Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Kerala Minorities and their 'Minority Status'

(Religion as an opinion or an intellectual vision as we knew it is changing, taking new forms of power, politics and material. We are upset about changes. But do we fear that breaking our silence on changes will dent on our decency and good nature. For those who think that a discussion on change is eminent to forge a healthy religious unity among the Kerala people, here is an opportunity)

The National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) on Wednesday granted minority status to five educational institutions under the Pushpagiri Medical Society; ending an eight-year-old wait that began in February 1999. With this, the number of professional colleges having minority status in Kerala has gone up to 11. reference

Currently the number of minority institutions that got ‘minority status’ stands at 27 and the upward trend continues.

The Commission’s verdict, apparently kept under wraps by Kerala’s Media from reaching its majority, is riddled with controversy, lack of common sense and is another example for India’s judicial bungling.

That an Indian constitutional clause (article 30) intended to guarantee a minority, rights to run own educational institutions to attain equal development with the majority is used to enhance the minority’s domination over the majority, is the controversy.

The verdict is a cover for the rich owners of Kerals’s Professional Colleges to renege on their social responsibility. For the socially and economically backward, still reeling under India’s old apartheid and the poor it deflects professional education into an unreachable trajectory.

No doubt, it hacks through the socialist model of development that Kerala has been envisaging for decades. I wonder how many current flag bearers of the ‘minority status’ would have been there if Kerala had not embarked on that model.

Currently the two minorities in Kerala, the Christians and the Muslims, are far more advanced than the rest of its population.

One cannot forget how these minorities have turned Kerala’s old apartheid situations to their favour: a Kerala that reeled under the lordship of a lazy, unskilled feudal land-lords, and an equally inefficient royal princes.

Colonialism with its missionary outfit and the oil in Arabian lands rushed more opportunities into the minorities’ hands.

When feudalism crumbled, its bankrupt managers had no choice but to pawn away Kerala’s land properties to the rich minorities.

In the rush of the foreign money even when the minority wholesaled the landed property of Kerala, the poor patiently retreated to the outskirts blaming their own destiny, appreciating and respecting the achievement of the minorities.

They never interfered with the minority’s rights to language and religion and never discriminated against them.

Yet, why are my minority friends cutting out a sorry state of them invoking article 30? To gain development at par with the majority, or to renege on their social responsibility towards the disadvantaged and the poor

Who is a Kerala Minority?

Amidst all these perhaps the most interesting questions are (i) Who is a Minority in Kerala (ii) In the context of Article 30 of the I.C, are the rights for minority educational institutions the same as ‘minority status’?

Even the UN that stands to protect the rights of the minorities the world over does not give a definition on, ‘Who is a Minority?’

In some context, minority is taken to be people that are undergoing serious discrimination and ill treatment from the rest of the population, which has never been the case in India.

Likewise, the Indian constitution never defined who is a minority in its national or state contexts. The following article highlights that even article 30 of the Indian constitution are silent on “Who is a minority?” reference

John Dayal, President of All India Catholic Union Secretary general, All India Christian Council defines in his article, “The Indian Government, the Supreme Court and the Religious Minorities of India”, that article 30 as one that gives “ Minorities, both religious and linguistic, the right to administer their own institutions as the means to preserving, encouraging and propagating that distinctive culture which makes them what they are, members of India’s rich tapestry of a plural culture”. reference

Do Christians in Kerala have a ‘distinctive culture’ different from that of the rest? If so, is it European, Roman or American? The same question applies to the Muslims?

According to a 2004 statistics in Kerala, there were 258 professional colleges run by minorities against 89 Hindu-owned. Were they for ‘preserving, encouraging and propagating minorities’ distinctive cultures? (Somebody please help me)

In the same article Dayal talks about Soli Sorabjee, India’s esteemed former Attorney General that he recently presented before the Supreme Court of India that “the right of the minority communities to establish and administer an educational institution was absolute and this right should not be "tinkered" with.”

But see what is reported as written by the very honourable attorney general under “What is a minority?” on April 11, 2007.

In the Kerala context, he observes that “In its advisory opinion in 1958 on the Kerala Education Bill, the Court opined that as the legislation in question applied to the whole of the State of Kerala, the existence of a minority “must be determined by reference to the entire population of that State” and that by “this test, Christians, Muslims and Anglo-Indians will certainly be minorities in the State of Kerala” ”(this opinion was based on numbers).

In the next page he expresses his own view that the practice of deciding a minority based on mere numbers is ‘not conclusive’. Instead he says, “ The criterion should be empowerment. The relevant questions to ask are, what is the strength of the community in decision-making, formulating policies and their execution” reference

Based on these criterions, who is a minority in Kerela?

If anybody is having any doubt read the following article. reference

A little bit of history

The current ‘minority status’ has a history starting with the Self Financing Institutions established in Kerala in 2000 during the time of A.K. Antony (UDF) as the Chief minister. Initiated apparently to attract rich learners who threw huge capitation fees in colleges outside the state, it evolved into a private-public partnership in higher education with the slogan ‘one aided college equals two government colleges’ that contained a reservation programme for the backward (socially, economically and physically).

That the disadvantaged Hindu communities and the poor were unable to take advantage of this government partnership offer is a crucial point here.

Instead, the economically, politically and educationally dominant minorities lapped it up.

This resulted in an enormous rise in the number of seats created in the private colleges. According to the Education Minister E.T. Mohamed (2005), the number of seats in engineering, medical, agriculture and B.Pharm courses rose to 29,511 in 2005-06 from 9,369 in 2000-2001. During the same period, the number of candidates admitted under the reservation quota for Scheduled castes, Tribes and Socially and Educationally Backward Classes also shot up to 7,004 from 2,666. reference

However the management of the unaided institutions was never in favour of a reservation intended to help the poor.

Without mentioning a few ‘important’ Supreme Court verdicts made in the case of unaided institutions in the era of the Capital, the story of Self-Financing Institutions will not be complete.

The first was the Unnikrishnan case (1993), in the verdict of which Justice Jeevan Reddy evolved a scheme to help the poor, which was apparently the base for Antony’s education plan.

The second was Justice B.N. Kirpal’s majority judgement in the 11-judge TMA Pai case (2002). In the zeal to remedy the pitfalls in the Unnikrishan case, TMA Pai ruling went in favour of the managements. It gave autonomy to un-aided institutions in certain aspects and State control in other aspects which created more confusion than clearing some. It let the aided colleges to interpret autonomy as it pleased to charge tuitions fee and capitation collection at their whims and fancy.

It also made some slip-ups here and there which prescribed reservation ‘locally’.

After the TMA Pai case verdict, the fees both in the aided and government colleges soared beyond the reach of ordinary people about which the Supreme Court could do nothing. reference
Then there came a Supreme Court Verdict in 2005, which abolished the government quotas in unaided professional colleges in the case of Kerala.

The Kerala Professional College Bill passed in the legislative Assembly (2006) was apparently the state’s way of dealing with the issue that too is nullified by the Supreme Court.

As MA.Baby, the current minister of Education (LDF) explains the Bill was dealing with Minority Educational Institution and not about Minority Status. And according to him hardly any of the Kerala minority institutions had opted for minority status because they never fulfilled the conditions it entailed. That means minority institutions and ‘minority status’ are two different things. reference

Amidst all these constitutional and legal confusions, then all of a sudden we see the tinkering up of the Commission for Minority Educational Institution with extra judicial powers and the appointment of three members from the minority communities as its commissioners and it conferring ‘minority status’ on Kerala’s minority institutions.

This legally redeems them from the social responsibility of reservation.

Some Suggestions as Way forward

(1) The government of Kerala instead of wasting time on discussing the matter with private management who had already lost their credential on trustworthiness should embark on making new laws to assist the disadvantaged and the poor

(2) In case it fails, it should withdraw with immediate effect, the aid it provides to the minority educational institutions and assists the disadvantaged communities and the poor to establish their own institutions until a proportional balance is reached in development between them and the so-called minorities.

(3) This issue having the self-financing managements and its supporters on one side and the government, the disadvantaged, the poor and their supporters on the other, many think, has the potential to divide the Kerala people along religious-social and personal lines. What can be done to avert this impending crisis seems to me an important question.