There is a conscious attempt to envisage the powerlessness of Hindus.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it seems, is extremely obsessed with the term ‘minority’.
Despite the party’s stated mantra—Sab ka saath sabka vikas—the majority-minority framework has been established as the only criterion to weigh in on communities and groups in the last four years.
Parsis were described as the ‘ideal minority’; women scientists were identified as the ‘largest minority’ of the country; the non-Muslim religious groups of a few south Asian countries were identified as ‘exploited minorities’ to amend the citizenship law.
This elusive search for new and deserving minorities, interestingly, emerges from the ideology of Hindutva—which is unable to accommodate itself in the constitutional imagination of a minority.
Does it mean that the Hindutva has actually discovered a new language of minority politics?
Or, is it an attempt to hide internal contradictions of the Hindu Rashtra project?
Hindus are also a minority!
BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhayay filed a PIL in the Supreme Court, in 2017, to demand that Hindus must be declared a minority in Lakshadweep, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Jammu & Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Punjab.
It was argued that the minority rights of Hindus are ‘being siphoned off illegally and arbitrarily to the majority population’ because neither the central nor the state governments have notified Hindus as a ‘minority’ in these states.
The PIL also challenges the notification issued by the central government to declare five religious communities as ‘national minorities’ for the purpose of the National Commission for Minority Act (1992).
Emphasising various Supreme Court rulings that establish that a minority can only be identified at the state level, the PIL demands that this notification be repealed.
The legal gaps in defining the minority status are actually used to justify the idea of ‘Hindu marginalisation’.
For instance, the petition quotes the Hindu Human Right Report 2017 to argue that there is a systematic exclusion of Hindus in India in the name of vote bank politics.
In order to substantiate this argument, it is asserted:
A numerical majority may also find itself in a minority-like …position such as Blacks under the apartheid regime in South Africa….A group which constitutes a majority in a State as a whole may be in a non-dominant position within a particular region of the State in question. (p. 92)
The dominant ‘secular correctness’ does not get into the political depths of such observations. We must remember that the Hindutva project is not merely interested in number games.
On the contrary, there is a conscious attempt to envisage the powerlessness of Hindus to make an influential claim that despite being a majority, Hindus are certainly marginalised.
Three features of Hindu marginalisation
The idea of Hindu marginalisation stems from a deeply communal and sectarian political framework, which has evolved over the years, especially in the post-1980 period.
There are three related aspects of this perceived marginalisation, which are used by Hindutva groups to assert acceptability in the public discourse.
First, the Hindus of India are conceptualised as a homogeneous community, which has a well-defined religious status and a unique and distinct culture.
The Hindu belief in multiple gods and goddesses is articulated as a unique feature of their religion to create a defining binary between Hindus and those who believe in one god.
The violation of cultural rights of Hindus is identified at two levels in this schema. It is claimed that there is no provision for the protection of religion and culture of Hindus; hence, despite being a numerical majority at the national level, they are culturally excluded and disempowered.
On the other hand, the declaration of a few religious communities as national minorities goes against Hindu interests at the state level.
Second, Hindu marginalisation is further substantiated by producing quantifiable data/evidence.
The Hindu Human Rights Report 2017, which Ashwini Upadhya uses in his PIL extensively, is an example of this political strategy. Following the patterns of the documents published by the international human rights organisations, this report also records the violation of the human rights of Hindus in India.
Interestingly, the atrocities faced by the SC/ST communities are also recognised as crime against Hindus!
Third, the Hindutva groups construct two imaginary domains of politics, especially with regards to the state intervention to justify Hindu marginalisation.
The inner domain is defined as a realm of ‘Hindu faith and culture’, where the state has no right to intervene. The position taken by the Hindutva groups on Babri Masjid and Sabarimala issues are relevant examples.
It is strongly asserted that Hindu astha being the internal aspect of faith cannot be a subject for any secular legal scrutiny. Since the state does not interfere with the personal laws of the minorities, the argument goes, it is logical to demand that the faith of the Hindu majority should also be given adequate respect.
However, this is not the case with the outer-political domain, where Hindutva unequivocally invokes legal-constitutional discourse.
The PIL to demand minority status for Hindus characterises this outer-political domain, where the state is asked to take decisive action.
BJP’s support for caste-based reservation for Marathas and Jats in the past also stems from this Hindu marginalisation argument.
Such strategic placing of Hindu marginalisation helps the Hindutva groups to evade a fundamental contradiction of their politics—how to reclaim the status of a marginalised community without giving up the aggressive and violent agenda of imaginary Hindu pride.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad slogan, Garv se kaho hum Hindu hai, aptly captures this dilemma.
Hilal Ahmed is a scholar of political Islam and associate professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
(ThePrint is publishing three series on minorities in India by Hilal Ahmed. The ‘Sarkari Muslim’, Minority Report, and Line of Law will trace the political journey of Muslims in the country. This is the fifth article under Minority Report.)
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