The education sector in Kerala has very high potential for growth. The insatiable thirst of Keralites to get the best education for their children was being exploited by the institutions in neighboring States (being continued even today!). Realizing the potential of opening up this sector, in 2001, then government allowed self-financing institutions to be established in Kerala, in higher education. However, since then the sector has been plagued with various issues and violent agitations.
Let us look into the role of minorityism in fanning the issues plaguing the education sector and its potential effect on the social fabric of Kerala.
The Constitution of India, under its Part III on Fundamental Rights, guarantees certain Cultural and Educational Rights to Citizens of India. Let me quote the relevant Articles here:
“29. Protection of interests of minorities.—(1) Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same.
(2) No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.
30. Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions. — (1) All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
(1A) In making any law providing for the compulsory acquisition of any property of an educational institution established and administered by a minority, referred to in clause (1), the State shall ensure that the amount fixed by or determined under such law for the acquisition of such property is such as would not restrict or abrogate the right guaranteed under that clause.
(2) The State shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.”
Questions like who are minorities entitled to the special rights granted under these Articles, to what extent these rights are absolute and how much autonomy these minority institutions enjoy etc have come up for consideration of the Apex Court in various cases and I have no intention to go into details of those decisions here. Suffice to say, the Constitution itself does not define the term ‘minority’ and this has led to much litigation in the education sector.
Article 30 (1) grants ‘all minorities, whether based on religion or language, the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice’. In its various decisions, the Supreme Court has expressed a view in favour of complete freedom of minority educational institutions from Government control, except in the case of maintaining academic standards through prescribing qualifications for teachers and minimum eligibility for students.
However, is this absolute and unfettered right? No doubt, in case of an aided/state funded institution (even if it is established or administered by a minority) Article 29(2) mandates that “No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them”. While decisions like St Stephens College, had read into the combined effect of 29(2) and 30(1) a right of minority to reserve up to 50% seats in an institution while leaving the remaining seats to ‘general quota’, clarity is yet to emerge on the self financing institutions maintained by minority groups.
If a minority group establishes/administers an educations institution, will it be covered by the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 29 (2), Obviously yes. But does that mean these institutions are free to do what they like? More clearly, can a minority group establish a self financing professional education institution and start selling the seats for highest bidders, irrespective of whether the admitted students belong to that minority group or not?
At least some of the minority groups seem to think so; a prominent one being the Inter Church Council of Kerala (ICC). ICC has acted, all these years, not in the nature of a charitable or religious institution but as a profiteer out to make hay while the sun of constitutional confusion continues to shine!
The Government had liberalized the education sector of Kerala, to meet the growing demand for quality higher education and to stem the flow of capital to the mushrooming institutions in the neighboring states, with the clear understanding that the new institutions to be established under the policy shall earmark 50% of their seats for admission based on merit, from Government quota. The whole idea was designed to meet the social justice objectives through the principle of “two private colleges equal to one government college” involving surrender of 50% seats for merit by each such college. However, soon the managements, especially the ones backed by the religious and communal leaderships, defaulted on that commitment and started asserting their right to admit 100% students on the basis of right guaranteed under Article 30 (1).
Successive governments have not succeeded in breaking this imbroglio. The previous government led by CPM which came to power on the back of a promise to sort out the self-financing education sector, carried on with the system of underhand deals with managements and never made a serious effort to resolve the issue, except for the half-hearted legislative effort that fell before judicial scrutiny.
The concept of self –financing institution itself met with violent protests from left wing parties and their student and youth wings. The violence that resulted even in multiple deaths, only abated when CPM came to power in the State, and if we go by the happenings of past one week, has promptly come back to haunt Kerala within one month of CPM abdicating power.
I am not in any way supporting the violent agitation initiated by the student wing of CPM which was in power for the last five years, allowing the ICC to wriggle out of the commitment to ear mark 50% of the seats for admission from the Government’s list of general merit quota. While the double game of CPM (on the one hand agitating for 50% quota in other institutions while on the other hand refusing to give any seats to merit quota from Pariyaram Medical College under their own control) is being seen through by people of Kerala, I am concerned here, more about the long term implications of the intransigent stand of ICC, on the social fabric of Kerala.
When Dr Gafoor, Chairman of MES, stated that the poor Catholic students are forced to take admission in other colleges as the ICC run colleges sell their seats to the highest bidders, it is not far from truth. Obviously the interest of poor members of the minority group is not being protected here. As stated by Chief Minister of Kerala Mr Oommen Chandy, there is an urgent “need to attain the crucial balance between the protection of minority rights and the restoration of social justice in the education sector”.
The Honbl’e High Court of Kerala has also accepted the need of ‘balancing minority rights and social justice’ and has now passed an order validating the Government’s taking over of 50% seats in these colleges. However, ICC has not lost any time to announce that they will appeal against this Order before Supreme Court!
One cannot deny the right to ICC to appeal on any ground that they think as valid. However, the stand of the ICC, in particular, and minority groups, in general, is being keenly watched by the majority community in Kerala. In a State like Kerala where all sections of the society, including minorities, have attained similar level of social and economic development , such blatant misuse of constitutional provisions by certain groups are bound to be resented by others. In the recent elections to State assembly, even the LDF was seen milking this resentment among the majority community.
Kerala has managed to maintain excellent social harmony despite having very strong religious groupings. This delicate balance should not be allowed to be disturbed by the profit orientation of certain religious leaders. The followers of each minority groups must introspect at this juncture and seek answers from their so called leaders- whether these actions are being taken in the interest of the members of minority or merely for maximising the profits for certain individuals!
If religious leaders and groups act as traders of education, sacrificing service motive for profit motive, then they should not be allowed to get the benefit of noble provisions of our Constitution. If we allow that, it amounts to misuse of protective provisions of Constitution.
The new UDF government which is now facing the flak for a problem that they essentially inherited from the previous government must take effective legislative steps to resolve this issue once for all. While I am aware of the equations of UDF with the Church and other religious leadership, the majesty of State should not be allowed to be diminished before the religious and communal groups.
Mr Chandy has recently stated; “We have not been able to bring about normality in terms of admission procedures to self-financing colleges. Constant efforts are being made by the government to create a permanent system for admissions to such institutions. The necessary changes must be made at the earliest to ensure the advancement of the education sector”. (http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/kerala/article2110179.ece) I would like to keep my faith in this promise and hope that our students will not have to go through the same trauma, at least for the next academic year!
Start working now Mr CM, so that we do not have to make compromises at the last moments of admission process in the coming years and let the social harmony be destroyed on multiple fronts!
PS. I do not claim to be an expert on this subject. I have just shared my feelings and concerns here. I would welcome any further inputs or perspectives from readers for my and other readers’ benefit.