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Minority Status of Religious, linguistic Communities is State-Dependent

Context

The Supreme Court stated that it is a settled position that a community’s religious and linguistic minority status is to be determined state-by-state based on state population.

Relevance

GS Paper 2: Structure, organisation and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary

Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and the States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

Mains Question

Discuss the role and function of India’s National Commission for Minorities. Do you believe it requires more authority to ensure social justice for Indian minorities? (250 Words)


Background

  • The Supreme Court made those remarks while hearing a petition filed by a Mathura resident, Devkinandan Thakur. The petitioner questioned the legality of legislation that limits minority benefits to only six communities across the country.
  • He had challenged the provisions of the 1992 National Commission for Minorities Act and the 2004 National Commission for Minorities Educational Institutions Act.
  • According to the petition, these laws limited minorities’ rights, including the ability to establish and administer institutions, to six notified communities: Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi, and Jain.
  • He complained that adherents of Judaism, Bahaism, and Hinduism were unable to establish and manage educational institutions of their choice.
  • In Ladakh, Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Kashmir, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab, and Manipur, these are the true minorities.
  • This is due to a lack of’minority’ identification at the state level, putting their basic rights guaranteed under Articles 29 and 30 at risk.

India’s Minorities

  • Although the term “minorities” appears in several articles of the Constitution, it is not defined anywhere.
  • In India, the central government decides who is eligible for minority community status. It is done in accordance with the National Commission for Minorities Act of 1992.
  • Only residents of the communities listed in Section 2(c) of the 1992 law are considered minority citizens.
  • However, this arrangement may soon change.
  • The central government informed the Supreme Court in March 2022 that states could decide the minority status of eligible communities within their territorial jurisdiction.
  • This was in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Ashwini Upadhyay, who claimed that those from majority communities are treated as minority citizens in some states and thus receive undue benefits.
  • Currently, the Centre has designated five groups as’minority’ communities under this law: Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, and Jains.
  • In January 2014, Jains were added to the list.
  • •he central government’s decision to notify only six communities of their minority status at the national level has caused complications.
  • Most states do not have separate lists of minority communities.
  • There are, however, exceptions. For example, the state of Maharashtra has designated Jews as a minority community.

Minority rights are addressed in constitutional provisions.

  • The topic of minority community identification is on the Concurrent List.
    • Article 29 addresses the protection of minorities’ interests.
      • Any section of citizens residing in India’s territory or any part of it with a distinct language, script, or culture has the right to preserve it.
      • No citizen shall be denied admission to any educational institution maintained by the State or receive aid from State funds solely on the basis of religion, race, caste, language, or any combination of these factors.
    • Article 30 addresses minorities’ right to establish and manage educational institutions.
      • It states that all religious and linguistic minorities have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
    • According to Article 350(B), the President shall appoint a Special Officer for linguistic minorities.

Various Supreme Court decisions involving minorities

• TMA PAI:

In ‘TMA Pai,’ an 11-judge bench of the Supreme Court addressed the scope of minorities’ constitutional right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

The court determined:

  • The State is to be regarded as the unit for determining both linguistic and religious minorities.
  • The question of whether a religious sector denomination can claim minority status despite the fact that followers of that religion are in the majority remains unanswered.

• CASE OF INAMDAR:

The 7-judge panel ruled:

  • The demography of the state will determine whether a minority is linguistic or religious.
  • Minority institutions are classified into three types:
  • Those who do not seek assistance or recognition
  • Those in need of assistance, and
  • Those who seek only recognition and no assistance.

• PATIL BAL:

  • In its 2005 decision in ‘Bal Patil,’ the Supreme Court referred to the TMA Pai ruling, saying:
  • The state would be the unit for determining the status of both linguistic and religious minorities.
  • The Supreme Court stated that the minority status of religious and linguistic communities is “state-dependent.”

SC’s main observations

  • Minority status is determined by the state.
    • Every Indian can be a minority in one or more states. Religious and linguistic communities’ minority status is determined by the state.
    • Minorities have an inherent right to assert rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
      • Under Articles 29 and 30, a religious or linguistic community that is a minority in a particular State can inherently claim protection and the right to administer and run its own educational institutions.
    • It is a travesty of justice for a majority to be granted minority status in a state.
      • Granting minority status to a Sikh institution in Punjab is a travesty of justice.
      • Christians in Nagaland and Mizoram cannot be considered a minority in those states.
  • The court emphasised that the process of determining minority status must be decided on a state-by-state basis, rather than nationally

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September 2022
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