Antulay’s Assurance Minority Definition Will Not Be Reviewed Welcomed

By Pervez Bari,

Bhopal : The All India Catholic Union, (AICU), the All India Christian Council, (AICC) and the United Christian Action, (UCA), have welcomed the Union Minister for Minority Affairs, Barrister Abdul Rehman Antulay’s assurance that he will ensure that the Union Government does not push through a proposal to redefine religious minorities on the basis of their population in individual States.

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The Constitution (103rd Amendment) Bill, 2004 to grant Constitutional status to the National Commission for Minorities had envisaged a change in the way minorities are specified. The Union Cabinet in May this year approved a proposal to define minorities State-wise in line with several Supreme Court of India’s judgments, most notably that in what is known as the T.M.A. Pai case. The apparent new government proposal was to specify `minority` in relation to a particular State or Union Territory by a Presidential notification issued after consultation with the State Government.

“Antulay, has now assured he will bring our fears to the notice of the Union Cabinet and will ensure that there is no change in the definition of religious minorities”, a Press statement issued by Dr. John Dayal, Member: National Integration Council, Government of India, said today.

Experts such as political scientists and National Minorities Commission member Prof Zoya Hasan have pointed out that the proposed approach of the government was not consistent with the understanding developed in the Constituent Assembly on the protection of minorities and the constitutional compact between the State and minority groups.

The AICU, the AICC and other organizations, including those of Muslims, vehemently protested this Central move in memoranda to Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance, (UPA), chairperson Mrs. Sonia Gandhi.

“We had then pointed out that the move followed the dictate of the Sangh Parivar which wanted to do away with the very concept of religious minorities. It would also have major repercussions affecting members of minority communities in many states – effectively disenfranchising Christians of the North-Eastern and southern States and Muslims in a large number of North Indian states”, the statement said..

“We have also protested periodic judicial interventions and categorization which give a restricted meaning to minority rights by
limiting them to education and defining minorities at the State level in terms of protection under Article 30 of the Constitution of India which provides religious minorities the right to set up educational institutions of their choice” the statement added..

Developments that have followed the controversial 2002 judgment, in the T.M.A. Pai Foundation & Others vs. the State of Karnataka and Others case, in which the Supreme Court set out the principle that minority status should be determined in relation to the population of the State and not to India as a whole because States had been created on linguistic lines, led to a situation when one court held Sikhs were not a religious minority and a UP High court judge said that Muslims cannot be considered a minority in Uttar Pradesh.

Prof. Hasan and others have supported our argument that a State-specific conception of minorities will result in distortions in minority rights. Sikhs in Punjab and Christians in the many North-Eastern States will be held to be a majority and consequently deprived of constitutionally sanctioned minority rights. Christian students will be ineligible for admission in minority educational institutions, such as St. Stephens College or Loyola College, as they will not have a domicile minority status there. Eligibility for admissions to minority educational institutions will be limited to minorities domiciled in the States, and what is more, some minority community applicants will not be able to avail themselves of minority quotas outside their State because they are not a minority in their own States.

“We hope the Government will drop the proposal expeditiously, and will re-assure the country’s minority communities of its nurturing support”, the statement concluded..([email protected])