States Can Give Hindus Minority Status: Centre Tells Supreme Court

The Centre has notified six communities - Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Jews as minorities in India.

The Centre told the Supreme Court that state governments are also empowered to declare Hindus, Jews and those belonging to the Baha'i faith as "a religious or linguistic community as 'minority community' within the said State" where their population is numerically lesser in number.

The Centre relied on Supreme Court judgements which said that minorities are determined in comparison to their entire population of the state. The affidavit said that the provisions of the National Commission for Minority Education Institution Act, 2004 is not arbitrary, irrational and did not offend constitutional rights. The Act also did not confer unbridled powers to the Centre.

However, the affidavit pointed out that by merely declaring someone as a minority does not automatically guarantee them to avail of government benefits and schemes. "The schemes are for economically weaker and socially disadvantaged amongst minorities," the affidavit stated.

The affidavit, filed by the Ministry of Minority Affairs, further clarified that Hindus, Jews and Baha'i followers could establish and administer educational institutions in states where they are in the minority. The Centre's affidavit was filed in response to a BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay's plea seeking to declare Hindus, Jews and those following the Baha'i faith as minorities in Ladakh, Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Kashmir, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab and Manipur.

The Supreme Court in 2019 had rejected Upadhyay's plea to declare Hindus as minorities in eight states. In this plea, filed in 2020, Upadhyay stated that the National Commission for Minority Education Institution Act, 2004 was arbitrary and gave the Centre unbridled power to declare minorities.

According to Article 29 of the Indian constitution, people have a right to preserve their distinct language, culture, script or religion. Article 30 allows minorities to establish and administer educational institutions.

Also Read: Explained: Who Is Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay Ex BJP Spokesperson

Centre, Parliament, and states empowered to declare minorities: Centre

The Minority Affairs ministry told the Supreme Court that the Parliament has the legislative competence, and the Centre has executive powers to declare minorities. However, these powers do not bar state governments from declaring a religion or culture as a minority in their state, even if the same are in a majority elsewhere in the country.

If the view that states alone have the power to declare minorities is accepted, then the parliament would be denuded of its power to enact laws on any subject and this would be contrary to the constitutional scheme, the Centre said.

"Religious and linguistic minorities are spread all over the country and are not related or restricted to any state/union territory…," the affidavit read.

Till now, the Centre has notified six communities—Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains—as minorities.

However, there are certain states like Punjab and Nagaland, where minorities like Sikhs and Christians are in a majority respectively.

Citing examples, the affidavit also pointed out how Maharashtra has notified 'Jews' as a minority community in the state, while the Karnataka government has notified Urdu, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Tulu, Lamani (or Lambadi), Hindi, Konkani and Gujarati languages as minority languages in the state.

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