Minoritism - By Muzaffer Hussain
In almost all countries in the world, a certain segment -ethnic, religious linguistic or ideological would be in the majority and some others would be in a minority. That is inevitable. A multi-cultural national like the United States has its majority and minorities as well, but one seldom talks about them. The biggest minority would be the Blacks, but whoever would think of providing reservation for them in the Senate or Congress or in government service?
Indeed in older textbooks on political science there would hardly be any reference to majoritarianism and minoritarianism. These are recently-coined words. But India is different. Here we constantly talk of minorities as if they are a plague and we even have a Minority Commission! It is a carry over from British colonialism. Nobody in India talked of a majority or a minority in the days of Tipu Sultan or during hayed of Mogul rule. Hindus were even then in a majority but they were often treated as if they were non-existent. Hindus were made aware of their majority status during the time of the British, as were Muslims of their minority place in society.
That may have been a display - and a distorted one at that - of British sense of Justice, but the consequences were severe, resulting, for one thing, in partition of the country. Reference has been made to this in Muzaffer Hussain's well-argued book Insight into Minoritism, which goes into the subject in different contexts and in some detail. Minorities have been dealt with very poorly in Pakistan and Bangladesh, India's immediate neighbours. Hussain draws pointed attention to that.
Says Hussain: "There is a sizeable population of Hindus in the Gulf countries but those countries are not ready to give any facility to them in the name of minority or Human Rights. The Hindus are not allowed there to cremate their kith and kin as per their belief. They can't construct places for worship nor can they celebrate their festivals at public places. During the Ramzan, non-Muslims can't eat anything at daytime in public places. The Muslims expect to get everything as minorities in the countries of Hindus, Buddhists and Christians but in Islamic countries the minorities don't have such privilege.."
We have to blame history for that. In India, minorities like Jews, Parsis and Christians have full freedom. No Christian missionary dare try in an Islamic country, but in India every citizen, especially if he is a tribal or one from the lower caste, is fair game to Christian missionaries. In India propagation of religion is not a crime. The freedom given is often interpreted to mean that one can resort to conversion, which is frequently resorted to in tribal areas. It started under the British when missionaries flooded the northeast and converted large number of tribals to Christianity. Unconsciously this has caused problems for free India.
Hussain damns minoritism as a "menace" which it has indeed become. Hussain maintains that Christians and Muslims in India can't be dubbed as minorities because they are very much Indian. As he puts it: When all are born and brought up in the Indian context, the question of 'alien' and 'indigenous' people don't arise". Hussain's argument is that all over the world, a minority status is granted only to those classes, which have migrated from abroad. So he says: "Hence it is not proper to designate Muslims and Christians (of India) as aliens since they, too are very much Indian".
All are one in this country where there is one citizenship for all and everyone is a part of this nation. The word 'minority' Hussain asserts, weakens the unity of the country and draws a dividing line between individuals". How right he is. Hussain is critical of Muslims in India who, he says, haven't accepted democracy. Inevitably the Islamic world has been gripped by fanaticism and narrow thinking. The point indeed was well made by Justice Chandrashekhar Dharmadhikari in his preface. Writes Mr Dharmadhikari: "India as a nation has suffered continuous tussles between the religious and orthodox religious fanaticism even after the creation of Pakistan. How many Muslim mohallas or Madarassas hoist the national flag and sing the national anthem collectively on the occasion of Independence Day!"
How many indeed. The former Justice adds: "To accept special rights for any community along with the provisions of equal human rights are mutually contradictory principles. This creates a controversy and the majority class begins to feel unprotected and adopts a defensive mechanism". Hussain in his treatise goes into this subject in a special and separate chapter entitled "How to tackle minoritism", He notes that there are three distinct approaches in handling minoritism". In the Arab world minorities like Christians and Hindus have no political or religious rights. The second category belongs to western countries where religion is recognized but the country comes first. Religion has no role in framing laws and rule. National interest alone is taken into account. In the US, 18 per cent of the people are blacks but they are not given any minority status. Britain and France solved the problem by enforcing a uniform civil code. What should India do in the circumstances?
Hussain has his answer ready. He says: A uniform civil code is the only answer." He points out that the Fundamental Rights as enumerated in the Constitution ensure religious freedom for all. As Hussain sees it, minorities will continue to exist in one from or another anywhere in the world. That is only but natural. The term 'Minority' Hussain concedes, is not in itself bad, but problems arise when it is used by vested interests, As he sees it, minoritism is a 'deception' practiced on human civilization of which one should be aware of. And majority communalism is a myth.
In a democracy, Hussain insists, it is essential to respect the opinion of the majority in day-today life. There haven't been many treatises on this subject and Muzaffer Hussain's attempt, almost the first of its kind, is highly praiseworthy. He has no hesitation in asking inconvenient questions. For example he asks: "How can Muslims who form between 15 to 20 per cent of India's population consider themselves a minority?" Not many have dared to raise this question. Hussain has. All praise to him. This is a book that our policy-makers and politicians would do well to read. It may not necessarily have all the right answers, but it certainly raises all the right questions. And isn't that what a good study should be all about? -- Book review by M. V. Kamath, Free Press Journal,155pp, Delhi: India First Foundation, Price Rs.250