Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Religious Apartheid In Modern India: Transforming a civilization – Moorthy Muthuswamy

Religious Apartheid In Modern India: Transforming a civilization – Moorthy Muthuswamy: "

Moorthy MuthuswamyAt 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 far-sighted 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.

St. Stephen's College, New DelhiRecently, 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 colleague 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 subsidising 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.

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.

The discriminatory policies induced by Article 30 of the Indian constitution, arguably, violate Articles 23 and 26 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN Charter) to which India is a signatory.[xxii] Specifically, “the right to work, to free choice of employment,” mentioned in Article 23 and, “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit,” mentioned in Article 26 appear to be violated. Therefore, Article 30-induced discriminations constitute human rights violations as well.

The long-term implications of Article 30-induced religious discriminations and missionaries’ disproportional control of educational institutions can be studied by applying “Dynamic Models of Segregation” developed by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling.[xxix] He originally showed that a small preference for one’s neighbours to be of the same color could lead to total segregation. The positive feedback cycle of segregation-prejudice-in-group preference can be found in most human populations, with great variation in what are regarded as meaningful differences: Gender, age, race, ethnicity, language, sexual preference and religion. Significantly, he showed that once a cycle of separation-prejudice-discrimination-separation has begun, it has a self-sustaining momentum. The segregation process has the tendency to pick up momentum overtime from trickle to exodus, just like very rapidly increasing viewership of a successful movie, as the word of mouth gets around.

Dr. Schelling’s theory, as it is applied to the religious conversion of the majority community in India involves replacing separation by conversion (to Christianity), and prejudice by lower social status (due to the denial of education and employment opportunities in missionary-controlled elite institutions) and welcoming efforts of the proselytising missionaries.

The Supreme Court’s decision and the willingness of the missionaries to discriminate by taking away up to 50 percent of the enrolments in over 20 percent of educational institutions controlled by them meant that it is disadvantageous to be a Hindu and far more beneficial to be a Christian in the secular and democratic nation of India. This is particularly true for lower-income majority community families with young children and youths in need of education and employment.

It is useful to quantify the implications of this decision. Assuming on the average a total of 300 students and staff in an institution, for the 40,000 institutions controlled by the missionaries, a grand total of 12 million seats is reached. Hence, a disturbing possibility has arisen as a result of the honoured court’s decision: It has empowered the missionaries to lawfully deny non-Christians from a few millions to about 6 million student enrolments and staff employments every year in institutions likely funded by the government.

Not surprisingly, in many parts of India, there have been anecdotal instances of entire families converting to Christianity in order for their children to receive education and scholarships.[liv] This is creating destabilising social tensions, with the ill-informed majority community unable to enact measures to modify the existing minority-favouring system of quotas, and instead, directing anger unfairly at the minority Christians.

Among the capable segments of India’s population, the middle class, upper middle class, and even the rich members of the majority community have remained apolitical – by largely shying away from voting – due to their disappointment with the political process in the nation.[lix] They could afford to, as the booming economy of the past two decades has created educational and job opportunities for them. However, as the minority population percentage increases invariably in the coming years, as present trends indicate, Article 30-induced discriminations will increasingly shut the door on majority empowerment. Indeed, as seen in Kerala with substantial minority population, this process will only intensify in the coming years. This is not a speculation; it is a reasoned extrapolation of data and backed by an analysis based on the acclaimed work of a Nobel Prize-winning economist.

It has become quite clear that the apolitical, and yet the capable segments of the majority community now have to involve themselves in the political process, in order to ensure a future for themselves and their progenies. This should rejuvenate the Indian politic and help usher in a new era for Indian democracy. Article 30 will likely loom large as an issue in near-term electoral politics for a good reason: Not known for its religiosity, the majority community is driven by its desire for material comforts that require growing education and employment opportunities. Hence, sooner than later politicians are going to figure out that addressing Article 30′s undercutting of these opportunities offers among the best means of politically mobilising the entire community in order to build a strong power base.

» Dr. Moorthy Muthuswamy is a U.S.-based nuclear physicist . His contact website is at http://www.moorthymuthuswamy.com/.