The Minorities in India
The Ministry of Minority Affairs established by Government of India on 29th January 2006. It is the apex body for the central government’s regulatory and developmental programs for the minority religious communities in India, which include religious Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Zoroastrians (Parsis) and Jains.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs was created to ensure a focused approach to the issues relating to the minorities. The Ministry is also responsible for the administration and implementation of the
- National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992;
- Wakf Act, 1995 and
- Dargah Khwaja Saheb Act, 1955.
The Constitution of India uses the word ‘minority’ in Articles 29 to 30 and 350A to 350B to mean any sections of citizens’ having a distinct language, script or culture. This may be a whole community seen as a minority or a group within a majority community. Article 30 speaks specifically of two categories of minorities religious and linguistic.
In general, ‘minority’ means a group comprising less than half of the population and differing from others, especially the predominant section, in the race, religion, traditions and culture, language, etc.
Religious Minorities: As regards this category at the national level in India, all those who profess a religion other than Hindu are considered minorities since over 80% population of the country professes Hindu religion. At the national level, Muslims are the largest minority. Other minorities are much smaller in size. Next to the Muslims are the Christians (2.34 %) and Sikhs (1.9 %); while all other religious people in India are still smaller.
Linguistic Minorities: If the country is taken as a unit, all who speak a language other than Hindi can be treated as linguistic minorities but not so if the State is taken as the unit. Within a State, there may be minorities who speak a language or languages other than the language spoken by the majority in that State. Dialects of a language spoken in a State may proliferate the number of minorities. However, as mentioned earlier, it has been settled in TMA Pai Vs. Union of India (2002) that a linguistic minority is determinable with reference to the State as a unit.
Article 29-protection of minorities interests, 30-right to establish and administer educational institutions, 347-special provisions relating to language spoken by a section of the population of a state, 350-language to be used in representations for redress of grievances, 350A-deals with facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at the primary stage, a 350B-special Officer for linguistic minorities.
Contact: Commissioner, CLM, 101, 1st Floor, Paryvaran Bhawan, CGO Complex, Lodhi Road, New Delhi, India.
Articles 15 & 16: prohibit the State from making any discrimination on the grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent place of birth, residence or every kind of State action in religion to citizens (Article 15) or in matters relating to employment or appointing to any office under the State (Article 16).
Article 29: deal with cultural and educational rights of minorities.
Article 30: a minority-specific provision that protects the right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions.
National Commission for Minorities:
In 1992, the National Commission for Minorities was enacted to provide for constitution of a statutory Commission. The National Commission for Minorities was set up under the Act in 1993. The first statutory National Commission was set up on 17th May 1995. With the 1995 amendment to the Act, the Commission’s composition was expanded to 7 members where five members including the Chairperson shall be from minority communities.
Other Constitutional Safeguards:
The other measures of protection and safeguards provided by the Constitution in Part III or elsewhere having a bearing on the status and rights of minorities are:
- Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion (Article 25);
- Freedom to manage religious affairs (Article 26);
- Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion (Article 27);
- Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions (Article 28);
- Special provision relating to language spoken by a section of the population of State (Article 347);
- Language to be used in representations for the redress of grievances (Article 350);
- Facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at primary stage (Article 350A);
- Special Officer for linguistic minorities (Article 350 B).
State Commission for Minorities:
The State Minorities Commission Acts usually empower the local governments to notify the minorities.
The United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Minorities 1992 enjoins the States to protect the existence and identify minorities within their respective territories and encouraging conditions for the promotion of that identity; ensure that persons belonging to minorities fully and effectively exercise human rights and fundamental freedoms with full equality and without any discrimination; create favorable conditions to enable minorities to express their characteristics and develop their culture, language, religion, traditions and customs; plan and implement national policy and programmes with due regard to the legitimate interests of minorities; etc.