The need for rights for minority as a group stem from an understanding that the identity that makes them distinct, is tenuous and that it would be a great loss to the group, if the core of their being as a collective were to be eroded. Although the guarantee of legal protection and rights to minorities does not eliminate nationality- based conflicts, it nevertheless monitors the conduct towards minorities and helps minimize sense of fear and insecurity among them.
In South Asia, nothing has challenged and consistently eroded minority rights more than the rise and acceptance of religious right as a political ideology. Newly formed and independent States that began their journeys with a promise of religious neutrality and secularism; and a guarantee of equality and non-discrimination to all citizens were swayed in a matter of twenty to forty years, into adopting religion as a basis for doing politics. Taking advantage of the widespread prevalence of religious faith and cultural practice among the populations in South Asia, leaders of the region used religion as a tool to control and manipulate its populations and thereby gain or retain political power and legitimacy. The only ideology of religion that is useful for political purpose or allows for control and manipulation is one where the religion is obscure, intolerant and conservative. The sustenance of a religion-based political ideology is dependent on identifying numerically smaller or vulnerable groups of minorities and (re)casting them as enemies, as ‘others’ that are antagonists to their religion-based political ideology.
The triumph of this ideology is complete when it influences all the State institutions of governance and a large part of its population to subjugate minorities and render them powerless. In a context of rise in the political ideology of the religious right in South Asia, the paper examines the extent to which institutions of justice have contributed, through its laws, policies, decisions and judgments, to the subjugating or upholding of minority rights, particularly the Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan, and the Muslims in India and Sri Lanka.
Ms. Vahida Nainar has been working on women’s rights / human rights issues for the past 20 years. She was the Founder-Director of Women’s Research and Action Group, Mumbai and continues to remain involved as member of the Board of Trustees. She is the former Executive Director of the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, New York that worked to include a gender perspective in the International Criminal Court. She has been closely associated with Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, The Hague; the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights, USA & Kenya and International Solidarity Network of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, London. She was an Adjunct Professor of Law at the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic, CUNY School of Law, New York. She is a life member of the Indian Association of Women’s Studies. She works nationally and internationally on issues of justice, human rights, gender and conflict.