In common parlance, the expression “minority” means a group comprising less than half of the population and differing from others, especially the predominant section, in race, religion, traditions and culture, language, etc. The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘Minority’ as a smaller number or part; a number or part representing less than half of the whole; a relatively small group of people, differing from others in race, religion, language or political persuasion”. A special Sub-Committee on the Protection of Minority Rights appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1946 defined the ‘minority’ as those “non-dominant groups in a population which possess a wish to preserve stable ethnic, religious and linguistic traditions or characteristics markedly different from those of the rest of population.”
As regards religious minorities at the national level in India, all those who profess a religion other than Hindu are considered minorities since over 80 percent population of the country professes Hindu religion. At the national level, Muslims are the largest minority. Other minorities are much smaller in size. Next to the Muslims are the Christians (2.34 percent) and Sikhs (1.9 percent); while all the other religious groups are still smaller. As regards linguistic minorities, there is no majority at the national level and the minority status is to be essentially decided at the State/Union Territory level. At the State/Union Territory level – which is quite important in a federal structure like ours – the Muslims are the majority in the State of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union Territory of Lakshadweep. In the States of Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland, Christians constitute the majority. Sikhs are the majority community in the State of Punjab. No other religious community among the minorities is a majority in any other State/UT.
I. Muslim- social, political and economic status
II. Christian- social, political and economic status
III. Budhism– social, political and economic status
IV. Sikh– social, political and economic status
V. Jains- social, political and economic status
VI. Zoroastrian- social, political and economic status
- Religion depicts the main socio-cultural characteristics of a person. India is a unique country where some religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism have originated and other religions of foreign origin flourished bringing ‘unity in diversity’.
- The word ‘minority religion’ has not been defined anywhere in the Constitution but it finds mention in various Articles in Part III of the Constitution.
- The U.N. Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities has defined ‘minority’ as one including only those non-dominant groups in a population which possess and wish to preserve stable ethnic, religious or linguistic traditions or characteristics markedly different from those of the population.
- In exercise of the powers conferred by Clause (c) of Section 2 of the National Commission for Minorities Act 1992 (19 of 1992), the Central Government in 1993 notified the following communities as “the Minority communities” for the purposes of the said Act, namely: Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians (Parsis). However, minorities are not limited to these five religions and States are free to declare/recognise others. Jains have been recognised as one of the religious minorities in nine States.
Socio-economic Characteristics of Religious Minorities
Indian social structure is characterised by unity as well as diversity. It has had numerous groups of immigrants from different parts of Asia and Europe. All the great religions of the world are represented in this country. People speak different anguages. Diversity is seen in the patterns of rural-urban settlements, community life, forms of land tenure, and agricultural operations and in the mode of living. Some eke livelihood out of hills and forests, others out of land and agriculture and yet a few depend upon marine resources. The fusion of varying religions, the caste system and peoples occupational structure are the salient features of Indian society. Inter-caste relations at the village level are bound by economic ties, be it peasant, the leather worker, carpenter, blacksmith or the servicing communities.
The demography of minority communities, their rural-urban distribution, sex composition, literacy and educational status, marital status and livelihood patterns do indicate the lifestyle of the people. Pattern of landholdings, sources of income and health status narrate their quality of life. Today, socio-economic changes are taking place rapidly in the country affecting the majority as well minority communities, due to diversification of economic pursuits, urbanisation, westernisation of education, inter-caste marriages etc.
The Constitution of India uses the word ‘minority’ or its plural form in some Articles – 29 to 30 and 350A to 350 B – but does not define it anywhere. Article 29 has the word “minorities” in its marginal heading but speaks of “any sections of citizens…. having a distinct language, script or culture.” This may be a whole community generally seen as a minority or a group within a majority community. Article30 speaks specifically of two categories of minorities – religious and linguistic. The remaining two Articles – 350A and 350B relate to linguistic minorities only.