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Constitution and Minorities (Ahmed Noman)

The celebration of difference, respect for pluralism, and avowal of identity politics have come to be regarded as the hallmarks of a progressive, multicultural outlook and as the foundation of modern liberal democracies. Over the past two decades, nations such as Australia, Canada and South Africa have created legal frameworks to institutionalize their existence as plural societies. At times in a democracy the rule of the majority often becomes tyranny of the majority. It is in this context that minority rights become significant. It has been said that the real worth of democracy can be tested by how secure the minority feels within the state.

Minorities are protected under the Constitution of India which ensures fundamental rights to every citizen and especially to minorities under article 25 and 26, freedom to religion and freedom to culture. Yet there have been conflicts. The constitution recognizes minorities based on language and religion. Though there were conflicts between linguistic groups after independence, they were minimalized by the reorganization of states based on languages. Conflicts post 1960s have been primarily between religious groups. The Right wing groups, like VHP, and RSS attempting to foster majority nationalism have of late stepped up attacks on minorities. What is disturbing is that at times the state is complicit in the oppression and marginalization of the minorities. For example, the police and the army have got flak for their inaction, omission and commissions during communal violence. The police in some cases have been mute spectators or worse, have actively participated in attacks against minorities. There has been a repeated demand from Civil Society to make police and the State more accountable. Religious profiling in the form of arbitrary detentions, torture, encounters like that of Ishrat Jehan are not uncommon. Attacks against Christian missionaries and churches, accusing them of forceful conversions of dalits and adivasis trouble our collective secular conscience. The incident of Graham Staines and the rape and humiliation of nuns in Kandhamal are cases in point. These crimes become gorier when the gender dimension is considered. It is acknowledged that women are the worse oppressed and their bodies become the site of contestations and humiliation.

There is a need to problematize the status of minorities, not only owing to their security concerns but also relating to their cultural and socio economic rights. Communal violence overwhelms other concerns in the discourse of minorities.

The Muslims feel that not enough has been done on the Sachchar Committee Report. Conversely there are also feelings amongst certain sections that minorities only mean one particular minority, as far as positive ameliorative action by Government is concerned. Institutions such as the National Commission for Minorities and the National Human Rights Commission need to be strengthened. It is also the duty of the State and Civil Society to see that the sense of victimhood creeping into the consciousness of the certain minorities is reversed. At the same time the question of minorities becoming majorities in states (Muslims in J&K and Sikhs in Punjab) has also to be considered. The glaring incident of Pandits fleeing from the Kashmir Valley, should make us sit up.

With a rich legacy of composite culture and history of meaningful coexistence between various religious groups, the question today is how secular is the State? Does the state ensure the ideals of equality and justice to all, as enshrined in our Constitution? What is the way forward to make the state more accountable and make the minorities more secure? What are the strategies or policies and gaps thereof to ensure opportunities and development of minorities? It becomes imperative to map their struggle for citizenship varying from community to community.

The real problem impact lies with the system of implementation of policies within the Indian democratic system be it at the central level or at state, policies plans and strategies are drafted, and bills are passed but their effective implementation never insured at any level ion the democratic hierarchy. Not only with the rights of minorities, the issue i.e. the ineffectiveness in the implementation of strategies plagues each and every aspect/elements of the modern Indian society.

Many times the government at the central and state level are in conflict with each other regarding various policies and their implementation, for e.g. the OBC quota. Certain castes are recognized as OBC at state levels but not at central level and vice-versa, it leads to an utter chaos. Many a times candidates belonging to such caste and communities which are a point of conflict suffer at the hands of flawed policies when they apply in governmental avenues such as jobs.

To the flipside of the whole issue is the non-existence of the status of Minorities. The governments are fighting for the status of minorities with each other regardless of the fact that under Article 30 of the Indian Constitution the word Minorities remains undefined. It remains just the Article 14 which states that every citizen of India is equal before law. It is estimated that there are about 1500 languages in India. Article 334-335 declared that the official languages of India for communication with centre will be Hindi and English. There are 22 official languages identified by constitution. India does not have a national language. Article 345 states that “the Legislature of a state may by law adopt any one or more of the languages in use in the State or Hindi as the language or languages to be used for all or any of the official purposes of that State: Provided that, until the Legislature of the State otherwise provides by law, the English language shall continue to be used for those official purposes within the State for which it was being used immediately before the commencement of this Constitution”. Still many state governments like that of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, are at loggerheads with the central government over abolishing Hindi and declaring their local language as the official language in their states. To end it all, it must be said that it is both the constitution and the state which must consider and act in accordance and sync. That minorities are an integral part of India, we all know. But still it remains undefined. So, it is the constitution that must act first, to ensure the consolidation of the stand for minorities.

*Ahmed Noman is pursuing Masters from Department of Mass Communication, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. He can be reached at https://www.facebook.com/ahmed.noman4/
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