Issues involved in defining religious and linguistic minorities

International laws describe minorities as a group that possess distinct and stable ethnic, religious and linguistic characteristic than rest of the population of the land. In India, though the constitution uses the term minority at 4 specific instances, it doesn’t define the term, making it subject to judicial interpretation.

Presently the following 2 groups are considered as minorities based on their numerical inferiority:
1. RELIGIOUS MINORITIES as per National Commission for Minorities Act 1992.
2. LINGUISTIC MINORITIES which are groups having a separate spoken language and is a matter pertaining to the individual states of India.


  • Threat to extinction – Allahabad HC stated that muslims are not minority in UP as they do not have any threat to extinction.
  • Numerical inferiority – SC has consistently maintained that numerical inferiority is the defining parameter. On basis of religion- Hindus in Punjab, NE.
  • Statewise definition – SC has stated that minorities are to be defined on state level as states were created on basis of linguistic distinction. But in the recent decade, we have seen that linguistic distinction is no more a distinction for demands of new states (for eg- Telangana).
  • Alacrity of demands and organized representation by the prospect communities.
  • However, currently there is no uniform national way of determining minorities due to the following issues:
  • Non-Uniform distribution of communities across India, creates a conflicting situation in declaring X community a religious minority nationally, which in certain state could infact be a majority.
  • Constant migration of citizens disturbs demography. Changing the structure of religious or linguistic community now & then. hence, no constant policy can be adhered to.
  • With over 1500 regional languages designation of linguistic minorities becomes cumbersome.
  • Having a rigid minority group will be detrimental to society as a whole for a population boom in one group will significantly change demography.

The possible solution could be rather determine the minority status with respect to source and territorial application of legislation as pointed out in TMA Pai Case by Honourable Supreme Court of India.