006, which emphasized on living conditions (health), education (mental development), communal harmony (social relations), equitable sharing of all opportunities for employment.