Minority debate !

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Recently Supreme Court gave three months to central government to take a decision on a petition to grant minority status to non-Muslims in J&K. A bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justices A K Goel and D Y Chandrachud was hearing a PIL filed by Jammu-based lawyer Ankur Sharma that in a Muslim majority state like J&K, non-Muslims should have been granted minority status to avail benefits of various governmental schemes.

But so far J&K has baulked at granting such status to its minorities. And for very legitimate reasons. Minority debate in the state has two dimensions to it: One is the national and another local. Because of the Article 370 that grants J&K its special status, the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, is not applicable in the state. So the national minorities in the state which includes even the Muslims do not receive the benefits under the welfare schemes for the minorities.

Second, J&K has no state level minority commission which can extend the welfare benefits to the state’s minorities. Nor is the state in the mood to set up one. One argument that the government proffers in its defence against the Sharma’s petition in the supreme court is that it is not alone in this.

As per information available, the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Orissa, Sikkim, Andaman, and several UTs have not set up a minority commission. The decision on setting up one can’t thus be selective and limited to one state. The thinking in the state government is that the issue is not only J&K centric but concerns equally Sikh majority in Punjab and the Christian majority in North Eastern states of Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghaliya where also the majority communities are the minorities at the national level.

The state government has thus rightly asserted that it cannot be forced to establish the minority commission by a court order terming it “legally not maintainable”. It has said that it was for the state legislature to consider in its wisdom as to which laws are required to be made considering the circumstances prevailing in the state. There is also a thinking that the minorities should be determined nationally, and not at the level of the state. The situation is also made complex by the fact that the J&K has three regions and all have three different communities in majority – Muslims are in majority in Valley, Hindus and in Jammu and whileas Muslims and Buddhists have more or less have equal population in Ladakh.

At the same time, the minorities are divided among themselves. Sikh community is dead against  such a status to Kashmiri Pandits. And the BJP wants the minority status to  Hindus in the state which form around  30 percent of the population. The issue is thus very complex. But there certainly are the minorities in the state like Sikhs and Christians who warrant some special welfare measures to uplift their lot.  But before that the complexity of the issue needs to be sorted out.

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