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3 Things You Need To Know To Understand Minority Rights In India

‘Justice for all, appeasement of none’ sounds like an ideal approach for a country like India with such vast diversity. But practically, such an approach contributes to the exploitation of minorities. The issue of minority rights has long been a bone of contention in India. Minority rights are often seen as a question of secularism which is a wrong interpretation of the very term itself.

Sardar Patel declared no reservation for religious minorities in Parliament due to the circumstances following partition.

Minority rights are special rights given to minorities owing to their vulnerability in society, in addition to their universal rights. Minority right is a substantive right, without which democracy is not complete. It is not something separate from human rights but is a subset of human rights.

1. Minority Rights In The Constituent Assembly

Distinguished Canadian political philosopher James Tully stated in his book Strange Multiplicity, the constitution is a “form of accommodation of cultural diversity” and “an intercultural dialogue in which the culturally diverse sovereign citizens of contemporary societies negotiate agreements.”

In 1879, the Bulgarian constitution was the first constitution incorporated with minority rights to its Greek and Turkish minority citizens.

In the constituent assembly of India following the Objectives Resolution of Jawaharlal Nehru, an advisory committee under the chairmanship of Sardar Patel was formed, which further split into four sub-committees.

The onus of providing minorities adequate safeguard was vested upon two committees –  the sub-Committee on minorities chaired by H.C. Mookerjee and the Sub-Committee on fundamental rights led by J.B Kripalini. The two committees began their works from a Questionnaire drafted by K. M Munshi which consisted of several crucial agendas such as cultural, political, and economic safeguards for minorities.

2. Political Safeguards For Minorities

On 5 Feb 1948, the Draft Committee under the chairmanship of B.R Ambedkar formulated many provisions for minorities such as provision for reservation for minorities in the house of the people (Lok Sabha), reservation in the legislative assemblies, reservation in public administration, and also provisions for the appointment of special officers for minorities on union and state level and many more.

 Till this point in time framers of the constitution were committed to giving political and economic safeguards to religious minorities. The communal violence unleashed after that period in the subcontinent, changed the mood of the constituent assembly to a large extent on the issue of minority rights.

On 30th December 1948 Sardar Patel declared due to the ‘changed circumstances’ no provision for reservation of seats in parliament or legislatures for religious minorities is to be inscribed in the constitution. However provision of reservation for SC and ST groups remained intact. Some members of the constituent assembly gave a very narrow definition of secularism to justify the denial of the reservation to minorities. The rationale behind not granting reservation for religious minorities, but granting it to minorities under the Hindu fold is certainly a subtle Hindu bias of the constituent assembly.

Religious minority communities like Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians who till then enjoyed a separate electorate faced a huge blow. They were left with no safeguards other than educational and cultural ones.

3. Cultural Safeguards For Minorities

Although political and economic safeguards were expunged from the original constitution, some educational and cultural safeguards were provided to religious minorities. Article 29 and 30, these two provisions were adopted to preserve and promote the cultural identity of minorities through their right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. Minority institutions like Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University along with Madrasas draw their right to exist from the abovementioned articles.

Under the same articles, it is incumbent upon the state governments to recognize the informal Madrassas as many as possible and bring those under a regulatory framework to introduce modern education along with religious studies. 

Spaces for minorities have been continuously decreasing for minorities in India.

Special provisions for enabling Muslim minorities to hold positions in the power structure of the country were one of the key demands of M. A. Jinnah in the pre-independence time, which is said to be one of the major points of contention between Congress and the Muslim League.

In a British-style Fast Past The Post-election system, minorities dispersed all over the country struggle to get their due representation in the decision-making bodies of the country. The absence of any special right for minorities on the political front has made it even worse. In a country like ours, given the animosity towards the minorities being rife, minority rights are seen as an appeasement of minorities. We should know the fact that minority rights enhance the legitimacy of the state.

Giving minorities special rights accentuates the great cause of national integration and attenuates the devastating process of cultural assimilation and homogenization of identities. It makes the democracy more vibrant by ensuring representation of all sections and making the government more accountable to all sections of citizens. The continuously shrinking space for minorities in the present-day political arena of India speaks volumes of the system’s failure to accommodate all distinct identities in the country’s power structures.

In European countries like Kosovo, ethnic minorities enjoy almost equal power to that of the ethnic majority. They have sophisticated their political system by adopting the conscious democracy which has four features: broad coalition government, reciprocal veto, proportional representation, and segmental autonomy (Ljiphart, 1977, p. 25).

Minority communities are constitutionally entitled to veto a bill that is hostile to their vital interest. No constitutional amendments can be carried out without the approval of ⅔ of the lawmakers from the minority communities, which is the same provision Jinnah mentioned in his famous 14 points in 1929.

 No doubt these provisions strengthen the security of apprehensive minorities, at the same time spew some internal problems on developmental issues as well. If not such radical consociationalism, at least we should start thinking of a more consociational mechanism suitable to our conditions which will help in the political integration of minorities.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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