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The rising instances of crimes being committed against minorities are disheartening and frightening, to say the least. It speaks volumes of the sort of society we have evolved into.
India’s billion-strong population is a marvel in itself. The medley of people, coming from an assortment of varying social heritage, religions, races, colours and cultures, living together is a lesson in world peace. Let us dive into the finer aspects of India’s demographics, for as it is often said, the devil lies in the details. What may appear to be simple and plain at first sight is actually really cumbersome and tedious to comprehend.
In the 2011 Census of India, the total population figure crossed the one billion mark and settled at 1,21,08,54,977. Out of these, 79.79% were identified as Hindus, while 14.22% were Muslims. The Christian population stood at 2.29%, Buddhist at 0.69% and Jain at 0.36%, whereas Sikhs comprised 1.76% of the population. Different states have different majority religious compositions across the length and breadth of India.
For instance, the state of Uttar Pradesh is mainly populated by Hindus, whereas Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab comprise mainly of Muslims and Sikhs respectively. Thus, the data presented are adequate to reasonably gauge the diversity in the Indian population.
Section 2(c) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992 defines a minority as any community notified as such by the Central Government. To this effect, the Ministry of Welfare had notified five communities, i.e., Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsis) as minority communities on 23rd October 1993.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs then notified, on 27th January 2014 through the Official Gazette of India, that the Jain community would also be recognised as a minority along with the ones already notified by the Central Government. Therefore, there are now officially six religion-based minorities in India. There are also other types of minorities based upon linguistics, caste, colour and ethnicity to name a few.
The National Commission for Minorities itself was set up by the National Commission for Minorities Act in the year 1992 by the Union Government. The function of the Commission and other State Minority Commissions in several states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Assam, Manipur and others, is to safeguard and protect the interests and legal rights of minorities guaranteed to them under the aegis of the Constitution of India.
Section 9(1) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992 enlists the various functions of the Commission, such as:
- To evaluate the progress of the development of Minorities under the Union and States;
- To monitor the working of the safeguards provided in the Constitution and in laws enacted by Parliament and the State Legislatures;
- To make recommendations for the effective implementation of safeguards for the protection of the interests of minorities by the Central Government or the State Governments;
- To look into specific complaints regarding deprivation of rights and safeguards of the minorities and take up such matters with the appropriate authorities.”
Certain powers have also been vested with the Commission for taking action against instances of injustice and stripping away of rights of minorities in a manner which is against the notions of morality and good conscience.
These powers have been provided under Section 9(4) of the Act which mandates that the Commission shall have the powers of a civil court for:
- summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person from any part of India and examining him on oath;
- requiring the discovery and production of any document;
- receiving evidence on affidavits;
- requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or office;
- issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses and documents; and
- any other matter which may be prescribed.”
The United Nations, on 18 December, 1992, promulgated a declaration by which States resolved to protect the existence of various minorities and further their interests as well promote their identity. The Declaration was a measure in the right direction for strengthening the position and treatment of minorities across the globe. Although the Constitution of India itself does not define the term and scope of a minority community, it does provide safeguards for their protection and promotion in the manner of fundamental rights under Article(s) 29 [Protection of interests of minorities] and 30 [Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions].
By virtue of Article 29, any section of society, living in any part of the country, is given the right to conserve their language, script and culture. Further, it is guaranteed that they will not be discriminated against on the grounds of religion, race, language etc. for admission to any educational institution maintained by the State. Article 30 provides all minorities with the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
The perception that the minority communities in India feel threatened and alienated has steadily gained steam among the minds of eminent intellectuals and thinkers of the country. Such perceptions are not unfounded either, for recent incidents are enough to persuade us that all is not well in the land of ‘unity in diversity’. There have been numerous incidents of heinous crimes being conducted and even orchestrated by the dominant majority communities on the minorities, often with the sole purpose of “showing them their place” in society. This stems from the archaic hierarchical Indian society based upon social classes wherein people are divided into upper and lower classes depending upon the work they do and their family history.
The intrinsic division of society has created a deep fissure between different communities which leads to them sparring at the slightest of provocations. Let us turn back the pages of history and analyse the pattern of such crimes.
Religion-related crime against minorities: Religion-based violence in India has primarily been between the dominant Hindu majority and the minority Muslims. Although the Indian Constitution is secular in nature and strives to promote all religions equally, the politics of the nation is founded upon religious bigotry by its leaders. In the colonial era, the most famous example of communal violence is from the Partition of Bengal in 1905. The British mastered the use of the divide and rule policy and put it into effect successfully in pre-independence India. The decision to partition Bengal into a Muslim-majority East Bengal and Hindu-majority West Bengal were perceived by both sides negatively and the riots began subsequently.
The Partition of British India also witnessed many riots and communal flare-ups where the minorities were attacked and pushed out of the country. Direct-Action Day violence is an example of the sort of violence that engulfed the country during this tumultuous time. Post-independence, even though a secular model of governance was adopted by the government, crime against minorities could not be contained. The most glaring example here are the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots that took place in the aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Although politically motivated to an extent, it cannot be denied that the riots had a definite communal flavour. The Sikhs were methodically targeted and attacked by the Hindus for weeks.
The demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya witnessed heavy rioting and communal disharmony between the Hindus and Muslims in the politically tense state of Uttar Pradesh. Muslims were targeted across the length and breadth of India in the aftermath of the destruction of the Babri Masjid by Hindus. It even led to widespread riots in the city of Mumbai.
The current ongoing process of National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state of Assam can also be considered as a form of crime against minorities which is being sponsored by the state. In this movement, a register has been prepared of authentic citizens of the country under the garb of identifying illegal Muslim immigrants. However, the truth is that the current Hindu nationalist ruling dispensation is trying to oust the Muslims from India and their intent is clear from the fact that their leaders refer to Muslims as “termites” and the Union Home Minister even persuaded crowds in West Bengal that everyone other than Muslims will be given citizenship of the country.
Ever since the Narendra Modi led BJP government came to power in 2014, crimes against minorities have skyrocketed. A new form of violence, the mob-lynching has emerged, wherein a crowd often gathers on rumours and suspicions to take matters into their own hands. This started with the lynchings of the likes of Pehlu Khan and Mohammed Akhlaq. A trend has been observed where false rumours are floated targeting Muslims and a mob quickly gathers to take matters into their own hands.
Data from IndiaSpend shows that instances of religion-based hate crimes have increased by huge margins in the years since the Modi government came to power and the Muslims are most often found to be the victims while the Hindus are the perpetrators of this violence. What is being seen is that people are forming groups of “cow vigilantes” who pounce upon people who are suspected of carrying beef. This suspicion is usually unfounded and yet the mob proceeds to lynch people.
Caste-based crime against minorities: India’s social system has developed in such a manner that class conflict is an unavoidable evil. The four-tier caste system of Hindu society as envisaged by the Manusmriti has engulfed the country into an epidemic of madness. The upper-caste Brahmans dominate and torment the lower castes to remind them of the position in society to which they have historically belonged. In spite of progressive legislation and steps taken by the executive and judiciary to reform the society, the effect has been negligible and caste-based violence still captures the prime-time news slots on our television sets.
The recent spate of suicides by Dalit students such as Rohit Vemula of the Central University of Hyderabad and Payal Tadvi of a renowned hospital in Mumbai on account of torment and discrimination by other students and authorities, highlights the precarious condition of society we are living in today. Recently, a group of students from National Law University, Delhi (one of the most prestigious and sought-after law school in India) had complained of caste-based discrimination at the hands of fellow students and authorities alike. Their misery showed that caste discrimination has essentially been institutionalised in this nation. The act of humiliating the downtrodden and lower caste students by the so-called upper caste privileged masses who take it upon themselves to show the lower-castes students that they are outsiders and do not belong here is widespread in India’s law schools.
The 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence in Pune orchestrated by right-wing Hindu groups upon Dalits who had assembled peacefully under the banner of Elgar Parishad to commemorate the batter of Koregaon shows how hollow the claims of caste parity are. Upper caste groups continue to punish Dalits and other Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes in the name of the ancient caste hierarchy. The case of Phoolan Devi, a dacoit-turned politician, is one that pains the heart. She belonged to a lower-caste stratum of society in Uttar Pradesh and her bravery and will to fight the wrong had threatened the upper caste groups. Looking for revenge, Phoolan Devi was kidnapped and raped for weeks. Many years later, she was shot down in a case of hate crime.
Hate-filled discourse in India
Another point of discussion is the hate-filled discourse in India. The usual mediums of discourse — television, social media, newspapers and even cinema — have played a part in creating an environment where the minorities are being subjected to assault and torment at the hands of the majority. For instance, WhatsApp forwards and Facebook posts add fuel to the fire and trigger the Hindu community into believing that Muslims alone are responsible for all the problems in the country. Such discourse is very harmful to the peace and harmony of a nation and eventually leads to the brainwashing of its citizens.
We have all heard of the stupid and idiotic notions that the “rising Muslim population will take over India and drive Hindus out” or that “Muslims raise their kids to be terrorists” and other such jibber-jabber. The majority community, or the Hindus, are presented as the victims in all the propaganda and the Muslims are shown as perpetrators of social evils.
The crimes against women in India also need to come into the spotlight. Needless to say, women in India have been historically and traditionally confined within the homes and relegated to doing household work. They are treated as objects and property belonging to men. Lately, the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) released its report for the year 2017 and the contents were startling. The years 2013 to 2017 witnessed a 16% rise in crimes committed against women. Around 3.60 lakh crimes against women were registered in the year 2017. Unsurprisingly, this increase coincides with the coming into power of the BJP-led coalition government.
The social outlook of the ruling dispensation, which it has borrowed from the RSS, considers women to be secondary to men and allots them traditional family roles such as rearing and caring of children and maintaining the household. Crimes against Dalits and Adivasi communities also increased by over 10% and 5% respectively. The crimes against these communities too rose once the BJP took over the mantle of the governance of the country.
Sachar Committee Report
It is very pertinent to discuss the recommendations and findings made by the Sachar Committee regarding the social, economic and educational status of Muslims in India. The Committee strongly suggested the policy-makers to draft inclusive policies which will have the consequence of mainstreaming the diversity in the population. Bringing about equity and inclusion in society was stressed upon after analysing the poor condition of Muslims in India. With regards to this recommendation, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has been launching various campaigns to stress the point of inclusion in social life. Several films and programmes were released and sensitisation campaigns were carried out to this effect.
The Report also suggested the creation of a National Data Bank (NDB) to establish a repository of data and once such a repository is in place, mechanisms should be developed to address the lacunae highlighted by this data and take corrective measures. The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation has created a website for the NDB where tables on population, health, education, employment have been uploaded, along with additional data from the National Sample Survey reports.
The rising instances of crimes being committed against minorities are disheartening and frightening, to say the least. It speaks volumes of the sort of society we have evolved into. Compared to the Indian society envisaged by our leaders at the time of Independence, the current scenario is a far cry. Minorities are being made to feel alienated from society as a consequence of these crimes and atrocities. The government has also contributed towards marginalising the minorities by excluding them from development and growth plans. Further, institutionalising hate crimes and caste-based discrimination have encouraged the feeling among the minorities that they are unwanted here and that the government itself is pushing them out of the country by taking no actions against perpetrators of crimes against minorities.
The contemporary politics of India is partly responsible for creating a sense of hostility between the different sections of society, which has, in turn, led to the creation of fear in the minds of the minority. In today’s world, minorities live in constant fear of being subjected to uncalled for hate and atrocities at the hands of the majority.
The use of the Hindu-Muslim agenda by politicians to secure the vote bank has destroyed the secular fabric of the country and created a hedge that has stopped the intermingling of communities. In this progressive era too, marriages between Hindus and Muslims, or upper-caste Brahmans and the “lowly” Dalits are frowned upon and the participants are shunned out of society.
It is the need of the hour to leave behind the politics of bigotry and identify ourselves with humanity. Politicians have kept the masses of India occupied with hate and discrimination so that their attention isn’t diverted to the real issues that plague the country like the stumbling economy and hobbling democracy.
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