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January 01, 2006
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January 01, 2006

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Home > 2006 Issues > January 01, 2006

Arjun's communal taint on education
UPA clogs all national initiatives
An obnoxious Bill that subverts every canon of secularism and equality
By Sandhya Jain

A new communal fault line has been added to the body politic, vide the 104th Constitution Amendment Bill which provides reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in unaided private educational institutions, including schools, but excludes minority institutions from its ambit.

The legislation is fraught with dangers for the homogeneity and integrity of Indian society as a whole, and should never have been passed in such haste. It bears noting that the Supreme Court is currently hearing a petition demanding inclusion of Dalit Christians among Scheduled Castes for reservation benefits. Dalit Muslims have also been making allegations of discrimination against their upper caste brethren (mostly invaders who intermarried with upper caste Hindus).

Given the undeniable fact that most Christians and Muslims are converts from the SC and ST communities, the exclusion of minority institutions from the Bill is bad in law and bad in intent.

Now, the UPA has successfully piloted the most communally divisive legislation the country has seen so far. It identifies institutions of the Hindu majority for divisive intrusion and privileges by the money-spinning minority institutions.

World-wide, both Christianity and Islam have discriminated against low caste converts, reneging blithely on promises of social equality and economic upliftment. It is this, rather than active or passive discrimination by the secular Indian State, that has resulted in the poor educational status of their adherents. Various Christian denominations mint money by providing school, college and professional education to rich and middle class Hindu children; vigorously evangelize amongst the poor, but deny them true empowerment that comes from education. There can be simply no excuse for low literacy and poor educational opportunities for children of Christian converts, as the Church as a whole is a major stakeholder in the education industry.

Given the undeniable fact that most Christians and Muslims are converts from the SC and ST communities, the exclusion of minority institutions from the Bill is bad in law and bad in intent.

Islam has fewer elite educational institutions, but it is noteworthy that the Aligarh Muslim University has reserved the majority of its seats for Muslims on the basis of all-India merit competition. A minority institution that does not dedicate itself to uplifting its own community does not deserve the status of a minority institution, and must be recognised instead as a minority-managed institution of profit.

There is no denying the political disquiet caused by the Bill, which resulted in massive abstentions from Parliament, despite most parties issuing whips to ensure the mandatory two-third majority (only 381 out of 522 Members were present). It is being realised across party lines that non-inclusion of minority institutions could prove counter-productive; Left parties have suggested that admissions and fees be monitored in these institutions. HRD Minister Arjun Singh however played to his minority constituency to the hilt, and promised further legislation to bring OBCs under the reservation umbrella.

The UPA has successfully piloted the most communally divisive legislation the country has seen so far. It identifies institutions of the Hindu majority for divisive intrusion.

Shri Singh had no credible explanation for sneaking in the clause barring minority institutions from the purview of the Bill; however, the religious denomination of the UPA Chairperson is no secret. He spoke about the need to ?protect minority rights under all circumstances?. But given the undeniable fact that most Christians and Muslims are converts from the SC and ST communities, the exclusion of minority institutions from the Bill is bad in law and bad in intent. It also gives the Church a virtual license to convert and abandon the converted, while running after fresh recruits. At the same time, the Hindu community is left with the responsibility of educating and caring for a group alienated from its civilizational moorings and nurturing feelings of separation from the majority community. This is truly Machiavellian.

The new legislation makes a mockery of the spirit of Article 15 of the Constitution by discriminating against the Hindu community on grounds of caste, in a manner that could place undue financial burden upon ordinary Hindu households. For instance, schools that have to admit students on the basis of caste rather than merit may also have to provide freeships to keep such students in school, if their families are unable to pay the fees. This will compel them to pass on the burden to ordinary middle class parents, who may already be finding it a struggle to see two children through school. This could have serious ramifications across the country, and is a perfect instance of sterile activism in the service of vote-banks.

Schools to be hit, (few examples) DAV schools, DPS, Vidya Bharati, Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan, Mata Amritanandamayi institutions, Ramakrishna Mission institutions, All Sikh and Hindu institutions, Scindia School, Mayo School, Indian School, Doon School, Rashtriya Indian Military College, Vivekananda Mission schools, Modern School, institutions run by Birla Trust, Maharani Gayatri Devi School etc.

A far more worthy exercise would be for the State to direct education to specific segments of the population by investing in adequate educational facilities at school level. Just as freer and fairer elections were ensured by the Election Commission by placing ballot boxes closer to the villages and slums that were otherwise excluded from voting, so bringing schools closer to the underprivileged, irrespective of caste or creed, would ensure universal literacy in a non-divisive manner.

Realisation of the larger implications of this legislation?intended to overturn a Supreme Court ruling on August 12, 2005, that unaided minority and non-minority institutions can admit students of their choice in medicine, engineering and other professional courses without government interference?has led 20 MPs, including two Ministers, to ask Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to bring minority institutions under its ambit as several premier minority institutions were either religious or linguistic minorities.

They demanded that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee of Parliament on HRD. This is a wise suggestion and Dr. Manmohan Singh would do well to re-examine the issue dispassionately.

  • Non-minority institutions may be forced to close down.

  • Minority schools and colleges can now mint money and use it for conversion.

  • Poor Arjun has no political base. This horrendous communal Bill for whose sake?

A clause clandestinely inserted

Arjun Singh brought in the clause to exclude the minority institutions from the purview of the Bill clandestinely. The draft circulated by the minister at the all-party meeting, after the Supreme Court struck down the reservation quota in privately run institutions, did not contain this clause. Members who spoke at the meeting supported the draft and the intent of the Bill as no party was against SC/ST reservation per se. The last speaker, MIM leader Salauddin Owaisi reportedly made a violent intervention stating that if the minority institutions were not excluded, the minorities will protest in the streets and challenge it in the court. There will be blood- shed, he reportedly threatened. And Arjun Singh in the final draft inserted the obnoxious clause as dictated by Owaisi.

Even some ministers and dozens of MPs from the Congress have written to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not to exclude minority institutions from the ambit of the Bill on the grounds that several premier minority institutions were either religious or linguistic minorities.

Minister of State for Home, Manik Rao Gavit and MoS for Health and Family Welfare, Panabaki Lakshmi, and Chairmn of the Forum of SC/ST Parliamentarians, R. Gavai were part of the delegation that met the Prime Minister and presented a memorandum.

?Although only 20 MPs signed the memorandum, the entire SC/ST forum was of the opinion that minority institutions should be brought under the ambit of the Bill,? said Shri Gavit.

They said these weaker sections would be ?deprived of the opportunity of deriving due benefits? from the proposed legislation, because SCs/STs will not enjoy quota in several prestigious minority institutions. Most premier educational institutions belong to either religious or linguistic minorities, which were not covered by the amendment, they felt.

?Implications of the proposed enactment will keep these premier institutions out of the access of the deprived communities who will be forced to crowd the institutions run by non-minority entities,? they said.

Other signatories included Robert Kharshiing. Birabhadra Singh, R.N. Kovind, Vasant Chavan and Nandi Yellaiah.

They appealed to the Prime Minister to reconsider the clause excluding the minority educational institutions from its ambit or refer it to the Standing Committee of Parliament on HRD for threadbare discussion.

The CPM too has opposed the Bill. Clarifying that he was opposed to the Bill on a ?constitutional point,? Varkala Radhakrishnan (CPI-M) said the amendment, by excluding minority institutions, would result in removal of reservation now available there. States should have the power to identify the minorities as their composition varied from State to State.

Radhakrishnan found support in C.K. Chandrappan of the CPI. The Bill seeks to amend the Constitution by inserting a new clause (5) in Article 15 for the advancement of socially and educationally backward classes or SCs/STs. But, minority-run institutions have been exempted as they are covered by Article 30 (1), which gives them the right to establish and administer educational institutions.

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