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Secularism-means favouring the minorities

Secularism-means favouring the minorities

Author: Vijay Barve
Publication: Organiser
Date: August 25, 2002

Political Science is a very popular subject in Indian universities. The curriculum covers various topics, different theories and so on. However, there is no discussion, or even a mention of minoritism or majoritism in any textbook or any curriculum.

However, in today's world, whenever political ideology and governance in a country are discussed, these two words unfailingly pop up, time and again. In the game of politics, minoritism and majoritism have become the most popular pawns. No sane person could have visualized this scenario a few years back! But do not underestimate the wiles of a politician-who has the uncanny knack of interpreting every word to suit his purpose! India has a written constitution, which also lays down the rules of governance. However, when minoritism comes into the picture, everything else pales into insignificance.

But the crucial question is this: Who is a minority? For this word, there is no universally acceptable definition. When you compare one in 99, of course one is in minority. Similarly between 30 and 70, thirty too is minority compared to the bigger figure. And between 49 & 51 (although the difference is only two), mathematically 49 is in minority!

Consequently, minoritism is quite difficult to define and understand. If As are small in number compared to Bs, then they can be termed as minority. However, at which stage A becomes minority has not been defined-should it be 30% of B or can it even be 70%?

The effect of this is always felt is the political arena. As there are no rules regarding either the number or the proportion, disputes arise. And this is the most important reason leading to a debate, and then a conflict, between the two communities.

The word 'minority gained' currency after the First World War. When the League of Nations was established in 1919, the USA introduced the concept of minoritism. It must, however, be noted that this idea has neither been accepted by the US Government nor is it used in American social life.

Macmillan and Free Press have published the International Enclycopedia of Social Sciences. In the treatise, the word minority has been defined as follows: "In any society, it is a group which is different from the larger group, in terms of race, nationality, religion or language. Each group thinks it is distinct and looks down upon the other. As regards political power is concerned, the situation is different. The minorities are at the mercy of the larger group, which discriminates against the smaller group."

The aforementioned book also talks about a "National Minority". Reportedly such groups originated in Europe. A set of people resided at one place for several years, but lost the political dominance to people of another nationality. The phrase National Minority was used to refer to such people, now subjugated to another power.

Thus, while they continue to live on the same land, persons belonging to a National Minority have lost all political power. The economic power is used by the government only for the benefit of the ruling majority. Moreover, this set also decides the political future of the smaller group. Often, individuals belonging to the minorities have no voting rights either in the parliamentary elections or even municipal elections. Sometimes, the minorities are allowed to nominate a couple of representatives, by way of a token gesture.

At the end of second World War, the political map of Europe was redrawn. This led to the creation of a number of minority groups. Before the first World War, European kings fought each other often, but signed a peace treaty at the end of the war. The treaty included the following clause : "It will be the responsibility of the relevant government to provide security to the minorities. But the ruling government would verify the implementation of this policy." A body of people living near the borderline areas, and based on their race, language, etc. were accepted as minorities. For example the Paris Treaty of 1763, Clause 4 states: "The original residents of Canada have the freedom to pursue Catholic denomination. Therefore, the Canadians can follow the Roman Church. Even if these citizens follow the British laws, a clear directive should be given to enable the new Roman Catholics to pursue their religion". (The protection of minorities, J.N. Lopex, p. 23)

When the Mughals ruled India, a special tax (jizia) was imposed on the non-Muslims, particularly on the Hindus. Similarly, in 1866, the religious minorities in Denmark were required to make a specific payment to the National Church. Till 1958, a Jew in the UK could not become a member of the House of Commons. Even today, a non- Muslim cannot be the President or the Prime Minister in Pakistan as well as in other Muslim countries.

After the first World War, a minority was identified based on religion, language as well as race while treaties were signed guaranteeing their rights. The League of Nations (LoN) had approved such pacts. Further, the LoN also issued the following directive: "On one hand, the national government is expected not only to guarantee security to the minorities, it will also meet their basic needs and will ensure that the aspirations of the minorities are met. On the other hand, the minorities will not get involved in any anti-national activities."

After the World War II, more than religion, language and race became the main criterion for identifying minority groups. It was further accepted that people of different languages and races can coexist in a nation. The UN was formed at the end of the World War II. On December 9, 1948, the General Assembly of the UN passed a resolution: "It accepted the fundamental right of every human being not only to life but to live in dignity. The human rights of every person were acknowledged regardless of the race, religion or language of that individual. After the Human Rights Commission was established, the word minorities became rather irrelevant."

The eighth report of the Human Rights Commission includes the following clause: "The minorities should have the right to follow their religion, language as well as the culture". (National Minorities, Lay Land, p. 161). Barring this, no other rights were given to the minorities. After this stipulation from the Human Rights Commission, to demand a separate law for the minorities, would be going against the resolution of the UN.

By studying Indian history, one realises that the practice of minorities was introduced by the British. After the war of independence in 1857, the British formalized the concept of "minorities". On one hand , the British focused on the socially and economically backward classes of the society and tried to proselytize them to Christianity. Thus it gained some loyal and committed supporters for the British Raj. On the other hand, they tried to make divisions in the Indian society, on the basis of religion. The British purused the policy of divide and rule.

In 1909, the British Viceroy suggested to the Aga Khan that since the Muslims are in a minority, they should seek special rights from the government. The Muslim League was formed in 1906. Earlier in 1885, the Congress party was founded by Lord Hume, as a part of the British strategy. By a law passed in 1909, the Muslims were given two types of votes, for election to the Central Council: First, they could vote along with the Hindus to elect a common representative. Second, the Muslims were allowed to vote seperately and choose a representative of their community. The Hindus had no say in the election of Muslim members.

As per the law passed in 1919, in addition to having Muslim members, special voting rights were given to Christians of Madras Presidency, Anglo-Indians of Bengal and Madras as well as Europeans from all the states, (except Punjab). Similarly, specific voting rights were provided to non-Brahmins of Madras Presidency.

The British policy of divide and rule was now fully operational. Thirty- four members were elected to the Central Legislative Council. But of these, 14 were chosen by different communities. The same pattern was followed for the legislative assemblies: 52 members were elected by popular vote while 41 came from various communities. Compared to 1909, as per the legislation of 1919, more Muslim representatives were allowed. The number of such representatives was totally out of proportion to the Muslim population.

In 1935, the pattern of communal representation changed slightly. Now members of the backward class could also send representatives to the Legislative Council. Seventy-five members were selected by popular vote while 74 came from specific communities. Further, 109 seats were reserved for the minorities. The break-up was: 82 for Muslims, 8 for Europeans, 8 for Indian Christians, 4 for Anglo-Indians and 7 for the Sikhs. Out of the 105 seats to which individuals were selected by popular vote, 18 were reserved for Harijans.

Nowhere in the world has a group been sought, and later given the status of a minority. But this was done in India for the Muslim community. However, it does not make sense for a group to ask for special rights, in addition to human rights. This issue gets complicated when the question of religious rights comes up. As per Articles 25 to 30 of the Indian Constitution, religious and linguistic freedom is a fundamental right of every citizen.

Before 1947, the Muslims demanded special rights as a minority community, which were granted to them by the British. Later Muslim leadership demanded Pakistan, as a free and independent state. After having secured a separate nation, on the basis of religion, the Muslims in India have no moral or legal rectitude to seek any special rights. Pakistan was created for the benefit of the Muslims from India. However, if an Indian Muslim has the 'minority' mindset, he can never become an Indian citizen.

After the World War II, the concept of minoritism / majoritism was rightly replaced by human rights. Therefore, today any talk of minoritism has no relevance and is utterly absured! An appeal in this regard is pending with the Supreme Court. After having guaranteed human rights, the highest court in the land can delete the stipulation about the minorities in the constitution.

The people who are considered minorities in India are not discriminated against either politically or socially. Therefore, there is no justification to offer additional rights or protection to the minorities. By doing so, the government is infringing on the freedom of the majority community. In India, even the cultural rights of the Hindus are often suppressed in the hope that this will protect and sustain the rights of the minorities.

Whether it is singing Vande Materam in schools, worshipping goddess Saraswati in a conference of Education Ministers, using Satyam Shivam Sundaram as the logo for Doordarshan-it is believed that by discouraging the culture of the majority, the minorities will feel safer. Hence, the so-called secularists are dying to run down the customs and culture of the Hindus. Unfortunately, the government which is supposed to maintain and sustain the Indian values, turns a blind eye to all this. The bitter truth today is that secularism amounts to giving undue concessions to the minorities.

Globally, all progressive nations are giving the highest priority to human rights. But in India, in addition to providing human rights, the rulers are also actively promoting (minoritism). This is causing more hostility and antagonism between the two communities. Members of the larger community are feeling quite uneasy-they tend to feel that the government is more concerned about the minorities that constitute only 20% of the population.

In the field of education, public health and social welfare, the groupism between the different communities has created such a deep chasm, that national unity may be in jeopardy. To secure monetary benefits, different groups (ranging from Arya Samaj to the Jains) have joined the race to qualify as 'minorities'. The government is exhorting the citizens to be broad-minded and to think beyond religion and caste. Yet every community or sect is going away from the national mainstream and is more focused on grabbing the benefits/concessions available to a 'minority' group.

The metropolis of Mumbai has very few schools / colleges / hospitals. As a result, individuals belonging to the majority community find it well neigh impossible to be admitted to one of these bodies. However, some groups classified themselves as (minorities) and have promoted a number of such institutions for admission of only their clan. Members of such (minorities) have got it made and this count is rapidly going up. Unknowingly, we are promoting casteism and regionalism among the young, impressionable students.

Setting aside national objectives, in today's competitive world, more and more persons are forming themselves into a 'minority' group. If one goes by the concessions and privileges provided to the convent schools, it appears that the government is working on behalf of the missionaries, to promote Christianity. Consequently Indian culture and values are slowly but steadily getting eroded away.

Individuals belonging to the majority community feel like strangers in their own land, India and their number is rising. The riots and disputes which take place in the country, are mostly the result of a conflict between the majority and minority communities. I believe that the patience of the Hindu community is fast running out and it is going to be a real challenge to prevent this phenomenon from gaining ground and get out of hand.

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