July 22, 2021
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Minority matters

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Kerala: Row over redistribution of minority scholarships

India is a country known for its diverse population and secular co-existence. But, every rose has its thorn. And India’s diversity does too. It mainly faces problems when it comes to educational and scholarship reservations. Now, Kerala’s recent minority scholarship plan has gotten itself into the same trap. 

Following Kerala High Court’s order, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government in Kerala decided to redistribute the minority scholarship in a way that every minority community benefits from it. While this ensures equality, it has received severe criticism from Muslim organisations. As we dig into the roots of the issue, the key question is does the restructuring plan ensure equality at the cost of existing benefits?


The Sachar Committee formed by the then PM Manmohan Singh reported about social and economic backwardness faced by Muslims. Based on its recommendations, minority scholarships were provided for undergraduate and postgraduate students from the Muslim community. However, in 2015, the scholarship was extended to converted Christians and Latin Catholic students. It was provided in an 80:20 ratio for Muslims and Christians respectively.  The minority scholarship has been benefiting both communities for more than 15 years. 

Over the years, several Church leaders pointed out that the ratio of the scholarship was unfair. Recently, Justin Pallivathukkal from Palakkad filed a petition in the court citing that the scholarship was biased. He said that it was not based on the actual population of the two communities. After listening to the arguments from both sides, the court observed that the government’s decision was unconstitutional and legally unsustainable.

The bench consisting of Chief Justice Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly further directed the government to formulate a new plan based on the recent census available. It ordered that the scholarships be provided equally in proportion to the population of the communities. 

On July 15, the Kerala government decided to distribute the scholarships to the minorities based on their population. Several leaders welcomed this move. However, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and other Muslim communities were deeply disappointed with the order.

Before we understand why there is a controversy, it is pertinent to take a look at the 2011 census information based on which the restructuring happened. According to the 2011 census, there were 26.56% Muslims, 18.38% Christians and 0.03% Buddhists, Jains and Sikh communities collectively in the State.

Why Muslim organisations are disappointed

Now that you know the population data, you might wonder why Muslim communities claimed that it would affect them. It was because the whole scholarship plan was first made solely to support the education of socially backward Muslims.

The Sachar Committee observed that the conditions of Muslims were below average and highlighted the Muslim inequality in India. Taking the observations into account, the scholarship plan for Muslims was formulated. So, Muslims enjoyed 100% benefits from scholarships.

It was later reduced to 80%, and now would be reduced to 58.67%. On the other hand, Christians would get 40.6% now as compared to their earlier share of 20%. The remaining 0.7% would be made available for other minorities. On comparing population rate and scholarship rate, you might find it fair and reasonable. 

However, when you see it from the perspective of the Muslim community, you would understand their plight. They were suffering at multiple levels and were provided with an entire scholarship to boost education. But they would now be forced to receive only 59% of it. 

The whole controversy boiled down to the root cause of converting the ‘Muslim’ scholarship which was provided based on the backwardness of the community to ‘minorities’ scholarship. The Muslim league argued that these two should be considered separately on different grounds.  It further clarified that they were not against benefits provided to other minorities.

IUML general secretary P K Kunhalikutty also asserted that formulating a new scheme was the ideal solution for the minority communities. The league held that the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government was responsible for the removal of the scheme that existed in other states. 

The Congress party first welcomed the move but later urged the government to consider the Muslim league demands. They claimed that the restructured scholarship removed the exclusive scheme provided for the Muslims. 

Ironically, the government had earlier argued in the High Court that the unemployment rate of Muslims was 52% and 31.9% for Christians. It had also emphasized the Sachar report and the backwardness of Muslims.

Why the restructured scholarship is the right way forward

To begin with, there were many societal and legal drawbacks in the earlier plan, which were rectified by the restructured scheme. The CM already clarified, rather reassured that the concerns were unnecessary and that restructuring would not reduce the existing benefits. 

Wondering how? The budget allocation for the scholarship was now established at ₹23.41 crores, after additional funding of ₹6.2 crores due to changes in the scheme. For example, the outlay of the C.H. Mohammed Koya scholarship scheme, which is one of the eight minority scholarship schemes, would now be enhanced from ₹8 crores to ₹10.83 crores. So as per the revised plan, the Muslim communities would continue to get ₹6.4 crores. The Christians would get ₹4.43 crores, approximately 2.8 times higher than before, which will be taken from the extra funding. 

On a political note, this decision was welcomed by almost all parties and leagues in the State. You should also not forget that Congress was initially not apprehensive about the decision. They went against the scheme only after their ally Muslim League opposed it. The CPI (M) Acting Secretary A Vijayaraghavan said that this was indeed the perfect plan and that there was a need to preserve societal unity. 

The earlier plan had a few legal flaws. It was noted that the plan was not in accordance with Article 29 of the Constitution which stated that it was a duty to protect the educational interests of the minority community in equal measures. It showed that the previous scholarship was not secular and equal.

Further, according to the Kerala State Commission for Minorities Act 2014, it was made mandatory for the government to ensure that the employment and educational plans were made for the communities in proportion with their population. It was, therefore, made clear by the court that the earlier plan lacked a legal basis. 

Meanwhile, Christian organisations said that the recent decision by the government put an end to the Muslim bias and struck balance in the distribution of merit scholarship. Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC) President Cardinal George Alencherry mentioned that there was legal validity in the decision as it was backed by the order of HC. 

While the government is right in promoting equality, the Muslim organisations are not wrong in asking for equity. Now, it is left for time to strike a chord between both.


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