By Soroor Ahmed

The term Minorities has become synonym to Muslims, even when the fact is that the Indian Constitution not only talks about religious minorities, but also about the linguistic ones. In that way the proportion of Minorities in India is much larger than what the people are generally made to believe.

There are several states of North-East, Punjab and Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir as well as Ladakh where Hindus – otherwise country’s biggest majority – are religious minority. In the same way Hindu Bengalis living in Bihar, or for that matter Jharkhand, are categorised as linguistic minority.

Unlike China, where 92 per cent people belong to Han race, India is a multi-religious, multi-lingual as well as multi-cultural country. Thus India can be called a cluster of minority groups who live side by side and are entitled to equal opportunities in all spheres of life.

So minority and majority are relative expressions. Articles 29 and 30 make special reference to the rights the religious and linguistic minorities enjoy and they are free to establish their own educational institutions and that the government cannot make discrimination in granting aid to them. Article 350 refers to the use of mother tongue – the concession given to linguistic minorities.

The irony is that whenever the issue of minority educational institutions comes up for discussion, the first thing which comes to mind of many average Indian is Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University – though the latter is no more a minority educational institution. The truth is that there are hundreds of minority educational institutions across India, most of them managed and run by non-Muslim minorities. Anyway a false perception has been created that the minority educational institutions are run only by Muslims and that they get undue government favour.

When we talk about the minority rights, it does not mean that the discussion should remain confined to running educational institutions. As minorities are equal citizens Constitutionally, they enjoy all the rights which rest of the population are entitled to. So there is no scope for discrimination on the basis of religion – or even language – in India.

As all are equal citizens, Indian Constitution, which is secular in nature, does not mention the term minority everywhere.

Apparently it is only in Article 30 that the religious and linguistic minorities have specifically been given the right to open their educational institutions and thus preserve their separate identity. At the time of framing of the Constitution, the founding fathers of India took notice of the significance of this right. It is not only the Indian Constitution which has given such freedom. This one Article in our Constitution goes a long way to check the establishment of majoritarianism in the country.

But the tragedy is that for the last several years this right has been under attack from various sections of the establishment. This is happening in spite of the fact that many minority institutions are engaged in providing good education for a large number of students cutting across the religious lines. Thus they are in a way sharing the burden of the government.

But there is other side of the story too. There are people who are misusing this concession for their own benefit. There are instances where people of the majority community have converted to Buddhism or Sikhism, etc. just for the sake of establishing minority educational institutions and thus mint money.

There are several Muslims too who, in the name of providing education, are engaged in earning fast bucks.

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