Government funds for Indian Christians go unused

Minister in Karnataka state urges Christian leaders to work harder to help the poor in the community
Government funds for Indian Christians go unused

Father Arokiaswamy in charge of social service schemes for the Catholic Archdiocese of Bangalore welcomes the Karnataka Minister for Education and Minority Affairs Tanveer Sait with a bouquet, as Ivan D'Souza, right, member of the state legislative council, looks on. (Photo by Cynthia Sebastian)

Karnataka state in southern India has allotted US$19 million this year for the welfare of Christians in the state with a minister urging leaders to work more to utilize the funds to help the poor in the community.

Tanveer Sait, Minister for Education and Minority Affairs, said these funds are available for various welfare schemes for the benefit of Christians, who form hardly 2 percent of the 61 million people in the state.

"But there are few takers because of lack of information," he said while addressing Christian leaders July 30 at a meeting organized by the Karnataka Christian Social Welfare Association and St. Mark's Cathedral in Bengaluru.

The minister, whose secular Congress party runs the Karnataka government, said the state has budgeted an amount that is 25 percent more than last year and that his department is reaching out to Christian groups to help them make use of the funds.

The government funds a maximum of 1 million rupees (some US$15,400) for either construction or renovation of church buildings. It also allots up to 5 million rupees for building centers for Christian community programs, besides funding skill development programs and scholarships to deserving students.

In the past the department has funded renovation of churches such as the historic St. Philomena's Catholic Church, a popular tourist attraction in Mysore.

"Still, I feel these plans are top down. We need to listen to the community's own ideas for its development and implement them," Sait said adding that he wants to establish a system to address development of the Christians in key sectors such as "education, health and housing."

The government has offered 2 million rupees for more than 100 overseas education scholarships to Christians last year. However, only 19 Christians applied and availed of it, said Akram Pasha, Director of the Department of Minority Welfare.

Ivan D'Souza, a Catholic member of the legislative council, who attended the meeting said he wanted the government to increase the fund allocation by three times but many objected saying even the allotted fund is not used.

Father Arokiaswamy, who uses only one name, in charge of social service schemes in Bangalore Archdiocese told that people like him are "delighted" to hear that such funds are available and that the archdiocese will look forward to use it to help many Christians benefit from the government. Catholic Church leaders now plan to organize awareness camps in all dioceses to help utilize the allotted funds.

Most Indian states have departments for the welfare of religious minorities, but traditionally most of the funds are spent on Muslims, the largest minority community in the Hindu majority nation.

Karnataka and neighboring Andhra Pradesh — two states in India have dedicated departments and programs for Christian welfare.

An estimated 60 percent of India's 27 million Christians are tribal people and other socially poor people, who need financial help in skill development, education, health care and housing.

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