Cover picture updated Dec 30, 2020
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh had famously said that ‘minorities have the first claim on (the country’s) resources’.
While this was hailed as a ‘secular’ statement, it doesn’t fit into any definition of secularism. In what kind of State would a minority of people have the first right on the resources over the majority?
We have one modern example — apartheid-era South Africa — where a minority White population commandeered resources, depriving the majority.
In India, the identification of majority-minority has been made based on religion. Minorities in India have more legal rights than the majority — the right to run educational institutions without interference from the State, for instance.
India can thus rightfully be called a ‘religious apartheid’ State.
Unfortunately, instead of moving towards equality, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government has further extended the ‘religious apartheid’ in India with massive scholarships and other schemes like ‘Nai Manzil’, which specifically exclude Hindus.
Indian ‘secularism’ has gradually created a religious ‘apartheid State’ with increasing special rights to groups who don’t have the ‘misfortune’ of being Hindu.
Telangana has even created special well-funded residential schools, only for non-Hindus. This is a throwback to ‘Jim Crow’ laws in the United States where non-whites were excluded and school segregation was maintained.
Here, the Hindus are the ‘coloured’ people, the ‘non-whites’ to be excluded from these schools. All that’s left is to put up a sign at these heavily-funded schools — ‘Dogs and Hindus not allowed’.
Nothing says this more than the Narendra D Modi government’s heavily-advertised schemes for non-Hindus in India which comes with a religion test.
The Doordarshan ad for Nai Manzil proudly proclaims the availability of scholarships at both the school- and college-level and encourages people to apply. Seems like a great scheme.
Only at the very end it becomes clear that only the ‘minorities’ — non-Hindus — are eligible. Scholarships would only be disbursed after the State tests you for your religion.
Shouldn’t ‘minorities’ get benefits?
While some other countries have limited affirmative action plans for ethnic minorities, the problem with discriminatory schemes based on religion are manifold.
Firstly, unlike race or ethnicity, religion is changeable. Thus, State benefits that accrue for ‘belonging’ to one religion and not another can also be considered an incentive to convert from one religion to another.
Scholarships and programmes that are available for non-Hindus only are nothing less than a State-funded push to convert out of Hinduism.
Even more subtle, the notion of State benefits on religious identity assumes that it is easy to tell what religion one belongs to.
The idea of a separative and distinct religious identity comes from Abrahamic religions. In Eastern traditions, these identities have been much more malleable.
In Japan, for instance, 95 per cent people profess Shintoism, while 76 per cent profess Buddhism. Clearly, a considerable number (over about 70 per cent) choose to suggest that they subscribe to multiple ‘religions’.
In India, too, people have identified as ‘Hindu-Mussulman’, ‘Hindu-Christian’ and so on. Many people have a multi-religious experience where they participate in practices of different religions.
But by instituting religion-based tests for getting benefits, the Indian State forces us into a Semitic, exclusive religious identity in contrast to India’s natural syncretism.
For instance, my grandmother was a Jain. Does that make me a Jain. Is religion hereditary? Am I partly Jain?
My nephew just married a Sikh girl. What would the children be identified as?
If religion is not hereditary, but based on practice, do I become a Buddhist if my main spiritual practice consists of Vipassana meditation? But what if I also have a puja ghar at home?
In Pakistan, Ahmediyas are considered non-Muslims by law since they admit of a prophet after Mohammed. Are they Muslims or non-Muslims in India? Some Sunni denominations may consider Shias to be non-Muslim. Are they Muslim?
Furthermore, must the State force that citizens identify as one or another religious identity?
For years, I followed the spiritual teaching of an Armenian-Russian master, G I Gurdjieff. I wasn’t into Hindu ritual, so technically I could be called a Gurdjieffian. There are probably a few thousand Gurdjieffians in India. Should I not be considered a micro-minority? Could I claim the non-Hindu benefits?
It turns out I have to be a ‘notified minority’ to claim benefits. In other words, benefits are not really for small minorities. I have to be a ‘big enough’ minority to count as a minority. This again highlights how ludicrous religion-based tests are.
This problem is not solved by self-identification either. The central government schemes ask for self-certification of religion, so it can discriminate appropriately. You could say that, for the purpose of scholarships, one belongs to whatever religion one self-identifies as.
At the same time, the State sets up a massive discriminatory regime based on this self-identification. If I can get a scholarship of Rs 2 lakh after I self-identify as a non-Hindu, wouldn’t it be an incentive for me to do so? If I can go to a special, highly-funded State school in Telangana as long as I call myself a Christian, why wouldn’t I?
The Telangana Christian Welfare commission has gone a step further to solve this problem, by requiring certification from a Christian priest.
This only makes the problem worse. What if I’m a Christian who doesn’t go to church? How will I get the priest to certify me?
Perhaps when I go to get the certificate, the priest would want me to start attending the church regularly or impose some other restrictions.
By making a priest a certifying authority for me to get benefits, the State significantly enhances the power of the priests and the church over my life.
Already, billions of dollars flow into India for the purpose of converting people to Christianity and giving the church power over them. Is this the aim of Indian government’s religion-based scholarships also?
Even if it wasn’t to aid conversion out of Hinduism, the idea that religious minorities need ‘affirmative action’ in India is flawed.
The government scholarships scheme include Sikhs, Parsis and Christians, for instance. But all these communities are shown to be wealthier, in terms of spending level, than the ‘Hindu majority’.
Data given by the National Sample Survey Organisation show that Christians and Sikhs, for instance, have a nearly 40 to 50 per cent higher average monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) than Hindus.
As a report in The Hindu states, ‘The average household MPCE is a proxy for income and reflects the living standard of a family.’ The average MPCE of Sikh household is Rs 1,659, for Christians Rs 1,543 and for Hindus only Rs 1,125.
This puts a spoke in the argument that religious ‘minorities’ are ‘underprivileged’ and hence the State must do something special for them.
The central government has identified certain special groups as non-Hindus, thus deserving of special ‘minority’ scholarships. These include Sikhs, Jains, Muslims, Christians and Parsis.
Of these groups, all but Muslims have a higher per capita income than Hindus. Even within Muslims, the Ashrafs have higher educational and economic indicators.
Clearly then, these religion-based programmes are not intended to help ‘underprivileged’ groups. Rather, they are meant to create a centrifugal force where more and more people self-identify as non-Hindu.
This is why these scholarships are actually being pushed by external forces, a plan swallowed hook-line-and-sinker by the BJP because of its inability to think strategically about what is good for India and the necessity for it to ‘prove’ that they are ‘good guys’ who are taking special care of ‘minorities’.
Never mind that international forces will continue to put them in the dock, regardless of their appeasement bid, since the ultimate goal is the weakening and destruction of Hinduism and India, a plan that the Government of India under the BJP seems to be a proud accomplice of.
Religion is changeable. Christians are more well-off and better educated and have massive funding already coming from foreign entities and States.
In a secular State like the US, the government cannot even ask for the religion of a citizen in the census, let alone actively discriminate on its basis. India’s apartheid schemes for ‘religious minorities’ would be completely illegal under US laws.
Why does India do this?
Who does it serve to enhance religious division in India as the British did with the ‘Communal Award’ as part of their divide-and-rule tactics?
India is a land of diversity. Even within the vast river-system which is identified as ‘Hindu’, there are distinct practices and beliefs, more different from each other than between ‘Hindus’ and ‘Jains’, for instance.
A Maharashtrian Brahmin may have more in common with a Jain than with a flesh-eating Aghori.
A Tamil Brahmin is as much a minority as is a Kashmiri Pandit.
The Swaminarayanis have their own sect.
Hinduism is not like a doctrinal Abrahamic religions, nor does it aim for monopolistic conversion.
Applying the template of majority-minority to India greatly distorts the Indian experience. When the State itself does this at a massive level, it directly attacks the syncretic, plural nature of the Indian civilisation and sets the stage for religious polarisation and conflict.
One one hand, the BJP puts ‘Uniform Civil Code’ as a goal in its manifesto, and on the other, it pushes massive discrimination against Hindus.
This is not ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas‘. Rather it is ‘Haj ka saath, church ka vikas‘.
This article was first published on Rediff.com