Upholding minority rights in India: A test of democracy and constitutional commitment

Reports of violence, lynching, discrimination, hate speech, and social exclusion underscore a chasm between constitutional ideals and the lived reality of minorities.
Indian Parliament
Indian Parliament
Written by:

In India, a union of states, safeguarding minority rights transcends the realm of constitutional obligation, standing as a resolute affirmation of the nation’s commitment to principles of pluralism and inclusivity since gaining its independence. The Indian Constitution, crafted with profound foresight by its visionary founders, establishes a comprehensive framework for minority protection, mirroring the ethos of a nation that celebrates its rich tapestry of diversity. Yet, the essence of democracy is tested not by the mere inscription of provisions but through their rigorous implementation and steadfast adherence.

The Constitution delineates several key provisions for minority protection. Article 14 enshrines equality before the law and the equal protection of the laws for every individual. Articles 15 and 16 explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth, and guarantee equality of opportunity in public employment. Notably, Articles 29 and 30 are tailored to specifically shield the rights of minorities to preserve their language, script, or culture, and to establish and manage educational institutions of their choosing. These clauses embody the constitutional commitment to a society where diversity is not merely endured but exalted.

Despite these constitutional safeguards, the situation of minorities in various parts of India has raised serious concerns in recent years. Reports of violence, lynching, discrimination, hate speech, and social exclusion underscore a chasm between constitutional ideals and the lived reality. The crux of the challenge lies not in the nonexistence of laws but in their effective execution due to the rise of majoritarian politics. It is critical that all government branches — the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary — collaborate to transform constitutional promises from parchment to practice.

The judiciary, in particular, is entrusted with a crucial role in the protection of minority rights. Armed with the power of judicial review, it has the authority to invalidate laws and measures that contravene constitutional provisions. The courts must eschew majoritarian biases, expanding the interpretation of fundamental rights to meet the nuanced challenges confronting minorities. Public Interest Litigation (PIL) stands as a potent tool for the judiciary, enabling it to uphold minority rights even in the absence of direct legal petitions.

The defence of minority rights is integral to India’s identity as a pluralistic, democratic society. Adhering to the Constitution’s provisions for minority protection is not merely a legal duty but a moral one, demanding a unified effort from all societal sectors — government, judiciary, civil society, and citizens alike. Only by embracing the Constitution’s guiding principles can India sustain its stature as a united, progressive, and modern nation, fulfilling its pledge of justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity for every citizen, and affirming that its diversity is indeed its greatest strength.

This article was submitted as part of ‘Constitution awareness’ by the Government of Karnataka.

Ashok Swain is a Professor and Head of the Department of Peace and Conflict Research of Uppsala University, Sweden.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute