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At long last India has arrived – it has finally emerged after a thousand year alien rule first under the invaders from West Asia, and later under the British colonisers.
Soon after India’s independence in 1947, thanks to the foresighted ventures of establishing new educational institutions in engineering, technology and management, and infrastructure development, wealth creation and the accompanying socio-economic development became feasible.
The constitution of India prepared in the 1940s reflects the land where literacy rate stood at 12 percent[i] – and the one ruled by an alien power, the British colonisers. A constitution created under these circumstances – although much influenced by the British counterpart – was going to have certain quirks or flaws. One such flaw, as explained here, has since led to egregious religious apartheid practices, and more.
For any emergent or modern nation, it would indeed be downright shameful, and even outright inconceivable to blatantly discriminate against its citizens, especially its majority community. This reminds one of the white apartheid-rule in South Africa.
One may be surprised to learn that in India, of all nations, similar practices are taking place.
Recently (2008), St. Stephen’s College, an elite Christian missionary-controlled higher education institution located in New Delhi shocked many by declaring that it was setting up a quota system that allots 50 percent of its student enrolment for the Christians.[ii] For a nation used to coveting college education in elite institutions, the news was devastating:
Even as getting into this [St. Stephen’s] college is so difficult and now if they cut down the seats for general category, where will we go? This is really unfair.[iii]
So said a young Delhi college hopeful named Arya Pakriti, presumed to be a member of the majority Hindu community.
A stunning fact: About 95 percent of the college’s expenses are paid by the taxpayers, with the majority community contributing most of it.[iv] Interestingly, according to the 2001 census figures, Christian population in New Delhi constitutes just one percent.[v] Indeed, Indian taxpayers appear to be subsidizing the selective empowerment of Christians in St. Stephen’s College at the expense of deserving non-Christians.
A Supreme Court ruling based on Article 30 of the Indian Constitution was used by the St. Stephen’s management to justify these religious discriminations.[vi]
In 1993, the Government of India notified that the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsis) are considered “minority.”[vii] Article 30 of the Indian constitution allows religious minority communities regardless of their socio-economic status to allot up to 50 percent of student enrolment and employment for members of their own communities in educational institutions administered by them even if the institutions are getting aid from the government.[viii] The definition of minority applies at the national level – meaning that in the Indian states of Mizoram and Punjab where Christians and Sikhs are majorities respectively, and the Hindus are a minority, Article 30 still applies to the Christians and Sikhs in these states as minorities, and the Hindus there as majority.
Christian minorities are also, not surprisingly, getting preferential employment in missionary-controlled educational institutions, again justified on the basis of Article 30. For example, the percentages of teaching staff belonging to the Christian faith in missionary-controlled, but taxpayer-funded American College, Union Christian College and St. Xavier’s College are 66, 83 and 42 respectively.[ix] But the percentages of Christians in the state of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Maharashtra, where these colleges are located are just 7, 19 and 1 respectively,[x] clearly suggesting the role of religious discrimination in hiring. It appears that these lawful discriminatory practices encompass just about all Christian denominations and cut across the nation. The temptation to discriminate is driven by the highly beneficial manner of the reservations as well as by their lawful nature.
If the percentage of missionary-controlled educational institutions is proportional to the Christian minority population percentage, these discriminations, while hardly justifiable for a nation that calls itself “secular,” are unlikely to have an adverse impact. However, here’s the gist of the problem: the 2.3 percent (2001 census figures)[xi] Christian minorities control over 22 percent[xii] (almost ten times their population percentage) of all educational institutions in India (i.e., over 40,000 of them[xiii])
In combination with Article 30, the above statistics state the obvious: The Christians are a privileged minority in India, with the government’s resources – inadvertently, it seems – allocated for their preferred empowerment. Not surprisingly, literacy rate of the Christians in India stands at 80 percent,[xiv] compared to 65 percent[xv] overall. With the missionaries providing nearly 30 percent of the healthcare services in India,[xvi] employment possibilities for those who convert to Christianity are significantly more than those of non-Christians. In addition, the minority status of missionary-controlled institutions helps them get tax, land allotment and many other benefits.[xvii]
Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to justify any claims of the Christians being an under-privileged minority, as a coalition of Christian community organisations itself noted in a recent press release: “Currently the job share percentage of Christians in services like teachers, nursing, clerical and junior level CEO [Chief Executive Officer] is more than their numerical percentage.” The same press release went on to note in the next sentence that, “This is due to their [Christians’] sincerity, honesty and better education,”[xviii] while regrettably ignoring the fact that Article 30 has already granted the Christian community significant reservations and other opportunities.
The magnitude and scale of these discriminations are staggering. If each missionary-controlled institution has on the average a total of 300 students and staff, and if it discriminates on the average against 10 non-Christian student enrolments and youth employments every year, it translates to about a quarter million discriminatory acts every year. For instance, St. Stephen’s, which has an incoming class of about 400 students every year,[xix] allots nearly 200 of these seats exclusively for Christians – i.e., nearly 200 acts of discrimination every year.
It is pertinent to contrast here the scheme implemented in South Africa by the ruling white minority during the apartheid era. The black majority was deliberately denied education and employment opportunities through a racial system designed to favour the whites.[xx] This, in a nutshell denied the black majority empowerment in their land. Of course, in the case of South Africa, the white ruling class’s apartheid practices were deliberate and by design, in order to keep the black majority away from power. However, in the case of India, the egregious religious discriminations are an unintended consequence of Article 30 of the Indian constitution. Or so it seems.
World over, people began to raise their voices against the cruelty and immorality of the apartheid practices in South Africa. But in India, the larger-than-life implications of similar practices have yet to be realised – and, let alone be addressed. Indeed, best-selling author Ramachandra Guha himself an alumni of St. Stephen’s gets it only half right when he calls the reservation policies of his former college, “unethical.”[xxi]