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"Anathema" for minorities in Gujarat to speak for their Constitutional rights


By Mujahid Nafees*
It is indeed a strange irony here in India. When a person from a minority community raises her or his voice for constitutional rights, she or he is easily blamed for being radical or fundamentalist. At the same time, a person belonging to Scheduled Caste (SC) or Scheduled Tribe (ST) community is applauded for the courage and speaking against discrimination. It’s difficult for the society to oppose this person; the points raised are never rejected easily. Rather, this person’s acts are taken as strengthening of Constitution.
As the largest democracy of the world, India can’t afford such kind of dual approach. While working for the rights of minorities in Gujarat, we have discovered that there is no redressal mechanism for the grievances of minorities. Even the department for the welfare of minorities is absent here! Is it, then, wrong to raise the voice of minorities, who are deprived of various aspects of development? No, it’s not.
Our Constitution speaks of religious and linguistic minorities, SCs, STs and Backward Classes (BCs) and makes – or leaves room for making – for them special provisions of various nature and varying import.
Various Articles of the Constitution, providing rights to minorities, clearly and firmly point 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.
The Constitution provides two sets of rights for minorities which can be placed in ‘common domain’ and ‘separate domain’. The rights which fall in the ‘common domain’ are those which are applicable to all the citizens of our country. The rights which fall in the ‘separate domain’ are those which are applicable to the minorities only, and these are reserved to protect their identity.
  • The Constitution has made provisions for Fundamental Rights in Part III, which the state has to comply with, and these are also judicially enforceable. In the ‘common domain’, the following fundamental rights and freedoms are covered: people’s right to ‘equality before the law’ and ‘equal protection of the laws’; [Article 14] 
  • prohibition of discrimination against citizens on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth; [Article 15 (1) & (2)] 
  • authority of state to make ‘any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens’ (besides SCs and STs); [Article 15 (4)] 
  • citizens’ right to ‘equality of opportunity’ in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the state – and prohibition in this regard of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth; [Article 16(1)&(2)] 
  • authority of state to make ‘any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the state, is not adequately represented in the services under the state; [Article 16(4)] 
  • people’s freedom of conscience and right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion – subject to public order, morality and other Fundamental Rights; [Article 25(1)] 
  • right of ‘every religious denomination or any section thereof – subject to public order, morality and health – to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, ‘manage its own affairs in matters of religion’, and own and acquire movable immovable property and administer it ‘in accordance with law’; [Article 26] 
  • prohibition against compelling any person to pay taxes for ‘promotion of any particular religion’; [Article 27] 
  • people’s ‘freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in educational institutions’ wholly maintained, recognized, or aided by the state.[Article 28] 
The rights of minorities provided in the Constitution which fall in the category of ‘Separate Domain’ are asunder:
  • right of ‘any section of the citizens’ to ‘conserve’ its ‘distinct language, script or culture’; [Article 29(1)] 
  • restriction on denial of admission to any citizen, to any educational institution maintained or aided by the state, ‘on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them’; [Article 29(2)] 
  • right of all religious and linguistic minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice;[Article 30(1)] 
  • freedom of minority-managed educational institutions from discrimination in the matter of receiving aid from the State;[Article30(2)] 
  • special provision relating to the language spoken by a section of the population of any State;[Article 347] 
  • provision for facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at primary stage;[Article 350 A] 
  • provision for a special officer for linguistic minorities and his duties; and [Article 350 B] 
  • Sikh community’s right of ‘wearing and carrying of kirpans; [Explanation 1 below Article 25] 
There is another set of rights stated in Part IV, which are connected with social and economic rights of the people. These rights – known as ‘Directive Principles of State Policy’, which are not binding upon the state – include the following provisions having significant implications for the minorities:
  • ‘fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the state to apply these principles in making laws’ (Article37)
  • obligation of 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 38 (2)] 
  • obligation of state ‘to promote with special care’ the educational and economic interests of ‘the weaker sections of the people’ (besides Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes); [Article 46] 
Part IVA of the Constitution, relating to Fundamental Duties as provided in Article 51A applies in full to all citizens, including those belonging to Minorities. Article 51A, which is of special relevance for the Minorities stipulates, is asunder:
  • citizens’ duty to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India ‘transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; and 
  • citizens’ duty to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.’ 
When we see the status of minorities in Gujarat we find that all provisions of the Constitution violated in the state. In Gujarat we have no separate government department for minority affairs, no budget allocation for the upliftment of minorities in state budget, nor is there any implementation of schemes by the Government of India. There is no grievances redressal mechanism for minorities in Gujarat in the form of a commission.
The minority community in Gujarat consists of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs Buddhists, Jews, Parsi, and Jains. The population of minorities in Gujarat is 11.5% (as per 2011 Census).Internationally, on December 18, 1992, the United Nations in its 92nd plenary meeting declared the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. This day is also celebrated as as the International Minority Rights Day. Special emphasis has been given to the development and protection of minorities in member states.
Similarly, in 1992, the Indian Parliament passed the National Commission for Minorities Act, and it was brought into force in 1993. The primary task of this commission is to give suggestions to the Government of India for development and protection of minorities from discrimination. The commission has power to conduct hearings in civil courts to redress the issues concerning minority communities. The Unite Nations also works on multidimensional Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to reduce inequalities and promote peace, justice and institutions at international level. India has committed to achieve the SDG targets by 2030.
Demands of the minorities in Gujarat are:
  1. Minority Welfare Ministry should be established in the state. 
  2. Separate budget allocation for the development of minorities. 
  3. State Minority Commission should be constituted in state by passing legislation in assembly. 
  4. Open intermediate government run schools in minority populated areas. 
  5. Madarsa degree should be recognized as equivalent to the Gujarat Board. 
  6. Special economic package for upliftment of minority communities. 
  7. Government policy for rehabilitation of people displaced from communal violence. 
  8. Full implementation of Prime Ministers 15 point programmes. 
---
*Convener, Minority Coordination Committee Gujarat. Contact: nafeesmujahid43@gmail.com

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