MINORITIES AND THE PROBLEM OF NATIONAL INTEGRATION
One of the oddities from which our Constitution suffers is that while it does not define the term “Minority,” it contains numerous provisions specifying the rights of the Minorities. One minority-related Article in the Constitution speaks of “any section of citizens having a distinct language, script and culture” which could be either an entire community or a group perceived to be a minority within a majority community.”
What does the Constitution say
Article 30 speaks specifically of two categories of minorities — religious and linguistic. However, undeterred by the lack of any authoritative definition of the term, the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, vide Ministry of Welfare notification dated 23 October 1993 declared Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsis),as minority Communities. Jains had recently been added as the sixth minority. As a layman one finds it difficult to understand the reasons for classifying certain groups as Minorities and granting them special rights over and above what all citizens of the country enjoy. The term “minority welfare” ipso facto implies an illegitimate bias in favour of the Minorities because the welfare of the majority of the country’s citizens which must equally (if not more) be the concern of the state seems to have been left uncared for.
Perhaps the best statement of the objectives of declaring certain sections of India’s population is given in the website of the National Commission for Minorities as follows:
“The various Articles of the Constitution providing rights to the minorities, clearly and firmly point out to only one direction: that of a multi-religious, multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-racial Indian society, interwoven into an innate unity by the common thread of national integration and communal harmony.” (Emphasis added).
It is a fact that the Constitution contains numerous provisions emphasizing secularism, national integration and the right to equality and the prohibition of discrimination on the ground of religion etc. Having declared that the state shall be secular and guaranteeing freedom of worship, treating all citizens equally and forbidding discrimination on the ground of caste, creed, language etc, one is left wondering as to what useful purpose could be served by the provisions conferring special rights on the minorities.
And specifically—do these provisions in favour of the minorities really serve the purpose of promoting national integration and communal harmony? Among the objectives that the Constitution seeks to achieve (as proclaimed in the Preamble) is the promotion of (among all Indian citizens) “FRATERNITY assuring….the unity and integrity of the Nation”
Similarly,Article 51A under the heading Fundamental Duties lays down that–
“It shall be the duty of every citizen of India
(a) to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem;
(e) to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women;
(f) to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture; ….”
As would be seen from the above discussion, the constitution seeks to serve two mutually contradictory purposes —preserving and encouraging the separate identities of the Minorities and at the same time hoping to weave the minorities into a higher and supreme national Indian identity by promoting national integration and communal harmony.
Having seen the Constitution at work for 64 years since it came into force, we should be able to analyse the results and see whether the pious aspirations of the framers of the Constitution have been achieved or not.
Any impartial observer of the national scene would readily concede that the goal of national integration remains as distant now as it was in 1950 and may perhaps have receded considerably further. All the provisions requiring the citizens to strengthen communal harmony and national integration have just remained on paper while two religious minorities –Muslims and Christians have been vigorously strengthening their sectarian identities to the detriment of the national identity. As evidence, one may cite the complete lack of progress in the matter of enactment of a Common Civil Code or the continuation of Article 370 in the Constitution which was supposed to be of a temporary nature. The reasons for this lack of progress are not difficult to find. The most obvious one lies in the way our democracy has been working.
[pullquote]Muslims and Christians have been vigorously strengthening their sectarian identities to the detriment of the national identity[/pullquote]
Fomenting linguistic and religious chauvinism
One major fact which the idealistic framers of the Constitution did not seem to have fully grasped is the powerful hold the linguistic and religious identities exercise on their group members and the vote catching potential of real or imagined threats to that identity which could be used by the group leaders to ride to or to retain power.
Politics in India seems to have been confined to the pursuit of just one objective—wielding authority at the centre and in the states—to enjoy the power, privileges and perks (including the opportunities of enriching the holders, their associates, and followers).
Most of the political leaders do not seem to care at all about national interest. The injunctions “to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood” are generally observed in the breach. The compulsions created by the need to gain or to retain power often force leaders of major political parties to enter into bargains with other unscrupulous parties often in violation of all principles of ethics or constitutional propriety.
A recent example of the operation of this factor can be seen in the opposition by the Tamil Nadu political leaders including MDMK chief VAIKO , PMK Chief Ramadoss (both allies of BJP at the centre) and AIADMK Chief Minister Jayalalita to the CBSE circular advising all CBSE affiliated schools to hold Sanskrit Week in August 2014. The idea behind the proposed celebration was to regenerate interest in a language internationally accepted as being the most scientific and which is being introduced in more and more educational institutions in the western world.
Another important fact to be noted is that while the political leaders of Tamil Nadu are unanimous in their opposition to Sanskrit, the students—who are and should be the most concerned with the issue seem to be evenly divided. A fair percentage of the students in Tamil Nadu are understood to be keen to study Sanskrit and Hindi and their number is growing. Perhaps the opposition to the teaching of Sanskrit will decrease with the passage of time. Ex-Justice Markandeya Katju’s revelations about the Union government being forced to acquiesce in the continuation of a Chennai High Court Judge known to be corrupt, is another evidence of the depth to which we have sunk.
While linguistic chauvinism does not seem to be an immediate threat to the nation’s integrity, religious extremism is definitely a cause for concern. Among the followers of the two non-Indic religions viz. Islam and Christianity, there are significant sections who apparently believe in converting the rest of the Indian people to their beliefs.
[pullquote]Not many Indians are quite aware that Christianity proclaims that human beings are born in sin [/pullquote]
Both, for instance, expect blind obedience to their fundamental tenets even in defiance of human reason and both believe in aggressive proselytization. Not many Indians are quite aware that Christianity proclaims that human beings are born in sin and are bound to go to hell unless Jesus, the Son of God, intercedes on their behalf. The Bible too contains provisions showing that God desired the whole world to be converted to Christianity.
Scholarly research has proved that there was no such person as Jesus Christ and the whole story was concocted many years after the supposed birth of Christ. As for Islam, it is well known that its holy book the Qu’ran prescribes death in this world and roasting in eternal hellfire in the hereafter for all those who refuse to believe in the revelations contained therein. The penalty for apostasy is death. Many Muslims believe in the concepts of Dar-ul harb (where Islamic law does not prevail) and Dar-ul-islam (where Islamic law prevails) and the duty of Muslims to try to convert the land where they reside into Dar-ul-Islam. Some of the Muslims also believe that since India was once ruled by Muslims it is incumbent on all Muslims to reestablish Muslim rule over India.
We will discuss the details of the threat faced by the country from the extremists in the two communities in the next part of the article.