To find a solution for the quandary ensued by the Kerala High Court verdict on the minority scholarship, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has called for an all-party virtual meeting on Friday.
On May 28, the High Court, in a petition alleging the State government was giving undue preference to the Muslim community over the members of other minority communities in the State had quashed a 2015 government order where 80 per cent of the merit-cum-means scholarships went to the Muslims and 20 per cent to a section of Christians. The verdict which also ‘directed the Government to pass requisite and appropriate orders providing merit-cum-means scholarship to the members of the notified minority communities within the State equally and in accordance with the latest population census available with the State Minority Commission’ was welcomed by the Christians while the Muslims wanted a renewal of the benefits.
The unprecedented meeting by the Chief Minister, who is also handling the Minority Welfare Department, was necessitated as the government is in a fix over the clashing stand of the communities.
What the court said
The action of the State government in sub classifying minorities by providing merit-cum-means scholarship at 80 per cent to the Muslim community and 20 per cent to the Christians (Latin Catholic and Converted Christians) cannot be legally sustained. The National Commission and the State Commission are not entitled to segregate such backwardness among the minorities to protect the interests of any particular minority.
The High Court held, to eradicate inequalities, the State government can make sub-classification within reserved castes within the SC and ST and adopt the distributive justice method to redistribute and reallocate resources and opportunities to fulfil the very purpose of the Constitutional mandate of equal justice to all.
“But here is a case where without taking into account the entitlement of the Christian community within the State available from the population ratio, State is indulging in providing scholarship to the Muslim minority community at 80 per cent, which according to us, is an unconstitutional act and unsupported by any law. Mere executive orders issued by the State government cannot overreach the provisions of the Minority Commissions Acts, 1992 and 2014, and the imperatives contained under the provisions of the Constitution of India discussed above. Article 29 also casts a duty to protect the educational interests of the minority community in equal sub-division not in a discriminatory manner,’ the court said.
‘The sub-division envisaged can only be within minority communities and not by taking the weakness of a particular minority community alone. In our view, in order to protect the interest of the notified minority communities as such, adoption of such a course is the only alternative and not otherwise as is done by the State government’, said the judgement by Chief Justice S Mani Kumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly.
What is the 80:20 ratio?
The scheme was announced following proposals submitted by an 11-member committee headed by CPM leader Paloli Muhammad Kutty when he was a minister in the 2006-08 LDF government. It was formed to implement the recommendations of the report of the Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee on the social, economic, educational status of the Muslim community in the country, in Kerala. As part of the scholarship scheme, the State government provided 5,000 scholarships for degree and postgraduate Muslim women students. The benefit of the scheme was later extended to students belonging to the Latin Catholic and Converted Christian Communities. As per a government order in 2015, it was stated that Muslims will get 80 per cent of the reservation while 20 per cent will go to the backward Christians mainly for Latin Catholic and Christians converted from Dalit communities.
In the petition filed by Justine Pallivathukal, the State government’s scheme is contrasted with a scholarship announced by the Union government in 2006, where scholarships were provided to students belonging to minority communities, on a merit-cum-means basis as well. ‘Nowhere was it stated that scholarships were provided to any particular minority community in preference to other minority communities,’ the petitioner asserted.
‘The state of Kerala under the guise of promoting the minority communities is showing undue favouritism to the Muslim community to the detriment of other minority communities. In the case of the Christian community, other than Latin Catholic and converted Christians, no benefit is given to the rest of the group resulting in total discrimination’, the petition also read.
The State argued, based on the Sachar Committee and Kerala Padana Report, that Muslims were behind Christians in college enrolment. There were only 3% landless Christians, while 37.8% of Muslims were landless, it was stated. Muslims in Kerala are in toto a backward community while in other religious minorities including Christians, the Roman Catholics and some other sects among Christians are not backward communities, it was contended.
What is the minority status in Kerala?
According to the figures of the 2011 Census, 45.27 per cent of the State are from the minority communities which is shared mainly between 26.56 per cent Muslims and 18.38 per cent Christians. Hindus constitute 54.73 per cent of the population of 3.3 crores. This means, among the (45.27 per cent) minorities, 58.67 per cent is Muslims and 40.6 per cent is Christians and the balance 0.73 per cent constituted other minority communities.
According to the 1971 Census, when the State had a population of 2.1 crore, the share of the minority communities was 40.6 per cent with 21.1 per cent Christians and 19.5 per cent Muslims.
According to the 2001 census, the percentage of the population below six years is the cause of worry to the Christian community as their contribution in this category was just 15.75 per cent while that of the Muslim population was 36.74 per cent.
The data of the Vital Statistics Division, Department of Economics and Statistics, under the Kerala government, quoted in the judgement, the percentage of birth analysis for 2017 shows that there are 43 per cent Muslims and 41.70 per cent Hindus and Christians 14.96 per cent.
The Kerala Churches
According to the 2011 Census, in the Kerala Christians around 6.5 million, only two communities were in the controversial ’20 per cent’; Latin Catholics who formed 13.3 per cent and the Dalit Christians with 2.6 per cent.
Of all Christians, 61 per cent are Catholics from three particular Churches with Syro Malabar claiming 37 per cent of the total. Syro Malankara and Latin are the other two catholic churches. Malankara Orthodox, Malankara Jacobite, Malankara Marthoma, Church of South India and Pentecostal churches
CM in Charge of the Minority Welfare
After resuming power, Pinarayi Vijayan taking charge of the Minorities Welfare Department was seen as a significant political move as he is the first Kerala Chief Minister to handle the department, which over the years has been allotted to ministers belonging to the Muslim community.
“All sections (of society) have welcomed it. When the Chief Minister is handling a department, there is no room for concern for anyone. The decision started from a common opinion that the minority welfare (portfolio) should be kept with the CM,” said Pinarayi after taking charge of the department.
The Christian community had alleged the minority welfare department was not doing justice to their community and ’80:20 ratio’ should be cancelled.
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