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The Holy Qur’an encapsulates, however, the inalienable humanity that cannot be denied to anyone, no matter how vulnerable or marginalized: “Indeed, We honoured the progeny of Adam, and bore them across land and sea and provided them with good things for their sustenance, and exalted them above many of Our creatures.” (17:70)

Since 1992, 18th December has been observed as Minority Rights Day in India. The aim is to empower and uplift the status of all minority sections of society, as well as to give them a platform to speak what they want and express their opinions. In India, The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) is responsible to host various events, including webinars and public programs across the country to commemorate this day. The Union Government under the National Commission for Minorities Act established the NMC.
Purpose of Minority Rights Day

On this day, the primary aim is to bring attention to the issues and challenges faced by minorities in the country, which otherwise remain under-addressed most of the time. Our country is a plural country and diverse in a true sense. With so many religions, tribes, cultures and languages changing every few kilometres, our country stands out globally, in contrast to many other countries that have a fairly homogenous social base, or others that have only recently come to terms with increasing diversity.

However, this unity can be maintained and secured only if the rights of religious, linguistic and ethnic minorities are guaranteed. Therefore, one can say that this day works towards safeguarding the constitutionally guaranteed rights of religious minorities in the country. Additionally, the purpose of celebrating this day is to provide equal opportunities for ethnic minorities in India, working towards increased awareness about the respect and dignity of the minorities, addressing the issues and problems faced by the different minority communities in the country and working towards the total eradication of all types of discrimination and racism against the minorities of our country.

What Does the Constitution Guarantee to Minorities?

This is the list of some of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India to minorities:

  1. Prohibition of discrimination against citizens on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
  2. Citizens’ right to equality of opportunity in employment and prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
  3. People’s freedom of conscience and right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion – subject to public order, morality and health.
  4. Right of all religious and linguistic minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
  5. Freedom of minority-managed educational institutions from discrimination in the matter of receiving aid from the State.
Stark Reality of Indian Minorities

In India, five religious communities have been notified as minorities. These include Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Zoroastrians or Parsis. However, all minorities have varied rates of marginalization and exclusion; while some are minorities in terms of population and demographics, others, like Muslims and Christians, also face unique experiences of discrimination, alienated, exclusion and even outright violence. It is interesting to note that December brings with it Minority Rights Day as well as International Day of Human Rights. The two ideas or principles – human rights and minority rights are interrelated and important to understand in congruence. There is a frequent claim – “minority rights are human rights.” This is in effect, an assertion that minorities are humans, deserving of humanity, dignity and all the rights that are enshrined in the global framework of human rights. But why did this assertion become necessary in the world’s largest democracy, one whose Preamble promises justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity to all its citizens – including the most vulnerable and marginalized?

The Price of Hatred

Report after report in India, including the recently released Council on Minority Rights in India report titled “Religious Minorities in India Report: Documenting Socio-Political Status of Religious Minorities in India, 2021” offers damning figures. From surveillance of Christian-run educational institutions, and growing incidence of gendered Islamophobia to the hate speech against Sikhs, India’s minorities are under sustained pressure, with the added complication that civil liberties activists who dare to speak out in solidarity are being targeted with alarming frequency.

So, in essence, all is not well in India. You can slice and read the data in all possible ways (as the government sometimes likes to do); you can obscure, hide or obfuscate the facts; you can even buy out the media and replace them with factories of hate, but you cannot fully erase the reality on the ground that is now increasingly visible across the globe in international forums as well. The well of hatred that has been stoked in the hearts of many Indians against their own fellow countrymen is helping hide the fact that hate cannot feed hungry bellies. Yet, people are willing to continue investing their faith in seasoned political hatemongers even as their own fortunes deplete, just to ensure that religious minorities in India, particularly Muslims are even worse off than them. It is a devil’s bargain of epic proportions.

International Pressure:
On November 10, 2022, six international human rights groups at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process said that the Indian government should promptly adopt and act on the recommendations that United Nations member states made.

The recommendations cover a range of key concerns including the protection of minority communities and vulnerable groups, tackling gender-based violence, upholding civil society freedoms, protecting human rights defenders, and ending torture in custody.
From the continued imposition of draconian laws like NSA, UAPA, sedition and AFSPA, India’s record on gender violence, the muzzling of outspoken civil liberties activists like Khurram Parvez, and Professor GN Saibaba or India’s abysmal record on hate speech and hate crime, everything is out in the open. Human rights discourse has long faded to resound in the ears of the establishment in India. Yet, we continue to celebrate ‘days’ like clockwork, to the point that they have been rendered meaningless. Simultaneously, the Indian government continues to reject all negative data that is not their ‘own’ (ranging from the Global Hunger Index to WHO’s estimate of COVID deaths), and discredit or ignore international resolutions.

The Idea of Intrinsic Dignity

The Holy Qur’an encapsulates, however, the inalienable humanity that cannot be denied to anyone, no matter how vulnerable or marginalized: “Indeed, We honoured the progeny of Adam, and bore them across land and sea and provided them with good things for their sustenance, and exalted them above many of Our creatures.” (17:70)

“Indeed, We honoured the progeny of Adam, and bore them across land and sea and provided them with good things for their sustenance, and exalted them above many of Our creatures.” (17:70) Similar themes can be found in other scriptures; for example, the Rig Veda says: “There is none high or low amongst you. You are all brethren and therefore, strive all together to attain prosperity.” (Rig Veda 50, 60, 5).

Dignity is intrinsic to the process of moulding humanity. It also means that dignity is a right that we demand of one another, in our everyday dealings; and something we can expect from the state and those who are meant to protect and govern. It is also the basis of our Constitution. The Constitution also made an extraordinary effort in identifying and respecting the reality of difference. While promising equality to all before the law, it did not homogenize or gloss over the complex realities of the Indian social order, which includes religious minorities, ethnic minorities, historically marginalized groups, as well as social elites. On this firm basis, one cannot divorce minority rights from human rights, or indeed, gender justice from human rights. The idea of being human or the claim that humanity still persists in the Indian social and public sphere can only fully be guaranteed and realized when there is a vision for the dignity and rights of minorities in every sense – beyond tokenism and empty promises.

1 Comment

  1. Jabirhusain Allarakha Mansuri

    Citizenry RIghts, empowered via ambit of Constitution, prompt any citizen, especially minority of India, and global society, give daily (24x7x365) lead and tip of struggle, resistance, legal activism.

    If monitoring (media; journalism), delivered by print, electronic and social media prompt us to think; review and to respond for a duty of a citizen vis-a-vis rights, that is the sign of a live society.

    Our rich pre & post Independence struggle of Independence history provide us inspiration. Unity in struggle was witnessed by Muslim scholars, along with Hindu leaders to wipe out colonialism.

    Events at international theatre of politics (Palestine vis-a-vis Israel), is a latest episode of recent past of justice and injustice timelines, pampered by actors of politics.

    “Is the minority even human”, such a title of article is an inappropriate vocabulary in my humble understanding. If it is written with intent to arouse human values of self-respect may be construed appropriate. Otherwise, may demotivate a citizen.

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