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Published in the 16-29 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Basis of minorities – genetic or social
By Ram Puniyani

The debate around the concept of minorities has been an ongoing one, and it keeps propping up especially in the context of anti minority violence occurring so frequently in India. Opining on the concept of minority, and of course giving a baggage of advice to them, K Sudarshan, the RSS sarsanghchalak,(supreme dictator) said that Muslims and Christians should not be regarded as minorities as they have their genetic roots here. (Bhubaneshwar, Jan 24, 2004) He did say that Jews and Parsis are the minorities but they do not claim any such status. According to the same ideology Sikhs and Buddhists, though are accorded the minority status by the Constitution, are not minorities. And the issue of Jains being accorded the minority status is hanging fire since quite some time. So de facto the boss of Sangh Parivar is asserting that the concept of minorities should be done away with. Also he questions the definition and provisions about minorities given in Indian Constitution and in the UN charters, and makes a simplistic claim that it is genes, which should be the basis of defining minorities. Of course genetics is a very complex subject, especially when applied to national, religious and ethnic communities. This has become more so with the results of some of the genetic roots of human kind coming forth through various scientific studies. One is skeptical if such a basis can be accepted for defining the minorities. Mr Sudarshan’s concepts are in tune with Sangh Parivar’s(SP) notions of Hindu rashtra, Hindutva, which give the genetic basis of race as the prime consideration for defining the Nation and are polar opposite of the provisions of Indian Constitution and the UN charters.

These documents (Indian Constitution and UN Charter) accept the linguistic, regional, ethnic and religious diversities in the national states and go on to suggest that those groups, which are numerically weak may be vulnerable at social and political level so the state needs to devise affirmative action for such groups, so that they can strive for a secure life as citizens. In the nation building processes multiple such factors have come up and to accommodate the weaker sections the provisions for preservation of their religion, language, culture etc., these safeguards have been provided for. It is worth recalling here that the Nation-state formation has also been accompanied by transmigrations of people and spread of religions. The initial concept that all the people forming the Modern Nation-states will result in a uniform culture, a melting pot, has been lately questioned. The concept of mosaic model, where different cultures intermingle and preserve themselves is the one more congenial in the current times. The melting pot model as such should be out come any way as different people intermingle with each other and through their interaction there is emergence of mixed traditions. But of course these processes have their own logic and speed. If these processes occur naturally they develop properly, if these are imposed they can never come up and sustain. Mosaic model is not just a poor compromise, it can be the starting point from where communities create another culture, of course by celebrating diversity. Not only that it is supposed to be the duty of state to ensure that these groups are not discriminated against due to their numerical weakness.

These norms are accepted practices in most of the modern democratic states, and many of these provisions are also enshrined in the UN charters on this issue. Most of the countries including India are signatories to these charters. Needless to say these provisions are supposed to be temporary, till the time the handicaps of minorities are overcome and all citizens feel equally safe and secure in the state. Has such a situation been achieved in our country? Far from it. Can genetics be the basis of defining minorities? In no way! While one is not clear about the genetic compositions of the minorities one does recapitulate that race and religion have been the major markers of minorities, but not the only ones. One also recalls Dr Ambedkar’s remarks in the constituent assembly debates; in this country both the majority and minority have followed the wrong path, it is wrong for the majority to deny the existence of minorities. It is equally wrong for minorities to perpetuate themselves (Constituent Assembly Debates, VII, p. 39)

We can go so far as to say that the present statement of Mr. Sudarshan contradicts the earlier understanding of the RSS as presented by its previous Sarsanghchalak Mr Golwalkar in We or Our Nationhood Defined refers to Muslims and Christians as the foreign races. While Mr Sudarhsan may hold to the fact that Muslims have been converted due to the swords of Muslims Kings and Christians due to the allurement, the fact is that 95% of Muslims come from the Shudras who took to Islam to escape the tyrannical Brahminism, the synonym of Hinduism in RSS language, and many took to Christianity due to the social work of Christian missionaries. The debate about the genetic composition of Adivasi, Dravid, Aryan, and the North Eastern is of no relevance today. What is important is their political and social condition and their status as Indian citizens. What matters is whether they are able to live as equal citizens in the country. What matters is whether we have come to a stage where the affirmative clauses of minorities can be done away with. As Ambedkar points out the majority should not deny the existence of minority. What has happened on that front? Focusing on Muslims and Christians we have to note that Muslims began with a lot of disadvantage due to the tragedy of Pakistan formation, due to their own inherent poor socio economic condition. The matters did not improve as the communal politics began to resurface after the Jabalpur riot of early 60s, which reminded the Muslims that their safety in secular India cannot be taken for granted. The political, economic and social situation of Muslims is on the decline more so after the upcoming of Ram temple issue and after the demolition of Babri mosque. As a matter of fact this RSS politics has entrenched the ‘hate minority’ tendency in a deeper sense and by now that forms the base of the anti-Muslim pogroms.

As far as Christians are concenred though their economic plight has not been as bad, in a way better than the average of Indian population, their social security has seen serious erosion. The anti-Christian missionary campaign, on the ground that they are doing conversions by allurement, has seen the rise in the attacks on Christian nuns and missionaries in far-flung areas. And this has given a sense of insecurity to the community as a whole. When should the minorities stop taking shelter of these protective clauses? That’s possible only when they feel secure. Thats only when they feel that they can breathe in the atmosphere of amity and harmony? To give up the protective clauses today will further intimidate them. We need to cultivate an atmosphere of harmony before such ideas can be floated. The insecurity felt by both these communities was never worse in the independent India.

So in effect what Mr Sudarshan is doing is to increase the intimidation of both these minority communities. What is needed today is creation of an atmosphere where not only Hate Minority propaganda is halted but also an affirmative, proactive stance where all the Indian citizens, irrespective of their religion feel at home. Taking Ambedkar’s criterion, it is very clear that minorities today are in no position to give up these protective clauses, or is it that they need more of them? RSS is no spokesperson of Hindus, it does represent the most retrograde values of a section of Hindu community. If it is serious about ensuring that the concept of minorities is done away with, it should stop the whole paraphernalia, which it has unleashed upon the country, to spread hate. 

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