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Taking Stock
Minority Matters
By Rizwan Ullah

Rizwan UllahYou can not imagine a civilized society without the existence of minority groups in it. In fact every society is composed of various sorts of minorities so the question arises why should the issues be considered in minority-majority terms. An Irish in England is as much in need of civic facilities as an Englishman. He has the right to live, to work for a living, to struggle for his survival in a manner not detrimental to similar rights of others. Similarly every black or brown American is entitled to the rights enjoyed by the white. In Asian countries, including India, the situation is somewhat different as we are composed of many sorts of minorities, mostly at loggerheads with each other demanding an equitable share from the adamant majority with unsatiable thirst for all the bounties.

Ours is a tradition bound country with one of the oldest civilizations which thrived under a system of monarchy of one form or the other. Throughout those thousands of years Indian societies and cultures had never heard of the terms like minority and majority. The monarch was at the top with his handpicked advisers selected by virtue of their wisdom and accomplishments, and all the rest of the people living within the perimeters of the kingdom were mere subjects. Naturally then all the jobs had to be performed by the sections of the society and that requirement presaged a sort of groupism. Those groups could be large or small according to the requirement of the society but their numerical strength was not a decisive or considerable factor in any matter. It was the quality and nature of work that made the difference.

That social order was disturbed by the harbingers of a new social order who had invented democracy for themselves and were exporting their forsaken system of monarchy to the dumping ground of colonies which they had established to stash away their wealth. They ruled as mercilessly as they could and in the meanwhile taught our generations great lessons in democracy.

The concept of minority is the gift of that invaluable socio-political discovery. May be those concepts were coined innocently with view to facilitate administration of the affairs of the society according to the will of the people expressed from time to time through a process of counting of heads, but inadvertently that process led to a vicious situation where society was permanently divided into confrontational groups fighting for a common cause of the greatest good of the greatest number and at the same time letting the minority believe that its views and interests were not taken into consideration. Had it been limited to the elected bodies it would not have spelled the damage to the society to the extent it has actually caused but it spilled over beyond the limits of the elected bodies.

Unfortunately, the self seeking politicians exploited language and religion as tools to divide the society whereas these two could have worked as the best cohesive. This is happening in a country where majority and minority based on any consideration have a sort of hide-and-seek relationship in almost every area and region. For instance Bengalis are in majority in West Bengal but they form an influential minority in adjoining states so they have conflicts with ‘the sons of the soil’.

The majority-minority conflict on the basis of religion despite being similar to that based on language is different in certain respects: they are more widespread, more selective, more cruel more devastating for the minorities in direct proportion to the growth of intolerance in the majority. Another point of difference is the fact that till recently communal riots were understood to be a Hindu-Muslim conflict, the latter being on the receiving end. Now the strident majority is targetting very small minorities such as Christians and Buddhists.

Incidentally, an interesting feature of both sorts of conflicts is the fact that members of a majority group in one area find themselves in minority in another area. Thus the members of one language or religion may be cultivating a different thought process, a different psychology and harbouring expectations different from their compatriots elsewhere. Here lies the solution of the evil conflict: If the majority in one area provides the same opportunity and facility to the minority what its members in minority elsewhere demand, desire or expect from the majority there all conflicts will hopefully be reduced, if not completely resolved, to a level which does not hurt or inflict unbearable sufferings to the people of the same land and loss to the property of the same country. For instance facilities and opportunities for teaching and learning Urdu should be provided just as for any other language in all parts of the country as Urdu is spoken almost everywhere. If this simple measure is adopted a great cause for irritation in the Urdu speaking section of the people will have been eradicated. But while the whole national policy on education is in doldrums that simple and elementary justice does not seem to be possible.

Again, in communal matters we have a peculiar sort of discrimination. For instance in the case of migrants from Bangladesh into India if they happen to be Hindus they are refugees, victims of maltreatment and harassment in the country of their origin but in case they are Muslims they are unwanted infiltrators who have virtually jumped from frying pan to the fire, they need no sympathy, they should be hunted down and thrown back. In fact all of them are basically victims of the same economic disability and smitten by deprivation and diversity. They need to be treated equally with humanitarian considerations. To a large extent our media is responsible for promoting and encouraging that discriminatory attitude. If the media rectifies its ways, which is first a hope, it can be of great help in improving the overall situation in the country as well as our relations with the closest neighbours. This certainly does not mean absolving Bangladesh of its misdeed in making conditions there unbearable for a section of people who are basically poor but maltreated due to communal considerations. But it is a vain hope from a country where even the co-religionists of the majority community are discriminated against on the basis of language and also due to a lingering curiosity based on the failed communal concept of nationhood.

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