Observed on December 18 every year, Minorities Rights Day aims to promote and preserve the rights of people belonging to minority communities in India. The day also helps spread awareness about their rights. Under Section 2(c) of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Act, 1992, the term ‘minority’ includes all non-Hindu communities such as Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, and Jains.
On this occasion, it becomes pertinent to acquaint ourselves with the rights of minorities especially in the wake of widespread protests triggered across the country by the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) 2019. The Bill, which has now become an Act after it was passed by the Parliament of India on December 11 – seeks to amend the definition of illegal immigrant for Muslim, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who have lived in India without legal documentation. Under present law, people of all religions, who have been a resident of India for twelve years are eligible for registering as an Indian citizen. However, the CAB 2019 seeks to exclude Muslims from the three neighbouring countries from this provision while reducing the minimum number of years of residence in India to five for the other religions. So in effect, the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 seeks to legally seal the fate of (solely) Muslim immigrants residing in India as second-class citizens.
Thus, the CAA violates the Constitution’s Article 14, the fundamental right to equality to all persons. This basic structure of the Constitution cannot be reshaped by any Parliament.
These are the rights for minority communities enshrined in the Constitution of India.
- Article 15 prohibits any sort of discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, caste, sex, descent, place of birth or residence.
- Article 16 prohibits any sort of discrimination when it comes to public employment, on the basis of religion, caste, language, and race.
- Article 25 guarantees the right to profess, practice and propagate any religion, thus allows minority communities to follow their beliefs and practices without any hindrance as long as it does not hamper public order, morality and health of any person.
- Article 26 gives the freedom to manage their own religious affairs including managing institutions for religious and charitable purposes; owning, acquiring and administering movable and immovable property but is subjected to public order, morality and health.
- Article 27 prohibits any compulsion on citizens to pay taxes, proceeds of which are to be appropriated in the promotion of any particular religion.
- Article 28 prohibits state-funded educational institutions from providing religious instructions unless there is a requirement in the terms of the endowment or trust, by which the institution has been established, regarding imparting such religious instruction. It also gives the person attending any educational institution the right to not participate in any religious instruction imparted by the institute.
- Article 29 of the Constitution provides the citizens with the right to conserve their language, script and culture and also guarantees not be denied admission into any educational institution based on their race, language, religion, caste and whether they belong to the minority section or not.
- Article 30 provides the minorities the right to establish and administer educational institutions and the State has been prohibited from any discrimination in matters of granting aids to such institutions. But these educational institutions can be regulated by the State.