When one talks of minority, what promptly comes to the mind is that part of a population which is limited in numbers. According to the definition of the United Nations, people who have comparatively less social, economic and political representation are called minorities. It goes without saying then, that every country is expected to make efforts for their upliftment. There is no clear definition of the word ‘Minority’ in the Indian Constitution, but Articles 29 and 30 contain provisions to protect their interests.
Under these provisions, the exercise to uplift six minorities, namely, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Parsi, Jain and Buddhist, in a vast and diverse nation like India, began decades ago. Unfortunately, instead of bringing them into the mainstream, on a par with the majority, party politics and vested interests converted minorities into mere vote banks. From then on, one election after another, it was more about minority appeasement than inclusion. Though separate policies were formulated for them, at times these could not be implemented fully and at times the benefits could not percolate to the most deserving.
As a result, a large section of minority, especially Muslims remained marginalised.
However, in the last eight years, the emphasis is now on assimilation and fulfilment rather than appeasement.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi says, “There is only one holy book for any government – the Constitution. And our duty is the welfare of all Indians. There should be only one code of working – Sabka saath, sabka vikas.”
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There is no doubt that it is the job of the establishment to provide equal opportunities and resources to all citizens. The country can never be divided in the name of majority and minority; in fact, both should be equal contributors in the nation-building process.
In his policy approach, the PM prefers inclusivity along with targeted outreach to the underprivileged. It is through this political thinking that he has gained popularity, while breaking the notion of caste, community, gender, religion and regionalism.
Even though critics have questioned the status of minorities in India, the facts speak otherwise. The Ministry of Minorities in the NDA government, has laid great emphasis on the PM’s new 15-point programme for the socio-economic welfare of the poor, women, and marginalised minorities. The budgetary allocation for minorities has increased.
According to data tabled in Parliament, the Centre has spent Rs 11,094 crore on various educational empowerment schemes for minorities, right from school level to higher education institutions during the last five years,
Between 2016-2021, as many as 2.30 crore Muslim students alone have benefitted from scholarships. At the same time, employment-oriented schemes such as Seekho aur Kamao, USTAAD, Nai Manzil and Nai Roshni are being run for minority youths and Rs 1,623 crore has already been allocated from 2017 to 2022.
As for infrastructure development, Rs 6,410 crore has been spent in five years under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakram (PMKVK).
The Jiyo Parsi scheme is being run to stop the decline in Parsi population and safeguard their heritage. Under the Urban Waqf Property Development Scheme launched in 2017-18, interest-free loans have been given for the construction of buildings required by Waqf boards in the country.
Minorities are also being given interest-free loans for self-employment through the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation.
The government has taken progressive steps such as criminalising the triple talaq for Muslim women. The entire Haj process has been made 100 per cent digital, making it very easy to undertake this pilgrimage.
As for the Christian community, PM Modi’s meeting with Pope Francis has reassured the Indian Christians. The fact that two out of the 21 cardinals are Indians is a matter of pride for the community.
According to a study on the current government’s social welfare policies, 31 percent of the 2.31 crore houses built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana have been allotted to 25 minority-dominated areas. As many as 33 percent beneficiaries of PM Kisan Samman Nidhi belong to minorities.
Of the nine crore beneficiaries of the PM Ujjwala scheme, 37 per cent have been minorities while 36 per cent beneficiaries of PM Mudra Yojana hail from minority communities.
Empowerment by Nurturing Cultural Heritage
The PM has revived the Buddhist heritage right from Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Gautam Buddha, to Kushinagar, the site of Mahaparinirvana, a move that has brought joy to the Buddhist community. This has also strengthened the joint heritage of India and Nepal, which has cemented the ties between the two nations.
Development of Kartarpur Sahib corridor, FCRA registration for Sri Harmandir Sahib and the go-ahead to ropeway construction to Hemkund Sahib, launch of Panj Takhat Express, celebration of 400th birth anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur and declaration of Veer Bal Diwas on December 26th, the Modi government has done more than its bit for the Sikh community.
I can say from my experience that the PM has created a special place in the hearts of Sikhs by highlighting the sacrifices of the community for the country, and appreciating the role of Sikhs in the nation-building process.
By inaugurating the Jain International Trade Organization, wishing the people of the community on Jain Samvatsari and Paryushan festival, PM Modi has also expressed solidarity and goodwill with them.
India No 1 for Minorities
On Minorities Day on December 18, it becomes very important to mention one of India’s special achievements. The first Global Minority Report, released recently has acknowledged that India is the best country for minorities!
The report says the provisions made for minorities in the country are unique in the world. In the Index of 110 countries, India ranked first while the US is placed fourth. According to the report, the cultural and educational provisions for religious minorities in the Indian Constitution are exemplary. The United Nations believes India can be a role model for other countries. True that!
(The writer is Chancellor, Chandigarh University and Founder, NID Foundation)