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Bishops press Indian state to end Christian discrimination

Muslims get the lion's share of federal grants and Christians are neglected, Kerala bishops say

UCA News reporter, Kochi

UCA News reporter, Kochi

Updated: October 29, 2020 09:44 AM GMT
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Bishops press Indian state to end Christian discrimination

Archbishop Andrews Thazhath hands over a memorandum to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Oct. 27 in state capital Thiruvananthapuram. (Photo supplied)

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Catholic bishops in India's Kerala state have stepped up their campaign to end discrimination against Christians in sharing government benefits meant for religious minorities.

Representatives of Kerala's Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church met Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Oct. 27, seeking his intervention to distribute federal grants meant for religious minorities in proportion to their percentage.

More than 80 percent of the federal grants meant for educational and employment support of religious minorities go to Muslims. In comparison, Christians get less than 20 percent, the bishops complained to the chief minister in a memorandum.

Christian leaders hold that, statistically, Christians should get at least 40 percent of the share, while Muslims should not receive more than 60 percent if their demographics are considered.

Christians (18.38 percent) and Muslims (26.56 percent) are the largest religious minorities in the southern state of 33 million people. Hindus (54.73 percent) are the majority, according to the 2011 national census.

Hindus, Christians and Muslims together form 99.67 percent of Kerala's population. The other religious minorities — Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains — are negligible in the state as they together form less than 0.33 percent of the population.

"The benefits are not distributed equally among the minorities according to their population ratio in the state," said the memorandum submitted by Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, chairman of the public affairs commission of the Syro-Malabar Church, and its convener Bishop Thomas Tharayil.

The federal funds offer individual grants for education and income-generating projects to improve the socioeconomic situations of religious minorities.

Other major concerns of the bishops included Christians not having their quota share meant for economically weaker sections. These quotas in government jobs and educational seats are meant for people not covered under quota based on castes.

The bishops also wanted the government to allow Christian schools to appoint teachers in thousands of seats vacant for the last five years.

The government pays salaries to teachers in state-aided schools that religious minorities such as Christians manage. The management selects staff but needs government permission to appoint them.

Of the more than 13,000 schools in the state, the Christian community manages close to 5,000 and at least half of them are state-aided.

The bishops also complained of the state encroaching upon their right to manage the schools by appointing 50 percent of teachers of its choice in church-managed schools.

It is a violation of constitutional rights provisions that allow religious minorities to establish and run education institutions, including the right to appoint staff, their memorandum to Vijayan said.

Father Alex Onampally, media commission secretary of the Syro-Malabar Church, told UCA News that the chief minister promised to address their concerns.

He said that Cardinal George Alencherry, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church and president of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council, had previously written to Vijayan. "But it did not produce the desired response," the priest said.

"Christians are losing their rightful benefits. We want a peaceful solution to all these issues," he said.

Vijayan leads the only communist government in India but he and the state are facing an election in the next six months as the five-year tenure of the government ends in May 2021.

Christian votes are decisive in some pockets of Kerala. Christian leaders hope that Vijayan will address their concerns before the state goes to the polls.

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