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Rights of Minorities

Constitutional Rights:

The Constitution refers to two types of minorities, namely, religious minorities and linguistic minorities. However, the term ‘minority’ has not been defined anywhere in the Constitution.

In 1993, the Central Government notified five communities, viz., Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsis) as religious minorities at the national level. In January 2014, the Jain community was added to this list.

A linguistic minority is a group of people whose mother tongue is different from that of the majority in the state or part of a state. This means that linguistic minorities are determined on a state-wise basis.

The Constitution contains special provisions to safeguard the social, educational and economic interests of the minorities. Some of these are common to both religious minorities and linguistic minorities while some others are meant exclusively for linguistic minorities. Hence, these provisions are mentioned here under two headings.

Religious and Linguistic Minorities:

  1. Any section of citizens having a distinct language, script or culture of its own has the right to conserve the same (Article 29(1)).
  2. No citizen is to be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the state or aided by the state on grounds of religion, race, caste or language (Article 29(2)).
  3. All minorities, whether based on religion or language, have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice (Article 30(1)).
  4. The compensation amount fixed by the state for the compulsory acquisition of any property of a minority educational institution should not restrict or abrogate the right guaranteed to the minorities, whether based on religion or language (Article 30(1-A)).
  5. In granting aid to educational institutions, the state should not discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language (Article 30(2)).
  6. The wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion. In other words, Sikhs have the right to wear and carry kirpans (Article 25(2)).

Linguistic Minorities:

  1. When the President (on a demand being made) is satisfied that a substantial proportion of the population of a state desire the use of any language spoken by them to be recognised by that state, then he may direct that such language should also be officially recognised in that state (Article 347).
  2. Every aggrieved person has the right to submit a representation for the redress of any grievance to any officer or authority of the Union or a state in any of the languages used in the Union or in the state, as the case may be. This means that a representation cannot be rejected on the ground that it is not in the official language (Article 350).
  3. Every state and a local authority in the state should provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups. The President can issue necessary directions for this purpose (Article 350-A).
  4. The President should appoint a special officer for linguistic minorities to investigate all matters relating to the constitutional safeguards for linguistic minorities and to report to him. The President should place all such reports before the Parliament and send to the state governments concerned (Article 350-B).

Legal Rights:

The following legislations contain several rights and safeguards for the minorities:
  1. Waqf Act, 1995 (erstwhile Waqf Act, 1954) was enacted to safeguard the existence of a large number of Waqf properties in the country. The Act provided for the establishment of a Central Waqf Council for the purpose of advising the Government of India on matters pertaining to working of the State Waqf Boards and proper administration of the Waqfs in the country. A Waqf is a permanent dedication of movable or immovable properties for purposes recognised by the Muslim Law as religious, pious or charitable. Apart from these religious aspects, the Waqfs are also instruments of social and economic upliftment.
  2. The National Commission for Minorities Act (1992) accorded statutory status to the Minorities Commission set up in 1978. The Commission monitors the working of the safeguards provided to the minorities in the constitution and laws. It also looks into specific complaints regarding deprivation of rights and safeguards of the minorities.
  3. National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act (2004) provides additional safeguards to the minority educational institutions. It contains provisions for the following:
    • Establishment of a National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions
    • Right to establish a minority educational institution
    • Right of a minority educational institution to seek affiliation to any university of its choice.

Consensual Safeguards:

In addition to the above constitutional safeguards, the linguistic minorities are also provided with
some consensual safeguards. These have been arrived at by consensus by the Central and the state
governments through series of meetings. They are as follows:
  1. Instruction through minority languages at the secondary stage of education
  2. Translation and publication of important rules, regulations, notices, etc., into all languages, which are spoken by at least 15% of the total population at district or sub-district level
  3. No insistence upon knowledge of State’s Official Language at the time of recruitment; test of proficiency in the State’s Official Language to be held before completion of probation.
The constitutional and the consensual safeguards together with practical ways to implement them has led to the combined scheme of safeguards. The salient features of the scheme, as at present, are:
  1. Translation and publication of important rules, regulations, notices, etc., into all languages, which are spoken by at least 15% of the total population at district or sub-district level
  2. Declaration of minority languages as second official language in districts where persons speaking such languages constitute at least 60% of the population
  3. Receipt of, and reply to, representations in minority languages
  4. Instruction through mother tongues/minority languages at the primary stage of education
  5. Instruction through minority languages at the secondary stage of education
  6. Advance registration of linguistic preference of linguistic minority pupils, and inter-school adjustments
  7. Provision for text books and teachers in minority languages
  8. Implementation of three-language formula
  9. No insistence upon knowledge of State’s official language at the time of recruitment; test of proficiency in the State’s Official Language to be held before completion of probation
  10. Issue of pamphlets in minority languages detailing safeguards available to linguistic minorities
  11. Setting up of proper machinery at the state and district levels

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