Communalism in Secular Constitution – Time for Reform

Communalism in secular constitution_1

India needs freedom from communalism of minority-majority politics.

It may be the law of unintended consequences or it may simply be the result of the climate of partition in which our Constitution was framed. Whatever the reason, the Indian Constitution has significant communal clauses that result in separatism and religious identity politics. Constitutional reform is necessary for these clauses to be fixed.

The first of these clauses is Article 30.

30. Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions.—(1) All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

(1A) In making any law providing for the compulsory acquisition of any property of an educational institution established and administered by a minority, referred to in clause (1), the State shall ensure that the amount fixed by or determined under such law for the acquisition of such property is such as would not restrict or abrogate the right guaranteed under that clause.

(2) The State shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.

At the outset these clauses sound eminently reasonable, shouldn’t minority rights be protected? However the very idea of a “minority” communalises India in a way that it wasn’t before this. How is that?

Notions of majority and minority were extremely relevant in a Europe beset by religious warfare between Christian factions. Exclusive Christianity brooked no rivals. Since there was only one “true” way, other religions and even other “heresies” must come from the devil and needed to be eliminated. As a result, as soon as one religious group gained majority power, it would set out to eliminate the others. For centuries the Roman Catholic Church kept a stranglehold on Europe. After the internecine conflict between Protestants and Catholics, Europe started to discover the virtues of tolerance and the separation of Church and state. It is because of the inherent intolerance of Abrahmic monotheism that the concept of minority rights needed to be created.

Pluralistic India is a land of minorities. The Swaminarayana sect, without about 20 million adherents, is as much a minority as the Jains are. About 4 million Tamil Brahmins are a miniscule minority, as are the even smaller 200,000 Kashmiri Pandits. However, according to the Constitution, neither the 20 million Swaminarayanas nor the 4 millions Tamil Brahmins, nor even the 200,000 Kashmiri Pandits are minorities, while the nearly 200 millions Muslims are one monolithic “minority.” This communalises India along European lines.

Neither India’s Muslims nor the so-called Hindus are monolithic groupings. Indian Muslims followed a diversity of regional customs and laws, not one uniform “Muslim Personal Law.” In a land of minorities, Muslims as a whole can be called a super-minority. But even that is not correct. In calling out certain groups and treating them as monolithic and homogenous, the Constitution lays the basis for religious identity politics and polarisation.

When the Ramkrishna Mission was being hounded in Communist West Bengal, it filed a suit to be granted minority status arguing that it was not Hindu. In practically any other country, “status” accrues by being part of the mainstream. Ahmediyas in Pakistan or politically, Mormons in the US, would be quite happy to be considered part of the majority. However, India follows a unique system akin to apartheid, where being declared a minority creates a “status” and privileges that are not available to you if you are classified as part of the “majority.” While the Constitutional framers probably intended equal rights, these Constitutional provisions have been caricatures of equality, leading to communal polarisation, identity politics and the spectre of an “aggrieved majority.”

In fact, the majority identity itself is a creation of the Constitution. If you define certain groups as minority and give them specific rights, then one must also, by default, create the notion of a majority. This divides up India’s diverse, intermixed, syncretic traditions around communal lines. It is like using an 18th century European template on Indian society and starting to replicate the problems of 18th century Europe in India.

Strangely enough, even in Christian-dominated US, the US Constitution is able to safeguard individuals without any specific provisions for minority groups. Moreover, the Indian Constitution allows the state to fund religious institutions and “minority” schools which can blatantly discriminate on religious grounds, such as St Stephen’s does. The funding of a Muslim or a Mormon institute by the US Government, which could then discriminate in admissions, would be patently absurd and unconstitutional and would be thrown out immediately by the law courts. In India however, the Constitution specifically enables this religious apartheid where, if you call yourself a “Hindu”, the state can interfere completely in your educational institution but not if get yourself legally labelled a religious minority.

It has been rightly pointed out by many commentators that the despite the alleged “special privileges”, many Muslims remain mired in poverty. But that is only part of the issue. The Constitutional privileging of religious labels supports religious identity politics. This identity politics, in turn, creates special interest groups and leaders that thrive by these politics. None of this actually helps either those that are labelled as “minority” or “majority.” But it does help the Catholic Church and the Mullahs retain a hold on their community. Conversely, it fans anger in Hindu groups and creats an anti-Muslim and anti-Christian backlash. In the end, it does not help Indians or create sabka saath sabka vikas.

All political parties need to come together on the platform of equal rights for all. The Constitutional “provision” to privilege “minorities” over others should either be removed or a line added:

Notwithstanding Articles 29 or 30, any right given to any minority group shall equally be accorded to those that are classified as a majority, such as the freedom to run educational institutions without interference.

Better still, dropping all labels of ‘minority’ and ‘majority’ and treating all citizens equally shall reduce the pull of religious identity politics and communalism in India.

This article was original published at NitiCentral.com

One thought on “Communalism in Secular Constitution – Time for Reform

  1. Easier than amending the Constitution will be a mobilization of a demand that the Supreme Court Bench comprising 14 Judges be formed to review all past judgments on this Issue by the SC. In my view the term “educational institutions” n the relevant Article of the Constitution was meant to mean educational in regard to the concerned religion–certainly not engineering colleges or medical colleges etc! It is common sense that religion as no role whatever to play in such subjects. But it is the Indian Supreme Court in the initial years of India’s Independence, became over-enthusiastic ( some SC judges were alleged to be daily evening visitors of J.Nehru) and put in interpretations which were absurd. One of the absurd interpretations was that the religious majority namely Hindus are not entitled under the Constitutional clauses to the freedoms granted to the religious minorities. Not merely absurd but nonsensical. The Constitutional debates do not support this interpretation! A truly full Bench can and must be asked to review this and other monstrous absurdities in Judicial interpretations on the majority-minority Issues. For example with respect to what geography–country, State, region, district, Taluk, village–that a religious group should be construed as minority? A HC/SC Order has gone to some contorted explanations to pronounce that a State should be the Unit for this determination. Why? Where is the Constitutional support for this?
    R.Venkatanarayanan

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