Syyed Mansoor Agha examines whether our ship is sailing towards mutually respectful developed nations or drifting away towards the dark and dreaded age of barbarianism.
There was an era of barbarianism when to be weaker physically, economically, or numerically was a curse and cause of terrible torture, agony, sexual exploitation, and even enslavement. Then came the era of colonialism with the “Age of Discovery” of new lands (15th century onwards) that became right to conquer faraway territories and use brutal tactics to rule over inept inhabitants.
The 19th century saw the advent of “Nation-States” comprising various ethnic groups living in the same territory. Ironically, none of these states has ever been unitary one in character and composition of various ethnic groups but always an amalgam of multiple ‘nations’ with divergent faiths, multiple ways of reverence, different shades of cultural life, divergent traditions and practices, languages, and dialects, and even in cuisine, etc. So mutual respect, coordination, co-operation and tolerance towards each other became the bedrock of such ‘Nation-States’ and an imperative factor for a peaceful co-existence and prosperity. The First Islamic State, established after the migration of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ to Madinah was the first ideal state in the sense that non-believing residents of the state were guaranteed complete freedom of faith and practice and cultural values.
In newly founded ‘Nation-States’ after 12-13 centuries of Hijra, each ethnic group, big or small, is in principle granted equal rights to uphold their cultural values, follow their faith and protect their language. The groups, smaller in numbers but evidently distinct from others, characteristically constitute ‘Minority Groups’. Their rights to maintain their specific identities have been universally recognised and protected by national and international laws.
CONFLICT OF INTERESTS
Man has some instincts of selfishness and prejudices. If stimulated under the influence of greater numbers, this crooked mentality is bound to overshadow the virtuous qualities of self-restraint and lending hand to the needy. So demarcation of genuine boundaries became inevitable to provide and protect the rightful space for smaller groups. This necessity gave birth to the concept of human rights and specific “Rights of Minorities (smaller groups)” within human rights.
Obviously, the adverse tendency – i.e. majoritarianism – is certain to prove detrimental to the safety of universal rights of other groups, small or big, and will prove harmful for humanity, unity of a nation, and peace and prosperity of the society as a whole, call that a country or a nation.
On November 26, India celebrated its “Constitution Day” to commemorate the final seal on the draft constitution in 1949. It will be pertinent to examine whether our ship is sailing towards a zone of calm, cool, prosperous, and mutually respectful developed nations or drifting away towards the dark and dreaded age of barbarianism.
The Constitution of India provides a wide range of protections for its citizens, including special provisions for minorities. In brief, Article 14 prohibits unequal treatment with any section. Article 14(1) states Equality before Law. Articles 29 and 30 provide safeguards for the cultural and educational rights of minorities. Article 29 (1) entitles any minority group to preserve and promote its language, script or literature, and culture. Clause 29(2) prohibits denial of admission to Government-aided educational institutions on the ground of race, caste, and religion or language protection.
The right to life and dignity for everybody is part of universally protected basic human rights. Our Constitution also provides the same. No majority or any state authority should deny these rights to members of minorities. But consider how elite casts in our country treat the deprived sections, including SC/ST and OBC, the tribal and especially the Muslim minority. How these rights are demeaned in the prevailing majoritarian hegemony of elite sections of the Majority to strengthen their grip on the state machinery. Lynching and thrashing of individuals from a particular minority are being used as a tool to boost the false sense of pride of a ‘majoritarian cult’ by invoking deceitful religiosity.
RIGHT TO PRACTISE ONE’S RELIGION
For example, our Constitution gives everybody the right to practise his/her religion. What is happing in Gurgaon, a city close to National Capital Delhi? In a systematic way, Friday prayers are being disrupted. It was argued by State CM and the Home Minister that ‘Muslims should confine prayers to the fourwalls of mosques.’
But forget to re-open closed spaces. They neither reprimanded hooligans for usurping a minority right to practise their religious ritual, as was being done in the usual peaceful manner, nor scolded the police.
The State Home Minister declared that no religious activity should be in the open. But he remained silent at pooja in the open at the same place and time earmarked for Friday prayers. These are a few instances of state authorities deviation from their rightful duty.
SWEAR TO THE CONSTITUTION
The Constitution of India, to which our executives have to swear to take charge of official duty, is basically religion-neutral and the Preamble also declares the nation is Secular. It means that the religious belief of an individual, whatever his position should not influence his public and governmental actions. In other words, no favours or disfavours under the influence of your religious instinct. No elucidation is required for the present regime. In the past too, violations of the Constitution were glaring from day one. Exclusion of non-Hindu SC/ST in the reservation, executive order to discriminate against Muslim officers after Partition, from the installation of idols in the Babri Masjid to its sad destruction and further are an open book for all.
In a nutshell, the rising Majoritarian cult is in direct conflict with basic rights enshrined in our Constitution, a noble document made irrelevant for just execution. It raises the question, what is the way ahead for minorities, especially the Muslim minority.
[The writer is Chairmen, Forum for Civil Rights. [email protected]]