In yet another pro-Hindu move for which it was voted to power, the Narendra Modi government has put the onus on states and union territories (UTs) to grant minority status to Hindus where their numbers are less than those of other communities.
Submitting an affidavit last evening, the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs told the Supreme Court that while the government in New Delhi had notified six communities — namely Christians, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains — as minorities as the national level, it is open for states and union territories to notify Hindus as a religious or linguistic minority where they are less in number.
The Modi government’s affidavit maintained that notification of any community specific to a state as a minority comes under the purview of the state concerned. “The state governments can also declare a religious or linguistic community as a ‘minority community’ within the state,” said the union government.
To illustrate this, the union government pointed out that the Maharashtra government notified Jews as a minority community in 2016. The Karnataka government notified Urdu, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Tulu, Lamani, Hindi, Konkani and Gujarati languages as minority languages, the affidavit said to hold that states also can certify institutions as being minority institutions as per the rules of the said state.
The Modi government filed its affidavit in response to a petition by Delhi BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, who has challenged the validity of Section 2(f) of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) Act, 2004 on grounds that it gives unbridled powers to the Centre to restrict minority benefits to the notified six religious communities.
The petition sought directions asking the union government to lay down guidelines for the identification of minority communities at the state-level “to ensure that only those religious and linguistic groups which are socially, economically, politically non-dominant and numerically inferior, can establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”
The petition, filed through advocate Ashwani Dubey, stated that Hindus are merely 1% in Ladakh, 2.75% in Mizoram, 2.77% in Lakshadweep, 4% in Jammu and Kashmir, 8.74% in Nagaland, 11.52% in Meghalaya, 29% in Arunachal Pradesh, 38.49% in Punjab, and 41.29% in Manipur.
The petition also questioned the creation of the National Minority Commission (NMC) and the Minority Education Commission, arguing that the Centre created these institutions to “divide and rule”.
On 31 January, a bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh imposed a fine of Rs 7,500 on the union government for not taking a stand on Upadhyay’s petition, giving them a final opportunity to come clear on whether Hindus can be declared as minorities in six states and three UTs because of their lower numerical strength. The bench will take up the matter for hearing on Monday.
Responding to this, the Ministry of Minority Affairs sought dismissal of Upadhyay’s petition, contending the plea was not in larger public or national interest since the 1992 Act did not give any absolute power to the union government for notifying minorities and that the states and union territories could also declare any specific community, including Hindus, a minority if they deem appropriate.
In July 2021, the union government had defended in the Supreme Court welfare schemes meant exclusively for religious minorities, stating that these schemes did not violate rights of the Hindus and were not against the principle of equality while responding to another petition challenging the validity of the schemes framed by the union government for religious minorities.
The plea, filed jointly by six members of the Hindu community, had contended that the petitioners are being unconstitutionally deprived of benefits available to similarly situated members of religious minorities in violation of their fundamental right to equality (Article 14), right against discrimination on grounds of religion (Article 15) and the right against paying taxes for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination (Article 27).
“The petitioners and other members of [the] Hindu community are suffering because they have been born in [the] majority community… The State cannot promote or give any benefit to any religious community whether minority or majority keeping in view the secular ethos embedded in the Constitution of India,” stated the petition, filed through advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain.
The petition, filed by Neeraj Shankar Saxena and five others, also made specific submissions against welfare schemes for Waqf properties, contending that by giving such “undue advantage”, the Centre is treating the Muslim community above the law and the Constitution since no such benefits are given to the institutions of Hindu community such as trusts, mutts and akhadas.