Dominant social and political formations invoking numerical majorities of different kinds—whether inspired by religious obscurantism, traditional hierarchies, or conservative patriarchal norms—have sought to oppress and marginalise many communities or groups of people who might be categorised as “minorities”. The sense of the “minor” is not necessarily restricted only to numerical disadvantage. Other forms of social and cultural inequalities and marginalisation may also produce a culture of “minority-ness”. Despite certain legal and constitutional safeguards, there are ambiguities about the formal definition of “minorities”. Reports of failures to provide protection to underprivileged communities are not uncommon. Large sections of society are, thus, faced with disadvantages and discriminations based on language, religion, ethnicity, gender, refugee or migrant status, poverty, and a host of other grounds. This has resulted in social segregation in both rural and urban areas, particularly organisation of the city space, domination of more Sanskritised groups over less-numerous and less-powerful tribal communities, and despicable living conditions in slums mainly inhabited by immigrant rural poor.
Just as governmental programmes targeting such “minor” populations have yielded a political response, at other times the lack of governmental presence has meant that the communities have been left to cope with the problems for themselves. The varied responses of the marginalised minorities range from active memorialisation of an oppressive past and contentious claims over historical legacies to political mobilisation demanding governmental benefits to silent sufferings and violent assertions. Specific cases of marginalisation of minorities and challenges before them reveal churnings on the margins of society over the crucial questions of governance and citizenship as well as rights and deprivation. For instance, men sitting on positions of power attempt to marginalise or “minoritise” younger colleagues. To be a minority is, therefore, not only about being a Muslim or Christian in the context of the aggressive ideology of Hindutva. Culturally exclusive political ideologies oppress numerically inferior communities resisting their domination, which are often talked about and politically contested, but everyday minoritisation by those in power and authority are mostly silently suffered.
Politically, in the electoral arena of successful democracies such as India, the infantilised minorities—peasants, Dalits, tribals, Muslims and Christians, among others—seek revenge through a clearly discernible pattern of voting against the incumbent parties in power. The oppressive regimes are chastised for giving licence to criminals to kill with impunity. The governments which offer lip service in the name of minority or tribal welfare are also called out for their so-called appeasement. Thus, the oppressed minorities know how to survive violent political formations through various strategies of resistance. This is so tantalisingly illustrated in a powerful work on the despicable situation of a peasant community by James Scott, in his classic study on everyday forms of resistance called Weapons of the Weak. The nature of resistance include not so much open rebellion, which cannot be sustained against powerful feudal lords backed by the exploitative state machinery, but non-cooperation through a deliberately cultivated bodily practice of lazy demeanour and behind the back cursing the powerful for their dishonesty and immorality which they have to suffer.
In situations of aggressive majoritarian politics seeking to violently suppress and subsume minority cultures, the oppressed lot refuses to join the so-called mainstream, consolidates its strength in ghetto-like settlements and resorts to overt display of religious identity and assertion with clearly identifiable bodily and sartorial markers. These are condemned by even some well-meaning but ill-informed critics as in the case of Muslim men asserting their masculinity flaunted through sporting beard, well-groomed or carefully careless, or well-educated Muslim women cloaked in their crisp hijab and burqa and speaking for their own agency in chaste English, or in French for that matter. These are signs of assertions of rights—some people do it by becoming jihadis, some fight the system lawfully and some withdraw from the world in the hope of a better future hereafter.
Those in power need to know what ails them and act accordingly. Wily manipulation of the minority situation cannot work forever. In any case, constitutional safeguards and institutions for the protection of rights of minorities and other weaker sections shall intervene from time to time to ensure course corrections from governmental lapses, especially in letting the lynch-mob go scot free—even if few and far between. In all such cases, it is a reflection on the failure of the state when the law of the land is transgressed by non-state agencies. The situation worsens further when state agencies themselves do not seem like working within the parameters of their roles defined by law. Unlawfulness cannot be the order of the day even for the majority. For, violence on the streets affects everyone. And, as the history of the circle of justice indicates, oppressive regimes die their own natural death.