The Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, on March 9 chairs a meeting of the governing body of the Maulana Azad Education Foundation, which was named after India's first post-independence education minister. The foundation assists the Islamic community. (Photo from IANS)
Some Christian and Muslim leaders in India are skeptical about the government's motives in announcing provision of 10 million annual religious-minority community educational scholarships for the next five years.
On June 12, the federal government, led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), announced a grant to fund the assistance
Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi also said that teachers in madrassa, traditional Muslim schools attached to Mosques, will be given training in mainstream subjects such as the Hindi language, English, Maths and Science as well as in the use of computers.
The aim is to help madrassa students receive a mainstream education as well as their religious studies.
Though the measures were welcomed by a number of Muslim organizations, others remained dubious as to the government’s intentions.
"Why should Hindi be made compulsory in madrassas of the country?" queried social activist Syed Shahid.
"Teaching or studying anything is an individual's own choice."
He referred to the scholarships on offer as worrisome "sugar-coated capsules".
In general elections last month, the BJP won 303 seats, giving it a comfortable majority in the nation’s 545-seat Lower House of parliament.
As a consequence, Narendra Modi was sworn in as prime minister for a second term, having also won the previous election in 2014.
Minorities have long expressed concern over BJP links to nationalist groups with slogans such as 'Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan' that strive for supremacy of the Hindu religion and Hindi language.
"We know that BJP wants Hindu supremacy in the country but it should know that India is intact only because of its diversity of cultures, religions and languages," said Shahid Qadri, a Mulsim cleric based in Kashmir.
"Making one language [Hindi] infiltrate everywhere under the garb of scholarships is unacceptable."
Michael Williams, a prominent educationist in the capital, New Delhi, expressed similar concerns.
He told ucanews.com that he views the scholarships announcement with caution as attempts are being made to undermine languages other than Hindi.
Although Hindi is the national language, some 22 different languages are recognized.
"The government is open in saying let us make Hindi mandatory in every madrassa and there have been clear intentions that even sciences and other subjects will be taught in Hindi,” Williams said.
He said the government has been reviewing whether to discontinue the practice of teaching in the English language medium.
"If they do that, they will also prohibit teaching in the Urdu language widely used in Islamic schools,” Williams added.
"Its a two-edged sword. These things will not help India's unity at all."
At the same time, he believes that government could see the scholarships as something of an olive branch to minority groups concerned over past BJP support for hard-line Hindu outfits, including some promoting violence against Christians and Muslims.
Patsy David, a member of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a global group that campaigns for protection of Christian rights, said the government should not be spending taxpayers' money to appease religious groups.
"I am a Christian and I am earning well," he said.
"Why should my son be given a scholarship when I can absolutely take care of his studies?"
David suggested that the government should just provide assistance with education to students from poor families without discriminating on the basis of religion.
Political observer A. J. Philip, sees the main problem as being a lack of awareness among religious minority communities of the availability of educational scholarships.
He added that in the past, many students did not take up scholarships that had been offered, partly because of cumbersome bureaucratic processes that were not "student friendly".
Philip said that leaders of the minority communities needed to make students aware of various types of grants and assistance schemes available to Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Zoroastrians (Parsis) and Jains.
Some 80 percent of 1.2 billion Indians are Hindus, with 72 million Muslims forming the largest religious minority of 14.5 percent of India's population. Christians, the second largest minority, comprise 2.3 percent or 28 million people.