Will The Real Minority Please Stand Up?

Author: Girish Balasubramanian.

The run up to the elections in Karnataka in 2018 saw an interesting turn of events in which Lingayats were declared to be a separate religion and were accorded the status of a minority which was eventually quashed by the Central Government. Independent India has often faced these types of dilemmas of protecting the minorities – the fall out of which is the clumsy minority appeasement politics that we see today. This article specifically focuses on the aspects of identifying minorities in India and the constitutional frameworks or judicial frameworks which are there in India. Recently an interesting public interest litigation has been filed by advocate Ashvini Upadhyay which has rekindled the debate surrounding who is a minority? Though there is a lot of discussion regarding the welfare of minorities and a separate ministry is in operation it is a baffling revelation that the constitution of India does not define who is a minority. There is however the National Commission for Minorities Act 1992 – which strangely also does not define who is a minority. Despite this huge ambiguity, a whole ministry is functioning not only at the centre but at the state levels too! Perhaps the architects of these important documents lost sight of the possibility of changing demographics.  

The idiocy is further substantiated by the notification from the ministry declaring some sections and communities minorities at a national level – thus in the North East States despite the fact that they are heavily Christianized, the Hindu is still a majority. Similarly, in the islands of Lakshadweep, despite being heavily Muslim dominated – the Hindu is still not a minority. It is important to note that the government has neither set up any commission, nor has it used the basic blocks namely that of language and state to determine the status of minority. Despite this lack of proper framework and definitions, huge amounts are spent in giving scholarships and assistance to the minorities not to mention the clumsy appeasement that is now assuming gargantuan proportions. The recent interview of Shri. Rajiv Malhotra is important to understand the problem of the vague definition of minority that is propagated in India and indeed the world today.

In this video, Shri. Rajiv’s take on minorities gives a global perspective, and discusses the recent US Supreme Court ruling on Christians being given minority status in the USA. India’s problems are deeper, as we have a very active and politically influential abrahamic minority who tend to have anti-nationalist trajectories. Rajiv provides an interesting blueprint for a Swadeshi Abrahamics paradigm.

Francesco Caportorti (Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities) in 1979 came up with an elaborate definition of minorities as, “A group numerically inferior to the rest of the population of a State, in a non-dominant position, whose members – being nationals of the State – possess ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics differing from those of the rest of the population and show, if only implicitly, a sense of solidarity, directed towards preserving their culture, traditions, religion or language”. The United Nations too has come up with an understanding of minorities in the United Nations Minorities Declaration as based on national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identities and further that the State has to protect their existence. However, the UN itself admits that there is barely any consensus on the overall definition of who is a minority. They have however given a very basic framework to determine who is a minority – and the guidelines should include both objective and subjective parameters.

The judiciary has had some occasions to deliberate on the parameters to identify the minority and in one such litigation which concerned the larger educational reforms, the TMA Pai case (supposed to be a defining moment for the Indian judiciary after the Keshavananda Bharati case) – contended that since language had been the basis for the creation of the states to determine the linguistic minority, the state can be taken as the reference unit. On similar lines, the state can be taken as the unit of reference for determining the religious minorities. Thus, there will be no pan Indian definition of a religious minority just as there is no pan Indian definition of a linguistic minority. As far as India is concerned there is no evidence of racial or ethnic minority (despite the Aryan/Dravidian divide – which has been debunked in academic circles). Thus, combining the two rationales that of the UN and the guidelines laid down by the judiciary the framework could be:

  • State/Union Territory to be the unit for determination of the status of minority both linguistic as well as religious
  • Non-dominant position – non-dominant economically, politically and socially
  • Numerically minuscule – about 5 percent of the total population of the state – the logic of 3-5 % can be taken from statistics where typically the significance level is kept at 5% – that is the probability of committing an error is typically kept at 5% level.

This type of a framework however makes it amply clear that the classification cannot be a onetime exercise and that it has to be revisited on a periodic basis – as there are many examples of serious social re-engineering and consequent demographic changes happening across the length and breadth of India. Historical evidence of revisiting such arrangements are quite rare.  

Girish Balasubramanian is an budding academic associated with the Xavier University Bhubaneswar. He is an Electrical Engineer an holds a PhD in Management. He is an avid traveller and likes to experience varied cultures. He also likes Carnatic music, Ghazals and Kabir’s dohas. Read More…

References: –

  • The definition quoted from Minority Rights: International Standards and Guidance for Implementation, (Page 2) 2010 – Report published by United Nations Human Rights – Office of the High Commissioner – Published at New York and Geneva. – Publication no. HR/Pub/10/3.3
  • TA PAI Case – T.M.A.Pai Foundation & Ors vs State Of Karnataka & Ors on 31 October, 2002, accessed at https://indiankanoon.org/doc/512761/ accessed on October 1, 2019.

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