People praying inside St. Mary's Church in Manarcad in Kottayam district of Kerala state. Catholic bishops in the state are seeking quota benefits meant for the economically weak to help their people. (Photo: UCA News)
Catholic bishops in southern India's Kerala state have appealed to the state government to implement a quota policy meant for economically weaker sections (EWS) in state jobs and educational institutions.
The bishops' demand comes after the state government failed to implement a federal law passed in January 2019 reserving 10 percent of places to EWS in government jobs and admissions to government higher educational institutions.The law defines the economically weak as one belonging to a family that has an annual income of less than 800,000 rupees (US$10,600) and owns less than five acres of land.Church leaders say a quota could have benefited hundreds of Syro-Malabar Catholics, particularly in villages, if the state government had implemented it this year. The Syro-Malabar Public Affairs Commission has protested against the state government's failure in denying a 10 percent reservation to poor people who are not covered under other quota systems.
In a petition to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, commission chairman Archbishop Andrews Thazhath asked for the quota to be implemented in government jobs and access to education effectively and immediately.In this academic year, the prospectus and application forms for admission to nursing and paramedical courses were published without announcing the 10 percent reservation meant for financially backward categories, it said.
The archbishop sought the immediate intervention of the chief minister to restore those rights. He also urged all sections of society to be vigilant and not lose out on the quota benefits.
India's constitution allows quota benefits for lower-caste and tribal people in government jobs and educational institutions to help them come to the social mainstream through socioeconomic advancement.
However, the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi amended the constitution in January 2019, reserving 10 percent of available seats and jobs to economically weak people not covered under any other quota policy.
Critics say the government aimed to extend the reservation benefits to higher-caste Hindus against the spirit of the constitution, which envisaged the quota as means to bring the oppressed groups to the social mainstream.
Leaders of the Syro-Malabar Church also want the state government to redefine the economically weak to help more people enjoy the benefits.
Father Jose Vaniapurackal, vicar general of Changanassery Archdiocese, said the federal government should increase the upper limit of the income and land possessions to help more people get government jobs and education opportunities.
"Now many people in Kerala have more than five acres of land, but price crashes resulted in a massive drop in their income," Father Vaniapurackal said, stressing the need to increase the upper limit of the land.
He said hundreds of people have been losing jobs and businesses because of Covid-19 since March. The state government should take a realistic approach and help people by implementing the reservations, he said.
An estimated 20 percent of Syro-Malabar families are expected to benefit from the new quota system, officials said. No official figures are available.
The Syro-Malabar Church, based in Kerala, has some four million members. They trace their faith to St. Thomas the apostle, who according to tradition preached the Gospel in southwest India.