The word minority is linked to the French word “minority”, which was used in the 15th century. From the 1530s, it meant “State of Being Smaller”. The word is also linked to the medieval Latin “minorities”, which meant lesser, more minor or junior. Till 1789 the use of the term in politics was not in vogue. Minority, as a smaller group based on race, religion, language etc., started to be meant after the First World War in Eastern Europe.
In English, the word ‘minority’ originally meant less critical. The political connotation of minority started only after the formation of Minority Rights Group International by David Astor in 1969, who was editor and proprietor of Observer Newspaper. He rose voice against ethnic persecution in the United Kingdom. Even his efforts remained limited till he got a grant from Ford Foundation.
The concept and meaning of minorities and their rights changed after the 1st world War. The Paris Peace Conference (1919-20): dealt in detail with the rights of ethnic, national, linguistic or religious minorities. It was made mandatory for all new members of the League of Nations to sign Treaties on countries that must grant fundamental rights to all its citizens without discrimination of birth, nationality, race or religion. It was added that all member countries must make laws conferring such rights to their citizens as fundamental state laws.
Afterwards, Edward Chaszar, professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, presented an article at the 14th Annual Duquesne History Forum, Pittsburgh, on October 27, 1980. In his article, he tried to check the condition of minorities after the Paris Peace Conference. By citing examples, he expressed his dissatisfaction over minority status.
Here it is essential to mention that the main focus of the League of Nations or even Edward Chaszar was protection by the state for minorities from the atrocities of the majority. Chaszar, in his article, mentioned cases where the League of Nations was selective in cases of atrocities against minorities. Therefore, it is required on the part of everybody to be aware and alert regarding the issue of what amounts to atrocities and how it is to be decided that minorities are discriminated against.
Anyway, due to the efforts of intellectuals like Edward Chaszar and other human rights groups, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the “Declaration of the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities” on December 18, 1992, General Assembly Resolution No.47/135. This resolution adopted 9 Articles for Minorities.
Article 1: It protected the existence and identity of ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic minorities by state by making laws.
Article 2: It provided rights to minorities to use and practice their religion, language or culture. This article also gave them the right to participate in the nation’s decision-making process and maintain contacts with similar or other minorities within the country or outside.
Article 3: This gives right to minorities to exercise their rights individually or in the community; for that, they will never have any disadvantage.
Article 4: directs states to take appropriate measures so that minorities can use their rights freely and participate in the country’s economic development.
Article 5: It again directs states to formulate programmes and policies keeping in view the interest of minorities.
Article 6: It calls upon all states to share information and experiences for the benefit of minorities.
Article 7: It directs states to have respect for minority rights granted by U.N.
Article 8: It, however, provides certain rights that the rights of minorities cannot override. Universal Human Rights, Right of Equality and Protection of Sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of states.
Article 9: directs the specialised agencies of the UN. to contribute to realizing minority rights.
In light of the United Nations Declaration of Minority Rights, there is a severe need to ponder the grant of Minority status to the Muslim community. No doubt, India has been a law-abiding country since ancient times. It has been tolerant of others, even adversaries, in the past. The concept of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam”, unequivocally pronounced in the Upanishads, is a testimony to it. Therefore, the moot point is whether Muslims deserve minority status or it is an aberration. We need to check it on different parameters. We should also check what happened to religious minorities in East and West Pakistan after Partition.
Demographically, Muslims were a little over 24 per cent of the total population of India before the partition. After partition, according to the census of 1951 (the first census after independence), their population was only 9.8 per cent. Out of the total population of India, 361 million Muslims constitute 35.4 per cent of the total population, and Hindus 303.5 million, which includes 84.1 per cent of the total population. The given graph shows the demographic change in the population of India in the different censuses.
The graph clearly shows that during the last 60 years of independence (1951-2011), the Muslim population has increased by almost five times (4.86), whereas the Hindu population has increased only by three times (3.18). Does it show discrimination or atrocities against Muslims? The increase in the Muslim population’s growth rate is more alarming than the total increase. Anybody can aver that this increase is not natural. This has been due to various factors. One factor is the slow spread of modern education among them, but this reason applies to a significant Hindu population also living in remote villages. The cult of Madarsa education runs on the Government’s financial support. This is deemed to educate the poor Muslims who are away from the mainstream education system. Still, instead of awarding, enlightening and empowering them, it has made them dogmatic, regressive and radicalized. Thus, Madarsa education, instead of helping the nation, is deliberately working to make it hollow.
However, one rather more important reason for the spike in the Muslim population is the illegal intrusion of Muslims from neighbouring countries, particularly Bangladesh and Myanmar. These intruders are provided with a safe hide-out by some radicalized Muslims for whom Gazba-e-Hind is a religious duty. These intruders live in seclusion for some time, but after getting acclimatised to local surroundings, they get ration cards, and Aadhar cards prepared through regional clout. The Political parties also provide tacit support to strengthen their vote bank politics. This dimension makes it necessary for every alert Indian citizen to be vigilant regarding the future of their posterity.
The audacity of the Muslim community is also evident from the fact that they start dictating terms to their neighbours and even the Government. During religious processions of any other community, they start objections. Reports also came from many areas of Western Uttar Pradesh, where Hindus were forced to leave the villages where the Muslim population became a majority.
Religious bigotry has a long historical tradition among Muslims. The instinct to be reigner is so deep that even during the colonial period, they pulled them out of the British System. They did not receive English education, a problem identified and corrected by Sir Sayyad Ahmad Khan. The hate speech of Mr Akbaruddin Owaisi is a testimony of it. That feeling still rules at least the elite community of Muslims. They focus on increasing their numerical strength to influence the country’s politics and governance.
The net result of governmental policy in the past, which nurtured the feeling of minorities in an insulated way, did not allow democratic value, which is based on providing space and respect for the opposition, did not grow and consolidate among them. They had rather pampered growth.
The other effect is the neglect of other minorities, which genuinely deserve state protection. Since the lion’s share of government funds was used for the Muslims, the other minority communities were left out. For example, government pays a considerable amount for Madarsa. Does the Government pay for missionary education or Buddhist or Jains Schools? The answer would be negative. The Government paid a substantial amount as a Haj subsidy. In 2012-13 alone, the Government spent 836 crores on Haj Subsidies. This one-year data can speak of the amount paid to the ruling elite of Muslims in the name of minority protection. You need help finding similar data exclusively spent for Bauddhas and Jains. This is why other minorities almost go without State Support in the education, culture and social fields.
Thus, the population of Buddhists in India has remained almost static, percentage-wise or even declined in 2011 to just 0.7 per cent from 0.74 per cent in 1951. Similar or even more pathetic conditions will be found among the Jains and Parsis. Protection of Buddhism or Jainism is not only necessary to bolster the vibrance of our democracy; they are the champions of non-violence, tolerance, co-existence and World Peace. Therefore, the ideologies of Gautam and Mahavir need to flourish in the world. This is not possible till the minority status of Muslims is not withdrawn.
This is possible only when we pressure the Government to revise its minority policies. Public opinion on the essential tool to handle democracy; otherwise, what happened to Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir will happen to us in future.