Kerala society these days is trying to wrap its head around a vexatious issue pertaining to affirmative action for disadvantaged sections among the State's two prominent minority communities.
Three State Government Orders passed in 2008, 2011 and 2015, that sub-classified minorities and arrived at an 80:20 ratio for the distribution of merit-cum-means scholarships to the Muslim community and the Latin Catholics/Converted Christians were ruled as legally unsustainable by a division bench of the Kerala High Court.
The court also directed the state government to pass orders to provide merit-cum-means scholarship equal to the notified minority communities of the state, in accordance with their population as per the latest State Minority Commission census.
The HC ruling will reduce the quota for Muslims from 80% to 58.67% whereas the share of the quota for the Christian community would be raised from 20% to 40.6%. With that, the progressive intentions of the Paloli Committee have been conveniently set aside on the one hand, and the venomous communal discourse between the Muslim and Christian communities set off with renewed vigour on the other.
Nobody broke their heads over the workings of the Directorate of Minority Welfare for several years. However, in recent times, all manners of issues - love jihad, halal meat, Hagia Sofia, Israel-Palestine – were raked up to destroy communal harmony in Kerala.
The latest issue to come up is why should the Kerala government pay madrassa teachers salary and pension (no such thing is being done) while the government doesn't pay Sunday School teachers.
Prime Minister Modi, a master planner in grabbing political power through hook or crook, has instructed the BJP unit in Kerala on June 7 that the party should establish stronger ties with the Christians of Kerala. Such ties are easier to establish once the two minority communities are pitted against one another.
The game plan is to fish in troubled waters. A fringe group among the Christian community seems to be in a mood to take the battle to the streets. The tensions of the Christian community have been sufficiently manipulated through social media and WhatsApp groups.
Kerala Government and civil society, which has warded off the saffron tide in the last polls, should make sufficient interventions to not only scuttle the Sangh Parivar attempts to gain a foothold using the differences between the two communities, but also allay the mutual mistrust between them.
Most of the amplified, erroneous perceptions that the two minorities have of each other can be easily quashed by concerted efforts on the part of the government and the civil society to present the relevant comparative statistics related to different social markers of both the minority communities.
The socio-historical evolution of the two communities, and their conditions at present, should be studied to arrive at accurate estimates of the respective needs of each.
The Paloli Committee in Kerala was formed in 2008 as an actionable follow up on the report of the Rajinder Sachar Committee appointed by PM Manmohan Singh in 2005. The Sachar Committee recommendations aimed to redress the socio-economic and educational backwardness among Muslims, as well as the inequities and inequalities faced by the community.
The conditions of Kerala Muslims are indeed better than those of their counterparts in UP and Bihar due to social reforms and the economic development of the community here. However, large segments of them are still backward and disadvantaged. In that context, the thrust in Paloli Committee recommendations on scholarship for Muslim girl's education was of utmost importance as girl's education can effectively galvanize the overall development of any community.
The development trajectories of the two minority communities are very different. On the one hand, Christians comprise a largely forward community that has been historically well-educated and been at the forefront of Kerala's economic and educational development. Historically, Christians enjoyed the patronage of the Portuguese and the British who came to Kerala due to their shared religion.
It's a different story of the Muslims. Kerala's Muslims historically were disadvantaged and were at the receiving end of British aggression for a long time. Gulf Migration definitely began transforming their pathetic plight. Two generations down the line after suffering hardships in the Gulf desert, they aspired to provide better life opportunities for their children and aspired for a decent living. Though an entrepreneurial class emerged from among them over the past few decades, which has done exceedingly well, it will be utterly wrong to conclude that the conditions of both communities are on an equal footing.
The only way out of the present impasse is for both the communities to sit and talk to each other and resolve the differences in a way that does not leave any space for the Sangh Parivar wolf to drink the blood spilt in the proverbial duel between two stupid goats.
(Leena Mariam Koshy is a freelance writer based in Kozhikode)