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Does The Constitution Do Enough To Protect India’s Minorities?

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“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

India, a massive country of diversity that is unparalleled and unfathomable to scale, with the winds rising from the great Himalayas to the tides gradual ebb and flow that marks that coast of the Kanyakumari, with the arid landscape of the sand worn Thar to the hillscapes of the Kanchenjunga, India bears its diversity with pride. 

Much like its geographic features, diversity transcends beyond the mere superficial and finds its abode in the temperaments, culture, tradition, language and religion of the masses. Birthplace to several major religions, most significantly, Hinduism and Buddhism, India is also home to all the major religions globally with varying cultures that differentiate their being as unique.

However, as has been repeated, India’s greatest pride is also her greatest bane. The diversity that is magnified through the country has been one of the major causes of concern for the general populace and the state’s sanctity as a whole. The presence of the said diversified communities demands the representation of the said communities on the national level.

However, it has been a long forlorn truth that more the diversity of the populace, more the possibilities of nerve-racking conflict. Starting from the beginning of time, human beings have often wondered with gasped breaths and suspicious stares about how another person’s socio-cultural upbringing is different from theirs — even the ones belonging to the same community group as them.

As much as we celebrate the diversity of India’s culture, there will always be a community of people who will quiver with fear as they gaze upon another community in their society with dazed eyes due to how different both their cultures are; till the moment the fear adopts the garb of violence.

delhi riots
The Delhi riots resulted in the deaths of 53 Indians, of which about two-thirds were Muslim.

In February 2020, India witnessed the cruellest and the most dystopian political climates in the quintessential abode of religious multiculturalism and diversity — Northeast Delhi. However, the haven was not to stay for long. 

“I want to tell him that till the U.S. President (Donald Trump) is in India, we are leaving the area peacefully. After that, we won’t listen to you (police) if the roads are not vacated by then…we will have to take to the streets.”

And with this speech, BJP leader, Kapil Mishra, began laying the foundation stones of the riots that resulted in the deaths of 53 Indians, of which about two-thirds were Muslim. The terror of the saffron had spread through the burning streets of Jafrabad, Seelampur and Maujpur. Houses lay in tatters while the homegrown businesses lay in flames.

The saffron terror knew neither creed nor colour, for everything that lay in their path was destroyed. In retaliation, the Muslim community of the said area took to arms and, thus, broke out the fear-inducing bloodshed between the two communities. One seeks to ask the quintessential question as to what the authorities were doing at the said time and one would be right in asking the said question. And the answer would be that they were mere bystanders, who often helped the perpetrators commit their atrocities.

Thus, we come to the point of revelation in the form of the Constitution of India. The Constitution insinuates the basic freedoms, duties, and laws to be meted out to the masses without presumptive malice. And within the holy grail of Indian democracy, minorities find their armour and shield. 

  • Article 15: prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
  • Article 26: allows all religious institutions to be opened.
  • Article 27: provides that no person shall be forced to pay any taxes which are not mandatory.
  • Article 28: provides that there shall be no religious instruction to be followed in any particular educational institutions maintained with state funds.
  • Article 29: protects the interests of the minorities by making a provision that any citizen/section of citizens having a distinct language, script or culture have the right to conserve the same. It mandates that no discrimination would be done based on religion, race, caste, language or any of them.
  • Article 30: states the right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions. It says, “All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”
minorities india
Has the time come for the authorities to define minorities in the Indian Constitution?

These Articles beg us to ponder how far these go in ensuring the basic fundamental right to live with dignity of religious and linguistic minorities in India. Through the years of India’s independence, it has been the foreboding debate that many a minority have been left deprived of the basic right to live with dignity, starting from the infamous sterilisation drive initiated by the Indira Gandhi government to the most recent Delhi pogrom. 

Coming back to the famous quote made by Dr Martin Luther King Jr with which the article began, his vision was utopian. Obviously, in a society that pits one person against another, inequality will forever be the mainstay. However, it is also true that the moment we pit a person against another owing solely based on their religion, ethnicity or native language, we lose our morality and humanity loses its speck of light by the minute.

It brings to mind the age-old debate as to whether or not these rights are sufficient to protect the interest of minorities, or has the time come for the authorities to define minorities in the Indian Constitution?

By Kushan Niyogi

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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