Off-centre | Why Hindus should not be punished for being the biggest ‘minority’ in India

Can Hindus be a minority in India? The Government of India is, for some reason, yet to state its position unambiguously on this issue. The S...

Can Hindus be a minority in India? The Government of India is, for some reason, yet to state its position unambiguously on this issue. The Supreme Court, in fact, imposed a fine of Rs 7,500 on the Ministry of Home Affairs on 7 January 2022, for failing to specify its stance. When this matter came up on 28 March, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing on behalf of the government, told the apex court that he had not yet gone through the affidavit by the Ministry of Minority Affairs. Does this mean that two ministries of the Central government are at loggerheads over this issue?

Supreme Court of India. Reuters

The issue at hand arises out of a plea by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay seeking the declaration of Hindus as a minority, as per the 2011 Census, in six states — Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Punjab, and two Union Territories, Lakshadweep and Jammu and Kashmir. He contended that in accordance with the underlying principles in 2002 TMA Pai and 2005 Bal Patil judgements of the Supreme Court, Hindus should enjoy minority status in these parts of the Indian Union.

On the other hand, the Ministry of Minority Affairs filed a counter-affidavit, placing the onus of granting such a status on the concerned states and Union Territories. What does this mean? The implication is that the respective state may or may not grant Hindus under its jurisdiction minority status.

Mehta told the Supreme Court bench constituted by Justices SK Kaul and MM Sundresh that he had not yet gone through the affidavit. When Justice Kaul said that it had already appeared in newspapers, Mehta is reported as having said smilingly, “I have not read it…I am not aware of the view of the department.”

In his formal reply, the learned Solicitor General submitted “that he will place the stand on the matters on record as he has yet not vetted the affidavit even though it may have appeared in the newspapers.” Acceding to his request, the Supreme Court granted him an additional four weeks, fixing 10 May as the date of the next hearing.

Whereas Upadhyay wanted the Supreme Court to direct the Centre to specify how minorities could be identified at the state level, the Ministry of Home Affairs believes that the petition relates to the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act, 2004, and the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, which came, respectively, under the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Minority Affairs. According to the affidavit filed by the Ministry of Minority Affairs, states could notify Hindus as minorities and permit them to set up educational institutions under Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution.

BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Upadhyay. Twitter/@AshwiniUpadhyay

Senior Advocate Vikas Singh said, “This Act [National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act 2004] will have to go. And, they will have to come up with something like RERA, where every state will have to have these committees.”

At the heart of the debate is the question who is a minority in India and who has the right to decide. For educational purposes, for instance, in the state of Maharashtra, not just religious, but linguistic minorities, have opened educational institutions.

Several benefits, in addition to autonomy, accrue from getting the minority tag. For instance, a religious minority may reserve a large percentage of its seats for its own co-religionists even though it gets 100 per cent of grant-in-aid from the state. In effect, this means that public funds are being utilised for funding minorities’ education disproportionate to their actual percentage. In addition, subsidised land, autonomy in syllabus, uniform, and other curricular and extra-curricular matters may be claimed because of the minority status. But in India, only Hindus qua Hindus can never claim such benefits. This results in several Hindu organisations being forced to claim to be non-Hindus to resist state interference.

The truth is that the Indian Constitution does not notify any such category as a “minority.” Only the word is mentioned in some Articles as in 29 in a marginal heading: “Any section of citizens having a distinct language, script and culture.” Article 30 grants minorities the right to establish and administer their educational institutions: “All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”

The Constitution of India. AFP

By this token, why should only Hindus be denied such rights, even in states where they are numerically less than 50 percent of the population? Unfortunately, under Section 2(c) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, the Centre had in 1993 excluded Hindus from the list of minority communities. Only Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, and Christians were included. Later, Maharashtra also brought in Jews into the purview of the term minorities. But excluding Hindus, even when they are numerically subordinate, seems quite unfair.

Actually, all citizens should be treated equally in India. That, in my view, is the spirit of the Constitutions. Unfortunately, in the name of social justice and identity politics, we have created so many special categories based on religion, caste, language, ethnicity, region, and so on that the India of today resembles what Swami Vivekananda had said of Kerala over 125 years back, “a lunatic asylum, a mad house of casteism”.

We are thereby not only dividing Indian society but giving unfair advantages to some at the expense of the others. The division between minorities and majorities should go. But until that happens, all minorities, whether defined by numerical, religious, or ethnic criteria, should get the same opportunities. This means that Hindus in several states and union territories should also be allowed to set up and administer their own educational institutions as other minorities are permitted to.

The author is a professor of English at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.

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