The National Minorities Rights Day is observed on December 18 in India to focus on the importance of the rights of religious minorities and the safeguard of their Constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms. India is among the world’s most diverse countries and also the birthplace of four major religions.
The Constitution of India provides for the right to freedom of religion under Articles 25 to 28. Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all persons in India. The Constitution envisages a secular model and provides that every person has the right and freedom to choose and practice his or her religion and forbids any form of discrimination or persecution on the basis of religious affiliation.
According to the 2011 Census data, minorities constitute 19.30% (23.37 crore) of India’s population. These include Muslims (14.2%), Christians (2.3%), Sikhs (1.3%), Buddhists (0.7%), Jains (0.4%) and Parsis.
The right to practice and profess any faith has allowed religious communities to thrive in India. Over the years since India’s Independence, laws have been passed both at the Union and State level to protect religious minorities against any form of discrimination or persecution. Moreover, religious as well as linguistic minorities in India are allowed to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice under Article 30 of the Constitution.
On December 18, 1992, the United Nations adopted the Statement on the Individual’s Rights belonging to religious or linguistic, national, or ethnic minorities. It highlighted that the religious, linguistic, cultural, and national identity of minorities shall be respected, preserved, and protected by the nations and within individual territories.
The same year, the Union Government set up the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) under the National Commission for Minorities Act. Initially five religious communities, viz., Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsis) were notified as minority communities by the government. In 2014, Jains were also notified as another minority community.
The National Commission for Minorities, based in New Delhi, and State Minorities Commissions based in respective state capitals are constituted as statutory bodies to safeguard and protect the interests of minorities as provided in the Constitution of India and laws enacted by the Parliament and the State Legislatures.
The Union Ministry of Minority Affairs is tasked to ensure a more focused approach towards the issues relating to the notified minority communities. For the benefit of the minority communities, the Ministry generates overall policy and planning, coordination, evaluation, and review of the regulatory framework and development programmes.
The National Minorities Rights Day is an occasion to educate people on the importance of religious freedom and harmony and the rights of minorities. It is also an opportunity to aware minorities of their rights and special provisions guaranteed to them under the Constitution. The Minorities Rights Day is a reminder of a vibrant society India has thanks to laws that protect minorities and promote religious tolerance and mutual respect.