A Close Look At The Minorities by MOHD ZEYAUL HAQUE (Dec. 25, 2003)

We, The Minorities of India
Prof. Z. M. Khan & S. N. Yadav
Rs : 185     
Pages: 185
Institute of Objective Studies
New Delhi - 110025

This is an interesting discourse on how despite remarkable constitutional safeguards, legal guarantees and broadly tolerant Hindu traditions, India’s Muslims, Dalits and Christians continue to suffer discrimination and vicious persecution.

Cover to cover the book is interspersed with sharp and incisive remarks that people who know Prof. Khan immediately identify as his signature. For company he has the co-author SN Yadav, a research fellow at the IOS. The badly matched talents of the seasoned professor and his young colleague sometimes produce an unsavoury effect.

There are quite a few points to ponder here. To begin with, all minorities are not similarly placed or equally disadvantaged. Dalits, a persecuted group, are not always a minority in the numerical sense, or in the sense of being a religious minority. Although Dalits do not generally have Veda-based beliefs and practices  (and most of the time worship their own non-Vedic, indigenous, sometimes local, gods and goddesses in their homes, rather than in high caste-held temples), Hindu nationalists regard them as junior partners in the Hindutva project. However, Dalits remain a ‘minority’ in the sense the UN described South African Blacks as ‘minority’ although they were numerically the preponderant majority. Minority in that particular sense denotes powerlessness, not small numbers.

This books includes Dalits in it discourse on minorities and their persecution at the hands of people who identify themselves with Hindutva, which has elements of racism and religious bigotry. As Dalit intellectuals have often pointed out, Hindutva is always eager and ready to use Dalits as cannon fodder in Hindu-Muslim and Hindu-Christian conflicts, yet regards them as the ‘Other’ because they are not from the supposed Aryan stock (Hindutva racism) and because their gods are not Vedic (Hindutva religious bigotry).

The authors do make the necessary distinction between Hinduism (the intricate web of Hindu beliefs and practices) and Hindutva, the violent, anti-democratic, intolerant political agenda that runs against the grain of Hindu ethos and the country’s Constitution.

The Constitution addresses itself as the embodiment of the wishes and aspirations of “We, the people of India”, which is a declaration for an inclusive, plural polity, the authors argue. However, what obtains in reality is the chimera of a quasi-fascist polity and a state that does not look at Muslims, Christians and Dalits as “We”. Why Dalits are often regarded as not “We” but “They” can be known from the preceding explanation, but the exclusion of Muslims and Christians from the “We” envisaged by the Constitution has other reasons.

Hindu nationalism (as opposed to Indian nationalism) has an ingenious way of defining nationality, something that is dramatically akin to the Nazi definition of German nationalism or, to cite a recent example, to Enoch Powell’s  definition of British nationalism. Powell says a British citizen of Indian, Pakistani or Jamaican origin can be a British citizen, but never a Britisher or a true Brit. For that one has to be an Anglo-Saxon.

Hindu nationalism (or Hindutva) does not regard Indians professing “religions born outside India” as true Indians even if they belong to the same racial stock as do the “true Indians” professing religions born in India. These fortunate folk are Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. Muslims, Jews, Christians and Parsis stand excluded. One can immediately see that this doctrine is even more pernicious than Enoch Powell’s because here even belonging to the same racial stock is not enough for inclusion.

People not familiar with the Indian situation might wonder whether the Indian Constitution subscribes to this vicious doctrine. The answer is no, but there are some residual influences of this thinking left in the Constitution itself. For  instance, affirmative action is sometimes limited strictly to the uplift of deprived classes professing “Indian religions” only.

There are laws which are not gender-just and discriminate against women of “Indian religions” marrying others, while a man of the same religious background does not incur the liability by marrying a woman of a different background.

Despite some limitations imposed by what the authors cryptically call the “Partition psyche,” the Constitution is by and large fair, and much of the discrimination follows not from the Constitution but from the Hindutva mindset of police, the wider officialdom and a section of the political class. Needless to say, this mindset runs contrary to the principles laid down in the Constitution. This dichotomy has created a schism at the heart of India’s political and social life.

The “Partition psyche” that the authors refer to needs some explaining for the uninitiated. What they want to suggest is that the historic event of India’s Partition and its attendant horrors hardened Hindu attitudes regarding minorities and sometimes coloured even the most liberal vision.

Possibly an example of hardening of attitudes could be found in scrapping of the provision for reservation of seats for minorities in legislatures. The provision was written into the Draft Constitution in February 1948, only to be scrapped in May 1949. “Jawaharlal Nehru and other senior leaders  assured the minorities that even without statutory safeguards they would be given adequate representation”, the authors say. Alas, that was not to be. Instead, Muslim representation in legislatures has been declining over the years.

There are other alarming trends, too. For instance, the sustained anti-minority campaign by Hindutva votaries over the years has created a situation where the communal hatred is likely to get converted into a “socio-cultural value”. It is a matter  of concern, but what is of greater  concern is that there is no effort to redress it. “On the contrary, there are evidences,” say the authors, of efforts “to hide, delay and overlook the facts.”

The book takes an activist stance, asking the reader to fight exclusion by using the lofty ideas in the Constitution and insisting on this document being the only source of authority and reference for governance as well as the sole touchstone for the state’s legitimacy.

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