On Friday (May 28), the Kerala High Court upheld that ‘subclassification’ of the Muslims within the minority community and disproportionate awarding of scholarships to them is not legally sustainable. The Court’s observation comes to a major setback to the Kerala government which sought to provide scholarships to Muslims and Latin Catholics/converted Christians in the 80:20 ratio.
A petition was earlier filed by one Justine Pallivathukal before the Kerala High Court, seeking quashing of the Kerala government’s order. The petition read, “The State of Kerala under the guise of promoting the minority communities is showing undue favouritism to the Muslim community to the detriment of other minority communities. In the case of the Christian community, other than Latin Catholic and converted Christians, no benefit is given to the rest of the group resulting in total discrimination.”
The petitioner argued that the Kerala government’s order meted undue favouritism to the Muslim community at the expense of other religious minorities. Furthermore, the petition sought for the redressal of the discriminatory order and requested that scholarships be distributed uniformly. Justine Pallivathukal, in an alternate prayer, also urged the Court that the scholarships be distributed in accordance to the population of the minority communities.
Observations made by the Kerala High Court
The matter came up for hearing before the Division Bench of Justice Shaji P Chaly and Chief Justice Manikumar. During the hearing, Justice Shaji P Chaly directed that the scholarships must be provided on merit-cum-means basis to all notified ‘minority communities’ in equal proportion. The Court ruled, “We hereby direct the State Government to pass requisite and appropriate Government Orders providing merit-cum-means scholarship to the members of the notified minority communities within the state equally, in accordance with the latest population census available with the State Minority Commission.”
The Kerala High Court pointed out that while there was nothing wrong in providing support to notified minorities, the State government has to treat them equally. It emphasised that the State had no powers to treat them unequally. “But here is a case where without taking into account the entitlement of the Christian Minority community within the State available from the population ratio, State is indulging in providing scholarship to the Muslim minority community at 80%, which according to us, is an unconstitutional act and unsupported by any law,” the Court added.
Further slamming the Kerala government, the High Court said that the Executive Orders issued by the State government cannot overrule Article 29 and provisions of the Minority Commission Acts of 1992 and 2014. The Court ruled, “Therefore, deducing the facts, circumstances and the laws, we are of the considered opinion that the action of the State Government in sub-classifying the minorities by providing merit-cum-means scholarship at 80% to the Muslim community and 20% to the Latin Catholic Christians and Converted Christians cannot be legally sustained.”
The Background of the Case
Reportedly, the Kerala government had decided to award 80% of the scholarships to Muslims and 20% to Latin Catholics on the basis of a proposal submitted by an 11-member Committee. It must be mentioned that the Committee was asked to implement the recommendations of the contentious Sachar committee report in Kerala. The State government initially handed out 5000 scholarships to female Muslim students exclusively for graduate and post-graduate studies.
In February 2011, the Kerala government decided to extend it to Latin Catholics/Converted Christians. It must be mentioned that the State government’s minority scholarship contradicted another such scholarship announced by the UPA-I government in 2006.
In its defence, the Kerala government had argued that Muslims were more impoverished in the State as compared to Christians. It said that there were only 3% landless Christians as compared to 37.8% Muslims. The State government also justified the exclusion of Christians, Roman Catholics and other sects by claiming that they were not ‘backward communities.’