India/ 4. Current issues in cultural policy development and debate  

4.2.4 Cultural diversity and inclusion policies

As mentioned, the definition of a ‘minority’ is intrinsic to the idea of cultural policy, as enshrined in Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution. Such minorities are primarily religious, caste-based and linguistic.

The main minority groups in India include, as per the 2001 Census, Dalits (Scheduled Castes) -166.6 million (16%), Muslims - 120 million (13.4%), Adivasis (Scheduled Tribes) - 84 million (8%), including Nagas - 100,000 million (0.1%); also, Christians - 25,080,000 million (2.4%), Sikhs - 14,800,000 million (1.9%), Kashmiris - 9 million (est. 0.9%). Other minorities include Buddhists, Jews, Anglo-Indians, Andaman Islanders and Parsis.

In addition to the grievances emerging from Kashmir, Muslims of India have claimed persecution and genocide in the state of Gujarat. Muslim leaders condemn the failure of the Gujarat government and the Indian courts to prosecute those involved in the killing of over 2,000 Muslims at the hands of Hindu extremists. In many cases, attempts to hold perpetrators of Gujarat riots accountable were hampered by the allegedly defective manner in which the police recorded complaints. There were allegations made by the victims that the police failed to register their complaints or recorded the details in such a way as to lead to lesser charges. There has also been the continuation of another related sectarian Hindu-Muslim dispute over the sacred site of Ayodhya.

Despite the Constitution and legislation prohibiting caste discrimination 166.6 million Scheduled Castes (including the Dalits) and the 84.3 million Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis) continue to face discrimination and social segregation in many aspects of public and private life. The Adivasis, who have historically been deemed as outside the ambit of the Hindu caste system, are consistently discriminated against and suffer from socio-economic marginalisation. Dalits are made the victims of social ostracism, having inadequate access to health care and poor working conditions. Dalit women continued to face ‘double discrimination’ on the basis of their caste as well as gender – deprived of education and basic health care, they are frequently forced into slave-like work and menial labour.

In the light of the systematic denial of the fundamental rights of the Dalits, the UN, on 19 April 2005, decided to appoint two Special Rapporteurs to examine the substantial and deep-rooted problem of caste-based discrimination. The rapporteurs were mandated to study all issues surrounding the discrimination against Dalits and report to the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. The three-year process led to the drafting of a set of Principles and Guidelines aimed at eliminating caste-based discrimination. The final report, officially issued in 2009, states that ‘discrimination based on work and descent is a form of discrimination prohibited by international human rights law as proclaimed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other key international human rights instruments, and that discrimination based on work and descent is not only a major human rights violation but also major obstacle to development’, and made all States acknowledge this form of discrimination and take necessary steps to eliminate and prevent discrimination based on work and descent, including affirmative action. The reports of the special Rapporteurs are not binding upon States; the States themselves having the discretion as to the extent to which they would adopt the recommendations set forth in the reports produced by the special Rapporteurs.

In 2006, the Government drew up and implemented a reservation policy through a legislative enactment in Parliament that would entitle members of Other Backward Classes (OBCs), both Hindu and Muslim, to avail of fifty % of seats in all government educational institutions and all government-aided and sponsored educational institutions. This was in consonance with the objectives of the Ninth Five Year Plan (1997-2002) that sought to enhance ‘growth with social justice and equity’.

The Mandal Commission recommendations (already discussed earlier) have had a significant influence on the recent changes in the political map of the country both at the federal level and at the State level. At one level, Mandal has brought in the demand for greater decentralisation and increased democratisation of political power. At another level, it has been the reason for political expediency and the government placing more emphasis on caste and religion in certain areas of policy-making. While implementation of the Mandal Report by the V.P. Singh Government and the Rajiv Gandhi Government in the early 1990s arguably has had a pronounced effect on the political developments in the last decade in a positive way in some sense, it is also seen one of the reasons for the meteoric rise of the right-wing Hindu party, the BJP.

In September 2008, an anti-Christian wave of violence spread in the state of Orissa, that left 38 people dead and many injured. According to media reports tens of thousands of Christians fled their homes. Pope Benedict condemned the incidents that also involved churches being set on fire. The Indian Supreme Court ordered the state government to ensure the security of the refugees.

While there are substantial failings in India’s compliance with international commitments, the State has nevertheless accepted and ratified a number of international human rights and minority rights instruments. India is a party to both the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966). However, India has expressed its reservations on Article 1 of both these treaties, in effect denying the application of the right to self-determination to such groups as Kashmiris or Nagas. Neither has India ratified the first optional protocol, which allows individuals to make complaints to the Human Rights Committee. India also has as yet failed to ratify the second optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which abolishes capital punishment.

India has ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1966), the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). India has yet not ratified the optional protocol to the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979). It has, however, accepted the two protocols attached to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

India was one of the first countries to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 107 (1957) on Indigenous and Tribal Population Convention. India, however, has failed to ratify the revised ILO Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries. India continues to take issue with the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Peoples on the applicability of the criteria of the Special Rapporteur José R. Martinez Cobo’s definition of Indigenous People. According to the viewpoint of successive Indian governments, the definition as articulated by Martinez Cobo is restricted in application to the Indigenous Peoples of the American Continent, Australia and New Zealand. 

Chapter published: 22-04-2014