Minorities and Reservations

Dr. Rao VBJ Chelikani

India, just as it is a country of diversities, it is also a country of minorities. But, it need not be any more a country of discriminations. The British never stopped being sceptic about India becoming a united and single nation-state like theirs.  All the commissions, there were many, which were appointed, took each section of the population as separate entity and took upon themselves the responsibility to protect them. Right from the very early stages of reforms, the British government representatives were proposing reservation of seats for representation of the Depressed Classes in provincial and central legislatures, scheduled as castes, races or tribes or parts of their groups. The Round Table Conferences and the policies of Churchill and Ramsay MacDonald and their unstinted support to Mohammad Ali Jinna and to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar amply confirmed this policy. Very tactfully, Gandhi could mobilise very convincing moral, social and economic arguments to countervail their strategies of ‘divide and rule’ and convinced all minorities to come together to form a single political and cultural nation, called India. Only at a later stage, when Gandhi was no more the chief negotiator, at the time of Mountbatten, the Muslim League leader could manage to get recognised as a separate national identity.

i).The fact that the Constitution has identified six religious communities as minority groups does not, ipso fact, mean that there is a majority religion called Hinduism. In secular India we wanted to recognise diverse beliefs, respect them and assure them a place in the society for their pacific and cooperative co-existence. As a sign of this commitment, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Zoroastrians (Parsis) and Jains are to get benefits in education and employment opportunities. Regional minorities are encouraged to set up various schools and institutions. In addition, they are entitled to a specific quota of seats for students and teachers. There are various Government schemes which provide direct aid to their religious and educational institutions.

ii).After independence, the Constituent Assembly  listed out some castes, races or tribes or parts of groups in the country that suffered from extreme social, educational and economic backwardness arising out of age-old practice of untouchability and certain other discriminations. Later, other communities which were socially and educationally backward are also taken into account for their accelerated socio-economic development. As a result, 74% of the Indian population is made conscious of their entitlements due to their special handicaps and minority situations. The rest of the 26% of the population does not belong to a single block of majority and consists of several castes with very specific identities which are strongly made to feel their small numbers in the electoral politics.

1.Religious and Linguistic Minorities

i).Religious minority identities have been posing sever challenges to improve the quality of human relations in India and in many developing countries. But in many Arab Muslim countries, the existence of religious minorities is not recognised at all. In some, only the religions that were formed after Abraham i.e. Islam, Christianity and Judaism are recognised. In some countries, only Islam is recognised and that too one sect dominates and other sects are persecuted. Except one or two, the rest of the countries that claimed communism as their ideology have totally banned all religious identities.

                But, in India, we see it an enriching diversity with respect for their spirituality and attention for their welfare. An Indian Muslim has many things in common with an Indian Hindu than with an Arabic Muslim. Similarly, a Muslim may be in the minority in India but he belongs to a dominant majority in Bangladesh. Beef eating is a minority activity in one country and it is a majority activity in many countries. An Indian-Christian but for his religion, belongs to the majority of Indians, with same morphology, ethnicity, genetic heritage, history, nationality, social and cultural habits, etc. In the past, almost all religions have been indulging in the game of numbers either because they believe that more numbers would make their truth more truthful or they want to gather mob force so that they can be politically powerful. Among all the factors that have been leading to the religious conversions across the history, the change of heart has not been a prominent factor.  Finally, across the history, we can count that the religious wars have killed more human beings than any other war for land or gold.  Gandhi was absolutely adamant in opposing religious and caste-wise partition as shameful admission of our moral failure to live together.

                The National Commission for Minorities, whose members are nominated by the president, should help remove the innate persecution complex among the minorities and goad them to join the mainstream without losing their identities. The country has huge properties and gold assets lying idle and unproductive with various religious endowments, foundations and institutions, which are, at present, benefiting only a small elite group. They can be better managed, under public supervision, so as to yield more income to be spent on the poorest from the same religion, for their education, health and employment. Rich gods and poor devotees is an insult to human dignity in a democracy.

ii). Linguistic Identities: Linguistic identity is a good example to prove that identities cannot afford to be static; they have to be inclusive and creative to survive. A language however holy it might be, if it does not absorb new cultural and technical words from the usage of the common people, if it does not, un-ashamedly, borrow words from other languages and, if it does not exchange translations, it is bound to perish in the long term. If a person wants to remain relevant in the globalised world, one has to reconcile himself with four languages, which is not impossible. People who claim a linguistic minority status in some countries are also a majority somewhere else. In the fast globalising world, within the next fifty years, except the 24 official languages, several local languages would be disappearing from usage for want of communication with other languages. Younger generations cannot be blamed for it. Language is no more the unique vehicle of culture. We are all, for example, obliged to acquire digital language skills.

  1. Reservations

i). Politicisation: It is also true that it is, again, the democracy that permits the people to gauge their backwardness and also to visualise the goals that they should reach. Our representative system, based on territorial constituencies and number of voters is there to have a role to play, whether good or bad.  Based on this, the political parties are playing undesirable identity politics in terms of caste, ethnicity, religion, languages, etc. in order to constitute vote banks for electoral gains, thereby aggravating the social divisions. New minorities are being created on the basis of poverty, economic, social and educational backwardness as criteria. Where there are social, cultural and educational handicaps, the solution does not lie in freezing them and to seek compensation in terms of balance of power in the governance. Ministers are made on the basis of their castes. Administrative efficiency has decreased and the welfare schemes are wastefully implemented. While we are eager to invite Foreign Direct Investment, we are driving away merit and talents from the country to the benefit of the developed societies.

                As a matter of principle, positive or affirmative discrimination in favour of the minorities would work well only when, firstly, those who are not discriminated are in a great majority. Secondly, it should have been a massive and total mobilisation in a campaign mode to complete it within the first ten years. Further, the reservations given in terms of percentage of college seats, jobs and promotions, particularly in technical and professional professions was not meant to be a long term solution. When a great majority of the population is struggling for opportunities for emancipation, it has led to the division of the society into competitive groups for sharing the advantages. Those who do not benefit by these reservations became, over a period of time, the victims and sufferers of these discriminations, particularly those who are poor and meritorious among them. And there are always those who would like to gather political support to jump from one category of reservation to another category for better advantages. Internally, within each group, bigger and stronger sections resort to majoritarian tactics in self interest and the ‘creamy layer’ in each group tries to capture power, by taking recourse to various numerical sub-divisions. Various commissions set up by the governments are striving to maintain status quo rather than to evolve.

ii). Way Out: Yet, that was the only way that we could think of seventy years ago in order to assure our citizens to be together as a community. Further, everything is not an unmixed evil; good things did happen. After independence, the electoral interests have, no doubt, mobilized and gave voice to some of the most marginalized groups, classes or communities in the vast Indian society. The minorities have acquired the right to not to be bulldozed by a mechanical majority regimes in terms of economic opportunities. An inevitable social churning is initiated and if that was the sole objective, then, we can say that we have been largely successful.

i). To-day’s India is different. Having brought all the people together, it is time to lay foundations for a new society with a common destiny. We cannot talk of historical vengeance any longer. Only recently, the urban middle class young men and women have started protesting against these highly politicised reservations in jobs, in educational institution and in electoral constituencies. The presumption is all citizens are equal and different, but not, separate and different. It is of utmost urgency to re-order the social relations, so as to free them from electoral politics. New policies and practices that would address the contemporary weaknesses, handicaps and discriminations in the society should be devised. As a strong message from the civil society, all self-respecting citizens should refuse to distinguish themselves by their religion and caste in public.

                The anniversary day of Adbul Kalam, the 11th November is to be the Minority Welfare Day for the entire country in conformity with the U.N. Declaration on Minorities. It is a Day to be devoted for reflection on discriminations and convergence on peaceful and fruitful co-existence among differences. We should continue to celebrate the National Integration Week from 19th to 25th November, though with less ritual and more content on the new issues. It is, once again, to be seen as a measure for promoting communal harmony and not to appease chauvinisms. This Week can very well include November, 23rdwhen the RWA Day is being observed by various federations of resident welfare associations in order to promote micro urban communities of sharing and caring among the urban residents, irrespective of their other identities and numbers.

ii). To-day, economic empowerment is the basis for eliminating educational, social and cultural discriminations. We cannot any more think of who is first and who is next. If we consider that all children deserve good educational opportunities, then, we should provide them for all of them, without discrimination. We know the ways to do it and we can afford them. For example, our private banks can give long term loans for all learning and training and, in return, they can insure themselves. Our national policy should be such that everyone should get the opportunities to work and be productive in the market economy.

iii). As a general solution against poverty, the Government of India finds itself financially capable of making a direct cash transfer of a minimum income for every citizen. That would be, certainly, more economical than all the present expenditure on all the innumerable welfare schemes. But, we know that it is next to impossible for our peoples’ representatives to demonstrate such a political will. Further, we can prevent anybody relapsing into poverty. Those who would become economically inactive should be covered by a comprehensive and universal social security system or systems. If they are net-worked with multi-national insurance corporations, there would be less losses. In any case, initially and for a long time to come, there would be deficit and it should be subsidised by the national governments and international financial bodies.

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