If there’s any word that puts the cat among the pigeons in secular India, it has to be ‘minority’. Whether it is used as a ‘sanitised’ synonym for ‘Muslims’ or a term to denote certain communities vying for special treatment by dint of their numbers, the concept of which group constitutes a ‘minority’ and which doesn’t has remained cloudy. Last month, the Allahabad High Court attempted to bring some clarity into the term by stating that Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, forming 18.5 per cent of the state’s population in 2001, do not constitute a religious minority there. Now, the central government is set to move a constitutional amendment in Parliament to establish a procedure for defining minorities on a state level. Currently, ‘minorities’, according to the National Commission of Minorities Act, are enumerated at the national level.
As we had commented when the Allahabad High Court had first ordered the UP government to treat members of the Muslim community in the state at par with the non-minority communities, the government’s latest attempt to micro-define — and thereby micro-manage — Indians according to their religious denominations is a red herring. If one looks at the concept of ‘minorities’ in a cool, empirical way, the planned amendment seems to make sense. After all, a Christian can hardly be termed a minority in an overwhelmingly Christian-majority state like, say, Nagaland. Similarly, Hindus in Kashmir Valley find little ‘advantage’ in being part of a nation that has an overwhelmingly Hindu population. So the question is not so much about numbers and how they are distributed across the country, but what governments do with these numbers. And it is in this department that we not only find this exercise of tagging minorities a pointless task but also a dangerous one.
It is not less identity politics that makes India stutter and stumble but a surfeit of it. The real job at hand is for the State to turn its gaze on all Indians, instead of adding yet another set of compartments that really is another form of debating over how many angels can dance on a pinhead.