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Saturday, August 20, 2022

SC demands ‘concrete examples’ on plea seeking minority status to Hindus

The Supreme Court on Monday asked counsel to bring on record some concrete examples of Hindus being denied minority status at the state level.

The top court was hearing a plea challenging a provision of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Act and seeking a direction to the Centre to define “minority” and lay down guidelines for the identification of minorities at the district level.

Senior advocate Arvind Datar, representing Devkinandan Thakur, submitted before a bench headed by Justice U.U. Lalit that a 1993 notification says six communities –Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsi, and Jain — are minorities at the national level, and court judgments say minorities have to be notified by states.

Noting that a Christian institution claiming minority status in Mizoram will be a reversal of the situation, the bench asked Datar: “Are you denied the status in any state?”

As Datar said that he is talking about Hindus being denied minority status and there is a general perception that Hindus cannot be minority, the bench replied that only if there is a concrete case that Hindus are denied minority status, for example in Mizoram or Kashmir, then the court can look into this.

Justice Lalit said: “We are not able to understand what is the injury the petitioner is claiming?”

Pointing at linguistic minorities, the bench, also comprising Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia, queried: “Kannada-speaking person in Maharashtra, is a minority…..”

Justice Lalit further queried is the notification of any particular institution as minority under challenge, or the challenge is to the legislation? If a Sikh institution claims minority status in Punjab, then it is a travesty of justice, he said.

“We are going ahead with these challenges in the air….,” noted the bench.

As Datar cited a plea challenging the NCM Act pending in another court, Justice Bhat queried: “Why should the court look into this?” When Datar reiterated that Hindus are being denied minority status, Justice Lalit said: “We have to get to a concrete situation…”

The bench said Hindus may be minority in certain states like Mizoram and Kerala, and they might have claimed minority status and running institutions. “Every person can be a minority in this (situation)…I can be a minority outside the state of Maharashtra… unless, we get a concrete situation, difficult to deal with the situation,” said Justice Lalit.

At this, Datar sought some time in the matter.

The top court accepted Datar’s request and adjourned the matter for two weeks.

The plea said: “Cause of action continues till date because followers of Judaism, Bahaism, and Hinduism; who are real minorities in Ladakh, Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Kashmir, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab, Manipur, cannot establish and administer educational institutions of their choice because of non-identification of ‘minority’ at the state level, thus jeopardising their basic rights guaranteed under Article 29-30.”

The plea contended that their right under Articles 29-30 is being siphoned off illegally to the majority community in the state because the Centre has not notified them as ‘minority’ under the NCM Act. The plea challenged the Section 2(C) of the Act, which declared Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis, Sikhs and Jains as minorities at the national level and sought direction for district-wise identification of minorities and state-wise status.

In May, this year, the Ministry of Minority Affairs has told the Supreme Court that though the power is vested with the Centre to notify minorities, but emphasised on having a wider consultation with states and other stakeholder in the view of the plea seeking a direction to the Centre to lay down guidelines for identification of minority at the state level, saying the Hindus are in minority in 10 states.

SC’s dismissive attitude to Hindu concerns

It is surprising, to say the least, that the top court of the country is unaware of the distortion introduced in our polity by minorityism. There are three primary areas where this has an impact – right to run educational institutions, right to manage religious places, and state support via scholarships and other minority-only schemes.

This petition has been filed to ensure that Hindus are officially recognized as minority in the 10 states where they are numerically indeed a minority, so that all the benefits emanating from that classification become available to Hindus of those states. What is unclear about this?

The SC bench saying, “Hindus may be minority in certain states like Mizoram and Kerala, and they might have claimed minority status and running institutions” seems flippant and patently untrue. When Hindus haven’t been officially classified as minority by Centre or any state government, how can they be running institutions under that status? The arbitrary way in which only 6 communities have been defined as religious minorities under the NCM Act is clear for all to see – instead of adjudicating on it, why is the court asking for ‘concrete examples’ and terming the petition as ‘airy’?

Diluting this serious issue by talking about linguistic and regional minorities also leaves a bad taste in the mouth. When our judges say “Every person can be a minority…”, it implies that the process of defining a minority is convoluted. So why don’t they rule that this divisive classification be rid completely? Anyway, the National Commission for Minorities Act was introduced in 1992, so it wasn’t in the original Constitutional scheme of things – doesn’t that make it against the ‘basic structure’ doctrine?

The attitude of the highest court leaves one with the distinct impression that any issue dealing with Hindu rights is run down or put on the backburner. Even when the worst kind of sacrilege is done against Hindu Dharma, hurting our religious sensibilities, SC refuses to act and asks us to stop giving ‘undue importance’.

Hindus deserve their Dharma to be accorded preferred status in their homeland, as more than 80 countries in the world have done for followers of other world religions. But in Bharat, they are struggling to merely get a fair hearing from the secular State and its institutions. This is clearly untenable.

(With IANS inputs)

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