‘Minority appeasement’, ‘minority bashing’, ‘minority rights’, ‘minority educational institution’, ‘minority vote bank’ and a host of such ‘minority oriented terms’ assault our senses every single day – especially if you tend to watch or read news. So what is the issue here?
Apart from articles 29 and 30, which make provisions for religious and linguistic ‘minority’, there is no definition of minority in the Indian Constitution; nor is there a definition in United Nations resolutions or a universally accepted definition in international laws!
How far can a conversation go when the definition of the subject itself is not crystallised? The only way ahead for us at the moment is to pick and take as reference the most general and consequently (hopefully) most universal of all definitions:
A minority or subordinate group is a sociological group that does not constitute a politically dominant plurality of the total population of a given society. A sociological minority is not necessarily a numerical minority — it may include any group that is disadvantaged with respect to a dominant group in terms of social status, education, employment, wealth and political power. To avoid confusion, some writers prefer the terms ‘subordinate group’ and ‘dominant group’ rather than ‘minority’ and ‘majority’.
In socio-economics, the term ‘minority’ typically refers to a socially subordinate ethnic group (understood in terms of language, nationality, religion and/or culture). Other minority groups include people with disabilities , “economic minorities” (working poor or unemployed), ‘age minorities’ (who are younger or older than a typical working age) and sexual minorities (whose sexual orientation or gender identity differs from the sociological norm).
Sociologist Louis Wirth defined a minority group as “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 objects of collective discrimination.” This definition includes both objective and subjective criteria: membership of a minority group is objectively ascribed by society, based on an individual’s physical or behavioral characteristics; it is also subjectively applied by its members, who may use their status as the basis of group identity or solidarity. In any case, minority group status is categorical in nature: an individual who exhibits the physical or behavioral characteristics of a given minority group will be accorded the status of that group and be subject to the same treatment as other members of that group.
The term ‘minority group gained currency in the 20th century during the course of discussion on civil rights and collective rights.
By definition or understanding of the notion, members of minority groups are subject to differential treatment in the society in which they live. This discrimination may be directly based on an individual’s perceived membership of a minority group, without consideration of that individual’s personal achievement.
Now put that in India’s context. In India every single individual person becomes a minority the moment he or she steps out of home. Simply because India is such a heterogenous union of cultures that it becomes difficult to come to any finite number of segregation. In a land where the dialect changes every few kilometers, at what number would you stop in your bid towards classification of the various social groups?
But then, whoever said that we’ve ever tried to come at an exact definition of the term ‘minority’?
In 1992, India’s Parliament enacted the National Commission for Minorities Act, but did not define a minority in it! Section 2(c) of the Act merely states that minority is what the government of India will notify in the Gazette!! The government has notified, without reason or explanation, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Parsis as religious minorities. Why they are so has not been explained. Even the State Minorities Commissions have not bothered to define minorities.
The recent ruckus created following the judgement of Allahbad High Court on “Muslims no longer being the minority in UP” and the later correction of the same court on it, we can now conclude that if a group is numerically small, and substantially below 50 per cent of the population, then although it has the necessary attribute of a minority, that attribute is not sufficient for it to be declared a minority for the purpose of constitutional or statutory protection. Such a group must have sufficient other attributes as well, to be identified as a minority.
So then, why are some religious groups not only demand – at loud voices – their right to be deemed a minority group but also, in the bargain, extract great concessions from the government on the issues of education – merely on the basis of their religion? And why do they go ballistic the moment someone even mentions the need for arriving at a standard definition of minority and / or reviewing the present status of all the ‘designated minority groups’?
If there’s not more than what meets the eye, then why don’t we have a healthy discussion on the subject?
Oddly enough, it is equally surprising why more number of individuals and groups do not claim to belong to a minority group? In a state that has 70% reservations, Brahmins are clear minorities in Tamil Nadu. Parsis are minorities everywhere, while Christians are majority in Tripura. Are Sikhs a minority group in Punjab too? (Because the subject is a matter of central government)
The fact of the matter is that religion and castes are the only two attributes that gives maximum votes to politicians and hence they play those two cards effectively. Your being a Gujarati-speaking linguistic minority in Arunachal Pradesh would not cut much ice with authorities, simply because you’re not going to change the government there, are you?
What puts the subject on a very dangerous road is the issue of ‘Minority Educational Institutions’, which are exempted from reservations, have the freedom to decide their own fee structure and other such ‘minor issues’. If student life – the most impressionable age – is subjected to this politics, things can only be expected to get worse over the years.
All things majored and minored, the fact of the matter is that either everyone or no one is a minority on a national scale in India. So, the very concept of ‘minority groups’ should be dumped. Or it should be extended to at least a dozen more groups including those who can’t vote. Are you game, India?