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Minorities and Indian Constitution

Minorities and our constitution: Historical Approach and its present relevance: Though Indian society has been plural from ancient times, the minority problem faced as faced by the framers of the Constitution is widely  believed to be the creation of the colonial regime. The plural Indian society has various groups – ethnic, religious and linguistic. They used to live harmoniously together with broad cultural unity. Even Islam co-existed with Hinduism. However, the British rule made a qualitative difference in the minority problem.

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It accepted the plural nature of the Indian society but stressed the importance of groups rather than individuals in the political processes and attempted to widen the gap among different groups based on ethnicity, religion, language and other interest in order to sub serve their imperial interest. In the words of Milton Gordon, British emphasized on ‘corporate pluralism’ rather than ‘liberal pluralism’ In corporate pluralism emphasis is on groups and individuals are treated as members of the group: in liberal pluralism emphasis is on individuals as citizens.

The Corporate Pluralism led to the separation among groups and thereby it creates difficulty in national integration. The latter neo-liberal pluralism helps the process of national integration and nation building. The national leaders accepted that Indian society was plural and that any constitutional framework could not ignore it. However their concept of Indian plural society was based on ‘Liberal Pluralism’ which emphasized the fact that though an individual was a member of his group, he participated in the political system as a citizen.

This concept, they hoped, would ultimately strengthen the national bond among different minority groups and which foster the approach was evident in the Nehru Committee Report, 1928, which recommended on one hand, joint mixed electorates and on the other hand favoured such fundamental rights for individuals as right to equality, freedom of religion, etc. With such constitution they believed, the problem of minority could be solved after the departure of the British. It was under the Cabinet Mission Plan, 1946, that the Constituent Assembly was elected to frame constitution for India. The Cabinet Mission proposed he formation of an advisory committee on minorities, fundamental rights of individuals and to suggest measures for safeguarding interests of minorities. The advisory committee was set up under the chairmanship of Sardar Vallabhai Patel which commented:  The question of minorities cannot possibly be overrated. It has been created so far creating conflict, distrust and cleavages between the different sections of the society. Imperialism thrives on such difference. So far the minorities have been stimulated and have been influenced in a manner which has hampered the growth of cohesion and friendliness.

But now it is necessary that a new chapter should start and we should realize our responsibility. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar while moving the Draft Constitution for consideration of the house said: In this country both minorities and majorities have followed the wrong path. It is wrong for the majority to dent the existence of minorities and it is equally wrong for the minorities to immortalize themselves. A solution must be found which will serve double purpose. It must recognize the existence of the minorities to start with.

It must also be such that it enables majorities and minorities to merge someday into one…. When the Constituent Assembly decided to do away with communal separate electorates and communal reservation, Nehru welcomed it as a “historic turn of our destiny”. It was also welcomed by Sardar Patel . Thus it is clear that the constitution framers hoped that by abolishing separate communal reservations and by guaranteeing fundamental rights to citizens, India will be able to solve the problem of minorities and will emerge one day as “one community”.

However, this hope was disproved by later developments. The constitutional provisions that were finally embodied in the constitution to solve the minority problem included among others the following: • Communal separate electorates as introduced under British rule were abolished, and following the Nehru Committee Report, 1928, joint electorates with reserved seats for socially backward communities were adopted. Universal Adult Suffrage was adopted and every adult citizen was given the right to vote. Special provisions were made for reservation of seats for the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes both in State Legislatures and In Parliament. Initially such provisions were for ten years but since 1960 these were extended for 10 yearly bases. • Fundamental Rights were guaranteed and were made justifiable such as: right to equality, right to freedom, right against exploitation and right to religious freedom.

However, the chapter on fundamental rights also included provisions regarding protective discrimination in favour of children, women, Schedule Castes, Schedule Tribes and Backward classes. • Besides these rights to individuals and citizens, the Constitution also provided for cultural and educational rights of minority as fundamental rights • According to Article 29 any section of citizens of India having distinct language, Script and culture has the right to conserve the same.

It covers both the majority and minority communities. Hence the majority cannot burden its own language, script and culture on minority. • Article 30 states that all minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have right to establish and administer educational institution of their choice. • Special provisions are made for Anglo Indian Community in certain services such as to posts in railways, customs, postal and telegraph services and also educational grants for their benefits. Articles’ 336 and 337) • Provision was made for the appointment of a Commission to investigate the conditions of backward classes. (Article 340) • A separate constitution was permitted for the state of Jammu and Kashmir (Article 370) • Similar special provisions were also made and added in subsequent  constitutional amendments to provide for particular demands of different linguistic, religious or regional backward minority groups such as development boards for Vidharbha in Maharashtra and Kutch In Gujrat (article 371 D) and provisions for Andhra (Art. 71 D) • Similar special provisions were enacted to protect religious and social practices, customary law, ownership and transfer of land and its resources to tribal people with respect to states of North-East and other parts of the country. An analysis of these provisions shows that in spite of an emphasis on Universal Adult Suffrage and fundamental rights of individuals and citizens, plural nature of Indian society was not ignored and constitutional makers provided also for ethnic, religious and linguistic groups.

While emphasizing liberal pluralism they also accepted the corporate pluralism to some extent and made provisions for rights of groups. Thus the makers of constitution had hoped that the problem of Minority created by Britishers would be solved peacefully with the constitutional framework and some day minority and majority would form “one community”. However, the problem has become more serious. In spite of numerous executive and legislative measures as well as constitutional amendments, the country still suffers from ethnic and terroristic violence.

In order to check such destructive and violent activities, the state has to use police and even military power resulting in serious setback to the process of National Integration. In fact the minority problem is multi-dimensional which requires multi-dimensional solution. The modernization has developed two different tendencies. On one side it has strengthened the demand for identity of ethnic groups and one the other it has caused a desire for progress. It has been pointed out that in a low income multi-ethnic society modernization involves two processes which are often antagonistic.

It provides opportunities for mobility which promotes internal migration; it also helps the development of Ethnic Cohesion. Ethnic Cohesion does not necessarily mean a break from the past; but it does involve modernity of tradition. Ethnic Cohesion in order to be effective requires resources which are distributed by political power. In a developing society like India, there is a scarcity of resources and every group’s fights for more and more resources. Every group desires to control or at least to have an effective voice in the distribution of resources.

It is in this sense the political power occupies the central position in any political system. It is thus clear that the minority problem involves a number of variables both traditional and modern. It is therefore difficult to suggest readymade constitutional solution. Constitution is after all means which if properly implemented, can help to secure the desirable end. Much depends on how its provisions are interpreted and implemented. Keeping this in mind following measures can prove helpful to solve the problem of minority:- • Policies of government are crises induced.

Such policies encourage minority groups to put more demands leading ultimately to show off strength. This practice should be given up and certain objective criteria based on consensus among national leaders and ethnic group leaders should be laid down to grant more rights to these groups. • Resources should be distributed among different groups justly and honestly. The regime should adopt transparent method for distribution of resources. • Practice of Liberal Pluralism should be encouraged.

This should be realized that any emphasis on the corporate pluralism will not help in the National Integration. • Policy of accommodating minority/ethnic political demands should be favoured • Finally, it is necessary that an atmosphere of trust should be created between national leaders and ethnic leaders. We must remember that the choice for us is between rapid evolution and violent revolution and if we cannot solve this problem soon our Constitution will become useless and powerless. “If India goes down, all will go down; if India thrives, all will thrive; if India lives all will live.


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