1. India is a pluralistic country. India is a land of unity in diversity therefore, people of every religion and language live in every part of the country hence, the Hindus, the majority community in India is a minority community in some states.
  2. Government of India has notified 5 communities, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists,Christians and Zoroastrians as religious minorities at the national level. As per the Census, population of the minority groups constitutes 17.17% of the total population of the country. On account of this the concept of minority has to be studied with great care. Here, we will discuss various aspects of this problem in brief.
  3. The International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences defines minority as a group of people differentiated from others in the same society of race, nationality, religion or language, who think of themselves as differentiated group with negative connotation. The Constitution of India uses the term minority but nowhere defines it. The Supreme Court and various High Courts have depended on the statistical criterion. Any community that does not constitute 50 per cent in a state is called a minority.
  4. Almost all countries recognize religious and linguistic minorities. In any country religions groups may now be divided into linguistic groups and rice-versa.This phenonmous in known as cross cutting cleavage. Accordingly, a person may be a member of a religious minority yet of a linguistic majority or vice-versa. How such a person would behave depends on his or her interest from issue to issue. Minority groups are united by certain common features. They often organize themselves into a coherent group to demand such privileges from the state that will help to promote their religion, culture and language, so that they may stay alive and maintain their identity, not get absorbed by the majority.
  5. “A minority is a category of people singled out for unequal and inferior treatment simply because they are identified as belonging to that category.”
  6. Minority group refers to “any recognizable racial religious, or ethnic group in a community that suffers from some disadvantage due to prejudice or discrimination.
  7. Jagnath pothy has also listed out the defining features/properties of minority group. In his opinion, the minorities are:
    • Subordinate in someway to the majority.
    • Distinguishing from the majority on the basis of physical or cultural features.
    • Collectively being regarded and treated as different and inferior on the basis of these features, and
    • Excluded from the full participation in the life of the society.
    • He further says, discrimination, prejudice and exclusion by the dominant group and self segregation by the subordinate or minority constitute the basis for minority identification.
    • The wish to preserve distinctive features of one’s social and cultural life is an essential featrures of a minority community. As a consequence there are always groups which are different from other group in terms of language, religion etc. the dominant group tries to assimilate the minority groups. This attitude of the majority group generates a greater consciousness among the members of minority community. For preserving their separate identity.
  8. Speaking about the concept of ‘minority’ in the Indian context, it can be said that the term has not been properly defined anywhere in the Indian Constitution. But ‘minority status’ has been conferred on many groups.
  9. According to the Article 29 of the Constitution any group living within the jurisdiction of India is entitled to preserve and promote its own language, script or literature and culture.
  10. Article 30 states that a minority group “whether based on religion or language shall have the right to establish and administer educational institution of their choice.
  11. The preamble of the Indian Constitution guarantees for all of its citizens justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. There is no discrimination against the minorities on any ground whatsoever.

Minority is a term difficult to define with any degree of precision. It may refer to a relatively small group of people dominated by a majority. Population size is not the only feature of minority status. If a group is discriminated on the basis of religion, race or culture it can be considered a minority.

Religious communities

  1. India is a multi-lingual and a multi-religious country. Indian society is pluralistic in character from the religious and other point of view. Since a very long time people belonging to various religious communities have been living together in this nation. According to the 1931 census there were ten religious groups in India.These were Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Zorastrians, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jews and other tribal and non-tribal religious groups.The census of 1961listed only seven religious categories; Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and other religions and persuasions.
  2. Though majority of the people living in this land are Hindus [79.80%], people belonging to other religious communities such as Muslims [14.23%], Christians [2.32%], and Sikhs [1.72%], Buddhists [0.70%], Jains [0.37%] and others [0.24%] are also living along with the Hindus by enjoying on par similar rights and opportunities. By virtue of their numerical strength the Hindus constitute the majority while the rest of the religious communities come under what is known as ‘religious minorities/
  3. Hindus are much below 50 per cent in the west coastal area where Muslim and Christian population is largely concentrated Hindus are also less numerous in Punjab where they are a minority accounting for 2-10% population at the district level In the tribal areas of the North East with a Christian dominant population, the proportion of the Hindu population ranges between 5-20%.
  4. Religion is really a complex phenomenon in India. For example, elements of Sanskritic and tribal religion are found in a mixed form at various levels. So is the interaction between the ‘great’, the ‘little’ tradition. Integration of Sanskritic Hindu religion and tribal religion is also found The Santhals, for example, observe several high caste festivals. This is also the case with the lower and ‘untouchable’ castes. Some tribals worship Shiva. M.N.Srinivas writes: “Different tribes are Sanskritized in different degrees, and different sections of the same tribe may not be uniformly Sanskritized”
  5. Conversion to Christianity and Islam has been a controversial issue over the past couple of decades. It is said that the members of depressed classes and tribals have converted to Christianity, Islam and Sikhism in various parts of the country; particularly in the 1920s and also after Independence.
  6. A good number of tribals have accepted Hindu rituals and religious practices in Bihar, Bengal, Assam and other areas. Thousand of Harijans have converted to Buddhism in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Induced or forced conversion is certainly against the Constitution of India and the law of the land There may be several factors responsible for change of religion; but it is certain that a number of people have changed religion to get free from religious orthodoxy.
  7. It has been reported that minority religions show a greater percentage of literacy than the majority religions. Parsis, Jains, Jews and Christians have shown this patter. With the exception of Christians, these communities are also more engaged in trade and business than Hindus and Muslims. A study reveals that the Parsis, Jews and Jains are “advanced” in business, though not diversified Hindus and Muslims have a diversified occupational pattern because of their large numbers and spread all over the country. The minority groups are found in specific regions, sub-regions and cities, and therefore find themselves in an advantageous position. Syrian Christians, Moplas, Parsis and some other groups have been benefited because of their strategic location in Kerala and Maharashtra.

Secularism in India

  1. As the area of scientific knowledge and technology widens, the area of religion shrinks. Some of its functions are taken over by other agencies. This process of shrinkage of religious beliefs and functions and emergence of wider use of science and technology is called secularization.
  2. The process of secularism starts when institutions of society, in different functional areas, resist subservience to established religion and gain a measure of autonomy. In the process, the institutions and functionaries of religion lose their control over several fields of social activity such as politics and diplomacy, economics and trade, education and medicine and so on. This marks the ascendancy of civil authority. A total religious worldview, in which the entire framework of action has a religious oriental undergoes a thorough modification.
  3. A secular and modern society is not against religion as such, but it has to fight superstition and intolerance as well as bigotry and obscurantism. Separate religious identities are permissible so long as they do not question the legitimacy of larger national boundaries.
  4. If religion does not bar the emergence of national consensus on goals of social action, does not inhibit national integration, and does not obstruct the adaptation of the larger society to the fact-changing world, the secular society will leave it undisturbed under these conditions diversity is to be welcomed Area of personal belief that are not inconsistent with the larger needs of society, will be upheld and protected by society.
  5. But beliefs and practices that bring about discord and disharmony between different religious groups will require resolute action. Inter-religious harmony and consensus for progress would be an acceptable and attractive slogan to a secular society oriented to modernity The meaning of Secularism has been interpreted differently in different countries according to their prevailing traditions and culture. Like in India, secularism for Gandhi did not mean a religiosity but the spirit of religious tolerance which he postulated on the basis of universalistic ethic of Hinduism itself.
  6. In free India, secularism has survived despite its many difficulties. The Congress (INC) which came into power as a political party under the leadership of Nehru consistently advocated the need for India becoming a secular state.
  7. Its constitution guarantees individual and collective freedom of religion and lays down that there should be no state discrimination on the ground of religion in public employment and education; it further provides that state as such must be neutral to religious goals and should not levy taxes for religious purposes or encourage religious teachings in educational institutions wholly financed by the state. Thus, constitution of India offers us a normative structure of secularism and democracy.
  8. The Hindu community right from the beginning of the British rule took a more liberal attitude and more tolerance towards various social legislations which abolished many of its pseudo-religious customs by law. After independence, many legislations regarding reforms in customs of marriage, untouchability, inheritance etc, have been accepted without much opposition.
  9. This may partly be explained by the universalistic nature of Hindu religion itself, but it is mainly due to the emergence of an enlightened elite in the Hindu society with rational commitment to nationalism. The case of other major Indian community, the Muslims, has been fundamentally different This creates, disbalance the processes of secularism in India.

Factors Affecting Secularism in India :

  1. State’s Intervention : Other inconsistency, in the process of secularism in India, has been the regular interventions of state in the religious matters, this particularly holds in case of management of temples and religious institutions, such as monasteries and monastic heads. Enactment in this sphere existed from the British times; for instance, in Bengal in 1810 and in Madras in 1817 regulations were passed for regular administration of temple endowments by the government In 1960 GOI appointed a Hindu Religious Endowments Commission to examine the administration of Hindu religious endowments and suggest to improve their management. Following the report in 1962, legistations have been enacted in many states like Assam, UP, Punjab for the management of temple endowment and steps have also been taken to rationalize the methods of learning and training of Hindu Priests through theological colleges and encouragement of Sanskrit teachings.
  2. Role of Political Organisations : In the political spheres too, many political parties and groups have continued to voice communal point of view on contemporary issues (like, Hindu Sabha, Ram Rajya Parishad VHP, Shiv Sena, Muslim League etc). Some of them have even increased their political influence in many parts of the country by conducting violent movements against the killing of cows and by throwing them controversial issues like Mandir and Masjid and by intervoting the meaning of Hindutva etc. Since Secularism complies to universalities world-view, these contemporary movements in India do not harmonise with its value system.
  3. Common Civil Code : Art 44 of the constitution of India talks about common civil code, but so far it is not enforceable in the court of law. In civil matters, there are different laws for Hindus and Muslims because of different codes, in reference to marriage, divorce, inheritance, maintenance etc. Muslim Personal Board wants non-interference in this matter. Moreover the legislature and Supreme Court both have opposite views on it, which is visible in the famous Shah Bano case. The absent of common civil code weakens the tolerance level which eventually opposes secularism.
  4. The Issue of Identity (Ethnicity) : After independence, Sikh community apprehended erosion of their cultural identity owing to lack of proper representation in all spheres. Therefore they demanded a separate state. This process ended in Hindu-Sikh riot which grievously impacted secularism in India. Almost the same process is going on in Jammu and Kashmir to diminish the level of secularism.

How to Maintain Secularism

  1. Role of State Governments :
    • Stern actions were taken against some organizations in Ayodhya issue, especially Bajrang Dal was banned
    • In 1999, UP religious Places Bill was passed in which it was ensured to put the religious places under the control of the concerned District Magistrate. However, owing to President’s veto power it could not become an act
    • In 2001, UP Government banned SIMI because it was believed the SIMI was spreading terrorism along with fundamentalism.
    • After the bomb blasts in Mumbai on 11th July Maharastra Government banned SIMI.
  2. Role of the Courts : All citizens of India have got right of religion through Art 25 in which propagation of religion is inherent, but it is limited on the following grounds-public order, public morality and public health. The following decisions of the courts in this regard are noteworthy here :
    • Stainislas V/s M.P.: Court (S.C.) decided that propagation of religion does not include forced conversion. Conversion under temptation comes under it, the court pleaded, because it badly affects the public order and morality. Such activities would oppose secularism.
    • Mohd Hanif Quereshi V/s Bihar State : In this case it was pleaded that cow-slaughter has not been considered a compulsory custom in Islam on Baqreed Thus it can be stopped by law in the interest of public order.
    • In Shah Bano case, the Supreme Court ordered maintenance in the interest of public health.
    • The courts have been tough against the wrong opponents of conversion. For example, Dara Singh and his accomplices were awarded life-imprisonment in Stines-murder case.
  3. Role of Civil Society : People comprising civil society make others awared about secularism through articles, reports, social activities, debates, conventions etc, which is highly beneficial and important For example, at many occasions there has been a debate on Art 44 nationally. However, with the help of unbiased opinions of the people a consensus could be created through voting.
  4. Role of Coexistence : In his study in South India, M.N. Sriniwas found that a strong tolerance between Hindus and Muslims has created a proper adjustment and so coexistence. They cooperate each other not only in the matters of economy but also in cultural and religious matter. That is why they keep on exchanging religious elements mutually which has narrowed down the social distance between them. Such kind of activities would definitely eliminate the problem of communalism and fundamentalism from India if it is equally applied to other places as well.

Conclusion :

Despite these problems secularism has been accepted widely as the national policy in India. As Donald E. Smith says, “it is meaningful to speak of India as a secular state, despite the existence of the problems…..India is a secular state in the same sense in which one can say that India is a democracy. Despite various undemocratic features of Indian politics and government, parliamentary democracy is functioning and with considerable vigour. Similarly, the secular state; is clearly embodied in the constitution, and it is being implemented in a substantial measure.”

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