We observe Minority Rights on December 18. It is time we critically examined how India empowers and protects the rights of minorities.
There is no internationally agreed definition as to which groups constitute minorities. Francesco Capotorti, Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, in 1977 defined a minority community as a group numerically inferior to the rest of the population of a country.
They could possess ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics differing from the rest of the population. They could also show a sense of solidarity to preserve their culture, traditions, religion or language.
In 1992, the United Nations adopted this definition based on national or ethnic, cultural, religious identity. The international body expects the States to protect the minority communities.
Minority Rights in India
According to India’s latest census taken in 2011, minorities in the country are about 19.3 percent of the total population — Muslims 14.23 percent, Christians 2.3, Sikhs 1.72, Buddhists 0.7, Jains 0.37, and others such as Parsi and Jews 0.6.
Except Hindus, the rest communities have been identified as minority communities.
The government of India established National Minorities Commission in 1978 because, “despite the safeguards provided in the Constitution and the laws in force, there persists among the Minorities a feeling of inequality and discrimination.”
Why the Minority Day?
The United Nations Minorities Declaration in 1992 set on December 18 as the annual Minorities Day. The Indian government further established the Ministry of Minority Affairs in 2006. As citizens, the religious minority members are entitled to the fundamental rights of the Indian constitution. The Article 25 of the Constitution gives citizens the freedom to of conscience and right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion.
Moreover, the religious minorities have special and separate provisions in the Constitution under the Articles 29 and 30. Article 29 provides the right to conserve its ‘distinct language, script or culture’ and Article 30 gives the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
Presidential Order (Scheduled Castes) 1950
This controversial Presidential Order is considered the biggest contributor to the violation of religious minority rights in India. It is a huge deterrent on the citizens of Dalit origins to choose Christianity and Islam religions.
Article 341 (1) of the Constitution empowers the President of India to specify, through a public notification, the castes, races or tribes or parts of or groups within castes, races or tribes which be deemed to be Scheduled Castes in relation to that State or Union Territory. This led to the enactment of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, referred to as the Presidential Order, 1950. The important provision of the order was, “No person who professes a religion different from the Hindu the Sikh or the Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.”
Odisha is the first state in India to introduce anti-conversion law referred Freedom of Religion & Belief in 1967. Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have enacted the laws to restrict religious conversions.
The laws aim to check religious conversion involving ‘allurement,’ ‘inducement’ and ‘fraud’ – terms that remain ambiguous leading to misuse by vised interests.
Any offer of solidarity or distribution of medicine by the missionaries or NGO workers could be construed as inducement and allurement. The possibility of better health facilities, free or subsidized education in an English medium school for the children could also fall within the ambit of these terms. Under these laws, ‘force’ could include ‘show of force or threat of injury or threat of divine displeasure or social excommunication.
Love Jihad Ordinance:
The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, referred as, ‘Love Jihad’ law passed recently alleging that Hindu women are forcibly converted by Muslims through marriage.
The Ordinance gives the State to decide on love, marriage and faith. It is not the person who wishes to convert before marriage; but the magistrate to decide upon the application of the would-be convert change of religion is legal or not.
If the magistrate decides that the conversion is unlawful, then the offence becomes non-cognizable and non-bailable, condemning the offender to arrest without warrant and years in prison. If the potential convert is a minor, or from the SC/ST communities, then the sentence is significantly enhanced.
The right to worship and adore God in a form of one’s own choosing ceases to exist. The state regulates religious choice. If a person wants to convert in order to marry outside her community, then it will not be her words or consent that will matter but those of her parents. The real beauty of the ordinance lies in the way it entirely exonerates Hindus from all charges of fraud, allurement or intimidation when they convert people from another community.
This is regressive anti-minority, SCST and misogynistic law.
At least 328 incidents of targeted violence against Christians were reported in 2019. The victims included 275 tribal, 55 Dalits, 164 women and 117 children. Out of these, 131 incidents involved dereliction of duty by law enforcement authorities. The attacks on Christians have increased consistently — 292 in 2018, 240 in 2017, 208 in 2016, 177 in 2015 and 147 in 2014.
By Ajay Kumar Singh
(Father Ajaya Kumar Singh is a priest of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese, based in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha state.)