So for instance, if Hindus are in minority in a state like Mizoram, they should be able to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice in keeping with the rights guaranteed to minorities by the Constitution, as per the Centre.
But what does minority status mean, who decides it and why the “majority” is seeking the minority tag. Here’s what you need to know …
Minorities in India
The Centre had in 2013 said that the Constitution does not define the term “minorities” anywhere but only mentions it in some Articles.
It had said that Article 29 refers to “minorities” in its marginal heading and speaks of “any section of citizens having a distinct language, script and culture”. An entire community or a group within a majority community could thus be seen as a minority.
Meanwhile, Article 30 of the Indian Constitution states the right of minorities to establish and administer their educational institutions.
It says: “All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”
But the Centre has stressed that such benefits do not involve quotas in jobs and admissions but efforts to raise the education level and participation in employment, skill and entrepreneurship development and reducing deficiencies in civic amenities and infrastructure.
Moreover, these are mostly targeted at the most disadvantaged among the minorities such as women and children and those who are economically weaker.
Who are the minorities in India?
Under Section 2(c) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, the Centre had in 1993 notified five communities — Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians — as minorities.
Up to Centre or states?
In 2020, BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Upadhyay filed a plea stating that as per the 2011 Census, Hindus were a minority in Lakshadweep, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Jammu and Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Punjab and that they should be given minority status in these states in accordance with the principle laid down by the Supreme Court in its 2002 TMA Pai Foundation ruling.
Responding to the plea, the Union ministry of minority affairs has filed an affidavit in the court saying that since the subject of identification of minority communities is in the Concurrent List of the Constitution, both the Centre and the states have the power to legislate to confer minority status on certain religious or linguistic communities which are in minority in the country or a particular state.
“For instance, the government of Maharashtra has notified ‘Jews’ as a minority community within the state. The government of Karnataka has notified Urdu, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Tulu, Lamani (Lambadi), Hindi, Konkani and Gujarati languages as minority languages within the state,” the Centre said.
But the central government added that this cannot in any way take away the power of the Centre to also declare them as minorities.
The issue over granting of the minority tag has been in debate for a while now. Here’s some context:
In the 2002 TMA Pai case, the SC had said that for the purposes of Article 30 which deals with the rights of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions, religious and linguistic minorities have to be considered state-wise.
In 2019, when Upadhyay filed a petition asking for minority status to be based on the population at the state level, the SC said religion must be considered pan-India.
“States were formed on linguistic basis. That is not the case with religion. What is the problem if a community is majority in Jammu & Kashmir but minority in all other states? In Lakshadweep, Hindus may be 2% but they follow Hinduism which is majority in India,” the court had said while dismissing the plea.
But in 2020, Upadhyay filed another plea which stated that the National Commission for Minority Education Institution Act, 2004 was arbitrary and gave the Centre unbridled power to declare minorities.
This plea, to which the Centre has now responded, contended that states should confer the minority status to communities, citing the TMA Pai ruling.
And while the Centre has agreed that states can also decide the same, it has sought the dismissal of the plea saying that “the reliefs sought by the petitioner are not in larger public or national interest”.
It said the issue of identification of religious and linguistic minorities cannot be straight-jacketed and “religious and linguistic minorities are spread all over the country and are not related or restricted to any single state/UT of India. India is a country with very unique characteristics. A religious group that is in majority in one state may be in minority in another state.”
This leaves the onus on the top court to take a call on whether to order the Centre or state governments to specifically do so or leave it to their discretion as involved policy decisions.
(With inputs from agencies)