By: CH. Sekholal Kom
Overall, minority is thought of as the opposite of the majority. As such, minority come to refer chiefly to a particular kind of group that differs from the dominant group within a state. In democratic societies, it is often considered to be based on the numerical ratio to the population as a whole in a particular place. In fact, numerical strength of a group is not the only decisive factor in determining one’s minority position. This holds true when certain other criteria like caste, ethnicity, language, religion, etc. act as a boundary marker and identification.
In Europe, the term “minority” is much more associated with “a group of people living on soil which they have occupied from time immemorial, but who, through change of boundaries, have become politically subordinate.” Such groups are only very slightly assimilationist; they tend to be strongly pluralistic and often secessionist. It is with such groups in mind that the United Nations Sub Commission on Prevention and Protection of Minorities uses this definition: “… those non-dominant Minority may be groups in a population which possess and wish to preserve stable ethnic, religious or linguistic traditions or characteristics markedly different from those of the rest of the population.” In the words of Schermerhorn “Minorities are sub-group within a culture which are distinguished from the dominant group by reason of differences in physiognomy, or cultural patterns (including any combination these factors). Such sub-group are regarded as inherently different and “not belonging” to the dominant group, for this reason they are consciously or unconsciously excluded from full participation in the life of the culture.” Further, Louis Wirth define minority as “a group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore, regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination.” This indicates that the existence of a minority group in a society implies the existence of a corresponding dominant group with a higher status and greater privileges.
According to Claine Palley minority is “any racial, tribal, linguistic, religious, caste or nationality group within a nation-state and which is not in control of the political machinery of that state.” Furthermore, Francis Caporti, a special rapporteur to the United Nation Sub-commission on minorities define minority as “A group numerically inferior to the rest of the population of a State, in a non-dominant position, whose members-being nationals of the state – possess ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics differing from those of the rest of the population, and show, if only implicitly, a sense of solidarity, directed towards preserving their culture, traditions, religions or language.”
Canada’s Jules Deschenes, another special rapporteur to the Sub-commission in 1985, submitted a revised version of this definition. Accordingly, he defined minority as “a group of citizens of a state, constituting a numerical minority and in a non-dominant position in that state, endowed with ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics which differ from those of the majority of the population, having a sense of solidarity with one another, motivated, ifonlyimplicitly, byacollectivewill to survive and whose aim is to achieve equality with the majority in fact and in law.”
Thus, it is observed that the term “minority” is most frequently used to apply to communities with certain characteristics such as ethnic, linguistic, cultural or religious, etc., and always in an organized community. The members of such community feel that they constitute a national group or sub-group that is different from the majority group. Over all, minority is considered to be a comparatively smaller group of people differentiated from others in the same society by race, nationality, ethnic, language or religion.
Minority as defined in India
In India, the term "minority" is not defined in the Constitution. Although minority forms a part of popular political discourse in India; still, there has not developed a precise and acceptable connotation of the term "minority." The Indian discourse on minorities was overshadowed by the historical experience of partition of the country. Consequently, it defined and confined minorities within the parameters of the discourses of framed communalism versus secularism and nationalism versus separatism. The term "minority" is often used to denote those non-Hindu religious communities whose members are for one reason or another inclined to assert their distinctiveness in relation to Hindus. Thus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsees and Jews are commonly described as minorities in India.
The Indian Constitution recognizes only two types of minorities based on religion and/or language. It does not recognize minorities based on culture, ethnicity, race or nationality. However, the emergence of lower caste movements, communal identities and ethno-nationalism have resulted to the phenomenon of identity politics in India on the one hand and deepening majorityminority syndrome on the other. No doubt, religion has long been both a prominent majority and minority identity and is originally used to refer to a broad description of faith. In common parlance, "religion" tends
to be limited to the easily identified faiths like Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism. Here, belief is the fundamental element.
However, religion is not the only criteria of determining one's minority identity. In fact, inequality also persists between people professing the same faith. As a minority identity, and similar to religion in this aspect, language has been considered equally important facetofminorityidentity. Yet in contrast we find that some sections in India tend to be more privileged and dominant both in social and political domains because of their affiliation to such consortium. Minority in India is confined to religious connotations. Hindus are regarded to be the majority while Muslims, Sikhs, Parsees, Anglo-Indians and Christians are identified as religious minorities. Religion as the primary basis of grouping people and differentiating between the majority and the minority has persisted even though it is by no means a comprehensive identity in the Indian context. The Hindu society is further vertically and horizontally differentiated along caste lines. Indeed caste differences hinder Hindu population to act or behave as a cohesive majority. What exist, as a consequence, are a number of caste groups, more in the shape of diverse minorities rather than a single majority. Despite these misgivings, religious identity continues to be employed to aggregate Hindu as a majority.
Although numerical strength of a group determines their position in society, yet it is considered the minimum necessary condition for the identification of minority in India. Since numbers could be counted and weighed/compared only in a determinate territorial context, it is thought necessary to identify the whole within which a majority and minority could be identified. Consequently, only those communities that constitute a minority at the national level are considered for safeguards at the central and provincial levels. As such, Hindus are not given any special consideration; being categorized as the majority. Although this was the general understanding and viewpoint, nonetheless, there are certain instances when groups emerged a majority and minorities within a particular province and region.
However, this conception of minority did not eventually prevail and the nation remained the reference point of all categorization of majority and minority. Thereby, although Muslim population in India marks the second largest next to Hindus yet they are designated as minority due to the fact that they are comparatively non- dominant and numerically insignificant.
Contextually this becomes an acceptable aggregation of minority as the only point reference rests with the whole nation not with the provinces. Even if the application of the word "minorities" to the religious communities carries the connotation that they are in some ways socially disadvantaged, arbitrarily restricting its application to religious minorities alone ignores the fundamental nature of Indian society. There is, therefore, a need to see the concept of minorities in a broader perspective. Whether a group is distinctive on the ground of ethnic, religious, race, language, etc. ought to be characterized a minority depends, among other things, on the area that is the point of reference. Marked by diverse population, it may be argued that India is a "confederation of minorities" and a conglomeration of different communities and sub-communities. In brief, minority is contextual.
The paradox of minority defined
Although religion and language are the primary bases of determining minority identity in India, religious affiliation and linguistic similarities do not hold precedence in most part of India. In Northeast India, the formations of collective identity due to intense “ethnic mobilization” and “ethnic nepotism” detriments religious affiliation considered imperative to outline majority-minority framework. Nonetheless, certain groups of people are identified as “religious” and “linguistic” minority nationally; yet, the consolidation on the grounds of ethnic and caste element have rather been overriding criteria of identification than any others. Thus, in order to define minority, it becomes essential to note the point of reference where minority is to be outlined vis-à-vis the prevailing facet of identification resorted in that specific area. In other words, although the dual recognition of religion and language acted as the only accepted identification tools, the feeling of “relative deprivation” and “dominance” along caste and ethnic lines seems to fragment the different population groups into smaller segments.
The Indian Constitution rejects creation of a political majority on the basis of religion or language. The term “minority” is mentioned in four of its articles namely articles 29(1), 30, 350-A, 350-B, however, it nowhere defines the term “minority” nor delineates criteria for determining minority. In most cases, “minority” in India is described as that groups which are outside majority (i.e. Hindu). Thus, it implies that the core of Indian identity is Hinduism. This signifies that only religious groups, that are numerically smaller, can be minorities. On the other, it mapped out large ethno linguistic states within the “Indian Union.” India as a “Union of States” formed laws and codes for Centre-State relationship for distributing powers among these ethnically based territorial provinces (states). As a result, the concept of “minority” became confined to the religious minorities nationally and to a specific linguistic, religious or an ethno-cultural minority within a state, even if that “minority” constituted a majority in another state of India. Perhaps regional, ethnic, tribal, caste groups can also perceive to be a minority seeing their subordinate socio-political status. B.R Ambedkar explained the term “minority” in the Constituent Assembly Debate (CAD), as “... merely to indicate the minority in the technical sense of the word; it is also used to cover minorities which are nonetheless, minorities in the cultural and linguistic sense.” It must be noted that certain concepts which developed from specific western contexts which ipsofacto claimed to have universal validity have pernicious consequences for third world societies. To put it differently, as concepts are determined by the historical and social conditions in which they originate, they need to be tested for their relative efficiency to unfold the social reality in the given perimeter of place and time dimensions of variations.
Thus definitional issue is not esoteric; it is highly relevant for the research to receive a direction. Basically, when concepts acquire multiplicity of meanings and many contradictory positions are made to appear true simultaneously, it is necessary to clarify one’s position. Over the years, the practice of electoral democracy places a hard dilemma before minority groups. If the member of the minority wants to participate as fully equal members of the polity, it demands them to integrate themselves into the larger group and play the games of politics according to the majority’s rules. But they do so at the risk of seeing their minority identity and culture disappears. If on the other hand they insist on retaining their solidarity and group identity, they must act as a cohesive unit, a tactic which will underscore their separateness from the larger society but at the risk of continued isolation and political impotence for the group.
That is, when identifications are narrowly circumscribed it leads to the emergence of minority group from the previous majority. Most importantly, one becomes majority or minority only when the element(s) of consolidation and identification has an edge over other corresponding groups. A situation of domination or dominance persists when the numerical strength of a group enables them to have precedence over corresponding groups. Ironically, since the question of who constitute majority or minority identity is solely determined by religion and linguistic elements in India, the Scheduled Tribes who are dominated by a secular, religious, cultural and linguistically dominant majority are excluded ethnic minorities. The case is not much different to dalits and women whose full creative and productive capacity is circumscribed within the range of an oppressed caste system and subordinate female roles. The Scheduled Tribes constitute ethnic minorities in the complete sense of the term while the religious or linguistic minorities organize themselves only upon one or other ethnic properties. The fact of being discriminated against because of religious, ethnic, racial or national background, or sub-groups regarded inherently different and not belonging, to the dominant group is an indicative of one’s minority position.
Onthewhole, therefore, theword“minorities” seems to have been narrowly defined and denotes religious communities whose members project themselves as being different from the majority community. Thus, this narrowing down of the connotation of the word“ minorities” is both misleading and unfortunate.
Ethnicity as a minority criterion in Northeast
Of all, ethnicity has been a very decisive force in the identity formation. Similarly, ethnicity was introduced in the governance of the region during the colonial rule when they separated the administration of the hill tribes from that of the valley. Most importantly, ethnic assertiveness impelled by the apprehension of losing one’s dominance; control over territory and the fear of demographic change preempt the urge for self-governance and is even paramount over the shared faith. Although religious identity is considered vital in defining minority, however, ethnic identification and consolidation of different groups for a collective ethnic identity with an aim of achieving different degrees of political concession seems paramount. One significant reason contributing to the emergence of ethnic identity is the development of generic names for a collective identity in the region. The Nagas, Mizos and Kukis are some notable examples which may be attributed to such phenomena. Over the years, an emergence of ethnic
assertion and contest for political control has complicated socio-political relations. Today every organization is more or less ethnic-based which may be a consequential of politicization of ethnicity. Precisely, it is the fear of domination by a comparatively larger group within the state which encumber tranquility and ethnic coexistence. The tendency of identity mobilization on ethnic lines in the region also reflects a strong sense of asserting collective identity for a halt against the forces of domination and suppression. In addition, ethnic manouvre to have territorial control in the area where they constitute numerical majority are endorsed to be the only solution to their problems.
Consequently, cultural pliability has been altered by rigid socio-cultural consolidation and thereby prompting cultural intolerance. Today, ethno-nationalism has taken deep root in several parts of the Northeast India projecting the need for collective destiny. One ethnic identity is formed in relation to the other. No doubt, ethnic identities are created yet it can have more or less personal and political significance according to the social and political context in which individuals and groups find themselves.
Of late, politici-zation of ethnicity has led to ethno-centrism and ethnic nepotism in the region. Undoubtedly language, religion and race add to sense of solidarity and are considered to be the important resources of minority identity yet ethnicity occupies a key factor in the emergence of majority and minority identity in the region. Ethnic nepotism also played a significant role in the relations between the different ethnic groups inhabiting the region. The question is on the struggle for existence in a limited space.
Nonetheless, ethnic heterogeneity of the Indian population seems to have supported the democratic competition for power and democracy. As the Ministry of Home Affairs put it in its Annual Report (2008):
Northeast region presents an intricate cultural and ethnic mosaic with over 200 ethnic groups with distinct languages, dialects, and socio-cultural identities. Coupled with factors related to geographical location and connectivity this, in turn, poses a variety of challenges on the development and security fronts. The regional aspirations of the different groups in various States of the area, have added a further dimension to the complexity of the situation.
The variety of different identities and cultures represented in this region, together with the geographical distance to the mainland India and a feeling of “distinctiveness,” culminated in many parts of the Northeast to violent conflicts. Secessionist demands in some states led to armed insurgencies since the early 1950s. The quests for ethnic and regional identity, nationalism, and ideological motivations have fomented a climate of insurgency in several parts of the region, which has led to political fragmentation of the region. Here ethnic demands for autonomy and separation has been the nucleus of identification surpassing the shared faith.
The issue of ethnicity came to be articulated in the wake of emerging conflict between the ethnic groups at various levels due to clash of interests. The conflict of interest generated by a sense of deprivation and negligence motivates the ethnic communities to bring about emotional integration in their respective communities so as to counter-balance other dominant ethnic communities. This phenomenon resulted in the mobilization of ethnic communities in the region. For instance, from mild claims for economic redistribution to belligerent militant movements, all are anchored on ethnic grounds. Thus, ethnic features occupy a vital place in a multiethnic society of Northeast. Over the years, the region is pulled asunder by ethnocentric and ethno-national feelings and movements. Though minorities are seen as the product of religious, ethnic, racial or linguistic features, ethnicity appears to transcend all other basis of minority. Perhaps, the relations between more than one ethnic identities can be both harmonious and conflictual. When there is competition among the ethnic identities on the real or imaginary basis, it leads to the emergence of minority-majority syndrome. The emergence of minority in the region is the product of ethnic mobilization and counter-mobilization in a definite locale that has culminated in subordination or domination of an ethnic group by a comparatively more dominant group.
Conclusion: In spite of the persisting divergent views, the explanations of minorities reveal four basic elements that make a minority; (i) a minority is a non dominant and numerically insignificant group; (ii) distinguishable on the basis of physical and cultural features; (iii) collectively being regarded and treated as different and inferior; and (iv) minorities are the product of aggregation/segregation in a definite geographical locale. Thus, it is apparent that minority is culturally, ethnically and linguistically distinct group, numerically inferior and non-dominant group living within a larger society. Thus, we can understand “minority” as a comparatively non-dominant smaller group of people differentiated from others in the same society by race, religion, ethnic, language etc. A community might constitute majority in a State, but it might be a minority in the rest of the country.
Further, a community having concentration in a part of the State would constitute a majority, though it may turn out to be a minority in the State as a whole. Therefore, in order to determine minority, then the question would be to draw a line and what unit would be taken into consideration- the whole geographical area of a state, a district, a constituency, a town or its ward. Minority identity emerges when subjective elements are politicized as a catalyst of identification and consolidation. Political mobilization is directly related to the degree of concentration of the minorities ’population in an area. To avoid controversy on who constitute minority and why, a presupposed point of reference is essential as the core of defining minority. Since the issue of minority problems have assumed global, and since the question of addressing minority issues under every political setup is of primary concern, there is imperative to develop who constitute majority or minority and under what circumstances. Nonetheless what is noteworthy is that the social relations cannot be viewed only in majority minority aspects; ceterisparibus the interactive and cumulative nature of the social forces influencing inter group relations needs to be equally emphasized in delineating minority.