Religious Apartheid in Modern India: Transforming of a Civilisation
By Moorthy Muthuswamy
(Note: A slightly shortened version of this article was published simultaneously here: http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers42/paper4191.html)
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 -- 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 a 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.
Religious Discriminations in Education and Employment
Recently, 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. 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."
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. Interestingly, according to the 2001 census figures, Christian population in New Delhi constitutes just one percent. 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.
In 1993, the Government of India notified that the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsis) are considered "minority." 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. 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. 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, clearly suggesting the role of religious discriminations 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) Christian minorities control over 22 percent (almost ten times their population percentage) of all educational institutions in India (i.e., over 40,000 of them).
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, compared to 65 percent overall. With the missionaries providing nearly 30 percent of the healthcare services in India, 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.
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," 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, 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. 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."
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. 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.
For all the talk of its emergence, India is one of the most impoverished nations on the planet. A 2006 family health survey conducted there found that 46 percent of its children under the age of three were underweight, even surpassing 28 percent for children under the age of five in sub-Saharan countries. Anaemia, a condition reflecting malnutrition was found to increase among Indian children to 79 percent, up from 74 percent in 1999. The extent of malnutrition is such that nearly two million Indian children every year -- i.e., about six thousand children every day -- die from it.
The Hindu majority has become under-privileged in part due to centuries of alien rule in which they were shut out of power and were discriminated against. It is indeed true that at the present time the Muslim minorities are relatively under-privileged compared to the Hindu majority. Even still, one has to wonder how much of that is self-inflicted, considering the well-established reluctance of the Muslim community in India to embrace modern education by choosing madarasa (Muslim religious school) education. The regressive evolution of the Muslim majority Pakistan, despite sharing much with India also substantiates the role of self-infliction.
By their own accounts, the Christian minorities are easily among the most empowered in India. The other sizable minority, the Sikhs, are also better off compared to the majority community, as most of them live in the fertile state of Punjab. In this context, Article 30 is not only hard to justify, but it can be seen to extend hardships the majority community underwent for centuries, albeit this time by successive governments it helped to elect.
Education and employment is a necessary path to empowerment and a ticket out of poverty. India's own constitution-induced discriminations, that allow religious preferences to dictate over merit, deny unfairly a path out of poverty for millions of innocent children and youths. These discriminations show the sheer absurdity of the Right to Education Act passed recently by the Indian parliament, as many of the best schools and colleges in the nation are controlled by the missionaries who discriminate against the nearly 95 percent of the nation's population as a matter of policy.
Significant funds continue to flow from abroad for missionary work in India. For instance, during the period from 2006 to 2007, upwards of 100 million dollars was received. Admittedly, much of that has been spent on helping the needy. That said, the discriminatory policies in educational institutions controlled by the missionaries are undercutting the otherwise commendable services provided by them. It is notable that despite knowing fully well the majority community's dislike of these unfair reservations, the missionaries not only do not see the need to rescind them, at St. Stephen's for instance, the quota for Christian students has only increased over the years.
One may wonder why the majority Hindu community, like the missionaries, couldn't establish more education institutions and run them. The missionaries, unlike the largely impoverished majority community, have been a fortunate recipient of largesse worth hundreds of millions of dollars every year from abroad, and other benefits such as government-allotted free land for establishing educational institutions (provided only to the minorities). Besides, the community can hardly be faulted if it expects services in the form of government established and run educational institutions in return for its dominant tax contributions to the treasury.
In the long run, what is at stake is more than India's retarded development or egregious human rights violations.
Transforming of a Civilisation through Apartheid Policies
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. 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.
In white-ruled South Africa, the blacks couldn't escape the racial apartheid, as they couldn't possibly alter their physical attributes. However, in India, education-deprived Hindu majority could escape the religious apartheid, by converting to a minority religion.
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. Hence, one can see how a self-sustaining cycle of conversion-lower social status/proselytising-discrimination-conversion shall lead to mostly one-way conversion of the majority community to Christianity -- and eventually, decimation of the majority Hindu religion in India. Once the conversion momentum picks up, just like the very rapidly increasing viewership of a successful movie, as the word of mouth gets around, the growth in the number of Hindus leaving for Christianity will escalate from a trickle to an exodus.
This conversion "version" of segregation may have already happened in certain regions of India. The northeast Indian states of Nagaland and Mizoram had less than a 1 percent Christian population percentage at the beginning of the past century. However, by the 1991 census year, the Christian populations in these two states had increased to almost 90 percent. Unlike in most of the rest of India, the missionaries were pioneers in bringing education and other civic amenities to these under-developed regions. Adding this to the missionaries' overwhelming control of educational institutions there probably led to the rapid conversion of the natives.
However, christianisation of India as a whole has not occurred at this fast pace because in the rest of India, for many decades, the upper caste Hindus were better educated than the Christian minorities and the communities there in general have developed more than the ones in Mizoram or Nagaland. The Hindu majority also established and ran many educational institutions. And importantly, the missionary-controlled educational institutions, baring a quota of few percent, admirably kept the enrolment open for everyone, regardless of the background. As a result, until 2001, for almost fifty years, the Christian minority population percentage in all of India trickled very slowly upwards to about 2.3.
But then, all of a sudden, Christian population percentage surged dramatically higher.
Operation World which tracks the growth of Christianity around the globe lists up-to-date figures for India in its website. According to the website the annual Christian population growth rate in India at the present time shows a big jump at 3.7 percent compared to the overall annual population growth rate of 1.44 percent. Accordingly, while the Christian population percentage was just 2.3 percent in 2001, it has more than doubled rapidly to 5.84 percent as of 2010. Whereas the annual Christian population growth rate during the period from 1991 to 2001 was only 2.26 percent compared to the overall annual population growth rate of 2.13 percent during the same period.
So, why has the Christian population percentage in India increased so dramatically during the past decade?
A graph shown in Operation World's website reveals the reason that the dramatic growth in Christian population percentage is mostly due to conversion from Hinduism, as reflected by a drop in Hindu population percentage (note that the Muslim population percentage increased during this period, suggesting that the Muslims are not converting to Christianity in large numbers). In the early 1990s, in a landmark ruling, the Indian Supreme Court, on the basis of Article 30, allowed minority-controlled educational institutions to allot up to 50 percent of their seats on the basis of faith. While in the immediate aftermath the Christian minority reservation percentages in missionary-controlled institutions remained small, over the next decade they increased to reach the ceiling limit of 50 percent. It took time for this new trend to sink in; impact of these reservations on demographics probably did not materialize until about the year 2000. Now, the conversion trend appears to be full-blown in the form of a rapid rise in Christian population percentage.
Although one could argue that the figures obtained from Operation World's website are yet to be independently confirmed, many recent reports coming out of India have consistently conveyed the scenario of an intensified conversion process underway.
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.
As predicted by Dr. Schelling's theory, the stage has been set for a sustained and escalating conversion of Hindu majority to Christianity.
Governments both at the central and the state levels have setup an employment/education quota system for under-privileged lower caste Hindus in government and in the public sector units, and in all public and private educational institutions, except in the minority-controlled educational institutions. Admittedly, minorities such as the Christians and to some extent the Muslims have been largely excluded from this quota system; but then, so do the upper caste Hindus who are numerically more than both Christians and Muslims put together. Still, the missionaries' vastly disproportional control of educational institutions appears to give them the ability to selectively influence empowerment of communities on the basis of religion -- and at the expense of the taxpayers. The following examples elucidate this point.
Article 30-Induced Deprivations
Post 1990s, the religious apartheid practices permitted by Article 30 of India's constitution have played a primary role in devastating the majority community economically in the southern Indian state of Kerala by marginalising their educational opportunities. The article has given minority-controlled institutions in Kerala legal power to discriminate and to regulate educational access at the expense of the taxpayers. According to Indian academic C. Issac:
"[The] 55 per cent of Hindu population of Kerala controls 11.11 per cent of the state's bank deposits. On the other hand, the 19 per cent Christian community commands 33.33 per cent and 25 per cent Muslim population retains 55.55 per cent…. The education is one of the major sectors where the organised strength of the minorities in Kerala is used in a covert manner. In this sector the majority [Hindu] community as well as the government together control only 11.11 percent, on the other hand, the church controls 55.55 percent and Muslim religious organisations 33.33 percent of all institutions. At present the professional education sector of Kerala is almost under the full control of the minorities. About 12,000 engineering enrolments and 300 medicine enrolments are in the minority institutions and they are fully controlling the admissions. At present 60 percent of the enrolments in paramedical courses are controlled by the organised minority religious leadership…. In this situation the successive governments are functioning as mere onlookers…. A lion's share of these aided [government-funded] schools is under minority management."
Can a parent belonging to the majority community expect his/her sons and daughters, even if they are well-qualified, to receive college education in Kerala? Difficult as it is to get admission in a college, it is unlikely to be lost on many Hindus that they stand a much higher chance, should they convert to one of the privileged minority faiths.
A resident of Kanyakumari -- a southern district in the state of Tamilnadu that has newly become Christian majority -- has commented below on the infringing of the rights of the Hindu community. Here again, the issue of concern is enhanced government-sponsored empowerment opportunities available for those who belong to minority religions through Article 30, and their denials to the majority community:
"There are so many scholarship programmes for minorities and backward classes, but there is no such scholarship for Hindu students. The poor are not able to afford children's education. We will have to vote for Radhakrishnan [a Hindu legislator contestant] to get our rights back."
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. 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.
One such violent conflict has recently occurred in Khandamal district of Orissa, where tensions have been building up for some time between the non-tribal (Paanas) who converted to Christianity and the tribal (Kandhas) who remained in Hinduism. Those who converted found themselves selectively empowered through education in missionary-controlled but government-funded schools and colleges, thanks in part due to Article 30-induced reservations. A Kandha complained in an interview: "We feel neglected here -- even our political representatives are all Paanas. Paanas convert to Christianity and are well off."
A Look Ahead
Evidence-based reasoning suggests that India is undergoing a civilisational transformation -- a process of de-hinduising, powered by Article 30-induced egregious deprivations. This shows that the majority community in India has not yet matured enough to protect its core interests from being unfairly trampled. While the minorities' politisation of their religious institutions have helped them mobilize their community to vote and to leverage the voting power to advance their interests, the lack of politisation of the majority community's religious institutions has not helped. These contrasting roles played by the religious institutions of the minority and majority communities can be traced to centuries of rule by alien powers. In order to mitigate potential challenges to their hold on power, the alien entities ensured de-politising of the majority community's religious institutions.
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. 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 powerbase.
Clearly, modern and "emergent" India has to do away with Article 30 in the present form. The question remains what should replace it. A window into answering this question comes from the United States of America, arguable among the most developed secular democracies and home to a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Discriminations faced by the black minorities and to a lesser extent by non-Christian and non-white immigrants from abroad (in employment, educational, social and professional settings), compelled the United States to enact the cornerstone anti-discrimination legislation: The Civil Rights Act of 1964. The legislation, among other things, prohibits discriminations based on race, colour, religion, sex and national origin. There is an exception: Due to their under-privileged status brought by centuries of deliberate denial of empowerment by the majority whites, minorities such as the blacks in America have now been afforded special privileges in the form of a very limited quota system called Affirmative Action.
This article shouldn't be viewed as an attack on Christian minorities or a call for undermining their rights, or an effort to stop conversions altogether. The focus of this analysis is about the egregious human rights violations of the 80 percent majority community. By tracing these violations to Article 30 of the Indian constitution, this piece offers ways of addressing this issue objectively and fairly without infringing on anyone's rights. As a modern and free nation, India ought to uphold the right of its people to practice and importantly, change a faith as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."
One could justifiably argue that India doesn't deserve to be called a modern democracy unless it takes steps to stop the constitution-based egregious discriminatory practices and unfair denial of empowerment of one eighth of entire humanity. The country, which spearheaded the opposition to the apartheid regime in South Africa, now finds itself in an unfortunate position of practicing a form of apartheid on its majority population.
If biodiversity is viewed crucial for the well-being of humanity, so should cultural-religious diversity. For instance, India's western neighbour Pakistan's relentless drive to eradicate cultural-religious diversity within may have left it highly vulnerable to dead-end ideologies. It is incumbent on humanity to ensure that ancient ways of life are allowed to evolve, and not be extinguished by apartheid practices.
(Dr. Moorthy Muthuswamy is a U.S.-based nuclear physicist and author of the recent book Defeating Political Islam: The New Cold War. His website: http://www.moorthymuthuswamy.com/)
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