Reduction of minority rights, rise of majority violence

(They were Muslims, but they weren’t ants; they were Muslims, they weren’t chickens; be careful, south of the Indus, after hundreds of years of citizenship, they were not the ruins of the ground)

Who were/are Muslims? This issue has become more relevant in India today than even when the nation was founded in 1947 when independence came with the acceptance of a two nation theory.

Several cases of majority violence have occurred against minorities, especially Muslims, affecting their social and economic life. On the eve of Eid, communal clashes erupted in even relatively peaceful Jodhpur, leading to a long imposition of a curfew. In recent times, such violence has been seen in many states, raising doubts about minority rights and the “idea of ​​India” in our times.

Commenting on the phenomenon, Professor Ashutosh Varshney noted that he had studied communal riots since the 1990s, but the current violence against Muslims is very different. Ominously, he warned that India could now enter the phase of pogroms.

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The attack on Muslim identity, livelihoods, culture and religious practices exposes the flaws in the visions of the founding fathers. Noted Hindi poet Devi Prasad Mishra in his poem ‘They were Muslims‘ writes about the journey of Muslims to India, how they perceived India and how they assimilated into Indian culture, revealing the diverse and accommodating roots of the country. Moreover, it settled the long-standing question of the identity of Muslims and their claim to the Indian motherland.

These attacks and the growing majority violence compel us to turn to the “idea of ​​India” envisioned during the struggle for freedom and after the adoption of the Constitution.

Protesting KM Munshi’s proposal that the clause prohibiting discrimination against minorities in admission to public educational institutions and prohibiting them from compulsory religious instruction be referred to a committee for further consideration, BR Ambedkar said, “Minority rights should be absolute rights. They should not be subject to any considerations as to what other parties might like to do with minorities within their jurisdiction.

Lamenting that the issue of minorities was not included in the work of the committee responsible for drafting the fundamental rights, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur said: “Appropriate provision should be made for the individual and the minority community for the realization of their rights. , freedom, individual and social growth.

As the British historian and politician Lord Acton has noted: “One of the dominating evils of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, and the test of freedom in a democracy is the security of minorities.”

With growing intolerance towards minorities, rising hate speech by politicians from ruling parties and incompetence of public authorities, the guarantee of minority rights is testing the effectiveness of the Constitution.

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Constitutions coordinate the expectations of officials and citizens about the appropriate limits of public power, writes American political scientist Barry Weingast. Boundaries blur when state and non-state actors join in attacking a group of people for their food, clothing, and individual choices.

Data from the National Crime Records Bureau reveals that incidents of communal violence doubled from 438 in 2019 to 857 in 2020. Forms of violence include economic, social and communal violence, including lynchings. India has witnessed the rise of lawless mobs, which have attacked Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis with impunity, writes Arvind Narrain in his book Undeclared emergency in India.

According to statistics from IndiaSpendinghate crimes increased after the Narendra Modi-led BJP came to power in the Centre.

Undoubtedly, the Constitution contains several provisions which aim to protect minorities and it also provides sustenance for the functioning of institutions to preserve the plural order of Indian society.

However, nearly seven decades after the inauguration of the constitutional republic, minorities in India have expressed a sense of alienation, writes Bishnu N Mohapatra in his essay Minorities & Politics.

The gap between constitutional theory and practice amid rising violence is a major concern for anyone who believes in the Constitution. Constitutional faith will only be restored when these gaps are filled through the affirmation of minority rights and the effort of the state to promote and protect these rights.

As Ambedkar said, no matter how good a Constitution, it will not work without the sagacity of the masses, the political morality of those in power and the creativity of the judiciary, all of whom are now like the cat by Schrodinger. You can see them in the speeches but not in the actions.

(The writer is a Samta Fellow and works on Constitutional Literacy through Constitution Connect)