The curious case of Sikhs for minority quota in Punjab

The judgement of Supreme Court in February 2016 will have far reaching consequences as minorities are influential in shaping policy in a fractured society

According to section 9(1) of Minorities Act of 1992, Sikhs are one of the minority communities in India apart from Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Zoroastrians(Parsis). In addition, Jains were declared a minority community by a notification issued by the National Commission of Minorities(NCM) in January 2014. As per the data of census 2001, these six minorities constitute 18.8% of country’s population. In 2007, the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee(SGPC) filed a case in Punjab and Haryana High Court asking for minority status for Sikhs which was rejected. This judgement of the High Court was stayed by the Supreme Court when challenged by the SGPC. The case will come up for hearing in February 2016 before a five-judge constitutional bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, Mr. Justice T.S. Thakur. It is interesting to note that SGPC has a major role in shaping the politics of Punjab where religion and politics are inextricably linked. The state is headed for assembly elections in January 2017.

The High Court had rejected minority status to Sikhs in Punjab on the grounds that the community was numerically strong. The Punjab government had also not produced no material to show that Sikhs “apprehended deprivation of their religious, cultural or educational rights in the state from any other community which may be in majority and may gain political power in the elections.” The point of contention in this case is a notification by the state government of Punjab. The notification issued in 2001 reserved 50 percent of seats for Sikh students in the educational institutions run by the SGPC.

The Supreme Court in 2002 had ruled that while determining the minority status for reservation in educational institutions, the populations of the minority in that particular state would be the basis. It won’t be minority status granted in the country through the constitution. This case is known as the historic T.M.A. Pai Foundation versus state of Karnataka. The Pai Foundation judgement meant that the state cannot impose its reservation policy on minority and non-minority unaided private colleges including professional colleges. This judgement raised more questions than it answered.

The SGPC on its part has based its arguments on the  fact that educational institutions run by SGPC grant admissions to Sikh students from the other states where they are a minority. The Chief Justice pointedly asked:”Can Muslims who are in majority in Kashmir, still be treated as a minority? Can Sikhs be a minority in Punjab? Can Christians be minority in Meghalaya?” The judgement in this case will have a great bearing on the admissions process of professional colleges — both private as well as state run. Not only that — a community being declared a minority in its own parent state seems rather paradoxical.

 

Guru Aiyar is a research scholar at Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.

Featured image: Sikhs, Amritsar(at Harmindar Sahib) by Nevil Zaveri, licensed from creativecommons.org

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