18th December of every year is celebrated as Minorities Rights Day in India: to highlight the constitutional minority rights – specifically religious minorities. In this brief, we look at how our Constitution framers treated minority rights.
The Constituent Assembly members didn’t merely discuss minority rights as an abstract constitutional goal, they set up an exclusive Minorities Sub-Committee. This Committee consisted of 26 members, not all of whom where Constituent Assembly members. Four external members were included for better representation.
The following communities were represented: Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Christians, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Parsis, and Anglo Indians.
The Sub-Committee was tasked to examine the draft clauses recommended by the Fundamental Rights Committee and recommend changes or additions that were relevant to ensuring minority rights.
The Sub-Committee was appointed on 27 February 1947 and held three sittings. In the first sitting, they elected H.C. Mookherjee, Vice President of the Assembly and a prominent Bengali Christian leader, as the Chairman and discussed the extent and scope of their work.
In the second sitting, the Sub-Committee debated the draft clauses over three days, after which an interim report was submitted. The interim report engaged with the fundamental rights through the lens of minority rights.
In the final week long sitting, they considered various replies, memoranda, notes and letters from representatives of minority communities and organizations and finally drafted a Report.
The Report dealt with a range of questions that included: representation of minorities in Legislatures, separate electorates, reservation of seats in the Cabinet and Services along with administrative machinery. The Advisory Committee endorsed most of the conclusions drawn by the Minorities Sub-Committee.
The effectiveness and adequacy of India’s constitutionally guaranteed minority rights has always been a matter of debate. However, historical records, particularly the committee stages of the Assembly, indicate that minority rights were taken very seriously through the Assembly’s institutions and processes.