The constitution of India doesn’t define the term ‘minority’. But there are enough clues scattered across that text — Articles 29, 30 and others — that tell us that the term is non-numerical in nature and deals very much with the aspect of dominance and non-dominance. In other words, whether out of the logic of numbers or otherwise, the moot issue that ‘defines’ a minority in this country (or for that matter anywhere else) is a community that has to withstand a hegemonic set of values as loosely defined by a majority community. This relationship of dominance-non-dominance may be according to a community’s religion, language or caste. In an ideal world, such ‘atomisation’ is supposed to be subsumed by nationhood. But the fact of the matter is that being a Muslim in India has its various sets of perceptions attached to the tag — a more difficult one if one is a Muslim, say, residing in a post-2002 Gujarat, a less problematic one where the ‘communal’ frictions are less apparent because of numbers or attitudes.
The Allahabad High Court observation last week that the Muslim community of Uttar Pradesh can no longer be termed a ‘minority’ takes the easy numerical route and, therefore, fails to look at the issue of ‘minorityism’ correctly. On Friday, a division bench of the same High Court stayed the judgment of a single-panel bench. Apart from the trickiness of the judgment and its subsequent ‘overturning’ coming just before the majority-minority-sensitive elections in Uttar Pradesh, the issue of what constitutes a minority community and what doesn’t — with its corresponding benefits provided by the State — has been brought once again to the platform of public debate. To state an example, the Shia community in pre-Saddam Hussein Iraq may have been numerically superior to their Sunni counterparts, but the fact that the latter were in a hegemonic position gave the lie to the former’s ‘advantage’ in numbers.
Muslims in UP, regardless of whether they now form 18 per cent of the population or not, are still in need of a ‘protective’ tag in general. The same stands true for the case of Muslims in general across India. It is another matter that some political parties may take advantage of this classification and use the community as a votebank. But that does not prevent the community from being a minority in the sense of being non-dominant. Muslims in UP or elsewhere in India can lose their minority tag only when ‘minorityism’ and its resultant backlash disappears.