‘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.
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.
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.
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.