Minorities: Meaning and Types

Minorities include any national cultural, ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities recognized by national legislation or globally binding declarations, as well as minorities who define and organize themselves as such.

Who are the minorities?

In the constitution, the term "minority" is not defined. It literally implies a group that is not dominating. It is a relative phrase that refers to the smaller of two numbers, portions, or groupings.

The Supreme Court made this statement in the case T.M.A. Pai Foundation v. State of Karnataka, in which a constitutional bench of 11 distinguished Supreme Court judges reviewed the basic question. It has been argued that because state restructuring in India has been along linguistic lines, the unit for defining the minority will be the state rather than the entire country.

In Bal Patil v. Union of India, a three-judge Apex Court bench explained that "minority," as defined by the constitutional scheme, meant an identifiable group of people or community deserving of protection from likely deprivation of religious, cultural, and educational rights by other communities that happened to be majorities and likely to gain political power in a democratic form of government based on elections.

Likewise, Minority rights are founded on the recognition that minorities are vulnerable in comparison to other groups in society, specifically the majority population, and seek to protect members of a minority group from discrimination, assimilation, prosecution, hostility, or violence as a result of their status. It should be emphasized that minority rights are not privileges, but rather serve to assure equitable respect for people of diverse communities. These rights help to accommodate disadvantaged groups and to achieve a minimum degree of equality in the enjoyment of their human and basic rights for all members of society.

Types of Minorities

Minorities are broadly divided into two categories

Linguistic Minorities

Linguistic minorities, as defined by Article 30(1), must have a different spoken language that does not require a separate script. They are to be determined in relation to the language spoken by the community, not in relation to any other language that the community wishes its children to study.

In the case of Association of Teachers in Anglo Indian Schools v. Association of Aids to Anglo-Indian Schools, it was determined that a group whose language is one of the state's official languages can nevertheless be considered a minority community. Thus, just because English is one of the official languages of the state of West Bengal, it does not indicate that the Anglo-Indian group, whose language is English, is not a minority community.

Religious Minorities

A minority based on religion denotes that the single and primary foundation of the minority must be allegiance to one of the numerous faiths, rather than a specific set or component of religion.

In Bal Patil v. Union of India, it was determined that a religious minority should be limited to religious minorities with distinct identities from the majority, especially Hindus. For example, Muslims, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, and so on. In Bramchari Sidheswar Shai v. State of West Bengal, the Supreme Court held that Ramakrishna religion could not claim to be a religious minority because it was not distinct and separate from Hindu religion and thus was not entitled to the fundamental right under Article 30 (1).

Constitutional Safeguards for Minorities

It includes 

  • Articles 15 (1) & (2) − Prohibit discrimination against citizens based on religion, race, caste, gender, or place of birth.

  • Article 16(1) & (2) − Citizens' right to equal opportunity in matters pertaining to employment or appointment to any state position.

  • Article 25(1) − Conscience freedom and the right to freely profess, practise, and promote religion - subject to public order, morality, and other Fundamental Rights.

  • Article 28 − Complete protection of people's freedom to attend religious instruction or religious worship in educational institutions.

  • Article 29 − That every segment of people residing in any region of India with their own language, script, or culture has the right to preserve it.

    • It guarantees security to both religious and linguistic minorities.

    • However, the Supreme Court ruled that the reach of this article is not necessarily limited to minorities alone, because the term "part of citizens" in the article refers to both minorities and the majority.

  • Article 30(1) − All religious and linguistic minorities have the right to establish and manage educational institutions of their choosing.

  • Article 30(2) − Freedom from discrimination in receiving state financing for minority-managed educational institutions.

  • Article 38 (2) − Opportunities" among individuals and groups of persons living in various places or engaged in different occupations.

  • Article 46 − State commitment to "advance with great care" the educational and economic interests of "the weakest parts of the population" (besides the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes).

  • Article 347 − A particular provision pertaining to the language spoken by a segment of a state's population.

  • Article 350-B − "The Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities," was not originally included in the Indian Constitution. The 7th Constitutional Amendment Act of 1956, on the other hand, added Article 350-B to the Constitution. 

    • A Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities would be appointed by the Indian President, according to the provision.

    • The Special Officer would be responsible for investigating all issues concerning the constitutional safeguards for language minorities.


India is a diverse country in terms of its cultures and religions. From Punjab to West Bengal, Assam to Kerala, and Madhya Pradesh to Telangana, India demonstrates its cultural and heritage diversity. In such a diversified country, there is a significant likelihood that many communities will be majorities and many will be minorities. This may even result in majority prejudice or pressure on minority populations.

However, our constitutional framers kept all of these factors in mind and were determined to keep them in mind in order to construct a constitution that equalizes minorities with majorities, makes them feel protected, and instils a sense of belonging in them towards the nation. They have introduced Fundamental Rights, granting equal rights to all people regardless of caste, creed, or race. In addition, additional rights for minorities have been introduced, giving them cultural and educational rights. This has taken away their fear of majority communities. They have, however, kept in mind that majority groups should not feel biased against minorities or denied particular rights, and hence fundamental rights are equal for all.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Which article of the constitution guarantees the protection of minorities in India?

Ans. Article 29 protects minorities' rights by stating that every citizen or part of a citizenry with a separate language, script, or culture has the right to preserve it. Article 29 states that no discrimination will be tolerated on the basis of religion, race, caste, language, or any combination of these factors.

Q2. Why are minority rule and minority rights important?

Ans. A democratic government relies on majority rule when it comes to minority rights. This approach allows citizens to keep their individual rights while following the majority's lead. It also permits citizens to make adjustments to legislation as society, majorities, and minorities evolve.

Q3. What are the basic rights of minorities?

Ans. Minorities have the right to actively participate in cultural, religious, social, economic, and political life.

Q4. What does the Constitution say about minority rights?

Ans. In the Preamble of the Indian Constitution, secularism is enshrined. It ensures essential rights for all minorities. These rights are protected and promoted by independent institutions such as the judiciary, the Human Rights Commission, and the Minorities Commission.

Q5. What are the main problems of minorities?

Ans. Minorities often face discrimination and exclusion, and they struggle to exercise their human rights even when they have full and unchallenged citizenship. Denying or removing their citizenship can be an efficient way of increasing their vulnerability, potentially leading to mass deportation.