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Supreme Court of India: Sikhs "Part of Wider Hindu Community"


The Tribune, New Delhi, Aug. 11, 2005

In a significant ruling defining the status of communities like Sikhs and Jains within the Constitutional framework, the Supreme Court has declined to treat them as minority communities separate from the broad Hindu religion, saying encouraging such tendencies would pose a serious jolt to secularism and democracy in the country.

'The so-called minority communities like Sikhs and Jains were not treated as national minorities at the time of framing of the Constitution. Sikhs and Jains, in fact, have throughout been treated as part of the wider Hindu community, which has different sects, sub-sects, faiths, modes of worship and religious philosophies,' a Bench of Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti, Mr. Justice D.M. Dharmadhikari and Mr. Justice P.K. Balasubramanyan said.

Disposing of an appeal by Bal Patil and others against the Bombay High Court order, seeking direction to the Union Government to notify 'Jains' as a minority community under Section 2C of the National Commission for Minority Act, the Bench said: 'We do not find that any case is made out for grant of any relief to appellants in exercise of writ jurisdiction of the High Court and, hence, the writ jurisdiction of this (apex) court.'

The High Court had rejected their plea.

Quoting from the provisions of the Constitution and the historic background on how the Constitution had come into existence after Partition, the court said: 'Encouragement of such fissiparous tendencies would be a serious jolt to the secular structure of the constitutional democracy.'

'We should guard against making our country akin to a theocratic state based on multi-nationalism. Our concept of secularism, to put it in a nutshell, is that the state will have no religion,' the Bench held, while asking the National Minorities Commission to 'gear up its activities' to keep all religious groups in right direction with 'constitutional perspective, principles and ideals in its view.'

Mr. Justice Dharmadhikari, writing the judgement for the Bench, said the Constitution had clearly laid down that 'the state will treat all religions and religious groups equally and with equal respect without in any manner interfering with their individual rights or religions, faith and worship.'

The court said in various codified customary laws like the Hindu Marriage Act, the Hindu Succession Act, the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act and other laws of the pre- and post-Constitution period, the definition of 'Hindu' included all sects, sub-sects of Hindu religion, including Sikhs and Jains.

It said if the argument for recognising every religious group within the broad Hindu religion as separate religious minority was accepted and such tendencies were encouraged, 'the whole country, which is already under class and social conflicts due to various divisive forces, will further face divisions on the basis of religious diversities.'

'Such claims to minority status based on religion would increase in the fond hope of various sections of people getting special protections, privileges and treatment as part of a constitutional guarantee,' the court said adding 'a claim by one group of citizens would lead to a similar claim by another group and conflict and strife would ensue.'

The court further clarified that the framers of the Constitution had 'engrafted' a group of Articles (25 to 30) in the Constitution recognising only Muslims, Christians, Anglo-Indians and Parsis as religious minorities at national level by taking into consideration the historic background on how these communities had emerged over a long period of time during the Mughal and British rule.

The court also said the Union Government, in its affidavit, had taken the stand that in accordance with the law laid down by the majority judgement in the T.M.A. Pai case by the apex court regarding the statues of minority educational institutions in the country, it had been left to state governments to decide as to where Jain community should be treated as a minority.

The court also noted that in states like Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and Uttranchal, Jains had already been notified as minority in accordance with the provisions of the respective State Minority Commission Acts.