Report of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (Volumes I and II)
The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities was constituted by the government of India in October 2004, with Justice Ranganath Misra as the chairman. It submitted its report in two volumes in May, 2007.
The tasks before the commission were: to suggest criteria for identifying socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities; recommend measures for their welfare, including reservations in education and government employment; and suggest constitutional, legal and administrative modalities required to implement the recommendations.
For this purpose, the commission collected data from ministries and departments of the central and state governments, union territories, from organisations in each minority community, public sector undertakings, ﬁnancial institutions, major banks, non-governmental organisations, minority community leaders and the public. The commission collaborated with researchers, subject experts and spokespersons of various minorities. This report also contains an assessment of data from Census reports, National Sample Survey Office reports and National Family Health Survey reports, among other sources.
The first volume of the report covers the commission’s findings and recommendations. The second volume contains annexures.
The Constitution of India contains the term ‘minority’ and its plural form in Articles 29, 30, 350A and 350B, but does not define the term, notes the report. Similarly, ‘minority religion’ is not defined in Part III of the Constitution (Fundamental Rights), though it is mentioned several times.
Citing Census 2001, the report notes that religious minorities constitute approximately 18 per cent of India’s population – or 2,010.29 lakh of a total population of 10,286.07 lakhs.
Drawing from Census 2001, the report states that 80.5 per cent (8,275.78 lakh people) of India’s population are Hindus, 13.4 per cent (1,381.88 lakhs) are Muslims, 2.3 per cent (240.8 lakhs) are Christians, 1.9 per cent (192.15 lakhs) are Sikhs, 0.8 per cent (79.55 lakhs) are Buddhists and 0.4 per cent (42.25 lakhs) are Jains. The remaining categories include ‘Others’ at 0.6 per cent (66.39 lakh people) and ‘Religion not stated’ at 0.1 per cent (7.27 lakh people).
All minority religions in India have increased in ‘absolute numbers’, except Zoroastrians – the report observes, citing Census 2001. Census 1991 reported that there were approximately 76,382 Zoroastrians in India, and by Census 2001 this number had fallen to around 69,601 (33,949 males and 35,652 females).
The report, citing Census 2001, states that among Muslims, the percentage of women increased from 66.3 per cent in 1961 to 71.1 per cent in 2001. Between 1961 and 2001, among Christians, the percentage decreased from 15.6 per cent to 12.9 per cent. For Sikhs, it decreased from 10.5 per cent to 9.6 per cent. The percentage of women among Buddhists decreased from 4.7 per cent in 1961 to 4.1 per cent in 2001, and among Jains, it decreased from 2.8 per cent to 2.2 per cent.
Drawing on Census 2001, the report notes that the literacy rate is 65.09 per cent for Hindus, 59.13 per cent for Muslims, 80.25 per cent for Christians, 69.45 per cent for Sikhs, 72.66 per cent for Buddhists, and 94.08 per cent for Jains. It is 54.7 per cent for Scheduled Castes and 47.1 per cent for Scheduled Tribes.
Citing Census 1961, the report observes that no state or union territory in India has fewer than 12 ‘mother tongues’, and this number varies from 12 to 410. The report notes: “We ﬁnd that different States of India might have been declared uni- or bilingual for political exigencies or administrative convenience, but basically each of them is a multilingual and politically complex entity.”
The commission recommends that the basic criteria for reservation should be “socio-economic backwardness with foolproof arrangement of issue of certificates,” not religion or caste. Article 16(4) should be the basis for providing reservations to socio-economically backward members of minority groups, it notes. Article 16, which comes under Part III of the Constitution of India (Fundamental Rights), states that there shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State; Article 16(4) states that this shall not prevent the State from making provisions for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.
The report notes that Muslims constitute the largest minority in India, and yet they are the most educationally backward of all religious communities. It recommends that select institutions like Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia should legally be given a responsibility to promote education of Muslim students at all levels. At least one such institution should be selected for this purpose in each state and union territory that has a substantial Muslim population.
The commission recommends that social and ‘vocational groups’ among the minorities who are not considered Scheduled Caste due to their religious identity should be regarded as socially backward. This is irrespective of whether the religion such a group might belong to recognises the caste system or not.
Focus and Factoids by Archana Shukla.
National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (Chairman: Justice Ranganath Misra)
Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India, New Delhi