Reservations over education plan for India's minority children

Religious leaders don't trust government proposal, it's all about politics they say
Reservations over education plan for India's minority children

A school run by Jhansi Diocese in Uttar Pradesh state for local village children. ( file photo)

Religious leaders in India doubt the sincerity of a federal government plan to establish world-class health educational institutes for the children of minorities, with many of them seeing it as mere political maneuvering.

The leaders were referring to a statement made by Minister of State for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi who said on March 1 that the government would establish institutions of excellence to provide technical and medical education including Ayurveda and Unani, ancient Indian and Arab medicine systems.

Father Joseph Manipadam, secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India's Office of Education and Culture, said he hoped the government's proposed plan would include helping Christian minorities but said he had serious doubts.

"We have to examine thoroughly what the plan is as most often when the government says minority it refers mostly to the Muslim community," said Father Manipadam.

Although "minorities" is a general term used for all linguistic, cultural and religious minorities, in Indian political circles the word is used to denote Muslims as they form the largest politically powerful minority.  Muslims constitute 172 million or 15 percent of India's 1.2 billion people.

Naqvi, a Muslim, said the plan was to reserve 40 percent of places for girls. The project's focus would be to provide quality education and employment training to minority students, he said. The federal government has already increased its budget for minority affairs by 10 percent.

However, Muslim leader Muhammad Arif, chairman of the Center for Harmony and Peace, was not enthused. 

"Such announcements are nothing new," said Arif who went on to say that it was a "political tactic" to please Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state were local polls are ongoing.

T.K. Oommen, a Christian and sociologist, said that he would not take the announcement seriously as it comes in the context of an ongoing election. "We have to see if the minister will give equality to all minority communities like Christians, Jains, Buddhists and others too," he said.

Hiralal Alawa, a medical doctor and founder of Jai Adivasi Yuva Sangathan, a tribal movement, said such plans usually remain only on paper.

Besides, tribal and Dalit people are usually discriminated against when it comes to welfare schemes because they are not a voting block, he added.

India has 28 million Christians and published studies show some 30 percent of them or 8 million are tribal people. At least half of them are Catholics, forming little more than 20 percent of the total 19 million Catholics in the country.

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