What makes India diverse? People of different races, castes and creeds living in harmony. In a multicultural country like ours, it becomes all the more important to safeguard the rights of all its citizens, respect their opinions and preserve distinct cultural traits and patterns.
The Constitution of India guarantees social, economic and political rights to every citizen, irrespective of their faith and culture. It has adopted measures to safeguard not just the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, but also socially and economically backward classes. Sadly, time and again, minority and marginalised groups in our country have faced discrimination, and have been victims of hatred and violence. Public lynchings and other hate crimes against Muslims across the country are on the rise. In 2017, 15-year-old Hafiz Junaid was stabbed to death by a mob in a Mathura-bound train. In Jharkhand, 19-year-old Mohammed Shalik was tied to a pole and beaten to death, reportedly because he had a romantic relationship with a Hindu girl. Dalits too face oppression. In 2016, in Gujarat, vigilantes stripped four Dalit men, tied them to a car, and beat them with sticks and belts over suspicions of cow slaughter.
We ask students and experts about the current state of affairs and whether the minorities feel safe in their homeland and their rights are being protected.
PEOPLE NEED TO BE EDUCATED
Bhushan Raut, a Political Science graduate and a Law student at ILS, believes that the Constitution of India defends the rights of the minority community in India.
“It not only protects the minorities but also the downtrodden sections of society including Dalits and the tribal community of our country,” says Raut referring to the Special Protection Act which has been provided by the Constitution to the minority communities.
Raut believes that the provisions made by the Constitution are very much in the interest of the minorities and have been helpful in protecting their interests. “Even the Directive Principles of the State Policy guide the state to work in the interest of the minority communities and for the protection of their rights,” he says.
However, he believes, that along with the Constitutional provisions, the people need to be educated for the same so that there is greater awareness in society and people work towards the well-being of each and every community.
THE CORE OF DEMOCRACY
Kaamini Jayshree Suhas, an aspiring lawyer, says that Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution protect the rights of minorities. Article 29 states that any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same and no citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them. Article 30 says that all minorities whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice and the State shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against them.
She believes that the Constitution of India forms the core of our democracy. “But it needs to be followed in spirit and should not be moulded according to the benefits and interests of the ruling government,” says Suhas adding that the government should take the initiative to protect the rights of minorities in our country.
VICTIMS OF BIASES
“The Constitution of India is one of the best in the world,” says Jatin Desai, a renowned journalist who feels that the aim and objectives of the Preamble is the soul of the Constitution and ensures equal rights, freedom, liberties and justice for all including minorities.
However, Desai believes that it is the government in power and the ruling parties that often create and propagate biases. “The increasing number of fringe groups and incidents leading to violence against minority groups and the government not taking measures to curb such activities shows that the problem lies in the system,” quips Desai.
He laments that minorities are being targeted and crimes against women are also on the rise. “Violence against women is on the rise in Haryana, Delhi and other parts of the country,” says Desai.
Talking about how the state and people are failing to protect and respect the rights of minorities, he says, “Students belonging to minority groups are discriminated at many levels. Students, mostly coming from Jammu and Kashmir, find it extremely difficult to settle in other states. Besides facing challenges in seeking admission in educational institutes, they are also victims of other biases. Even Bollywood actors like Emraan Hashmi and Shabana Azmi have suffered discrimination because they belong to a minority group. Muslims, the largest minority community in the country, face challenges in finding homes in a big city like Mumbai and I am sure the same prevails in other big cities. This leads to ghetto-isation, which is a dangerous thing for a society, nation, system, democracy and secularism. We need to come out of this,” warns Desai.
When asked if the discrimination towards Muslims is much more than any other minority groups in the country, he says, “Absolutely! They suffer the most as compared to others. That said, of late, Dalits have also been facing attacks because they are also minorities within the Hindu community. All these incidents have a lot to do with the level of maturity of the democracy and society, and how you treat the minorities or other marginalised groups. We have not been able to give them the confidence. In March 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed a high level committee headed by Justice Rajinder Sachar to examine the socio-economic and educational status of the Muslim community in India. We need to be sensitive towards minorities and protect their rights and in general rights of everyone. We need to have a dialogue between different segments of society; absence of dialogue is a dangerous thing. We need to cultivate this feeling of brotherhood and oneness.”
According to city-based law student Ruturaj Jere, the Constitution of India was drafted on the backdrop of the National Freedom Movement, which makes it egalitarian. “The Constitution protects the rights of not only the religious, but also the linguistic and cultural minorities,” adds Jere. He says that the foundation for effective protection of minorities was laid by the apex court — Supreme Court by declaring the value of secularism to be a part of the basic structure of the Constitution, which makes it immune to changes by the government in power. “The role of the Supreme Court in safeguarding minority interests has found a renewed importance recently,” he says.
Talking about recent events, Jere mentions, “By declaring the practice of Triple Talaq as unconstitutional, the Supreme Court gave relief to Muslim women from an unjust practice.” He believes that this shows that the Constitution is more than resilient to safeguard not only minority communities as a whole but also comparatively disadvantaged sections within the minorities.
ARTICLES SAFEGUARDING THE RIGHTS OF MINORITIES
Article 29 gives religious and linguistic minorities the right to establish and manage educational institutions of their own. The minorities have been given unrestricted rights to promote and preserve their own culture. It also strongly forbids discrimination on grounds of race, religion, caste, language, in admission to educational institutions run by the State or receiving aid from the State.
Article 30 is an important part of the Constitution for protection and preservation of rights of minorities. The minorities have been given the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. The state also cannot discriminate against educational institutions established and managed by the minorities in matters of granting aid.
Article 16 guarantees that in matters of public employment, no discrimination shall be made on grounds of race, religion, caste or language, etc.
Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to every individual and ensures that the members of the religious minority community have unhindered right to follow their own religion.