India’s partition was a result of the Congress not bowing down to Jinnah’s unjustified demands of securing special rights for Muslims. And now, India’s minority policy is taking us towards another division of India.
Here are 12 points to prove how bogus India’s minority policy is. It is the most dangerous long-running fraud. And it is anti-national irrespective of who practises it or champions it.
India’s minority policy is anti-national. I do not use that word lightly. I say it with full responsibility and awareness of how word inflation, which is in vogue at the moment, has caused irreparable damage to the public discourse, where such insults (like fascist, majoritarian, etc) are thrown around casually at political opponents achieving nothing but making a mockery of the original meanings these words are meant to convey. As Lionel Shriver writes, “Language inflation has the same effect as the monetary kind: your words grow rapidly worthless.”
Lest we forget, India’s partition was a result of the Congress not bowing down to Jinnah’s unjustified demands of securing special rights for Muslims. These weren’t acceptable to leaders of India’s freedom movement and they chose division of the country rather than accede to Muslim League’s blackmail. But present-day politicians seem oblivious to such obvious, critical lessons of our modern history and have thrown caution to the winds by proceeding headlong on the same path that leads nowhere but back to strengthening and entrenching the idea of separatism.
That’s where India’s minority policy is taking us—towards another division of India. The ‘othering’ of minorities, chiefly the religious ones, is one of the most unfortunate developments in the policy making of 21st century India. Benign constitutional protections given to minorities to protect them from arbitrary power of the state have transmogrified into sectarian monstrosity today. For many decades, this relapse was slow but the first Sonia Gandhi-led UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government, which came into power in 2004, really stepped on the accelerator and opened a Pandora’s box.
Expectedly, the BJP opposed her government tooth and nail. “There is poverty in the country. There is backwardness in the country. There is no doubt about it. All sections of the people must be taken forward and their welfare must be thought of but not in a sectarian manner. My charge against this Government is that all this is being aimed merely at vote bank politics,” said L K Advani, the party’s top leader at the time.
The then Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, termed the targeting of Muslims for government schemes as “communal budgeting”. “Such discrimination, amongst the eligible beneficiaries, for flow of funds based on minority status, will not help the cause in taking people of India together on the path of development,” he said.
But in his first term, Modi not only continued with these communal schemes but also introduced a couple of his own. In his second term, he is doubling down on these. Those defending the U-turn are hiding behind fallacious arguments (rebutted in detail here). The point of this article is different: to prove how bogus India’s minority policy is.
First of all, it’s not a minority policy but a Muslim policy taking refuge behind a politically-correct name. Take for instance the scholarships worth thousands of crores that are given exclusively to the six notified national minorities (Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Parsis). These are not given on merit but based on share of groups in total minority population which means that Muslims — the biggest minority — corner more than 80 per cent of the amount meant for ‘minorities’. This is textbook definition of a farce. Effectively, there is reservation for Muslims inside this communal scheme. One can imagine the outrage if a government were to launch a national scholarship scheme and rather than basing it on needs or merit basis, it reserved 80 per cent for Hindus, 14 per cent for Muslims and so on. The outrage will come from both the left and the right — the former calling it majoritarian and the latter terming it sectarian. But when the government plays the same game inside the minority policy, no one bats an eye!
Second, the minority policy, ironically enough, does not primarily serve those who are in real minority as far as their population is concerned. As we saw from the above example of scholarship distribution, smallest minorities like Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, or Buddhists get the least share of the pie.
Third, though the constitution talks about giving special protections to both linguistic and national minorities, the Indian state simply focuses on serving only the religious minorities. This is because while all the six national minorities are clearly defined under the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Act of 1993, linguistic minorities can be defined only at the state level and not nationally for otherwise everyone, except Hindi speakers, will legally become a linguistic minority.
Technically, everyone who is not a Hindu is a beneficiary of these minority schemes. Could it be any more communal? Article 30 of our Constitution gives the right to both religious and linguistic minorities to establish and administer their educational institutions but in the case of the National Commission for Minority Education Institutions (NCMEI), which was established in 2004, only a member from the six national minorities (non-Hindus) can be a member of this body that gives minority certificates to educational institutions. Farcical enough?
Fourth, making the minority policy a national one, rather than making it with the state as a unit, has led to a situation where Hindus, who are in minority in eight states, are still treated as a majority for the purpose of schemes originating from this minority policy. For instance, Sikhs, who are in majority in Punjab, will get ‘minority’ scholarships but the actual in minority Hindus won’t. Ditto for Jammu Kashmir and the Christian-majority states in the North-East.
One BJP leader petitioned the Supreme Court a couple of years ago to address this anomaly but it was dismissed stating that the petitioner should approach the National Commission of Minorities (NCM). This statutory body was set up in 1992 by an act of parliament and can only have people belonging to the six national minorities as its members. Just like NCMEI, it’s a communal body. Nonetheless, the current BJP government can include minority Hindus of the eight states or even linguistic minorities in the NCM by a simple notification (just like Jains were added in 2014 by a simple executive order) or by amending the act in the Parliament.
But why solve the issue once and for all when you can play politics over it? Another dimension has been ignored in this national minority policy: in many states (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, etc), national minorities such as Muslims and Christians are better off than the national majority, Hindus. But it’s the former which is a beneficiary and not the latter. Is this what social justice looks like?
Fifth, who is a minority isn’t defined in the constitution. The Supreme Court of India ruled in the 11-judge bench TMA Pai case that who is a minority can’t be defined at the national level because the constitution talks about linguistic minorities too and since they can be determined only state-wise, religious minorities should also be defined at the state level. But the Ministry of Minority Affairs and all central government schemes cater primarily to the six national religious minorities.
Sixth, advocates of India’s minority policy say that minorities are economically and socially backward and need government support for their upliftment. And since education is the best tool to overcome these challenges, special initiatives for their education are required. But let’s look at the data.
According to the 2011 census, the literacy rate of Hindus is 63.61 per cent while for Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains — all notified minorities — the figures are 74.35 per cent, 67.51 per cent, 71.84 per cent and 86.73 per cent respectively — all much higher than the majority community’s figures. How can then the Indian state justify giving an educational scholarship to say Jains with a literacy rate of 86.73 per cent while denying the same to Hindus who have literacy rate of 67.51 per cent? Even Muslim literacy rate is only marginally lower than that of Hindus.
Similarly, let’s take a look at religion-wise national monthly mean household consumption and expenditure (68th round NSSO data): Hindus (Rs 8,086), Muslims (Rs 8,069), Christians (Rs 10,428), Buddhists (Rs 8,212), Sikhs (Rs 13,022) and Jains (Rs 18,562). Here, the difference between Hindus and Muslims is almost negligible while other minority communities are far ahead of both these. Seeing these figures, how can anyone justify giving scholarships to poor children of one community and denying it to those of others?
Seventh, the proponents of minority policy make it a point to group minorities with Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Earlier, this dishonesty was limited to public discourse mouthed by a section of media, academia, leftists and of course Muslim politicians but after the Sachar Committee implementation, this has become an official Indian government stance. The then prime minister Manmohan Singh received a lot of flak when he said schemes meant for disadvantaged sections (including minorities) have the first right on national resources (which was misreported as ‘Muslims have the first right…’). The BJP used this 13-year old statement in this general election campaign too to beat the Congress with while faithfully implementing the minority-related schemes that Manmohan Singh was referring to.
How dangerous is this bipartisan support to putting minorities in the same bracket as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes? I needn’t explain the absurdity to doing so from an educational and economic point of view for non-Muslim minorities because they are, so far, ahead of the Dalits. As far as Muslims are concerned, grouping them with Dalits is preposterous even if their economic and education indicators are at similar levels in some areas. The idea behind giving special concessions to Dalits is rooted in the belief (of this nation) that they were kept poor and uneducated by design. That’s why reservations are based on social standing too rather than pure economic criteria. Muslims, who have ruled this country for centuries and who carved out a separate nation for themselves in 1947 can’t possibly be accorded the same status.
Now, many bleeding heart leftists might argue that only elite Muslims ruled and the rest were as impoverished as poor Hindus. Even if we forget all the jizya levied against Hindus and other atrocities, physical as well as economic, that were heaped on them because of their religion by Muslim rulers, we must know that in group rights regime that the leftists champion, the whole group is treated as a single entity. Not every upper-caste Hindu or his ancestors have tormented Dalits, some may even have been their advocates but all suffer from reverse discrimination by the state. Leftists, therefore, can’t selectively introduce the policy of individualism for Muslims. They will also have to be treated as a group. Moreover, no arguments of castes within Indian Islam or other minorities can be entertained because they proclaim to be egalitarian religions. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Eighth, there is a new argument that leftists have started presenting in their defense of the minority policy: that these groups are small in numbers and need extra protection. The question of feeling insecure for the smallest minorities - Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists, Jains — doesn’t even arise. Even with Christians, Hindus have had cordial relationship barring a few small clashes, mostly because of the former’s missionary zeal to harvest souls. This leaves only Muslims as the odd one out. Why do the biggest majority — numbering over 18 crore — alone feel insecure? Why does only this community feel marginalised when much smaller communities live peacefully? It is because of unresolved (or maybe unresolvable) historical and socio-cultural issues with Hindus. Given that the community’s relationship with other religions around the world isn’t any better, blaming Hindus is akin to barking up the wrong tree.
Ninth, many contend that India needs a minority policy because minorities are left behind in India because either the majoritarian state discriminates against them or the majority community has marginalised them. Blaming the state or the majority community for marginalising Muslims economically or educationally isn’t going to help either. The community must look within. If there are two poor households — one Muslim and one Hindu in an area — it’s more likely that the Muslim household will be in a greater state of penury simply because of their average family size. Fifty-one per cent of India’s Muslim population lives in UP, Bihar, Assam and Bengal while these same four states house only 32 per cent of India’s total population. So, it’s not really a surprise that on average, in data, the Muslim community comes out as poorer.
What is surprising is that the Indian state runs communal programs that enlist poor Muslims as beneficiaries but leave their poor Hindu neighbours out in the cold. If woman illiteracy is higher among Muslim women, it’s not because of any discrimination but due to the general outlook of the community towards girl education. If work participation of Muslims is lower, it’s because millions of children are sent to madrassas rather than put through proper schooling from where they can acquire the necessary skills to get into a good college and then into a good job. The community can’t live in ghettos and expect to be an inclusive part of the society. It’s these barriers that are holding back the community. It must reform itself.
Tenth, nothing exposes the discriminatory nature of the minority policy more than the way the Indian state regulates educational institutions. If Amar, Akbar and Anthony open schools in the same neighbourhood, teaching exactly the same subjects, having the same syllabus and teaching from the same textbooks, they are going to be treated differently by law. Only Amar has to bear the burden of onerous regulations while Akbar and Anthony are free to manage their schools as they wish, simply because they belong to the minority community.
Our constitution makers gave special protection to minorities for the purpose of protecting their distinct language, culture and script. Even if we assume that only the minorities have this right and not the majority which is laughable enough, we have come to a situation where the only criteria that decides the minority nature of an institution is the religion of those who are part of the management. Moreover, while Hindu education institutions, whether aided or unaided by state, are forced to reserve quota for poor and the backward classes (including for minority students), minority institutions, aided or unaided, both are exempt from such social responsibility, even for their own community members!
Eleventh, the situation is no different for the administration of religious institutions. There is no minority policy here. The only policy is for regulation of temples. These can be taken over by the state and run by it as it wishes. They are treated as state property. We have several instances every year where money is taken from Hindu temples and used for secular causes.
On the other hand, the Indian state is designing schemes to give money for the development of schools and hospitals on waqf properties, which enjoy unparalleled autonomy. As someone on Twitter quipped, “temple money is government money. Government money is waqf money.” Similarly, churches are free to own and manage thousands of acres of land without any scrutiny and finance educational institutions that enjoy unparalleled autonomy, and they are able to do all this with much convenience and at low cost too. No wonder they are hailed for their charity while Hindu institutions are denounced for the lack of it. The legal discriminatory mechanism that facilitates Christian charity and discourages the Hindu one is conveniently forgotten.
Twelfth, a new category of proponents of minority policy have come up from the so-called right side of the political spectrum in recent days. Though I countered many fallacious arguments in my previous article, here I would like to deal with those who genuinely feel (for whatever reason) that these minority schemes would help the nation. This section of people is most likely to take offence to my calling their stance anti-national. I am not even interested in judging them for their u-turn even though this issue is the linchpin of the Hindu nationalistic politics and, if I may say so, is the cornerstone of our modern Indian republic, it’s raison d'etre.
These supporters believe that spending on Muslim girl education and improvement in economic conditions will lead to a fall in their birth rate. Hindu nationalists correctly see rapidly rising Muslim population as the biggest danger to their culture and civilisation. But they are wrong in their prognosis. In Kerala, as per 2011 census, Muslim and Hindu women literacy rate is 91.33 per cent and 91.08 per cent respectively — an almost negligible difference. However, between, 2001-2011, the growth of Muslims has been nearly six times that of Hindus. This shows that there is some other motivation behind producing more children in the Muslim community beyond illiteracy and economic factors.
Now, some BJP supporters defending the minority policy point out that Modi government’s ‘Madrassa Modernisation Plan’ would help change that religious motivation. But not learning Maths, Science and other subjects isn’t what is behind the fundamentalism that madrassa students are injected with from childhood, it’s the religious indoctrination, and no, the modernisation program doesn’t address this at all. No one should be misled by terminology. “Modernisation” here doesn’t mean anything other than the government paying salaries of some madrassa teachers for secular subjects, making them register with the government entity, and so on. This will only entrench the madrassa system because now even the forward-looking Muslims won’t have the dilemma to choose between secular modern schools and madrassas, as the latter will teach both. This only exacerbates the problem.
The biggest problem with Modi’s supporters is they claim that there is some secret strategy behind Modi’s minorityism push. Such claims can neither be proved nor disproved. But if that’s really the case, then the real secret strategists are Rajinder Sachar and Sonia Gandhi, not Modi because the latter is merely implementing the former’s policies.
One can go on and on. There is a lot to be said about why the Indian state gives aid to students of a few religious groups to clear government exams such as Union Public Service Commission, Staff Selection Commission, etc, or why it gives interest subvention in loans to only minority students to go abroad for higher studies or why it has concessional loan programmes for minorities only or why it runs special job-oriented, skill-training schemes for only them and not everyone else who are in need.
But I will stop at just 12 points because I think I have made my point. India’s minority policy is the most dangerous long-running fraud. And it is anti-national irrespective of who practises it or champions it.