Minority Rights in India
Author : Sheetal Maggon
What does the term minority mean? The Oxford English Dictionary defines minority as “the smaller number or part, especially a number or part representing less than half of the whole”. “A group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regard themselves as object of collective discrimination” – this definition to minority is given by a renowned sociologist named Louis Wirth. So, in layman terms we can define minority as a group of people who are less in number as compared to other groups and generally stand distinct of those who belongs to majority. As we all know that India is a diverse country in terms of caste, religion, culture, etc. and if it comes to religion or linguistic groups, then major population of the country are Hindus. 78.8% of the total population are Hindus. Other religions include Jainism, Sikhism, Parsis, Christians, Islam, Buddhism, etc. All these religions are considered to be minorities as the number of people professing these religions are less in number as compared to those of Hindus. To protect the minorities from discrimination and communal riots, the framers of our constitution has made certain provisions for them to protect them from society and to keep the feeling of secularism and brotherhood in the country so that every group lives in a peaceful society.
Rights of minorities
Rights that are given to minorities in India can be divided into two heads: common domain and separate domain. Rights under common domain are given to all the citizens of the country and rights under separate domain are specially made for the minorities only. All these rights are covered under the Constitution of India and also, under the preamble of our constitution.
The Preamble of our Constitution
“WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC”, beginning with these sentences, it has been authoritatively declared that India is a secular country. Though, originally when the Indian Constitution was drafted, the word secular was not added to the preamble of the Constitution. The Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976, has inserted the word Secular in the Constitution. Initially, the word secular was not expressly mentioned in the preamble of the Constitution but the Fundamental Right of Right to freedom of religion which has been described from Article 25 to 28 of the Constitution makes it crystal clear that the citizens of India have a right to practice any religion. It means that no particular religion would be given more power and would not be considered to be supreme. All the religions would be given equal status and no community should be discriminated in terms of religion.
Before discussing special rights given to minority groups in the country, the main thing to be discussed is Part 3 of Indian Constitution under which the fundamental rights of the citizens are stated. These fundamental rights include right to equality, right to freedom, right against exploitation, right to freedom of religion, cultural and educational rights and right to constitutional remedies. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution gives the citizens of the country equality before law and equal protection of the laws. Article 15 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of caste, creed, sex, religion or place of birth. Also, it gives authority to the state to make special laws for socially and educationally backward citizens. Article 16 provides equality on the basis of employment. Article 25 to 28 provides freedom on the basis of religion. These rights are available to all the citizens be it majorities or minorities or other even other groups, hence comes under the common domain.
Under Article 25, minorities groups like people professing Sikhism have right to wear turban and carry kirpan with them. Article 29(1) provides a right to citizens to conserve their distinct language, culture or scripts. Article 29(2) restricts the denial of admissions in educational institutions on the basis of caste, race or religion. The provisions given under Article 30 of the Indian Constitution provides right to minorities to establish educational institutions keeping in mind the right to equality as well. Article 30(1) says that all the groups belonging to linguistic and religious minorities are free to build their educational institutions and also administer it in their own choice. Article 30(2) states that, while granting aid to educational institutions which are built by these communities, the government is not allowed to discriminate on the ground that they are managed by minorities. These rights ensure the overall development of a country as religious and linguistic minorities will not have a feeling of backwardness and would be encouraged more to contribute in the areas of education which will automatically lead to development of the society. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the case of Ahmedabad St. Xaviers College v. State of Gujarat (1) stated that the spirit behind article 30(1) is the conscience of the nation that the linguistic and religious minorities are not prohibited from establishing and administering educational institutions of their choice for the purpose of giving their children the best education to make them complete men and women of the nation. Article 347 provides special provision to the citizens if they speak a different or distinct language in any state. Article 350A provides provision for facilities for instruction in mother tongue at primary stage. Article 350B provides provision for a special officer for linguistic minorities and his duties.
Apart from fundamental rights, rights are given to minorities under directive principles of state policy as well which comes under part 4 of the Indian Constitution. Article 38(2) restricts the state to endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities amongst individuals and groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations. Article 46 states the obligation of the state to promote with special care, the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the society.
It can be concluded that special and separate rights for people belonging to religious or linguistic minorities play a very important role in the overall development of a country as these provisions provides a sense of security to minorities. No discrimination on the grounds of minorities shall be taken in the country and every community is free to profess any religion and speak any language they want. They are not bound by the state or the majority groups to do anything that they do not want to do.
- A.I.R. 1974 SC 1389