Whither Minorities?

It is December 18th- ‘Minority Rights Day’ once again! Given the fact that minorities all across the world were subject to systematic targeting by ‘majoritarianism’ and in order to strengthen the cause of the minorities, the United Nations promulgated the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities’ on 18th December 1992 proclaiming that “States shall protect the existence of the National or Ethnic, Cultural, Religious and Linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity”.

India’s greatness has always been in her rich tapestry of diversity and pluralism; the sub-continent has been a ‘potpourri’ of cultures, religions, ethnicity’s, languages wherein the wealth of each, however seemingly insignificant, was recognised and appreciated. Sadly, however, all that India has epitomised these past centuries has received a severe drubbing with consistent acts of intolerance particularly on minorities since June 2014.

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Instances can be highlighted ad nauseam: the ghastly murder of Akhlaq in Dadri village following a rumour that he had slaughtered a cow and eaten its meat (this was proved to be totally untrue); the murder of rationalists like Kalburgi and Dabholkar who thought differently and who challenged the obscurantism propagated by right-wing fundamentalists; the hegemony by some of the majority community on what others (particularly the minorities) should eat, drink, wear or see; the abusive and derogatory remarks made on the minorities by officials and other functionaries of the ruling class; the manipulation of school curriculum to foist a ‘majoritarian’ agenda; the continued insistence by the Government to rename December 25th (which is Christmas, a sacred day for Christians – the birth of Jesus Christ), as ‘Good Governance Day’ and make it mandatory for Government employees to work on that day.

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In spite of the grim ground reality, the Government of India will continue its act of tokenism with some cosmetic programmes on December 18th in order to propagate a myth that ‘all is well’ with the minorities of the country. There will be photo-ops with some minority religious leaders ‘to prove the point’. One is sure however that there will be no political will to rein in those who continue minority bashing and who apparently have the complete support of ‘those-on-the-top’.

On September 12th 2014, eminent jurist Fali Nariman delivering the annual lecture of the National Commission of Minorities (NCM), strongly asserted that “Hinduism is losing its traditional tolerance because some Hindus have started believing that it is their faith that has brought them political power – and because this belief is not being challenged by “those at the top”. Nariman’s words were like pouring water on a duck’s back; there have been manifold instances of attacks on minorities ever since that lecture.

The observance of December 18th is not about ‘minority-ism’: heightening the fears and insecurities of minorities but rather of the ability and courage of those who belong to majority communities to tangibly show that in India all have their space, rights and freedom.

About Author : Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.

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