Kerala government challenges a court order quashing a system of scholarship funding that favors Muslims
Kerala High Court in its May 28 order directed the state government to provide scholarships among minority communities, mostly Muslims and Christians, in proportion to their population. (Photo: Wikipedia)
India’s top court has agreed to hear a dispute between Christians and Muslims over minority scholarships for students after accepting an appeal filed by Kerala’s state government.
The Supreme Court bench of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice B.R. Gavai on Oct. 29 ordered to serve notices on all the parties listed in the appeal as respondents.
The communist-ruled Kerala government in southern India moved the top court challenging an order by Kerala High Court to quash the 80:20 ratio for distributing scholarships meant for minority communities.
The court in its May 28 order directed the state government to provide scholarships among minority communities, mostly Muslims and Christians, in proportion to their population.
The state order allocated 80 percent of scholarship funds to Muslims, while only 20 percent was allocated to Christians and other minorities such as Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs.
The government claimed it had fixed the ratio based on the backwardness of the minorities rather than the population, but Christians said the move was biased and against natural justice.
Church leaders quoted the state census to argue that the order violated proportional distribution of funding as Christians form 39 percent of the minority population
The high court in its order made it clear that the allocation favored Muslims in the distribution of merit-cum-means scholarships meant for religious minority communities and set aside a 2015 government order to this effect.
Of the 33 million people in Kerala, 18 percent are Christians, while Muslims form 27 percent and Hindus 54 percent. In terms of numbers, Christians (6 million) and Muslims (9.7 million) together form 15.7 million or 99.7 percent of religious minorities in the state.
Church leaders quoted the state census to argue that the order violated proportional distribution of funding as Christians form 39 percent of the minority population in the state while Muslims constitute 60 percent.
Soon after the high court order, the Muslim community opposed it and urged the government to appeal as they felt they had been discriminated.
But Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC) agreed with the order, saying “the court had recognized the stand of the community” and urged the government to implement the order.
The government initially agreed to the Christians’ demand and said it would not appeal. It tried to work out a win-win formula by increasing scholarships whereby Muslims continued to get the same benefits and Christians’ grievances were partially addressed.
Meanwhile, some Muslim groups challenged the order and finally the government launched an appeal, much to the disappointment of the Kerala Christian community, especially the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Christians.
Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, chairman of the public affairs commission of the Syro-Malabar Church, in a statement on Oct. 27 urged the government to withdraw the appeal and insisted that it should treat minorities equally as enshrined in the constitution.
We may have to become a party in the case as the high court had restrained the state government from classifying minorities as more backward to provide special help
The prelate said the Church was prepared to initiate legal proceedings.
“Yes, now we will have to implead as one of the parties in the case since the Supreme Court has admitted the appeal,” Father Jacob Palackapilly, deputy secretary-general of the KCBC, told UCA News on Oct. 29.
“It will be decided after consultation with other stakeholders in the KCBC.”
The Catholic Church in Kerala consists of three rites — Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara and Latin — and the Latin Church is considered poorer or more backward than the others as many of its members are converted fisherfolk.
“We may have to become a party in the case as the high court had restrained the state government from classifying minorities as more backward to provide special help as it is against the constitution,” Joseph Jude, vice-president of Kerala Region Latin Catholic Council, told UCA News on Oct. 29.
“General classification of minorities for such scholarships will lead to further exclusion or deprivation of real beneficiaries among the minorities.”
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