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The propriety of minority rights

The propriety of minority rights

Author: MG Vaidya
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 3, 2002

It is good that the Supreme Court's 11-member Bench has started a process of deciding the rights of minority communities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. The matter was long pending before the court and no decision was forthcoming, which resulted in a number of groups that are generally considered to be part of Hindu society, claiming the status of a minority in a particular State which would immunise them from the Government laws and restrictions. Ramkrishna Mission in West Bengal and the Lingayats in Karnataka are pertinent examples; there might be many more. Why are these groups claiming for themselves the minority character? Obviously there are extraordinary advantages bestowed on the minority communities by our Constitution.

The words of Article 30(1) are simple and apparently innocuous. It says, "All minorities whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer their educational institutions of their choice." On the face of it, most innocent words! But they are not so. Why? Because there was no necessity to incorporate this Article in our Constitution and yet the article is incorporated, and therefore it has assumed an enhanced significance. Is there any Article in the Constitution that restrains minority communities from establishing and administrating their educational institutions? No, on the contrary, articles 15, 16 and 19 declare unequivocally that there will be no discrimination in any field on the basis of religion or language.

On this background of there not being any restraining clauses, the specific incorporation of article 30(1) has given minority communities unrestricted scope to establish and administer their educational institutions in a manner that the Government has no power to monitor, supervise or legislate on them. The first Communist Government in Kerala in 1950s tried to put some Government control on all educational institutions in the State, but the managers of Christians institutions frustrated the government attempt under the cover of this article 30(1).

From that time onwards, many cases are pending before the Supreme Court. This newly-constituted 11-member Bench, should, apart from the particularity of the cases pending before them should also consider the following general points.

One, According to Article 30(1), the basis on which a minority character of a group is established, is religion. (No major administrative or legal problems were created by linguistic minorities. Therefore, I am keeping them out, as far as this article is concerned.) Therefore, should not this special right be limited to such institutions of minority communities that impart religions teachings? Why should institutions that impart secular education be recognised for a special treatment? Just because they were established by minority groups?

Two, When majority of the students admitted to an institution established and administered by minority groups do not belong to that minority group, then why should it be called a minority institution? For bestowing minority character on any institution, can it be laid down that, that institutions shall admit only students belonging to the community which runs that institution?

And then there is another Article, that is, Article 30 (1A). It discriminates between even the land or buildings belonging to a minority community and the majority community. It states: "In making any law providing for compulsory acquisition of any property of an educational institution established and administered by a minority referred to in clause(1), the State shall ensure that the amount fixed by or determined under such law for the acquisition of such property is such as would not restrict or abrogate the right guaranteed under the clause."

Now the land or building is a material property, built with bricks, iron, wood, etc. Is it fair to give a fundamental right to the minority community only to challenge the compensation? Is the presumption that the minorities will not be given fair compensation in the event of acquiring their property just and fair? Government laws can be good or bad; can they be good for one community and bad for the other?

Though not connected with the articles in the Constitution, I want to bring to the notice of the learned judges of the Bench that even for declaring a person below the poverty line, there are discriminatory criteria. A family belonging to a religious minority community will be regarded below poverty line if its income is less than Rs 7,500, but for a family of the majority community the border line for deciding poverty is Rs 4,000. Even the rates of interest on loans are different for majority and minority communities. Is the Government strategy aimed at destroying the majority? Will it be wrong to say that not only is this discrimination unfair and unjust, but it has resulted in perpetuating the majority-minority divide with all the resultant unhealthy consequences?

I am in the know of a petition - I don't know whether it is before the Supreme Court or the High Court - wherein it has been challenged the very basis of Article 30. The petition is reported to have emphasised that Article 30 itself is infructuous, because there are no minority religions in our country! One more point. Cannot the Human Rights Commission take care of all such rights? Freedom of religion, equality before law, right to property, freedom to choose one's occupation, etc., are all such rights as are common to all citizens. Why make a discrimination between one community and the other? The verdict of the 11-member bench of the Apex Court is expected to address all these anomalies.

(The writer is spokesperson of the RSS)

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