Minorities as Majorities

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Generalizing policies developed on data that are the mean of national figures is dangerous and can cause another kind of injustice. While the need for such a commission in the attempt to re-include many dis-included communities into the power sharing equations of the political process cannot be disputed, grotesque imbalances can result if local adjustments are not made to these mechanisms for levelling out playfields. As for instance, on a national basis, Christians may form a minuscule minority of the total Indian population of one billion, but in Manipur, and for that matter most other Northeast states, this cannot be so. Again, the list of religious minorities in the national context consists basically of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists, and together they form a mere 18 percent of the total population of the nation, but in Manipur these religious communities form a good 41.49 percent. And there will have to be something seriously wrong with anybody who thinks 41.49 percent is a threatened minority. The case of the Sikhs should also underscore the point. The religious group may be a minority against the total population of India, or even in most other Indian states, but only the most demented would think of including the community in the list of minorities in the Indian state of Punjab. Let this thought be a poser in all discussions of affirmative action, in Manipur and indeed anywhere else. This is the Indian reality, especially so because it is a multi ethnic, multi religion, multi lingual country, and its states were formed largely on linguistic lines. Majority and minority statuses therefore would have to be qualified in a much more nuanced manner.

Quite visibly, much of Manipur government’s efforts in the past at levelling out playfields have not given much thought on this aspect of the problem. In the government’s need to take politically correct stances, goaded generously by lobbyists of all hues, it has most of the time ended up implementing minorities related policies of positive discrimination with little questioning on who actually are threatened minorities. The subject being sensitive and prone to misinterpretation, a caveat needs to be thrown in here. Positive discrimination must remain a part of the democratic polity. There can be nothing more beautiful than the idea of giving a lift to the slow and others disadvantaged by historical and economic circumstances, but there must be closer scrutiny in screening the disadvantaged from the advantaged, for often the line that divides the two categories can be extremely blur. In the backdrop of the recent controversy over a drive for conversion to Hinduism announced by sections of the Sangh Parivar, to which the ruling party at the Centre the BJP also belongs, this issue has somewhat become accentuated. In Manipur, the conversion issue periodically has tended to flare up into violent frictions between traditional communities such as the Kabuis and those among these communities who have chosen to convert to other religions, especially Christianity, bringing out the complexity of the problem. This is also true of the Meiteis, but here it is a little more layered, as the Meiteis have become a multi religion community.

In these cases the question who is the threatened minority often becomes impossible to decide – the religions of the new converts or that of the communities they once belonged to. In the eyes of the secular, liberal law, that lays a premium on individual rights, the converts hounded by their communities would indeed be the “victims”, but in eyes of traditional laws that is weighted towards community rights and community survival, the so called “victimizers” of the converts may actually be the ultimate “victims”, for on the larger canvas, they are the ones who are in a hopeless minority, and they are the ones who are fighting the odds to keep their original traditions alive. There are many other similar situations in which the law has ended up pampering and patronizing the privileged, but is deaf on actually threatened cultures and value systems. More than in Manipur, this paradox can be excruciating in states like Arunachal Pradesh, where most traditional communities still practice their original indigenous belief systems, but are increasingly leaving their original folds.

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