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Constitutional Safeguards

 In India, the National Constitution of 1950 or any other Constitutional document does not define the word 'Minority'. The Constitution only refers to Minorities and speaks of those "based on religion or language".

In the Constitution of India, the Preamble (as amended in 1976) declares the State to be "Secular", and this is of special relevance for the Religious Minorities. Equally relevant for them, especially, is the prefatory declaration of the Constitution in its Preamble that all citizens of India are to be secured "liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship and "equality of status and of opportunity."

The Constitution of India has provided two types of safe-guards -general and specific to safeguard various interests of the minorities. In the first category are those provisions that are equally enjoyed by both groups. The provisions ensure justice- social, economic and political equality to all. The second category consists of provisions meant specifically for the protection of particular interests of minorities.

  • people's right to "equality before the law" and "equal protection of the laws";
  • prohibition of discrimination against citizens on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth;
  • authority of State to make "any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens" (besides the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes);
  • citizens' right to "equality of opportunity" in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State - and prohibition in this regard of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
  • Authority of State to make "any provision 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;
  • People's freedom of conscience and right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion - subject to public order, morality and other Fundamental Rights;
  • Authority of State to make law for "regulating or restricting any economic financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice", and for "providing for social welfare and reform";
  • Authority of State to make laws for "throwing open" of Hindu, Sikh, Jain or Buddhist "religious institutions of a public character to "all classes and sections of the respective communities;
  • Sikh community's right of "wearing and carrying of kirpans" ;
  • Right of "every religious denomination or any section thereof - subject to public order, morality and health - to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable proposes, "manage its own affairs of religion", and own and acquire movable immovable property and administer it "in accordance with law";
  • People's "freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion";
  • People's "freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in educational institutions" wholly maintained, recognized, or aided by the State;
  • Right of "any section of the citizens" to conserve its "distinct language, script or culture"
  • Restriction on denial of admission to any citizen, to any educational institution maintained or aided by the State, "on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them";
  • Right of all Religious and Linguistic Minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice; and
  • Freedom of Minority-managed educational institutions from discrimination in the matter of receiving aid from the State.

Part IV of the Constitution of India, containing non-justifiable Directive Principles of State Policy, includes the following provisions having significant implications for the Minorities:

  • Obligation of the State "to endeavor to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities" amongst individuals and groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations;
  • Obligation of State to "endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India";
  • Obligation of State "to promote with special care" the educational and economic interests of "the weaker sections of the people" (besides Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes; and
  • Obligation of State to "take steps" for "prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle".

Part IV-A of the Constitution, relating to Fundamental Duties, applies in full to all citizens, including those belonging to Minorities and of special relevance for the Minorities are the following provisions in this Part:

  • Citizens' duty to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India "transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; and
  • Citizens' duty to "value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture".

Some other provisions of the Constitution having special relevance and implications for the Minorities are:

  • Official obligation to pay out of the consolidated funds of the States of Kerala and Tamilnadu 46.5 and 13.5 lakh rupees respectively to the local "Dewasom Funds" for the maintenance of Hindu temples and shrines in the territories of the erstwhile State of Travancore-Cochin;
  • Special provision relating to the language spoken by a section of the population of any State;
  • Provision for facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at primary stage;
  • Provision for a Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities and his duties;
  • Special provision with respect to Naga religious or social practices, customary law and procedure, and "administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law."
  • Identical special provision for the Mizos; and
  • Provision relating to continuation in force of pre-Constitution laws "until altered or repealed or amended by a competent legislature or other competent authority"

Part III of the Constitution gives certain fundamental rights. Some of these rights are common to all the citizens of India including minorities. These rights are enshrined in -

Article 14: This ensures equality before law and equal protection of law.
Article 15: This prohibits discrimination on any ground i.e. religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth.
Article 21: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except the procedure established by law.
Article 25: This ensures freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.
Article 26: This ensures a right to manage religious institutions, religious affairs, subject to public order, morality and health.
Article 29: Gives minorities a right to conserve their language, script or culture.

  • It provides for the protection of the interests of minorities by giving them a right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. The State is directed not to discriminate against minorities institutions in granting aid.
    Article 350A: Directs the State to provide facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary stage of education.
    Art 164(1): According to this article in states of Bihar, MP and Orissa there shall be a Minister in charge of tribal welfare who may in addition be in charge of the welfare of the scheduled castes and backward classes.

    Art 244(1): Regarding administration of scheduled areas and tribal areas - (1) The provisions of the Fifth schedule shall apply to the administration and control of the Scheduled areas and Scheduled tribes in any state other than the state of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.  (2) The provisions of the sixth schedule shall apply to the administration of the tribal areas in the state of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
    Art 244(A): Formation of an autonomous state comprising certain tribal areas in Assam and creation of local legislature or Council of Ministers or both thereof. Parliament may by law form within the state of Assam an autonomous state comprising (whether wholly or part) all or any of the tribal areas.

    Art 275: Provided that there shall be paid out of consolidated fund of India as grants-in-aid of the revenues of a state such capital and recurring sums as may be necessary to enable the state to meet the costs of such schemes of development as may be undertaken by the state with the approval of the Govt of India for the purpose of promoting the welfare of the scheduled tribes in that state or raising the level of administration of the scheduled areas therein to that of the administration  of the rest of the areas in that state. Provided further that there shall be paid out of the consolidated fund of India as grant-in-aid of the revenues of the state of Assam sum capital and recurring.

    Art 330: Reservation of seats for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in the House of People.
    - Seats shall be reserved for scheduled castes
    - The scheduled tribes except the scheduled tribes except the scheduled tribes in the autonomous districts of Assam
    - The scheduled tribes in the autonomous districts in Assam.

     Art 332: Reservation of seats for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in the Legislative Assemblies of the states.
    - Seats shall be reserved for the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes (except the ST's of autonomous districts of Assam) in the Legislative Assembly of every state.
    - Seats shall be reserved also for the autonomous districts in the Legislative Assembly of the state of Assam.

    Art 334: Reservation of seats and special representation in Legislative Assemblies and House of People to cease after fifty years.

    Art 335: Claims of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes to service and posts-The claims of the members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes shall be taken into consideration consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration in the making of appointments to service and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a state.

    Art 338: National Commission for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes

    Art 339: Control of the Union over the administration of Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes.

    Art 340: Appointment of a commission by the president to investigate the conditions of backward classes.
    Art 341: Power of the President to specify the castes, races or tribes or posts of or groups within castes, races or tribes as scheduled castes.

    Art 342: Power of the President to specify the tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within tribes or tribal communities as scheduled tribe.

    Art 350(A): Facilities for instruction in mother tongue of a minority group.

    Art 350(B): Special officer for linguistic minorities.

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