With the Kerala government announcing that it would soon come out with an order restructuring the scholarship schemes available for minority communities under it based on their population, a controversy has erupted in the state. Leader of the Opposition VD Satheeshan, who initially welcomed the move, now appears to have changed his stance after drawing severe criticism from leaders of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), who are his allies in the United Democratic Front (UDF).
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan clarified on Saturday (July 17) that his government’s move was necessitated after the Kerala High Court quashed the previous government order on minority student scholarships, saying it was legally unsustainable. Vijayan asserted that the move would not result in any reduction in benefits to groups who were already receiving such scholarships.
Meanwhile, former Minister for Minority Welfare Dr. KT Jaleel took to Facebook to criticise the stand of the IUML and to note that they were falling for the attempts by outfits like the Jamaat-e-Islami to create communal discord in the state.
What is the controversy about?
In Kerala, the decision to set up a Minority Welfare Department was taken as part of the effort by the then Left Democratic Front (LDF) government led by VS Achuthanathan to implement the suggestions of Justice Rajindar Sachar Committee Report. The Sachar Committee was appointed by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre to objectively analyse the socio-economic and educational status of Muslims in India and to find solutions to address their backwardness.
Following the tabling of the Sachar Committee Report in Parliament, the LDF government engaged a committee, with the then Minister for Local Self Government Paloli Muhammed Kutty as Chairperson, to submit suggestions as to how the recommendations of the Sachar Committee Report could be implemented in the state.
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The Paloli Muhammed Kutty Committee, while noting that Kerala stood apart from other states in the country with regard to the common advancement achieved in health-education sectors etc., found that Muslims in the state stood far behind other communities in social, economic and educational fields. Apart from differences in the level of acquisition of education, the committee also noted the alarmingly high level of unemployment among Muslim youth and the higher rate of poverty among Muslims when compared to that of other religious communities in the state.
The constitution of the Minority Welfare Department in the state and a Minority Welfare Cell in the State Secretariat, the institution of Welfare Fund and Pension to Madrasa teachers, the implementation of Minorities Package in certain districts, measures to increase the representation of Muslims in higher posts of government service and institution of scholarships were part of the suggestions submitted by the committee in its report in 2008.
As part of implementing the suggestions of the committee report, the LDF government had set up a Minority Welfare Department and constituted various schemes under it for the advancement of socio-economic and educational status of Muslims. As recent as December 2020, the National Commission for Minorities had appreciated the welfare programmes implemented by the department in the state and said that it provided the benchmark for other states in the country.
In 2010, the scholarship disbursed by the state to Muslim students was also extended to students from educationally backward Latin Catholic and Converted Christian communities in a 80:20 ratio. This was followed by the UDF government that was in power in 2011-16 as well.
The present controversy arose after the Kerala High Court directed the state government to provide merit-cum-means scholarship to students from notified minority communities equally based on the latest population census. As per the 2011 Census, Kerala has a minority population of 26.56% Muslims, 18.38% Christians, 0.01% Buddhists, 0.01% Jain and 0.01% Sikh communities. A restructuring of minority scholarship schemes accordingly would result in an approximately 58:42 ratio among Muslim and Christian students.
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However, the state government announced that it would allocate an additional Rs 6.2 crore so that no community would lose out on scholarships. At present, six scholarship schemes (CH Mohammed Koya scheme for girls, Civil Services and ITC fee reimbursement scheme, CA/ICWA/CS scholarship, Prof Joseph Mundassery scholarship, Mother Teresa scholarship and APJ Abdul Kalam scholarship) are offered by the Minorities Welfare Department and the additional support would increase the total allocation to Rs. 23.61 crore according to officials from the department. The government has also constituted a commission under Justice JB Koshy to study the socio-economic and educational backwardness of Christians in the state.
What are the stands of the opposition and the government?
The Kerala government had called an all-party meeting and consulted the Opposition before announcing the move to restructure the scholarship schemes under the Minority Welfare Department. The Leader of the Opposition VD Satheeshan welcomed the move and added that the amended award would only include Christian communities under the endowment without causing any ‘loss’ to the Muslim community.
However, this came under sharp attack from leaders of IUML, which are allies in the UDF. IUML leader and Member of Parliament ET Muhammed Basheer said that the Muslim community would lose an exclusive scheme based on recommendations of the Sachar Committee and that it would go ahead with its opposition to it in the state Assembly. A few outfits linked to the Jamaat-e-Islami also took the same position, saying that the LDF government was kneeling to the interests of the Sangh Parivar.
Satheeshan later appeared to backtrack from his initial stand and said that the decision would cost the Muslim community dearly. Former Minister for Minority Welfare Dr. KT Jaleel pointed out that the Opposition, including IUML, had agreed in the all-party meeting to the government’s decision to increase allocation for the scholarship schemes so that no community would lose out on benefits that they had received till now. He attacked the double stand of the IUML and criticised them for allowing the attempts of outfits like Jammat-e-Islami to create communal discord out of a non-issue to succeed. Paloli Muhammed Kutty, who authored the committee report, also dismissed the allegations and suggested that they were politically motivated.
Meanwhile, reports have come out suggesting that the State Minority Commission had suggested during the previous UDF government’s tenure that the minority scholarship schemes in the state be restructured on a 60:40 ratio.
The UDF government had also passed the Kerala State Commission for Minorities Act in 2014 which had mandated “steps to ensure the representation of minorities proportionate to their population in various employment projects and social development projects”. The Kerala High Court had cited this Act while quashing the previous government order on minority scholarships.
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