In a previous article, we had seen how the initial Draft versions of the Indian Constitution prepared by Dr K M Munshi had guaranteed a very different form of educational rights to its citizens. It was based on the Polish Treaty of World War I and proposed explicit, and equal, educational rights to all communities.
“3. Citizens belonging to national minorities in a State whether based on religion or language have equal rights with other citizens in forming, controlling and administering at their own expense charitable, religious and social institutions, schools and other educational establishments with the free use of their language and practice of their religion”
However, when this section was referred to the Minorities sub-committee of the Constituent Assembly, what came out was a completely different avatar of this right.
“All minorities, whether of religion, community or language, shall be free in any unit to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice, and they shall be entitled to State aid in the same manner and measure as is given to similar State-aided institutions”
Looking at this drastic transformation, the key question that arises, naturally, is – what is the reference for this altogether-transformed Article?
Minorities Committee of the Second Round Table Conference
Between 1930-32, three round table conferences were arranged by the British Government to discuss Constitutional reforms in India. Out of the three, the maximum representation from the Indian side happened in the second round table conference that took place at London between September and December of 1931.
The majority of the work in this conference was done by two sub-committees – Federal Structure and Minorities.
The Minorities sub-committee was a fairly large committee and was chaired by Ramsay MacDonald. The prominent members of this committee were M K Gandhi, Dr B R Ambedkar, Dr MM Malaviya and HH The Aga Khan.
This committee met on the 28th of September, 1st and 8th of October and then on the 13th of November 1931 for the final time.
The main “stakeholders” of this committee were the Muslims, Indian Christians, Depressed Classes (Dalits), Anglo-Indians and Europeans.
Between the last two meetings of this committee i.e. between the 8th of October 1931 and 13th of November 1931, a lot of separate meetings were held by the various communities involved. The covering note submitted by the chairman of the committee on 18th November 1931 records the fact that a lot of “private negotiations” took place in the time between these two meetings.
Two key developments took place in this interval
- Various communities came up with their own memorandum to be submitted to the Minorities sub-committee.
- Although an overall consensus on minority rights could not be arrived at, the group of Muslims, Indian Christians, Depressed Classes, Anglo-Indians and Europeans came up with an “agreement” which they presented to the committee for acceptance. However, this agreement was not acceptable to the Hindu and Sikh representatives.
Memorandum on the Claims of Indian Christians
On October 20th 1931, Rao Bahadur K T Pannir Selvam submitted a short memorandum to the committee to be considered as the demands of the Indian Christian community.
Along with a few observations on the role played by Gandhi on this issue, the note placed forth three main demands from the Christian community. The third of the demand, which is relevant to this post, is produced below
“3. Persons belonging to any religion shall have a right to establish, manage and control at their own expense, charitable, religious and social institutions, schools, and other educational establishments, with the right to exercise their religion therein; and where specific sums of money from public funds, as set out in the State budget, or in the Budget of local or other public authorities, are to be devoted to education, religion, or philanthrophy, a due share in the use and enjoyment of such sums shall be secured to these institutions as well”
Joint Agreement by Representatives of many Minority Communities
On the 13th of November 1931, during the final meeting of the Minorities Committee, a joint delegation of Muslims, Indian Christians, Depressed Classes, Anglo-Indians and Europeans came up with an “agreement” which they presented to the committee for acceptance.
The agreement was signed by the leader of each community that agreed with the settlement. HH The Aga Khan (Muslims), Dr B R Ambedkar (Depressed Classes), Rao Bahadur Pannir Selvam (Indian Christians), Sir Henry Gidney (Anglo-Indians) and Sir Hubert Carr (Europeans) were the signatories.
In this agreement, there were 11 different clauses for protection of minority rights. The clause of relevance to this post – clause number 4 – is reproduced below.
“4. The right to establish, manage and control, at their own expense, charitable, religious and social institutions, schools and other educational establishments with the right to exercise their religion therein”
At the end of this agreement, an explanatory memorandum was added. The last point in this memorandum stated the following.
“7. The proposals may be taken as being acceptable to well over 115 millions of people, or about 46 percent, of the population of India”
- Even a casual observation of Clause #4 in the joint agreement submitted to the Minorities Committee reveals that this particular statement is the source from which the Draft Constitution of 1947-50 derived its Article on Educational Rights.
- The particular Clause #4 itself was in turn derived from the memorandum submitted by the Indian Christian representatives in the second round table conference. The version of the clause in the memorandum actually asked for “equal rights for all religions”. However, in the joint agreement version, that particular phrase was left out.
- Originally, these rights were meant to be enjoyed by minorities, a group which also included the ‘Depressed Classes’ or the ‘Dalits’. This is clearly established by the participation, and signature, of Dr B R Ambedkar who represented the Dalits in the conference.
- The concluding note in the agreement which states that these rights would be applicable to over 46% of India’s (then) population also clearly highlights that the definition of minorities under which these rights applied, including the backward classes amongst Hindus.
Adding on what I had stated in an earlier article highlighting Dr B R Ambedkar’s explanation of the term ‘minorities’ in the Constituent Assembly, the above details clearly establish that Educational Rights in Independent India were NOT meant to be restricted to just religious and linguistic minorities but also included the backward classes as well as racial minorities.
- Speeches and Documents on the Indian Constitution – Sir Maurice Gwyer and A Appadorai, Oxford University Press, 1957
- Indian Round Table Conference, Proceedings of the Federal Structure Committee and Minorities Committee (Volume 1), GOI, Central Publication Branch
- Appendices III and VIII – Indian Round Table Conference, Proceedings of the Federal Structure Committee and Minorities Committee (Volume 3), GOI, Central Publication Branch