[Answered] Who is a ‘minority’ in India, as per the constitution and legal parameters? Discuss the issues involved in defining linguistic and religious minorities in India.

Introduction: Explain the term ‘minority’ according to the constitution and legal parameters.
Body: Write some issues involved in defining linguistic and religious minorities in India.
Conclusion: Write some suggestions.

The term “Minority” is not defined in the Indian Constitution. However, the Constitution recognizes religious and linguistic minorities through various articles. Article 29 has the word “minorities”, generally seen as a minority or a group within a majority community. Article30 speaks specifically of religious and linguistic minorities and the remaining two Articles- 350A and 350B relate to linguistic minorities only.

Section 2(f) of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions or NCMEI Act 2004, defines minority as- a community notified as such by the Central Government. Six communities are currently notified as minority communities at the national level- Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains. At the national level, Muslims are the largest minority. In case of linguistic minorities, there is no majority at the national level and the minority status is to be essentially decided at the State/Union Territory level.

Issues involved in defining linguistic and religious minorities in India:

  • The lack of a universally accepted definition of what constitutes a ‘minority’.
  • Currently, the linguistic minorities are identified on a state-wise basis thus determined by the state government whereas religious minorities are determined by the Central Government.
  • The constitution nowhere defines the term. It was left at the discretion of the central government to determine what constitutes minorities, but these minorities are in fact majority in a few states. E.g., Hindus are minority in Lakshadweep.
  • The Supreme Court verdicts also do not provide a comprehensive definition of the term minority and only feature the demographic aspect of a minority group.

Way forward:

  • The constitutional goal is to develop citizenship in which everyone enjoys full fundamental freedoms of religion, faith and worship and no one is apprehensive of encroachment of his rights by others in minority or majority.
  • In order to understand and define a minority group, mere numerical or demographic indicators will not be adequate. It will have to go beyond the quantifiable variables.
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